The trains are headed back to Helena-West Helena after being gone for nearly a year, with residents happy about the situation.
Local officials hailed the return of rail service to Phillips County in a Nov. 19 event in front of the old Helena Depot near the corner of Cherry & Missouri Streets. On March 31, rail service to the county was suspended following an unsatisfactory safety inspection. For a time, the future of having rail service restored was unclear.
The Board of Directors of the Helena-West Helena/Phillips County Port Authority (Helena Harbor) knew this was a dire matter, Board President William Quiney III said. The board directed John Edwards, general counsel of the Helena Harbor, to devise a plan to get service restored as quickly as possible.
“We knew swift action had to be taken to come up with a plan to save rail service for present and future jobs,” he said.
Working with officials of the Arkansas Midland Railroad, the Genesee & Wyoming, the parent company of the Arkansas Midland, Chairman Chris Masingill of the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), and Amy Fecher, Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s lead advisor to the Delta Regional Authority, Edwards saw a way to save rail service in Phillips County.
According to Edwards, “the real key was the cooperation of the local rail shippers, who really made this all possible. Without them, this could not been accomplished.” Edwards said the hard work and dedication of the Arkansas Midland Railroad and Genesee & Wyoming officials made the difference.
“They believed in us and saw what the shippers could accomplish, and what our potential for growth was,” Edwards said.
With funding from Helena Harbor, the Delta Regional Authority and the Genesee & Wyoming, track repair began in August and the first locomotive ran the track on Oct. 1.
Helena Harbor hosted the recent event as a way of showing appreciation to the rail customers of Phillips County, as well as the efforts of the DRA and the Genesee & Wyoming, officials said.