Meridian Star

January 16, 2014

Rail Authority of East Mississippi names new director

Special to The Star
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     A long-time businessman and member of the poultry industry in South Mississippi has been selected to take on the role of executive director of the Rail Authority of East Mississippi – the multi-county organization spearheading the effort to extend railroad service between Waynesboro and Lucedale.

    Larry Gandy, who is a native of Waynesboro, was selected to the position following the recent departure of Geoffrey Clark, who stepped down as RAEM director after four years on the job. Clark, who resigned to pursue other interests, said he will remain active with the authority, serving as an ex-officio adviser on the RAEM Executive Committee.

    “This is an exciting opportunity to give something back to my community and to the region,” Gandy said of his appointment. “People have talked about the potential of this rail project since the old rail line was abandoned years ago. But, now it’s actually beginning to happen due to the support and leadership of the rail authority.”

    Gandy graduated from Waynesboro-Central High School, attended Jones County Junior College in Ellisville and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science with a minor in Business from Mississippi State University in Starkville in 1972.

    He worked for 38 years in the poultry industry and retired from the Marshall Durbin Co., in September, 2010. Gandy is married to the former Pat Ellis of Waynesboro.

    RAEM Executive Committee Chairman H.H. “Herky” Hardee said Gandy was the number one choice to fill the position based on his industry knowledge, character and familiarity with the region.

    “A great deal of his career involved logistics and managing railroad shipments,” Hardee said. “He’ll provide excellent leadership as we move into the next phase of development.

    “Larry understands this is more than just a major transportation project – it’s really about creating economic opportunities for our region. We needed someone like Geoffrey that sees the big picture, and we have that in Larry.”  

    The Mississippi Legislature approved $1 million in funding for the authority to begin an environmental assessment for the proposed 56-mile rail corridor, which will connect two existing shortline railroads and establish continuous rail service from Meridian to Pascagoula.

    The State Bond Commission approved the funding last month, and work is expected to early this year.

    The Rail Authority of East Mississippi receives financial support from the counties of Clarke, George, Greene, Jackson, Lauderdale and Wayne.

     “To this point, the project has been supported with local funding and grants we’ve been awarded,” Hardee said. “Now, the state has stepped in to provide money for the environmental work because they understand the line’s potential.”

    According to Clark, before stepping down his primary goal was to make sure the rail project gained enough momentum to become a reality.

    “In a couple of months, we’ll actually have people in the field beginning the route assessments and environmental work,” Clark said. “It’s a major step that is moving the project from the studying stage to the implementation stage.”   

    The RAEM was formed to spearhead a regional effort to find ways to potentially tie the existing Meridian Southern shortline system from Meridian to Waynesboro southward to the Canadian National and Mississippi Export lines near Lucedale and possibly onward to the CSX lines at Pascagoula.

    As it presently stands, the proposed RAEM construction plan would involve the re-establishment of trackage between Waynesboro and State Line that was severed in the early 1980s. From State Line southward, there would be new rail construction through Greene and George counties to near the Evanston community outside of Lucedale.