Map of Rail Tracks

Article by: TaMaryn Waters

For the full story visit: Tallahassee Democrat

HOSFORD — The rail system snaking through four Big Bend area counties is the cornerstone of a new transportation partnership and network for moving more goods.

The Gulf to Gadsden Freight Logistics Zone — made up of Gulf, Franklin, Liberty and Gadsden counties — is designed to create a new economic boost to the rural areas with the use of the Apalachicola Northern Railway, owned by The St. Joe Co.

The railway connects the port of Port St. Joe in Gulf County with the CSX Class I railroad in Gadsden County. Officials say the new freight zone creates more opportunities for moving goods in and out of the area and, in the future, attract businesses and industries that want to access the transportation web found in rural areas.

On Tuesday, elected, economic and business leaders stressed the importance of the freight zone and the strategic plan crafted by the four counties to gain priority funding to attract businesses to the zone.

The zone starts with Georgia-Pacific Corporation, which employs a 125-member staff in Hosford. The new freight zone will allow the company to extend its reach and ship exports internationally. Local officials hope the freight zone will be an attractive incentive for private industries to interested in access to Interstate 10 and major arterial roads, along with rail service.

“What we need is some economic development so we can create jobs so that we can let the people stay here,” said Sen. Bill Montford.

He said rural counties in North Florida are entangled in an economic crisis and continue to lose job-seekers to other cities and parts of the country. His senate district includes 11 counties; nine of them are home to prisons.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these counties depend on prisons. We’ve got to branch out,” Montford said. “We need economic development. We should not have to rely on prisons and school districts for the welfare of these counties.”

Gretna Mayor Anthony Baker said the freight zone is one of the most significant economic efforts to take place in the four counties, especially Gadsden.

“We’re going to use what we got in our community because we don’t have a whole lot of funding sources,” Baker said. “So, we have to be creative.”