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End of the line?
Community in danger of losing railroad, Driver Testing Center
McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley says larger railroad companies are putting the financial squeeze on smaller railroads like Caney Fork & Western at Depot Bottom.

Is Warren County in jeopardy of losing Caney Fork & Western Railroad and the Driver Testing Center?
According to McMinnville Mayor Jimmy Haley and Warren County Executive Herschel Wells, it’s a possibility.
 “As most of you know, our railroad is in jeopardy,” Haley said during a meeting of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board. “The railroad is a major, major selling point for economic development in our community. With our new plastics company and with Bridgestone, the loss of our railroad might disable us.”
Funding is the issue.
“As far as the railroad is concerned, it’s about funding,” said Haley. “The fuel tax that is being channeled to short rails is in jeopardy of being lost.”
The railroad diesel fuel sales tax had been on the books since the late 1940s. Since the mid-1980s, it had been earmarked for the Short Line Equity Fund – a 7 percent sales tax on diesel fuel for locomotives that is given to help the state’s short-line railroads pay for track maintenance and upgrades. Challenged by the state’s big railroads as discriminatory, the law was struck down last year by federal court and funding to short-line railroads was cut off.
Short-line railroads attempted to find a solution and the Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill this April setting up a new 17-cents-a-gallon tax to replace the sales tax, relying on guidance from the court that ruled the other tax discriminatory against big railroads. The new tax was intended to continue the Short Line Equity Fund.
Once again, the big railroads, including CSX, BNSF, Norfolk Southern and Illinois Central, are objecting. They filed new lawsuits in federal court.
Wells says the new lawsuit, if successful, could make it harder for the small railroads to pay the bills and he’s concerned the big railroads might just win.
“They won the first round,” said Wells.
Haley says all the rail lines are connected and he doesn’t understand why big railroads want to put smaller railroads out of business.
“Short-rail lines are usually independents, but we all connect to bigger lines,” Haley said. “That’s where they get a lot of volume of traffic, from short lines that connect to them. We are the feeder lines, just like streams in a river. They don’t seem to understand the impact, because CSX has too much power and too many voices. There is not enough for the short-rail lines. It’s critical, folks.”
Haley is encouraging local residents to contact anyone and everyone who might help, including representatives from the state and federal levels.
“We just need to let them know the short-rail lines have to continue for the health and vitality of small communities like ours,” said Haley.
Funding is also the issue when it comes to Tennessee Driver Testing Centers.
“The state is considering closing five testing centers,” said Haley. “I don’t know if one will be ours. I hope not. We already lost our employment office. I hope we don’t lose our Driver Testing Center as well.”
The state has 47 driver services centers across the state, which includes the reinstatement centers used by customers whose driving privilege has either been revoked, suspended or such action is pending.
Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokesperson Dalya J. Qualls says the closest center to McMinnville, if ours were to close, is in Tullahoma.
“The closest driver services centers to the McMinnville station include the Tullahoma and Cookeville Driver Services Centers in Coffee and Putnam counties, respectively,” said Qualls. “There are other driver services options available near Warren County. Specifically, the Grundy County and Sequatchie County clerk’s offices. The clerk’s offices are able to process duplicates and renewals of non-commercial driver licenses.”
When asked if the state is considering closing five Driver Testing Centers and if so, when that determination will be made, Qualls stated, “The department has not made any decisions regarding the closure or merger of Driver Services Centers at this time.”
The Driver Testing Center on Vervilla Road serves approximately 250 people per month seeking to renew or obtain a driver license.