USA: Norfolk Southern has dropped plans to build a rail-served ethanol terminal on the site of a former brickworks near Atlanta which had made extensive use of a system of leasing convicted prisoners as forced labour.

The office of city mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the convicts used by the defunct Chattahoochee Brick Co had been ‘primarily African American men under terrible conditions’ and it was widely believed that makeshift graves were created on the site, which used convict labour for 30 years from 1878.

The Mayor said ‘a site of such historic and environmental importance needs careful consideration before even limited development occurs’.

A previous proposal was denied a permit in 2017, and the city had filed a legal challenge to the latest project. NS said it believed this lacked legal merit, but the railway had ‘listened to the community and has no interest in protracted litigation’.

‘We accepted from the beginning that we had a special responsibility to develop this site in a socially and environmentally responsible way, given the atrocities that once took place there’, said NS Chairman, President & CEO James A Squires on February 18. ‘We believe our project presented an opportunity to create a long-overdue memorial to the painful legacy of the site, and at the same time reshape its future by building new river trails and putting the long-abandoned land back into productive use in a way that benefits the regional economy.

‘We pride ourselves on being a good corporate citizen in the communities where we operate. In this case, that means walking away from the project despite our very best efforts to work with the community on the responsible development of the site.’