With its sordid history, the Youngstown & Southern Railroad, the 36-mile line that runs from Boardman to Darlington, Pa., has not attracted many legitimate buyers.
The Columbiana County Port Authority has been stuck with the railroad for the past several years, but it is now on the verge of sealing a deal with a company that already has a presence in the Mahoning Valley.
Before discussing the potential deal, it’s instructive to recall what occurred last year when a Canadian company was a signature away from being the new owner.
Calgary-based Tervita Corp. had announced in April 2012 that it intended to buy the controversial rail line. A short while later, Tervita decided not to go through with the purchase after it found contamination near the car barn in Negley.
Tracy Drake, chief executive officer of the Columbiana County Port Authority, said he believed the contamination occurred in the 1990s, “maybe three owners ago” by an off-site oil spill. The oil encroached on the Y&S property.
Drake said it was his understanding the contamination had been remediated, but Tervita, an environmental and energy-services company, disagreed.
COMPLAINTS ABOUT LINE
But even if the deal had gone through and the Canadian company had become the new owner, there was still the issue of the numerous complaints about the line that have been lodged by Boardman Township trustees and township Administrator Jason Loree.
Boardman officials have long urged the port authority — and the owners before the authority — to clean up the tracks to meet zoning codes.
Therefore, they had to have been encouraged by the recent news that a letter of intent between Aqua Capital Services, a subsidiary of Aqua America, and the Columbiana port authority to sell the line is moving toward becoming a sale contract.
Aqua Ohio, another subsidiary of Aqua America, provides drinking water to a large portion of Boardman Township. Company officials have a close working relationship with township government.
Thus, it would be unfathomable that the new owner of Y&S Railroad would fail to maintain the tracks and to keep the right-of-way clean.
After all, the line runs through the heart of Boardman and, in the past, has been an eyesore.
“Aqua is the type of entity we want [taking over the railroad] because they’ll make it better,” Drake said.
Why does Aqua America want to get into the rail business? One word: Shale.
The Y&S Railroad’s value has increased because of shale-industry development in Columbiana County. The rail is important, but a lot of companies are making money using railroad rights-of-ways due to their length.
Aqua is expected to build a water pipeline using the right of way, while trustees hope that the rail-line area eventually will become a walking and bicycling trail.
Aqua America will continue to operate the rail line after the sale.