Aqua America negotiating to purchase Y&S rail line
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By Burton Speakman
The Youngstown & Southern Railroad finally may have a buyer after years on the market. The Columbiana County Port Authority has been responsible for the rail line for several years and has been attempting to sell it.
Tracy Drake, port authority CEO, said a letter of intent to sell between a subsidiary of Aqua America and the port authority is moving toward becoming a sale contract.
“It could be completed quickly, but it will most likely be a couple of weeks before it gets done,” Drake said.
The expectation is the rail line’s value has increased because of shale-industry development in Columbiana County, he said. The rail is important, but a lot of companies are making money using railroad rights of way due to their length.
“Aqua is the type of entity we want [taking over the railroad] because they’ll make it better,” Drake said.
The hope was the sale could be completed by the end of June, but it will take a couple more weeks, said Bill Davis, vice president of corporate development for Aqua Capital Services.
Aqua has received estimates on how much would have to be invested in the rail line, he said. But he declined to provide any estimate.
“We tried to exercise due diligence as all good businesses should,” Davis said.
The expectation is that Aqua will build a water pipeline using the right of way, said Tom Costello, Boardman Township trustee.
Township officials say they also hope the rail-line area eventually will become a walking and bicycling trail, he said.
“Aqua has been good to deal with,” Costello said.
Conversely, the township has not been able to get help from the port authority to answer complaints about the line’s condition, he said.
Aqua America will continue to operate the rail line after the sale, Davis said.
“If we could sell some water along that route as well that would be great,” he added.
Aqua will continue to work with groups like Boardman Township and “be a good corporate citizen,” he said.
Aqua America officials said in 2012 that they wanted to build water pipelines in Ohio similar to those they have in Pennsylvania to provide water to fracking operations.
This is not the first time the line nearly has been sold. A potential agreement with Tervita, an environmental and energy-services company, fell through.
“We took over the rail line as a way to preserve a regional transportation asset,” Drake said.
The rail line has been a drain on port authority assets since it was taken over, however, he said.
It was important to sell to an entity like Aqua that would create confidence among the rail line’s customers, Drake said.