New Y&S Railroad owner takes over troubled system

Last year, we were disappointed when a company with a presence in the Mahoning Valley failed to reach agreement on the purchase of the Youngstown & Southern Railroad, which has had a sordid history.

We believed that Aqua Capital Services, a subsidiary of Aqua America, would have been a good neighbor to Boardman Township. Aqua America has a subsidiary, Aqua Ohio, which provides drinking water to a large portion of Boardman. Company officials have a close working relationship with township government.

The 36-mile Y&S Railroad line runs from the township to Darlington, Pa., and over the years has been the cause of much consternation on the part of Boardman trustees, the administrator and residents.

The tracks have not been maintained to meet zoning codes, and the right-of-way has been an eyesore. The debris and litter have prompted numerous complaints about the line from Administrator Jason Loree and the trustees with the long-time owner, the Columbiana County Port Authority.

The decision by Aqua Capital Services not to buy the railroad was a blow to the community.

The recent announcement by the port authority that the line has been sold to Mule Sidetracks LLC, a subsidiary of MarkWest Energy Partners of Denver, for $3 million prompts this question: Is the new owner aware of the railroad’s troubled past?

If so, we hope that Mule Sidetracks will commit to keeping the tracks in good condition and the right-of-way clean. But if the new owner is not aware of the past, we would urge officials to not only sit down with Loree and trustees but also with residents who have participated in clean-up weekends. Over the years, with their complaints falling on deaf ears, Boardmanites have taken it upon themselves to do what the owner of the Y&S Railroad should have been doing: cleaning up after itself.

Given that Mule Sidetracks seems to have the financial wherewithal to continue operating the 36-mile line, we would expect the company to do what’s necessary to keep the residents of Boardman happy.

Mule’s parent, MarkWest Energy, is a leading provider of midstream services in the natural-gas industry. The company constructed the natural-gas transportation and fractionalization plant near Scio in Harrison County that receives gas from a collection and processing plant built near Kensington. The combined cost of the two projects came to nearly $1 billion.

Processing plant

Tracy Drake, chief executive officer of the Columbiana County Port Authority, has said he hopes the new owner of the railroad will locate a processing plant along the line.

Drake, who has touted the value of the line for a long time, expressed similar optimism about the future when it appeared that Aqua Capital was on the verge of taking over.

“Aqua is the type of entity we want [taking over the railroad] because they’ll make it better,” he said at the time.

But the deal fell apart — just as an agreement with Calgary-based Tervita Corp. failed to materialize.

Tervita abandoned its plans after it found contamination near the car barn in Negley. Drake contended the contamination occurred in the 1990s, “maybe three owners ago.”

Yet, the Y&S continues to attract potential suitors. Why? As we noted in an editorial on Aqua’s bid, the shale play that has brought the promises of riches to eastern Ohio and has made transportation a big deal.

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