Monday, June 18, 2018
By Ed Runyan
The potential loss of 13.9 miles of a railroad line between Niles and Newton Falls has sparked concern among some Trumbull County officials.
Members of the economic-development committee of Warren City Council met last week to discuss CSX Railroad’s request to the federal government to abandon the nearly 14 miles of rail track.
Warren Mayor Doug Franklin said such abandonments are “a cause for concern from an economic-development standpoint” because having rail lines on that property is better than any other type of activity.
The line has not been used for rail traffic in at least two years, CSX reported to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.
If abandonment is granted, CSX “would be able to salvage track, ties and other railroad appurtanances and dispose of the right of way,” CSX told the STB. The right of way is approximately 65 feet wide.
A document on file for the abandonment request came from a law firm representing BDM Warren Steel Holdings LLC, indicating its interest in the rail line in order to salvage the rails. BDM Warren Steel Holdings owns the former RG/Republic Steel mill south of the city.
The line runs northwest out of Niles, parallel to and west of state Route 169 into Warren and heads west through the former Westlawn/Warren Western Reserve area on its way toward Newton Falls.
Part of the council committee’s discussion last week was about the Trumbull County MetroParks Board having considered several miles of the rail line in Howland, Weathersfield and Niles for creating the final leg of the Western Reserve Greenway bike trail.
Zach Svette, MetroParks projects manager, said the MetroParks had started engineering to create an alternate route for the bike and hike trail. It had appeared the CSX route was not available. But with the requested abandonment, that route is back on the table.
The county commissioners filed documents with the Surface Transportation board expressing an interest in using the CSX route for the last leg of the bike trail.
The village of Newton Falls has also written to the Surface Transportation Board expressing interest in the rail line.
Newton Falls Mayor Lyle Waddell said a Newton Falls company, Venture Plastic, has expressed an interest in rail service, and the CSX line runs past the plant.
“We want to keep the rail because it’s an economic-development tool,” Waddell said. Companies frequently tell city officials they are interested in acquiring a factory building with rail access, so Newton Falls officials want to preserve that asset if they can.
Daniel Van Epps, who regularly attends meetings of the Western Reserve Port Authority as executive director for the Conotton-Sandy-Tuscarawas Valley Community Improvement Corporation, said Thursday he believes Mahoning Valley officials should seize the opportunity to take possession of the rail line and prevent the rails from being removed.
Whether the line is used for a bike trail or not, allowing the rails to be removed would make it much more expensive for rail travel to be restored at a later date. He gave an example of a location in Cecil Township near Pittsburgh that has a rail line and bike trail on the same rail right of way.
Van Epps’ organization has worked for years to restore rail service to its community in Tuscarawas County because the loss of the rail lines had a devastating effect on the area’s economy.
He said the price to restore rail lines is $1.1 million to $1.5 million per mile. He believes it might cost about $2 million to acquire all 13.9 miles of line.
It has happened before: The Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp. in Liberty entered the railroad business in 1985, purchasing a 2.75-mile rail line in west Youngstown and Austintown, 3-mile CSX North Warren Lead in 1994, and more recently the 3.9 miles of Conrail’s Freedom Secondary Railroad in Warren, according to the MVEDC website.