Council continues to explore rail banking former rail corridorRail banking would preserve corridor and allow for recreational trail use
Belfast — The City Council continues to explore a possible option to rail bank a section of the former Belfast and Moosehead Lake railroad from the Penobscot McCrum property to City Point Rail as the city's legal counsel explained the process.
In order to rail bank the corridor, City Legal Counsel Kristin Collins explained the city would have to begin moving towards abandoning the rail corridor, otherwise the city would be forced to continue to maintain the rail line.
If the city’s request to rail bank is approved, the corridor would be preserved and the railroad rights can be changed to recreational rights, Collins said. She noted many of the existing rail trails around the country were created as a result of rail banking.
Once the city begins the process of rail banking, a map of the rails must be created, published and kept on file for 60 days with the Federal Surface Transportation Safety Board. At that time the city would declare it is going to abandon the rail corridor and then make a formal request to bank the rail corridor, Collins said. She estimated the entire process could take about 180 days barring any complications.
“I anticipate we could start work on the rail trail next spring based on the rules in front of me,” Collins said.
Councilor Roger Lee asked if rail banking would have any impact on property owners who abut the corridor to which Collins said the city automatically acquires recreational rights for the corridor and easements are not required from abutters.
City Manager Joseph Slocum then asked if property owners could cross the corridor to get to their land on the other side of the city-owned corridor. Collins said they could and rail banking would actually make it easier for landowners to cross the corridor. Councilor Mike Hurley asked if cars could be parked in the rail corridor right-of-way, which Collins explained would not be allowed because rail banking only allows for foot and bike traffic to cross the corridor.
Lee also questioned what would happen to the property owners who did not agree to an easement when the city was first considering constructing a trail along the corridor. Collins said any concerns on the part of property owners would have to be filed in federal court because the city is not the entity changing the rights of the rail corridor — it’s the federal government.
Since there are some property owners who did not accept easements, Lee suggested offering payments to those landowners even though it wouldn’t be required.
“That would only be fair,” he said.
Collins agreed and said it would be mutually beneficial for the city and landowners to come to some sort of agreement.
After discussion concluded, Collins said she is working with the Rail Trail Consortium to see if there are any options for streamlining the rail banking process since Belfast is in the unique position of not being a large railroad business that is ceasing operation, which is typically the case with most rail banking requests.
“In this case the city owns the rail and the city will operate the trail and so it seems to me a lot of the regulations that apply here can be skipped and save the city a lot of money and effort. I’m not hoping for much, but its worth a try,” she said.
Republican Journal reporter Ben Holbrook can be reached at 338-3333 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.