Federal board recognizes city as owner of rail corridor
Belfast — Belfast's application requesting to rail bank a section of the rail corridor it purchased in 2010 can proceed now that it is the recognized owner of the right-of-way.
The city purchased the railroad right-of-way from the Unity Foundation for $200,000 with the intent of converting a portion of the corridor to a recreational trail. Over the course of the past year, the city has refined its plans for the proposed rail trail and narrowed options down to a 10-foot wide stone dust path that would extend from the edge of the Penobscot McCrum property just north of the Armistice Footbridge out to Oak Hill Road.
To pay for the cost of constructing the trail, the city is looking at hiring a firm that will salvage the steel rail and build the trail in exchange. However, before any of the rail can be removed, the city needed permission from the federal Surface Transportation Board to rail bank the portion of the corridor that would be converted to a trail.
Rail banking is the process by which the city can effectively abandon the corridor, which will allow for the removal of the existing rail for the construction of the recreational trail. However, rail banking does not prevent a company from approaching the city about re-establishing rail use along the corridor in the future.
When councilors discussed submitting an application to the Surface Transportation Board to rail bank a portion of its rail corridor, City Manager Joseph Slocum believed the process could be streamlined through a “class exemption” because freight traffic hadn't traveled on the rail for a period of at least two years.
However, when the city submitted its application, the Surface Transportation Board discovered Belfast was not a listed owner for the corridor, neither was the Unity Foundation, the organization the city purchased the corridor from in 2010, and instead the Belfast and Moosehead Lake Railroad was the listed owner, Slocum told The Republican Journal Friday, Jan. 10.
Slocum said the discrepancy was due in part to the fact the city's application looked unusual to the Surface Transportation Board. He further explained that in most instances, a railroad company will bank a portion of its rail and then partner with another organization, which would operate a recreational trail along the abandoned corridor.
In Belfast's case, the would be both the owner of the rail corridor and the operator of the recreational trail, Slocum said.
As of Jan. 9, Slocum said the city is now the recognized owner of the rail corridor and its application to rail bank can proceed. He said he hopes a decision will be made regarding the rail banking application in the coming months.
As the city awaits word on the status of its rail banking application, Slocum said the fundraising efforts by Coastal Mountains Land Trust continue to proceed.
Though he declined to reveal how much money has been raised to date, Slocum characterized the effort as “going well,” and said he believes there are a number of people in the city who support the construction of the recreational trail and will support the project financially.
Ben Holbrook is a reporter for The Republican Journal covering general news.
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