The city can begin moving forward with its efforts to construct a recreational trail after receiving approval from the federal government to bank a portion of its rail corridor.

City officials have been waiting for a response from the Surface Transportation Board in regards to an application filed to rail bank a portion of the rail corridor that stretches from the edge of Penobscot McCrum's property out to the Waldo town line.

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.

The portion of the corridor the city is rail banking extends from Penobscot McCrum to Oak Hill Road. With approval from the Surface Transportation Board, the city can remove the rails between Penobscot McCrum and Oak Hill Road and construct a recreational trail.

Early in April, councilors supported a request from City Manager Joseph Slocum to enter into an agreement with VHB consulting engineers to prepare bid documents for the removal of the rail and rail ties for the recreational trail.

According to previously published reports,the city hopes the salvage value of the steel rail will cover the cost of having it removed. According to the scope of work plans from VHB, the firm will prepare a “best value” contract, meaning the bid will be awarded to the contractor that proposes the best dollar value for completing the specified work.

Because the salvage value of the steel rail is unknown, the best value proposal from a contractor could be defined as either the lowest cost to the city or the highest net proceeds to Belfast, depending on the salvage value of the rail versus the construction cost.

The cost to have VHB prepare the bid documents is estimated to be $4,700. The money will be paid out of the Rail Trail Trust account.

When the city initially looked at rail banking, Slocum believed the process would be streamlined through a class exemption due to the fact that freight traffic had not used 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,nor 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, according to previously published reports.

Slocum said the discrepancy was due in part to the fact that 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 city would be both the owner of the rail corridor and the operator of the recreational trail, Slocum said, according to previously published reports.

To help cover the costs of the recreational trail, the city is partnering with Coastal  Mountains Land Trust, which has launched a fundraising campaign. Although details about how much money the organization has raised to date have not been released, city officials have previously characterized the effort as going well.