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Posted: May 30, 2010 12:01 a.m.

Railroad not being abandoned; service being discontinued

Norfolk Southern is no longer in the process of abandoning its 14.9 mile portion of rail line running from Porterdale to Newborn, but has instead applied to discontinue service, said Director of Public Relations Susan Terpay.

"The rules around abandoning and discontinuing are different … If we apply for discontinuance we may not have to maintain it [the line], however, the tracks stay there. If we resume service we can still use it. If we abandon it we will have forfeited all opportunity to use the tracks," she said in a phone interview.

"NS may want to retain its operating rights into Newton County for future industrial development opportunities and if NS were to abandon this line and remove the tracks, there can be no future rail-served industrial development opportunities," Terpay said in a follow-up e-mail.

In a September phone interview Terpay had said the company was in the process of abandoning its tracks. The application to discontinue the line has to go through the federal Surface Transportation Board. On its website, the STB explains why railroad companies may choose to discontinue service:

"Carriers who own and operate a line may also file for "discontinuance" authority when they do not want to abandon the line. They may need the line for storage or repair, but they want to discontinue their common carrier obligation to provide transportation service over the line."

It’s unclear what will happen to the portion of railroad from Newborn to Shady Dale, which is leased from Norfolk Southern by short-line operator Squaw Creek Southern Railroad. Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan has repeatedly said Rose Acres Feed Mill, the lone customer on the track, has gone out of business. Squaw Creek Trainmaster Todd Phelps said no train has run on the tracks in 2010. He could not give terms of the company’s lease nor tell if the lease would be cancelled anytime soon.

While Norfolk Southern moves forward with their discontinuance, Sheridan and the Newborn Town Council are moving forward with their attempt to gather more information about a potential railroad purchase by the county.

The Newborn council sent a letter of interest to Norfolk Southern on May 3, and Sheridan said the two sides had a meeting on Wednesday in Atlanta. He said the company was very cooperative and answered many of the council member’s questions.

"They want to work with us to accomplish the take over by the county. It’s going to take some time, but there’s no real time limit from their end," Sheridan said Friday. "It’s not as simple as a new house purchase."

He said the leases signed by telecommunications companies, which allow their infrastructure to cross the rail line, were discussed but the revenue NS receives from the leases was not shared.

In her e-mail, Terpay said, "NS probably would require a Sales Contract (to) be executed between all the parties involved, with appropriate agreed upon contingencies, prior to releasing any information about the line."

Sheridan said the two sides are planning to meet again in three to four weeks in Newborn to go out and look at the rail line. County Chairman Kathy Morgan was invited to Wednesday’s meeting but could not attend, Sheridan said. He has invited her again to the next meeting. Sheridan has said previously that Newborn has no intention of purchasing the line by itself but does support a county purchase.

Morgan said in an e-mail she had not spoken to the railroad since last year and County Attorney Tommy Craig had not presented her with any new information recently.

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