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Norfolk Southern: Had offers for rail line
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Norfolk Southern is still looking for someone to purchase its 14.9-mile rail line in Newton County, and a spokesman said the company has received offers for the land, though he didn’t give specifics.

The company filed a notice with the federal government July 1 to abandon the rail line, which hasn’t been used since at least 2010, and plans to pull up the tracks and sell the land if the abandonment goes through.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rick Harris said no portions of the rail line have been sold but it is continuing to be marketed.

“The land is being marketed and we have received offers for the land, and, of course, any real-estate transactions, while under way, are confidential and we wouldn’t be in a position to talk about the land itself or the negotiations,” Harris said Thursday. “Nothing can happen to it until or unless the Surface Transportation Board grants abandonment.”

The actual land couldn’t be sold to any non-railroad entity without first being abandoned, Harris said.

The land itself – not including the steel – had a stated price of nearly $4 million when it first went on the market in late 2012. Covington city officials previously said the total amount of land was around 115 acres based on their research.

The steel rails will not be included in a purchase, but will be taken up and sold as scrap metal, the company has said on multiple occasions; the value of the steel is $600,000 to $900,000, according to Bill Butler, whose firm, JWB Realty, is marketing the property.

Once the abandonment is complete, the land will most likely revert to its original owners. In this case, Harris said Norfolk Southern owns the rights to most of the land, but he said he didn’t know about every parcel in the line.

Potential buyers can make offers to buy the rail line before abandonment is finalized, according to Karl Morell, an attorney and railroad law expert with the Portland, Ore.-based Ball Janik law firm. If such an offer were made, the potential buyer and Norfolk Southern would have 30 days to negotiate if the buyer felt the price was unreasonable. If no agreement were reached, the Surface Transportation Board could set a new price.

Another possibility would be for a group to file to “railbank” the land, a federal process by which a rail can be converted into a trail if a group chooses to purchase the land. The right to use the corridor as a trail would exist until a need for a railroad to serve the area was again demonstrated.

The local nonprofit Newton Trails group is exploring the possibility of such a move, chairman Florian Pohl said last week, in an effort to open up negotiations to see if there is a way to preserve the corridor.

The Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners previously voted not to pursue a purchase of the corridor, stemming from initial conversations years ago when a portion of the track in the city limits was going to be purchased for a proposed civic center. The economic downturn delayed those original plans.

Harris said he didn’t believe there was any significance to the timing of the abandonment filing other than the simple fact the line has been out-of-use for three years.