Cost of Repairs Debated

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By Linda Cicoira — A Pennsylvania expert thinks it will cost nearly $539,000 to repair the railroad tracks between Parksley, where massive Associated Grain silos sit beside the defunct line, to Hallwood, for a seven-mile hike. 

That’s about six times less than the $3.4 million estimated by a Delmarva Central Railroad employee last month. 

But, DCR President Mark Rosner told Canonie Atlantic board members Tuesday night the lower price doesn’t include the $80,000 in yearly maintenance that would be needed and it wouldn’t bring the line up to DCR’s standards. 

“It comes down to dollars and cents,” said Rosner. “If he’s wrong on one tie, we get fined by the federal government … what you’re proposing is very basic and it doesn’t get us where we want to be. You can’t get contractors down here. They don’t want to come down for a small job.”

In addition, work would have to be done on another five miles from Oak Hall’s Lecato Station to Hallwood to get the cars north. Rosner said DCR has already invested $1.75 million of its own money. “We didn’t expect to have pricing issues” or to lose customers. “We’re committed to the Eastern Shore, but we can’t spend any more money.”

DCR also doesn’t want to employ a second shift of workers. “Our guys only work 12 hours a day,” which is possible when cars go 25 mph. If the cars go slower, it takes longer.

“From an economic standpoint we need to be able to have the speed, that is safe, that we feel comfortable running.” Rosner said 700 cars a year would be needed to make it worthwhile. 

DCR just upgraded the line from Lecato to Pocomoke City, Md., to Class 2. That means the cars could go 25 mph. The job involves replacing 2,300 ties per mile. From Lecato to Hallwood, 700 ties per mile were replaced making that area Class 1, which allows cars to go 10 mph.

Richard Lewis, of Association Grain, has guaranteed 250 cars a year for three years. He wanted the seven-mile area to be taken out of the federal abandonment request. Lewis thought the initial figure to improve that portion of the line was too high so he hired the track consultant who made an inspection Aug. 22. 

Marty Kemp, of Pep-Up propane, also expressed interest in using the rail from south of Lecato. Canonie Chairman Donald Hart, who is also chairman of the Accomack Board of Supervisors, suggested Kemp and Rosner get together to talk about it.

Lewis was greeted by a more optimistic Canonie panel last month when members informally said if the railroad sold its property at Cape Charles or Little Creek, Va., it could afford to help update the Hallwood-Parksley route with $1 million. Remarks this week were grim.

“The first question ought to be … where is the money going to come from,” said board member Spencer Murray, who is also chairman of the Northampton County Board of Supervisors. “Canonie wants as much rail activity as we can get. We wanted it all the way down to Cape Charles.”

But companies weren’t using the line. Nearly two years ago, much of the railroad tracks that once ran from Cape Charles to Pocomoke City, stopped being used. The tracks had not been properly maintained; Canonie’s bank account was down to $800. Lewis said he had to get into the trucking business to move his product.

The track between Hallwood and Parksley is in “good shape” for 10 mph or a Class 1 track, Lewis’ consultant wrote. “Minor work” was needed to allow cars to go 25 mph, or Class 2. That consultant’s plan called for $80,180 in labor, $200,000 for materials, $25,000 for subcontractors, $98,000 for equipment, and $66,100 for various other costs. It also included an additional 15% or $70,392 for profit.

Replacing deteriorating ties was the key. “A Class 1 track only needs five good ties within a given 39-foot segment of track,” the report continued. “Class 2 requires eight good ties.” The report suggested replacing three ties for every 39 feet or 2,850 ties. “For estimating purposes, we will use 3,500 ties to be replaced or 17%.” 

Canonie board member Paul Muhly, who is also an Accomack supervisor, motioned for the board to get estimates to see what the contractors had to say about the costs. Several contractors were recommended and another from Norfolk, Va., was added to the list. Muhly questioned Rosner about the difference between DCR’s standards and the consultant’s suggestions.

“We upgrade to a very solid Class 2 probably some that are Class 4,” with the ability to go 60 mph, said Rosner. Regarding expanding to Parksley, “It’s just something we don’t want to do. We lease only to Hallwood. We’re not interested in leasing beyond.”

At first, none of the other members would second Muhly’s motion. Finally, Ron Wolff, another Accomack supervisor, seconded the motion to allow for discussion.

“Personally, I would want to see the rail come to Parksley,” said board member Reneta Major, also an Accomack supervisor. “If DCR is not willing or doesn’t see it as feasible, … we’re knocking our heads against the dead post.”

Muhly said the purpose was to find out the cost, which might make it more attractive, or “someone else might want to start a railroad.” 

Murray said getting contractors to spend their time and money to make bids is wrong if there is no money for the job. “Are you acting in good faith when you don’t know if you are ever going to do business?” he asked.

“I’d love to do this too,” said John Coker, another Canonie member, and a Northampton supervisor. “I think we have the cart before the horse. If we sold Cape Charles for $10 million or Little Creek for $10 million, it would be a different ballgame. I might vote very differently.”

Eventually, Muhly withdrew his motion.

Louise Johnson, of Greenbush, voiced opposition to the railroad property being turned over to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy to solve issues of abandonment. The nonprofit organization is “dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

Johnson said in other places where trails were begun, the money ran out and the job was never completed. She wanted to know who would maintain it. Johnson also noted that there was “nothing to see” along the route as the highway is on one side and soybean fields are on the other. She wanted to see the Lankford Highway and Route 316 widened for safety instead.

Murray said the trails program will allow the railroad to keep its leases. It would preserve broadband and electric lines and could someday allow a rail to come back. “There could be a bullet train 50 years from now,” he said. “What rails to trails does is it avoids abandonment … it keeps everything alive. You have to get the right sponsor.” He also said the endeavor would keep Canonie from having to be responsible for maintaining crossings.

Murray said the Navy is interested in discussing Little Creek, which could eventually lead to the Navy purchasing the Canonie property there. 

He also reported Showtime is interested in using local rails to film segments of a mini-series based on James McBride’s novel, “The Good Lord Bird,” about abolitionist John Brown and starring Ethan Hawke.