Northampton Affirms Rails-to-Trails Intent

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Dec. 10 that will allow the Eastern Shore Railroad to be converted into a rails-to-trails project.

The railroad is operated by Canonie Atlantic, a private company, but its sole shareholder is the Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission (ANTDC), a public organization.

“In my view, that railroad is owned by the citizens of both counties, and I think that’s the way we need to look at what’s best for the two,” said Spencer Murray, the chairman of the Northampton board of supervisors.

The railroad had operated as Bay Coast Railroad since 2006, with headquarters in Cape Charles, but its fate became uncertain after the railroad ceased operations in May 2018.

Railroad tracks were pulled up, and items were donated to the Cape Charles Museum and Welcome Center, including rail cars and an engine.

“I saw this railroad as an asset,” said Murray, who is also a member of ANTDC.

But he also came to the realization that “financially, you can’t run a railroad on 100 cars a year.”

Instead of fully abandoning the railroad, Northampton supervisors “believe that it is in the best economic, recreational, health and tourism interests of their citizens that … the 49.1 miles of abandoned rail line be converted into a world-class rails-to-trails project,” according to the resolution.

The railroad right-of-way and easements used by utilities and other companies will remain intact.

Rails-to-trails is “the best thing that we can do that preserves all of our rights going forward,” Murray said.

The project will proceed with the support of the Virginia Bicycling Federation and in partnership with the Dahlgren Railroad Heritage Trail Association.

“This doesn’t transfer any ownership of … the rail line at all,” Murray assured the public.

Neither does participation in rails-to-trails mean the railroad will never run again.

“It preserves the opportunity and demands, under the National Trails Act, that if the need for rail comes back … we have to preserve everything in place so that it can come back.”