The Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority can make $286,500 by selling approximately 8.11 miles of unused steel rail from train tracks to a Tennessee company, but one county official is not sold on the idea.
Authority management pursued the proposal about a year ago after a piece of rail was removed by thieves, presumably for the scrap value, along an unused stretch of the authority’s 55-mile track in the county, authority Executive Director Andrew Reilly said Monday.
The Luzerne and Susquehanna Railway Co., which manages the line, recommended the sale and identified rail stretches that are not in use and don’t appear to have any use in the near future, Reilly said.
“This way we could get some money for it, as opposed to letting it be stolen and disappear,” Reilly said.
County Councilman Rick Williams is urging the authority to hold off on a decision, saying potential ramifications should be fully explored.
The authority could lose its right-of-way claim on the land if it reverts back to the original property owners because the rail line is removed, Williams said. The authority’s plan to leave the railroad ties in place may not be enough to stake a continued claim, he said.
“My hope is that they do the legal due diligence to search the title and all the rights of way that could be abandoned to make sure there aren’t reversionary clauses,” Williams said.
According to authority descriptions and maps, the track proposed for removal includes:
• 10,000 feet in the Dupont area from Suscon Road to Tariff Road.
• 17,323 feet along Murray Street through the Forty Fort and Kingston areas.
• 6,000 feet from the Bridon America plant in Exeter to Sixth Street in Wyoming.
• 9,500 feet in Lackawanna County from Route 502 to Montage Mountain Road.
• 800 feet of rail piles on Pennsylvania Avenue and Wilkes-Barre Boulevard in Wilkes-Barre.
Williams said theft should be reported to police but not used as justification to give up rail that may serve a future purpose. He is among the supporters of passenger rail service linking New York City to Scranton and then Wilkes-Barre, although government funding and approval remain hurdles.
“It just seems shortsighted,” Williams said. “What’s to say we might not need this track 10 or 15 years from now?”
He also questions what the authority would do with the more than $280,000 in revenue.
“I’d hope they would repay the county, but they may have other needs,” he said.
Reilly said the authority would turn over proceeds to the county toward past loans.
The authority owes the county $1.8 million and the county community development business loan fund $1.56 million.
County officials provided this funding in 2001 because the authority was in danger of defaulting on its mortgage and losing ownership of the track. About 25 businesses serviced by the rail line had pushed for county financial assistance at that time, saying $50 million in salaries and thousands of jobs were in jeopardy.
Reilly said much of the track slated for removal is “literally in backyards” and not feasible for passenger or freight. Even if passenger rail occurred tomorrow, the rail would have to be ripped up and replaced to accommodate it, said Reilly, who is not optimistic passenger rail will come to Wilkes-Barre in his lifetime.
The authority was slated to vote on accepting the $286,500 bid from Keystone Rail Recovery, of Knoxville, at its Tuesday meeting, but Reilly said Monday afternoon he will recommend the authority board table the matter.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.