Members of the York County Rail Trail Authority want to see the 125-year-old Stewartstown Railroad corridor remain intact. But they worry that pieces might be sold off.
The estate of George M. Hart, the railroad’s former president, plans to file for abandonment of the railroad in a couple of weeks. It’s a step the estate needs to take so that it can foreclose on the railroad to collect a $350,000 debt the Stewartstown Railroad owed Hart.
“This is a York County historical asset, and we don’t want to see it lost,” said Carl Knoch, chairman of the county’s rail trail authority. So the authority plans to ask for a meeting with the York County Commissioners and municipal representatives to consider filing for “railbanking,” which would allow the corridor to be used as a trail but also save it for future rail use.
A party can apply to preserve the corridor within 30 days after the estate files for abandonment of the line with the Surface Transportation Board, authority executive director Gwen Loose said. If negotiations are successful, the parties would agree on a price to be paid to the railroad for preserving it, she said.
York County Commissioner Steve Chronister said he’s not sure he wants to get in the middle of it. He knows that the railroad wants to keep it going. David Williamson, president of the Stewartstown Railroad, said he was not aware of the authority’s discussion at a recent meeting. He hopes that the railroad will be included in future talks because it is the owner.
Even though the railroad is not in operation, efforts have been made to restore it to operating condition as a freight carrier, according to a filing with the Surface Transportation Board.
The railroad has developed a business plan for future operations, which would result in the renewal of freight and passenger service. It is expected that they will generate revenues to continue operations indefinitely, the filing states.
The corridor is not wide enough to allow for both a trail and a railroad track like on the Heritage Rail Trail County Park, Knoch said. But if the corridor is preserved, the tracks could be installed again if demand arises for freight use, he said. It has happened with other trails.
In addition, the Stewartstown line links to the Heritage Rail Trail in New Freedom, Knoch said. It would give walkers and bicycle riders another trail to travel and at the same time preserve the railroad history.
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