CSX line will likely end up abandoned

WARREN — Trumbull County MetroParks was unable to secure $2.8 million to take possession of a railroad owned by CSX Transportation that is likely to be officially abandoned once the company complies with U.S. Surface Transportation Board requirements, according to Zach Svette, director of the park system.

The nearly 14 miles of CSX rail line travels in a semi-circle between Newton Falls and Niles, passing through Weathersfield, Howland, Warren and Warren Township.

CSX in May sought permission from the Surface Transportation Board to abandon the rail line. Interventions were filed by the county, local organizations and business owners in an attempt to prevent the rail from being abandoned.

In June, CSX accepted a Trumbull County proposal to begin negotiations to convert the line under a public use program, Rails-to-Trails. Under the program, the county and CSX had a chance to negotiate the terms to create a “railbanked” trail that would have maintained the culverts, tunnels and bridges, so the rail company could reopen the line in the future, should it choose to do so.

Svette said CSX wouldn’t budge on the $2.8 million price for the line — $1.6 million for the right-of-way and $1.2 million for the rails and ties.

“My hands were tied; they wouldn’t budge on the price,” Svette said.

Trumbull County Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa said CSX made a financial decision.

“CSX was able to get more money for scrapping the line than we could for interim trail use,” Cantalamessa said. “We are currently working with our economic development partners so that any other future abandonments or rail related issues can be dealt with.”

The MetroParks board also looked into only buying a portion of the line because some of it wasn’t in a prime position to be transformed for recreational use, but portioning the line wasn’t an option, Svette said.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber, the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation, Team NEO and Newton Falls Village Council were among other parties that tried to intervene in the rail abandonment.

Svette said he approached the local economic development agencies to see if they could help fund the program, to no avail.

The board has a $95,000 budget. About half of that is for Svette’s salary and benefits. He is the board’s only employee.

Without a source to fund the acquisition, negotiations were dead in the water, Svette said.

The trail could have finished the last four-mile Trumbull County leg of the 79-mile Western Reserve Greenway Bike Trail, but Svette said the original, planned route of the trail will do just fine.

“We didn’t get anything out of this, but we didn’t lose anything either,” Svette said.

A meeting is planned in April with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to talk about plans for the last leg of the trail, Svette said.

BDM Warren Steel Holdings also expressed interest in the line as the company works to redevelop the old RG Steel property for industrial use. The company offered $741,000 as a starting price in negotiations for the rail, but the application was rejected Aug. 30 by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

The line will be abandoned like CSX originally requested, Svette said.

Before the STB declares the rail abandoned, CSX will have to fulfill certain obligations.