The Transylvania Times -

Railway Line Sale Gets One Step Closer – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 4/7/2021 at 4:06pm

Negotiations to finalize the sale of the Ecusta Trail corridor are underway after Blue Ridge Southern Railroad, LLC, owned by Watco Companies, filed a notice with the federal Surface Transportation Board to abandon the 19-mile line between Brevard and Hendersonville.

The notice of intent to abandon the line is more of a formality than it is a sign that the railroad wants the line to be abandoned, said Chris Burns, the marketing and communications chair for the Friends of the Ecusta Trail.

“These are the steps that you have to go through,” he said. “Just like if you’re buying a car, there’s certain steps that you have to go through. These are just the steps. (The sale) could close as early as next month, and I think as late as early June. But you’re looking at sometime probably in the next three to six weeks. The next step...Watco will choose a contractor to remove the rails and crossties, and that could start.”

As a part of the railbanking process created by Congress in 1983, as an amendment to the National Trails System Act, the railroad must file for abandonment before a trail entity (like Conserving Carolina in this case) can submit an offer to purchase the land.

If the sale is successful, the corridor does not go into abandonment.

Instead, it is transformed into a rail-to-trail system, such as the nearby Swamp Rabbit Trail or the Virginia Creeper Trail. By converting the former rail line into a trail, it preserves the land as a single corridor, instead of selling the land off into individual pieces, creating a patchwork of ownership along the former line.

The theory is to preserve the corridor in one piece should the need arise again to restore the rail line.

If the sale doesn’t go through, then the line would be considered abandoned. (The Ecusta Paper Co. was the line’s main customer, and since the paper mill’s closure in 2002, the line has largely sat unused.)

Ecusta Trail advocates have been working for over a decade to get the railbanking process into motion, and this latest development continues the project’s forward momentum.

As previously reported, Henderson County, with the help of Conserving Carolina and Friends of the Ecusta trail, has already secured funding through N.C. Department of Transportation grant money to complete the first three phases of the trail’s construction from downtown Hendersonville to the trail’s intersection with the French Broad River near the Transylvania County line.

The Transylvania County Board of Commissioners has yet to come out in support of the trail’s construction on the Transylvania County portion of the corridor, but Burns said the Friends of The Ecusta Trail group has recently had many promising conversations with the newly elected board.

“Friends of the Ecusta Trail have been having lots of really, really productive conversations with the Transylvania County commissioners, and we are pursuing some grant opportunities for planning, engineering and cost estimates, and the commissioners have been very open to listening to that potentially,” Burns said.

Funding for the construction of the Transylvania County portion of the trail is still up in the air, but Burns has previously said he believes it is possible to come up with the funds to implement the trail in the county without having to dip into taxpayers’ pockets.


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