Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NS paid nearly $12 million for rail hub land at McCalla, Ala.

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Norfolk Southern Corp. paid nearly $12 million to purchase the 316 acres in McCalla, Ala., where it plans to build a $112 million railroad hub, according to county records, The Birmingham News reports. The railroad company bought land from six different property owners in transactions ranging in price from $72,545.40 to more than $5.8 million, the property records show.

The investment to get ownership of the property indicates that Norfolk Southern believes there are no major roadblocks to its plans for the hub, despite opposition from some McCalla residents.

The company's Birmingham Regional Intermodal Facility will be used to load and unload shipping containers from trucks and trains.

NS purchased the first tract for the hub on Jan. 29. It used the name McCalla Real Estate LLC in an apparent attempt to prevent the public from finding out it was purchasing property in the area, which would have driven up land prices. Plans for the hub were first reported by The Birmingham News in July.

The company has said it hopes to have the necessary permitting and designs on the project completed by this summer, with construction starting before the end of 2010. The company plans to begin operating the facility in 2013.

Terry Finch, a founder and leader of the No Hub group, said he and other opponents still hope the railroad company will decide against building the hub in McCalla -- a slim chance considering the land purchases.

"I've been told of a couple of instances where the railroad has bought property and things didn't work out," Finch said. "But, yes, all indications are they feel pretty confident or else they wouldn't spend that kind of money buying the property."

Finch said the hub's proximity to McAdory Elementary School is still the primary argument against its construction. Part of the hub property is adjacent to the school.

"We're still holding on for hope that the school is going to be affected so negatively that there is a possibility that this thing could still be moved," Finch said. "We realize it's probably a longshot. We feel like the parents of the children at the school really are not fully aware of how harmful the pollution from the hub can be."

Norfolk Southern has said its own studies show that the school concerns raised by No Hub are unfounded. The railroad has offered to have its studies reviewed by the Jefferson County Board of Education, and the school board has hired its own experts to do just that.

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