Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Opening of P&N Railroad delayed to December

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 A portion of a local railroad track in North Carolina that has been out of service since the 1980s will likely reopen at least two months later than first expected, according to the Gaston Gazette. Officials initially hoped to see a four-mile stretch of the abandoned Piedmont and Northern Railroad come back into service by Oct. 1. But Gaston County Commissioner Joe Carpenter said that it won't happen until Dec. 1 at the earliest. Carpenter gave his update during the regular board meeting of the Gaston County, N.C., Economic Development Commission. The four-mile span to be reopened first runs between Gastonia and Ranlo, and will initially accommodate freight service.

"It's moving along," he said. "The only sticking point is negotiating the lease (with Norfolk Southern)."

The full P&N railway line runs 23 miles from Gastonia to Charlotte. Economic development advocates want to reopen it for companies that could use it for freight service from Gastonia to Mount Holly, and eventually hope to establish commuter rail service all the way to the Queen City.

CSX Transportation controls the P&N right-of-way between Mount Holly and Mecklenburg County.

The General Assembly last year approved $5 million to restore the P&N between Gastonia and Mount Holly. Gaston County commissioners followed by committing a $500,000 match to the project. That won't pay for the entire cost of renovating the railway spurs-a process that's already been underway, Carpenter said. One of the most costly aspects of readying the line for activity again has been putting in traffic arms and safety measures at street intersections, he said.

"Putting those crossings and gates back in is expensive," Carpenter said.

While only a four-mile stretch will be ready to go by Dec. 1, engineers are already working on a plan to reopen the line all the way to Mount Holly, he said.

The Gastonia City Council will also hold public hearings next month on closing two vehicle crossings over the rail line, at Park Avenue and Ida Street, in an effort to save money, said Gastonia City Manager Jim Palenick.

Constructed in 1911, the P&N carried freight and passengers between Gastonia and Charlotte for several decades. Advocates for reopening it also believe it could host tourist activities, such as dinner trains and tours to see the McAdenville Christmas lights, Belmont Abbey College and other county sites.

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