Saylor Goes To Bat For Stewartstown Railroad

Charlie Lardner
The York Dispatch

The Stewartstown Railroad is getting help from the Majority Whip of the state House of Representatives in its campaign to keep the historic short line from being dissolved in a sheriff’s sale.

The Stewartstown Rail Co. was created in 1885 but hasn’t been operational since 2004. It provided both freight and passenger service between Stewartstown and New Freedom along its 7.4-mile stretch of track.

But the rail company owes $352,415 to the estate of late benefactor George M. Hart, who lent the money to the company. He died in April 2008, and the money must be collected before the estate can be closed.

After three years of unsuccessful attempts by the estate to resolve the debt, Washington D.C.-based transportation attorney Keith O’Brien was retained and filed a motion July 7 with the federal Surface Transportation Board to approve an “adverse abandonment” of the railroad.

Approval of the adverse abandonment request would allow the estate to ask the York County Court to foreclose on and dissolve the Stewartstown Rail Co. in a sheriff’s sale to recoup the $352,415.

But, O’Brien said, adverse abandonment is not the only choice the federal panel has before it, provided the money to pay the estate can be raised.

“The board can also consider offers of financial assistance accompanied by a business plan to acquire the line and keep it operational,” O’Brien said. “Or, a rails-to-trails group could reach an agreement with the current owners of the Stewartstown Rail Co. to preserve the corridor.”

Thursday, state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said there is interest in pursuing the business plan option, and has written a letter to the board advising its members of the Stewartstown tracks’ potential to contribute to the economic development of York County.

That’s because York County has leased its portion of the Northern Central Railroad to Steam Into History. The nonprofit group wants to create an excursion rail service in the area.

The group has also committed to moving freight between the Stewartstown tracks at New Freedom and a connection with York Railway, creating a viable connection with the interstate rail network, Saylor advised in his letter.

The North Central tracks run from New Freedom to Baltimore, and York Railway retains rights to the tracks along the county rail trail — a potential freight rail connection to major seaport.

But the key to creating such freight service is having a business that wants to use it, and Saylor said someone has expressed such interest.

“There is a person who has financial interests in rail shipping and is looking for rail terminal in southeastern Pennsylvania,” Saylor said. “We don’t have a firm commitment at this point, but he is formulating a business model for the line and seeking approval from his board of directors.”

A decision by the board should come within 120 days, O’Brien said.

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