Tweetsie Historic Trail Association: Tweetsie Trail News: Tweetsie Trail Back On Track

Saturday, October 4
Tweetsie Trail Back On Track

City’s deal to acquire former rail line looks to be back on track

By COREY SHOUN

Johnson City Press Staff Writer

Johnson City, TN Sept. 24, 2008

 Things are once again looking up for the city of Johnson City in terms of a potential deal to

acquire a former rail line that could become the “Tweetsie Trail.”

A tentative deal between the city and Gennessee & Wyoming rail company dissolved just over a

month ago, but a promising new agreement appears to be in the works following a new round

of talks between the two sides.

“We had a very positive conference call (Friday),” City Manager Pete Peterson said. “They still

want to work with us, just under different circumstances than what was originally proposed.”

The City Commission voted last month to make a new bid for the 10-mile stretch of rail line

that could become a recreational trail. The panel voted to increase the ceiling amount of its bid

for the property, from $5 million to $5.1 million, but in August Peterson hinted the actual bid

amount would come in under $2 million.

Johnson City officials are primarily interested in converting the stretch into a recreational trail

similar to the popular Creeper Trail located in Damascus, Va.

The value of salvage steel has been on the rise of late, leading some to believe that

contributed to G&W’s reluctance to consummate the previous deal with the city.

City administrators had planned to factor in what could be received from the sale of the actual

steel rails included in the stretch. However G&W has now indicated a desire to remove the rails

itself and reap the sale proceeds.

“They want to salvage the tracks themselves and just sell us real estate under the tracks,”

Peterson said. “Currently, we are re-evaluating our proposal and trying to determine what is the

value of the real property under the tracks.”

Under that scenario, G&W would need to complete the process of rail banking before

removing the tracks. Otherwise, much of the stretch would revert to separate parcels owned by

many different parties.

“They would go ahead and do the rail banking,” Peterson said.

Under federal legislation, rail banking allows a rail line that has been formally abandoned to

be converted into another use while it is also reserved for the future should the need arise for

restoration of rail service.

Peterson said this new scenario could actually turn out to be the best option for the city.

“I think it will work out well unless we hit a stumbling block that no one has foreseen,”

Peterson said.

Late last year, Johnson City was all but declared the winner coming out of a lengthy process

to acquire the stretch. As late as two months ago, city officials and G&W were trading draft

contracts.

Then, G&W placed the line back up for bid and gave notice it would release the stretch as an

active rail line, effectively abandoning the city’s former request that G&W undertake the rail

banking process.

The line runs from Alabama Street in Johnson City to an area near U.S. Highway 19E in

Elizabethton. Though most of the stretch lies within Carter County, Johnson City’s base bid of

$1.8 million won out over Elizabethton’s $1.28 million bid last November and the Elizabethton

City Council has chosen, to this point, not to revisit the issue.

The line has not been used for active rail service since 2003. It was once a portion of the

historic East Tennessee and Western North Carolina (Tweetsie) line.

G&W officials have not responded to repeated attempts at contact by the Johnson City Press.