Two interconnecting branch lines of the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. running from South Bend’s west side to the Saint Mary’s College campus would be abandoned if a petition filed by the City of South Bend and other partners is approved.
Attorneys representing the City of South Bend, the Brothers of Holy Cross Inc., Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame and the Sisters of the Holy Cross Inc. filed the petition Tuesday with the federal Surface Transportation Board. The petition seeks to re-open the board’s 2008 ruling that there wasn’t a sufficient burden of proof for Norfolk Southern to abandon the 3.7 miles of rail lines, even though the railway company has indicated it will not sell the lines to any purchaser.
The above map shows 4 miles of unused railway. The city it trying to get all but 0.3 miles declared ‘abandoned’.
“There is no hope of attracting current or future traffic to move over the long-dormant, dead-end tracks that are involved in this case,” the petition said. “Their prolonged retention as part of the nation’s rail transportation system serves no useful purpose.”
The Norfolk Southern branch lines have not been used for any rail service since 1994 or 1995 when they were owned by Conrail. In addition, seven businesses located along the line unanimously support abandonment, saying they have no present or future need for rail service.
The City of South Bend hopes to use the abandoned railway corridor as right of way for utilities as well as for further development of multipurpose trails that would connect the city’s west-side neighborhoods with the Riverside Trail, the East Bank Trail and potentially the campuses of Holy Cross College, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame.
Although the Surface Transportation Board in a split decision denied a 2008 appeal to reopen the abandonment petition, the Board indicated that applicants could revisit the question “should the transfer, rehabilitation and restoration of operations not occur within a reasonable period of time.”
“A reasonable period of time has now passed since the Board issued its February 2008 decision. Because no evidence of any future need has ever materialized and because the lines have not been sold or restored, abandonment authority should be summarily granted,” petitioners said. “Abandonment of the lines and the permanent removal of the remaining tracks will permit the revitalization and full development of the former right-of-way and facilitate the use, development and enjoyment of the underlying real properties.”
Renewed service hasn’t materialized. The lines have not been rehabilitated and Norfolk Southern has recently removed additional safety equipment from the lines, which have 22 rail crossings over streets and alleys within city limits. Norfolk Southern “management does not see a real possibility that rail services will ever be resumed,” petitioners said, adding that “continued upkeep of the safety equipment … is a waste of its assets.”
“Unused lines located in an urban setting … are a barricade to development and contribute to urban blight,” petitioners said. “This is an intolerable situation that is contrary to the public interest, especially when the industries and businesses along the line have made it crystal clear that they have no need for future rail service and support abandonment of the lines in order to encourage local development and the revitalization of the part of South Bend that is adjacent to the lines.”
The Surface Transportation Board is an economic regulatory agency charged with resolving freight railroad rate and service disputes as well as reviewing proposed rail mergers, rail line purchases, constructions and abandonments.
The petition was filed by City Attorney Charles Leone on behalf of the City of South Bend and Attorney Richard H. Streeter, counsel for the Sisters of Holy Cross Inc., Brothers of Holy Cross Inc. and Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame.