Norfolk Southern to stop service on rail line

COVINGTON -- Norfolk Southern has applied to discontinue service on its rail line between Porterdale and Newborn in lieu of an abandonment, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

"This means that although we will not operate freight trains over this line segment, the track will stay in place," spokeswoman Susan Terpay said. "This allows us to retain its operating rights in Newton County for future industrial development opportunities. With an abandonment, the tracks are removed, and there (would) be no future rail service."

Terpay said she could not speak on whether the door remains open for local governments to purchase the rail line.

"We've had discussions and there's been an interest. Right now, we're not going to operate trains on it. As far as whether it is available to be purchased, I can't tell you what their thoughts are," Terpay said.

Terpay said there are no customers on the line. One existing customer between Newborn and Shady Dale is served by a short-line operator that feeds into the Norfolk Southern line, Terpay said.

"When you discontinue service, you are not required to regularly maintain that track as you would be when it was operating," she said. "Since we're not going to be using it, the law requires a discontinuance of service ... We don't have any customers on that line, but in the future, there may be industrial development in that area where we would need to keep it."

Norfolk Southern had offered to sell the rail line to Newton County for $1.8 million. The county has a federal grant of $1.06 million to apply toward the purchase, and potentially $500,000 in SPLOST dollars earmarked for right of way purchase on the property where the downtown civic center was to be located.

However, Chairman Kathy Morgan has said she does not have a consensus from the Board of Commissioners to pursue the purchase. The Covington City Council voted not to pursue the purchase in April. Meanwhile, the town of Newborn has sent a letter of interest to Norfolk Southern in an attempt to get more information about what the purchase would entail. Mayor Roger Sheridan said the town likely couldn't afford to purchase the line, but officials in Newborn are hoping the county and city will reconsider once more information is available.

At a public meeting held April 29 at Covington City Hall, members of the public frustrated by the lack of information on what the purchase would entail in terms of future expense questioned why the city of Covington had not sent a letter of interest. The city's grant writer, Randy Conner, stated that Norfolk Southern would not provide detailed information until Covington received such a letter, prompting Newborn officials to take action.