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Newborn interested in rail line

NEWBORN -- The Newborn Town Council agreed Monday night to send a letter of interest to Norfolk Southern Railroad regarding the purchase of 15 miles of rail line running from Covington to Newborn.

"The town of Newborn is not going to sit on the side and watch everybody doing nothing on the railroad. We are sending a letter of interest. We want to find out what it's all about. We want to get all the information we can and then proceed from there," Mayor Roger Sheridan said.

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 questioned why the city of Covington had not sent a letter of interest. The city's grant writer, Randy Conner, said Norfolk Southern would not provide detailed information until they received such a letter.

The railroad has offered to sell that portion of its line to Newton County for $1.8 million, although Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Kathy Morgan has said that price could be negotiated. The county has a federal grant of $1.06 million to apply toward the purchase.

The City Council voted 5-1 not to pursue the purchase of the railroad in April, and Newton County has yet to make a move.

"Covington voted against it. The county commission has done nothing on it. So our board decided maybe we should move in and see what can be done and then proceed from there. All it is is a letter. We want to ask questions," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said he hopes those answers can be brought back to city and county officials for further discussion.

"As we are at the Eastern Terminus of this proposed abandonment, we are very interested in the possibility of the right of way being purchased and converted into a biking/hiking trail. We will be having discussions with Mr. Jim Marshall, U.S. Representative, concerning the grant which is available to us in Newton County, and we would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the facts concerning the abandonment and disposal of the existing railroad," the letter, addressed to Steven G. Portnell of Norfolk Southern Corporation, states. "Until we have these discussions with you and have an opportunity to consider the information, we can only express our interest in obtaining the right of way."

Sheridan said Newborn officials want to see something done with the railroad, which has been proposed as a rails to trails project, regardless of whether its Newborn, the county or the city that does it.

"Covington cannot send the letter. The county has not sent it, so we're sending it to them. Hopefully, they'll talk to us. At the (April 29) meeting, they kept talking about how a letter of interest had to be sent. The question is who is going to send it? So we are," Sheridan said.

Staff Correspondent Aimee Jones contributed to this story.