Rep. Fleischmann on board in efforts to save rail line

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., has weighed in on the local campaign to save an historic railroad line from fading into oblivion.

This past week, the congressman wrote a letter to the three members of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board asking the board to reconsider its recent decision to deny an appeal seeking to overturn the board’s earlier decision to allow the line to be permanently closed and removed.

In the letter, Fleischmann said:

“I am writing in support of preserving the 41 miles of railroad line located in Scott, Campbell, and Anderson Counties, Tennessee, and I ask that you thoughtfully review the reconsideration petition from the North East Tennessee Rail Authority and the Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad Company to allow for the purchase of this line owned by R.J. Corman (RJC).

“The projected business plan for this line, along with efforts to add new shippers, will have a positive annual economic impact. However, the abandonment and removal of the line in theses rural counties would have a negative impact on the local communities and damage their prospects for growth and development.

“Additionally, removal of the line would jeopardize any future utilization of energy reserves in these areas and eliminate Tennessee jobs.

“Since 2008, over $1.7 million in public dollars, including U.S. Department of Transportation TIGER Grant funds, were used for the rehabilitation and maintenance of the RJC line in Tennessee. It would be disappointing if taxpayer funds were wasted, especially those awarded to support economically distressed counties.

“Proudly serving East Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives, I applaud the dedication of business leaders and local governing authorities in Anderson, Campbell, and Scott Counties to improve their communities.

“It is a privilege to lend my support for the continued operation of the railroad line, and I ask for your renewed consideration.”

New appeal filed

On Oct. 13, local proponents of efforts to save the rail line filed a new appeal with the Surface Transportation Board to try to overturn the board’s Sept. 25 decision that would allow for immediate removal of the tracks and a permanent closing of the line.

The North East Tennessee Railroad Authority, whose chair is Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank, joined the Oklahoma-based Arkansas-Oklahoma Railroad Co. – or AOK -- in seeking a re-hearing in the case, in which the board denied an earlier appeal that could have saved the line.

Frank has been leading efforts to save the 42-mile railroad line that runs from Oneida, in Scott County, to Devonia, in remote southwestern Anderson County since well before Kentucky-based R.J. Corman Railroad Co., owner of the line, filed a notice of planned abandonment with the STB in March.

The latest appeal seeks to overturn the board’s ruling, by a 2-1 vote on Sept. 25, and is based on some new evidence and arguments intended to bolster the case for saving the line, Frank said last week.

Just ‘one mind’

“We just need to change one mind,” Frank said, referring to the narrow loss in the Sept. 25 vote that could be reversed if only one of the two commissioners changes positions and votes to save the line.

“We’re hoping and praying,” Frank said. “The commissioner who sided with us said he believed we met all of the requirements, but in this new petition, we did address some of the questions the other members had. …We gave them new information that hopefully will be of benefit. I’m really hopeful.”

R.J. Corman again filed an objection to the appeal, on Oct. 21, asking the board to reject the local community’s pleas and allow the Kentucky-based short-line operator to tear up and sell off the rails and other recoverable materials of the line, which runs from Oneida to Devonia, in remote southwestern Anderson County. The line was started in 1889, and has been used extensively for coal and timber operations in the region. Trains last ran on the tracks in 2013, when a coal mine at Devonia shut down.