N.C. Railroad takes a friendlier approach as residents remain skeptical

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
KANNAPOLIS ó Property owners along the railroad tracks welcomed the N.C. Railroad’s new, friendlier attitude at a meeting Thursday, but they mixed in a heavy dose of skepticism.
Dozens of property owners and local officials attended a hearing at the Kannapolis Train Station where N.C. Railroad officials spelled out their new stance.
Scott Saylor, president of the N.C. Railroad, said the company will no longer try to charge fees for businesses along the track. Instead, the company wants to work with property owners to protect the safety of the corridor.
He maintained the company has a right of way or encroachment for a 200-foot corridor along most of the corridor’s 317 miles. One of the exceptions is the city of Salisbury, which pre-dates the railroad company.
He said the policy represents a significant change for the railroad.
The new policy does not allow new construction within 30 feet from the track center, retroactive to Jan. 1.
In the event the property is needed for rail expansion in the future, the company would buy the building at the appraised tax value.
That sparked several questions from Rick Locklear, a Landis attorney.
Responding to Locklear, Saylor said the company won’t pay for the land and won’t pay for the business, only the building. He stressed the company would work with the owners to help them relocate or rebuild.
A man in the crowd said if the company took his building, he would lose his job.
Saylor responded the company didn’t want to take anyone’s livelihood.
Saylor admitted many of the current problems have arisen because company maps showing its rights of way have never been available.
He said the maps and documents were never recorded in counties because there weren’t any register of deeds or land record offices in 1850.
Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, disagreed, noting that Rowan County has deeds going back to Daniel Boone’s time on file.
Ed Muire, Rowan County’s planning director, asked if the maps will be placed on file in the counties.
Saylor said an electronic version of the 317-mile rail corridor will be available on the Department of Transportation Web site. He said many of the counties don’t have the electronic capability to handle the records.
After the hearing, Muire said copies of the maps showing the exact location of the corridor need to be on file in the Rowan County Register of Deeds office.
The maps are key to showing exactly where the center of the railroad is located. In some cases, Saylor said, the center may be between two tracks, or it could be in the middle of one track or the other where tracks run parallel.
He assured the group the center will not move even if the company adds additional tracks.
Saylor said the company hopes to restore a second track in areas where those tracks were taken out in the 1970s. While the design is under way, he said, funding may be years away.
Saylor said the company will also refund fees on a case-by-case basis.
The company president said Rowan and Cabarrus counties comprise the area with the most potential for encroachment because of the road structure ó U.S. 29 and Interstate 85 running parallel to the tracks.
He noted most of the corridor is rural with only farms.
State representatives Fred Steen of Landis, Jeff Barnhardt of Concord and Linda Johnson of Kannapolis made brief remarks.
Barnhardt and Steen, who serve on the committee drafting new rail legislation, stressed the work that has gone into getting the company to change its stance.
Barnhardt said the new policy or proposed legislation isn’t perfect.
“There is no easy answer,” he said. “We’re trying to do what is right and fair.”
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254.