Railroad tracks along Virginia’s Eastern Shore that span from Hallwood to Cape Charles are currently being removed and the scrap is being repurposed. The railroad owner, Canonie Atlantic Co. has signed a contract to remove the rails, ties, and signals. The removal of tracks started in the north.
Completed in 1884, the Bay Coast Railroad (BCR), owned by Canonie Atlantic Company, ran from the Town of Cape Charles, Virginia to Pocomoke City, Maryland. The rail contributed to the economic boom of the Eastern Shore peninsula and was used for freight and passenger transportation. It brought job opportunities to the Eastern Shore, caused an expansion and shift in what was grown on the region’s farmland, and spurred the development and success of new communities. However, due to inactivity on the southern portion of the rail line, the BCR ran its last operation in May 2018, and the southern Eastern Shore section was abandoned.
The 50-mile rail corridor has been used by different operators for over 100 years.
Railroad revivalists like John Paffrath of Cape Charles still hold onto the belief that the railroad could still be viable.
As an asset, the owners do not think so.
The final nail in the coffin came last October when the Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission voted to begin removing the railroad’s tracks. Rail Enterprise Group, which operates four shorter lines in the Northeast offered a proposal to begin using part of the rail system. Canonie Atlantic Co., which owns the system, stated that it could not stop the removal due to contractual obligations.
Other railroads have looked into the viability of the Hallwood to Cape Charles line, but on average, most found it would need a minimum of $5 to $6 million to bring it up to modern, usable (profitable) standards.
Spencer Murray, senior vice president-administration of Canonie Atlantic Co., said in a previously released statement, “The ANTDC and CAC are fully aware of the history of rail on the Shore and no one desires to see even a portion cease operations,” Hart and Murray’s statement reads. “Unfortunately, economic reality demands this temporary measure by the ANTDC and CAC.”
According to Canonie, “The sale of the tracks to be repurposed more than covers the cost of the operations and gives additional funding for next steps on the trail such as final design…Because the tracks have been committed in the sale, a ‘pause’ is neither needed or possible”
Is a Rail-to-Trails Corridor next?
VDOT has conducted an Eastern Shore Rail to Trail Study to analyze the feasibility of converting 49 miles of the abandoned rail line into a rails-to-trails corridor. The study area extends from the southern rail terminus in the Town of Cape Charles to approximately 0.6-miles south of the Town of Hallwood. Because the existing terrain within the railroad right of way was observed to be relatively flat, the shared-use path alignment is proposed either on or adjacent to the existing rail line and entirely within the railroad corridor right of way.
The image below shows all of the interested parties and stakeholders.
Most parties see the Eastern Shore Rail to Trail project as a win, but as always, funding will be the issue. Currently, that process is still playing out.