Council learns about railroad acquisition

Dorchester Banner/Dave Ryan
This photo of a slide from the Maryland Department of Transportation shows the areas of railroad that could be acquired by the county for $1.

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County might soon become the owner of about 21 miles of disused railroad. Council members heard a presentation from Harry Romano of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) during their May 8 meeting regarding the proposed transfer of the properties to the county.

There was no vote taken, and no public comment allowed. “This an informational meeting,” William Nichols (District 2) said.

Mr. Romano, who is the Rail Program and Policy manager at MDOT, said use of about 15 miles of the Hurlock-Cambridge track was ended in May of 2016, due to its poor condition. This section extends into town, near Cedar Street.

There is also about six miles of the Hurlock-Preston track that has been out of service since 2003, he said. The rights-of-way are generally about 66 feet wide. “Both rights-of-way are currently under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board,” Mr. Romano said.

While tracks can reach a point when they are no longer suitable for trains, the line can have other uses. Many municipalities have transformed the long and narrow properties into bike and running paths, often called “Rails to Trails” projects.

The section in Cambridge between Washington and Cedar streets is now subject to an agreement between the City of Cambridge and the Maryland Transit Authority for the creation of a trail and park. Mr. Romano said the Hurlock-Cambridge track will not be returned to rail service “due to the cost and the low traffic potential.”

In October of 2017, the county requested that MDOT turn over the tracks to the county. “MDOT agreed to the transfer of both rights of way in early 2018,” Mr. Romano said, at the cost of $1.

This would allow the county to create trails, and continue its pursuit of an airport runway extension project.

The state’s real estate review process began last year, and has been presented at the State Clearing House to other agencies. The only objection came from Caroline County, which objected to what would be Dorchester’s ownership of a small portion of track within Caroline.

“MDOT prefers to convey all 21 miles of right-of-way in the transaction,” Mr. Romano said. “In follow-up with Caroline County, they have not changed their position. I have been directed to move forward with the transaction as proposed.”

Coordination will be required with the Board of Public Works for their approval. Mr. Romano said he hoped arrangements could be completed before the end of the year.

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