Hampton, North Hampton Officials Wait to See What Happens Next
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Tuesday, September 6, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Pan Am Railways has officially asked the federal government to authorize the company's abandonment of the 10-mile stretch of railroad line it owns running from Portsmouth to Hampton.
Area officials have been eager to learn of Pan Am's intentions toward the land, as the state has the right of first refusal to purchase it should it become available.
Hampton Town Manager Fred Welch said Pan Am's request to the feds doesn't necessarily mean the company will end up selling the land.
Officials from several towns for various reasons have expressed interest in the state buying the portion of the rail line property that runs through their respective communities.
Hampton wants to use its portion of the rail line property because the town could make drainage improvements there, while North Hampton officials are interested in a portion of the property in that community in order to make traffic improvements.
Rob Culliford, general counsel for Pan Am, said the company as a general rule makes abandoned lines available for sale and would do so in this case.
The railroad, formally known as The Boston and Maine Corporation and Springfield Terminal Railway Company, has not been used in more than two years.
Welch said he expects the federal government will sign off on the abandonment within the next 90 days.
The land, he said, will remain in limbo until Pan Am decides what it wants to do with it.
"When Pan Am decides they want to dispose of it they have to send a bill of sale to the state, who will then have 120 days to respond if they want purchase it," Welch said.
Welch said he's heard the state Department of Transportation is interested in purchasing the property. The state already owns a 4.5-mile stretch of the rail from Hampton to the Massachusetts border.
Bill Boynton, public information officer with the N.H. Department of Transportation, said the state is performing its "due diligence" to be in a position to decide whether the purchase is in the state's best interest if the opportunity presents itself.
For his part, Welch said Hampton would like to gain use of that land to improve the drainage in the area.
"We have had some flooding issues there," Welch said.
North Hampton selectmen have expressed interest in securing the rail land that runs through that community so officials may address traffic safety issues.
North Hampton Selectman Phil Wilson noted the current configuration of North Road, because of the rail line, creates a dangerous situation.
But towns are not the only ones interested in the property.
One group has had its eyes on the railway for years. Eric Weis, the trail program coordinator with the East Coast Greenway Alliance, said the alliance would like to convert the rail into a recreational trail.
The Greenway Alliance is a nonprofit organization spearheading the creation of the East Coast Greenway, a 2,900-mile trail along the East Coast linking cities from Maine to Florida.