COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — For a half-century, the city of Columbus has been trying to get Norfolk Southern to consider moving its railyard out of downtown.
Now, the city is poised to take a different track.
Columbus Council will consider a resolution Tuesday night that basically asserts the city of Columbus and not the railroad owns much of the land between Sixth Avenue and 10th Avenue that Norfolk Southern currently operates on.
Norfolk Southern currently operates a switching yard – a place where little trains go to become big trains.
The resolution the Council will consider draws on six land deed actions by previous city councils dating back to 1847 – 20 years after the city was incorporated and more than 175 years ago.
There were council actions in 1847, 1849, 1854, 1859, 1869, and 1886. What the council resolution would do is rescind those actions.
What the city and its attorneys contend is that each time property was acquired starting in the 1840s the property would revert to city ownership if the railroad no longer operated passenger rail. That land is in the East Commons, which was public space as part of the original city plan.
Trains out of Columbus have not carried passengers in more than 50 years.
At the heart of this issue is Norfolk Southern no longer uses the land for a depot and passenger rail, says Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson.
“Basically, what we’re saying is that the reason for it to have been issued in the first place has ceased to exist,” Henderson said Monday. “Right. So, there’s no passenger rail as a primary transportation means. So, I think this is just a step toward creating that kind of dialog where we can talk with the railroad and make a determination what their long-term plans are. And we can share some thoughts on what ours are.”
This is not the first time a Columbus Council has tackled this issue. This would be the sixth time Columbus Council has passed a resolution regarding moving the railyard. The others were in 1973, 1976, 1995, 1996, and again in 2008.
Each previous attempt has been derailed by the railroad. But the difference is this is the first time the city has asserted an ownership claim of the property.
In 2010, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce commissioned a comprehensive study of the relocation of the railyard.
That study concluded: “Accomplishing this type of undertaking is expected to require much more complex planning than other types of development projects.”
Freight trains operate exclusively out of Columbus. Many times they block crucial roads such as 10th Avenue for extended periods of time. The railroad is also charged with maintaining road crossings.
Here is a statement that Norfolk Southern Senior Communications Manager Connor Spielmaker sent to WRBL.
“I’ll largely refer you back to the city on your questions, however, we are not aware of any maintenance or crossings issues in the county,” he wrote. “In general, we do partner with municipalities on grade-separation and crossing closure projects wherever possible which help those municipalities reduce their intersections with the railroad.”