Dayton, rail company dispute rail line value

A rendering of the proposed Flight Line project. CONTRIBUTED

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A rendering of the proposed Flight Line project. CONTRIBUTED

After more than two years of negotiations, the city of Dayton and Norfolk Southern Railway Company still have not been able to reach a deal for a vacated rail line the city wants to turn into an elevated trail and public space.

But the city wants to acquire the rail line this year if possible, and city staff say they hope Norfolk Southern will lower its asking price for the 6.5-mile track that starts in the East Oregon area and ends in Kettering.

The proposed “Flight Line” multi-use trail would connect downtown to the eastern neighborhoods, and an elevated section of the line would provide sweeping views of the city.

“It’s a huge missing connection that would connect downtown Dayton to 300-plus miles of Miami Valley trails,” said Susan Vincent, a planner with the city of Dayton.

MORE: Biggest obstacle for Dayton’s Chicago-like trail? Getting the miles of track

City of Dayton staff and Norfolk Southern representatives have been in sales talks since the railroad company declared its intention to abandon the line in 2017.

The long-unused track stretches from near Bainbridge Street to the Tenneco property in Kettering.

The city wants to transform the rail line into a recreational trail, notably with an elevated section similar to “high line” trails and public parks in New York City and Chicago.

The new trail could help expand and connect multiple parks and link together residential neighborhoods.

Multiple city leaders and economic development officials say reusing the rail line would be a “transformational” project that improves access, connectivity and amenities in the eastern neighborhoods.

Last week, the city had negotiations with the railroad, and staff expect more meetings later this month.

But the city and railroad have very different opinions on the track’s value.

The city said its appraiser valued the track at about $785,000. But the railroad’s appraiser estimated it to be worth as much as $3.5 million.

“We haven’t gotten to an agreed upon price yet, but we’re working very hard to do so,” Vincent said.

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John Musto, Dayton’s chief trial counsel, said the city is the only real serious buyer of the track.

Norfolk Southern has been reasonable and says it will try to halt abandoning the line and just discontinue it, which means the line is preserved instead of broken up and offered for sale piecemeal, Vincent said.

Norfolk Southern this year also has offered a “phased acquisition” option to help with a purchase, she said.

On Friday, Dayton’s Environmental Advisory Board agreed to write a letter in support of the Flight Line project.

The city wants to apply for state Clean Ohio Trailways funds to help fund the Flight Line.

The letter could give the grant application a boost.

“It seems like a positive environmental improvement,” said Kathy Arnett, a member of the advisory board.

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