More Than Likely the Rails Will Become a Trail

It doesn’t have to be an either or situation although it probably will wind up being that.

For several years, the former Akron Branch of Pennsylvania Railroad between Hudson and Cuyahoga Falls via Stow and Silver Lake has been fallow, its rails rusting away and the right of way overgrown with weeds and brush.

Now there are competing plans for use of that right of way.

A company called Hudson & Southern Railway wants to revive rail service on the line.

But a group known as Trail Advocates of Summit County instead wants to see it transformed into a hike and bike trail.

In addressing the Hudson City Council late last year, the trail group, which also goes by the name TASCForce, made it clear it adamantly opposed allowing the trail line to be reactivated.

Among other things the group said trains are noisy, dangerous and interfere with traffic.

Trying to sound like populists, the group said a multipurpose trail would be a “higher and better” use of the right of way even though it was built as a railroad.

Allowing the right of way to revert to rail operations would allow “a very few railroad employees and some unpopular businesses entities to benefit,” the trail advocates said.

Some of the rhetoric that TASCForce has espoused is political posturing and yet it also reflects how upper middle class homeowners typically think about railroads.

A railroad is fine so long as it operates somewhere else. It is classic NIMBY thinking.

Lest you think that TASCForce members have a special dislike of trains, they also took aim at “heavy industries that require rail service,” which it called inappropriate for a suburban setting.

H&S has talked about providing service to a bulk transfer station but TASCForce dismisses this as unsuitable for “the office/warehouse/light manufacturing business parks that people expect to find in a residential area.”

Not only does TASCForce dislike the idea of trains in the neighborhood it doesn’t like heavy trucks, either.

Nor does TASCForce like the idea of the rail line being used for rail car storage as H&S has suggested.

TASCForce said suburban homeowners don’t want rail cars sitting in their backyards for months at a time.

What TASCForce is seeking to do is to pressure Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority, which owns much of the rail line, into renouncing the proposal to revive rail service and to instead seek authority from the Federal Transit Administration to allow immediate construction of the hike and bike trail.

Presumably, TASCForce would be opposed to any plan in which there would be a rail line and a trail.

It can be done and has been done in the Akron region. There is a trail alongside an unused former Erie Railroad line in Talmadage.

The Portage Hike and Bike Trail shares space with an active former Erie Rail line between Kent and Brady Lake that has rail service provided by the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway.

The Portage trail is instructive because it is an example of what could be possible with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line.

Rail traffic on the Kent-Brady Lake line is minimal, typically only operating on weekdays.

The situation with the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls line is complicated. Akron Metro bought the rail line several years ago for potential commuter train use.

That prospect is unlikely to happen which is why the rail line has been inactive all this time.

Although the rail line has been abandoned, it has been railbanked meaning it is being preserved for potential future rail use.

The transit agency apparently has considered ideas in the past about reviving the line for rail use with the H&S proposal the latest proposal.

At one point a dinner train company proposed using the line but it never materialized. At the time, there was fierce opposition to that idea in Silver Lake.

Using the Hudson-Cuyahoga Falls rail line for anything other than rail service would require Akron Metro to get FTA approval.

Valerie Shea, director of planning and strategic development for Akron Metro, told a local newspaper the agency is planning to seek the FTA’s concurrence to use the rail line land and its surrounding right-of-way as a trail.

Trail advocates want to speed up that process and kill the H&S proposal ASAP.

Whether the backers of the H&S would be able to launch freight rail service is uncertain, something TASCForce has noted when it told the Hudson City Council the success of H&S is “far from certain.”

On this point TASForce showed its cards when it said allowing rail service could potentially delay for several years the development of trail on the right of way.

Some Hudson City Council members have spoken in favor of the rail to trail process.

Councilman Skylar Sutton said he wants to “keep a focus on rail-to-trail conversion.”

The city of Stow has won approval for $700,000 in funding to develop a trail.

It is not difficult to see why trail advocates covet converting inactive or lightly used rail line into trails.

They offer a liner piece of land well suited for a trail. You don’t have to mess with the expensive, sometimes difficult, and time-consuming process of land acquisition.

Not every homeowner along an inactive rail line is necessarily onboard with the idea of converting the property into a trail.

Some of those homeowners dislike having a trail in their backyard and have spoken against the idea of passing hikers, joggers and bikers being able to look into their homes.

But hiking and biking trails have become a sort of status symbol for upper middle class suburbs with affluent and well-educated homeowners who are politically connected and know how to manipulate government and regulatory processes.

For that reason alone I’d bet that more likely than not, the land hosting what was Akron’s first rail line is going to wind up being a trail rather than an active railroad.

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One Response to “More Than Likely the Rails Will Become a Trail”

  1. pwwoodring Says:

    The original idea behind railbanking the Akron Branch (Hudson Secondary) by Akron MetroRTA was to provide a corridor for possible Akron-Cleveland rail passenger service (coming through Akron from elsewhere). While the most direct route for such service would be up the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, the owning National Park Service does not want fast, frequent passenger trains running through the park, so taking such traffic up to Hudson and joining the NS Cleveland Line is the only other likely route (that route presents its own problems with capacity and other issues, which is one reason it hasn’t come about). The railbanking statute provides that any other use, like a trail, is not the primary/permanent use of the right-of-way, and can be converted back to a railroad at any time, although the political winds might dictate otherwise when the time comes, if ever.

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