Negotiations between state and railroad end over proposed route through OCSP

For months, state officials and local stakeholders have wrestled with issues during negotiations to close an approximately 1-mile gap in the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail in Oil Creek State Park. The Herald recently learned that those talks have failed, and efforts have been taken ‘back to the drawing board.’

VENANGO COUNTY — Concerns over a proposal to close a gap in the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail expressed by the company that owns and operates the railroad tracks from Hydetown, through Titusville, to the southern end of Oil Creek State Park, have sent the process back to square one.

The Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail, when completed, will course through small towns in western Pennsylvania, for 270 miles, from the Perry Monument, in Erie, to Point State Park, in Pittsburgh.

One local segment of that recreational trail is the Oil Creek State Park Trail, which enters the park not far from the Jersey Bridge, near Drake Well Park – where Titusville’s Queen City Trail leaves off – and ends near the Rynd Farm train station, near the park office.

Several months of negotiations between the state and Oil Creek and Titusville Lines about filling an approximately 1-mile gap, between the Rynd Farm station and the park’s ice dam in Oil Creek, recently hit an impasse.

“We’re going back to the drawing board,” Oil Creek State Park Manager Dave Hallman told The Herald in a recent email.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) allotted $1.7 million of capital funding for the design and construction of the trail segment.

According to DCNR Press Secretary Terry Brady, negotiations had included “very challenging topographical” issues surrounding the preferred route.

Part of that preferred route, Brady said, had included using a section of a State Park Road, along with the abandonment of a section of freight rail line.

Abandoning a section of the Oil Creek and Titusville Lines (OCTL) property apparently proved to be a deal breaker.

“In short,” Brady wrote in an email to The Herald, “it’s complicated, with each option having a subset of options.”

A number of concerns were raised by the railroad.

OCTL President Bob Dingman told The Herald, while negotiations were still ongoing, that he had not been informed about who will carry liability insurance on the trail, who will own and fund the trail segment’s maintenance, and is also concerned over what the trail would do to future prospects of increased freight traffic.

“The 1-mile gap, from the Rynd Farm train station to the ice dam would be on railroad property, alongside the current main line, but might also be located on the site of a previously removed passing track that OCTL desires to reinstate in the future to accommodate increased switching and interchange capabilities at Rynd Farm,” Dingman wrote in an email to The Herald in June. “Even prior to reinstalling this track, the trail could compromise the current drainage facilities between the hillside and the railroad track at this location, and could impede tie change-outs.”

The trail, at present

“We do not have all the dots connected,” said Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail Alliance President Ron Steffey.

With roughly 1/3 of the proposed trail presently incomplete, Steffey said completing the trail will take nothing more than “land, people, and money.”

“We need to have land for the corridors to make connections,” he said. “This may be with share-the-road, right-of-ways, or acquisitions of land to connect the dots where we have trails currently.

“We also need people working to make these connections. Many of the members of the Erie-to-Pittsburgh Trail Alliance (EPTA) are volunteers who have regular jobs, and the trail is a hobby/passion. The EPTA does not have any employees, but relies on the organizations and volunteers to work toward the goal and mission of the EPTA. We have quarterly meeting and, currently, we are working on developing a strategic plan.”

Steffey explained that, if the EPTA had land for all the connections, and people to manage and maintain the trails, “we would need to raise funds to make the trail improvements, pay insurance, taxes, and maintain the trails.”`

Steffey said problems making those connections, such as is the current case in Oil Creek State Park, among several others, are only to be accepted and overcome.

He also offered some sage wisdom for those along the trail struggling with the effort.

“Stumbling and making mistakes are part of the growing process,” he said in June, prior to the apparent breakdown in talks between the state and the local railroad. “Making the same mistakes and stumbling repetitively is not growing. The trail world has a lot of good people that critique themselves. Did we do the project the best way? Could we have done better? What can we learn for future projects? Who do we need to include to make it better? These are all questions that must be asked, over and over again.

“I, as a singular, will often fail. But, we, as a team, succeed.”

Sterling can be reached by email, at jsterling@titusvilleherald.com.

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