B&A railroad deal settled, lawyer says

March 21, 1991|By Doug Birch

After 1 1/2 years of talks that already have caused a delay in the construction schedule for the Baltimore light-rail line, the state has reached an informal agreement for the purchase of the Baltimore & Annapolis Railroad, an attorney for the railroad said yesterday.

One state official familiar with light-rail construction, speaking on condition he not be named, said the price tag on the 5.3-mile freight railroad is $9 million.

"I think it's fair to characterize the negotiations as being complete," said James H. Burnley, a Washington lawyer and former U.S. secretary of transportation, representing the line's owner in talks with the state.

Mr. Burnley, who represents Kenneth A. Pippin, the 42-year-old Linthicum businessman who purchased the B&A in 1984 for less than $1 million, would not discuss the price or other details of the sale.

He said he was reluctant to regard the matter as settled until it is ratified by the state Board of Public Works.

"Now the question will be whether the matter goes forward or not," said Mr. Burnley.

He said he had expected earlier agreements to go to the board, only to be disappointed.

Ronald J. Hartman, head of the Mass Transit Administration, would not comment on whether there was an agreement.

But he added, "I understand they've got some documents on their way to me now." He said that "if we have a final deal," it could go to the Public Works Board within the next two weeks.

Even if that happens, he said, the B&A section of the light-rail line, which would run from the Baltimore city line to Dorsey Road near Glen Burnie, will probably not open as scheduled in May 1992. That month, light-rail cars are expected to begin regular operations along the northern 17 miles of track between the southern city line and Timonium.

"I think there will be some delay" in opening service along the B&A tracks, Mr. Hartman said. "We're obviously going to try to minimize that." He said MTA engineers are trying to figure out how long that delay might be.

Two weeks ago, Mr. Hartman and other state officials said the state had decided to try to condemn the railroad by asking the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulates freight railroads, to force the "abandonment" of the line. Without such an abandonment, they said, federal law would prohibit condemnation.

Mr. Burnley and ICC officials have pointed out that rail abandonment is almost always requested by railroads and that there is no precedent for the ICC ordering an operating freight line shut down over its owner's objections.

State officials have said they are confident their plan can work because they would pledge to maintain freight service on the line.

They also concede the ICC process and appeals could drag on for years.

An aide to O. James Lighthizer, state secretary of transportation, said yesterday that preparations for filing for abandonment with the ICC will proceed until the state has the sale agreement in hand.

The state official who disclosed the $9 million price tag also said that Mr. Pippin had sought as much as $15 million, while the state initially had offered between $4 million and $5 million.

Mr. Pippin, the official said, also wanted to retain control of freight operations, relocate some tracks away from the station in Linthicum that serves as B&A's offices and retain title to a piece of railroad property next to the station.

The state refused on all counts, he said. Permitting the B&A to continue controlling freight operations would have complicated scheduling, he said.

Both Mr. Hartman and Mr. Burnley declined to comment. Mr. Pippin did not return a reporter's phone call.

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