A bill recently introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly proposes to strengthen oversight of the state-owned North Carolina Railroad Co. (NCRR) and collect annual dividends from the railroad that would be placed in the state's general fund.
The legislation would require NCRR to:
• pay a one-time $15.5 million dividend to the state by June 30;
• pay annual dividends in future years based on trackage fees collected from Norfolk Southern Railway;
• set strategic objectives and create a performance management system;
• provide detailed financial reports to the state;
• place two members of the North Carolina Board of Transportation on NCRR's board; and
• sell 14 parcels outside its rail corridor that are valued at $6 million and give the proceeds to the state.
The bill aims to enhance the economic development and function of the railroad, according to state legislators. The state's oldest corporation, NCRR owns and manages a 317-mile rail corridor between Morehead City and Charlotte that's used by up to 60 freight trains and 10 passenger trains daily.
But capital improvement plans might have to be scaled back if the railroad is required to pay dividends to the state, NCRR officials claim.
"Under the leadership of our board, we have been prudently and steadily investing in rail improvements and bridge replacements in North Carolina for 12 years to retain and create jobs," said NCRR President Scott Saylor in comments submitted by email. "Since 2001, we have invested more than $68 million of non-taxpayer dollars in rail infrastructure, with more than $95 million committed through 2017. Capital improvements reflect a long-term commitment by NCRR to help grow our state's economy — the original purpose of the railroad."
Ultimately, the decision to divert a portion of the railroad's capital to other economic development purposes statewide will be up to legislative leaders, he said.
"We look forward to working with our legislature and the economic development community to continue the railroad's mission, even in the difficult budget times they face," said Saylor.
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