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The North Carolina Department of Transportation's (NCDOT) board late last week approved the lease agreement with Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC and its subsidiary Piedmont Railway to operate the state-owned Piedmont & Northern railroad in Gaston County.Under the lease terms, Piedmont Railway will operate, maintain and market freight service on the 13-mile rail line that serves Mount Holly, Belmont, Ranlo, Lowell and Gastonia in Gaston County. Also, there may be an opportunity for the railroad to provide passenger-rail service, NCDOT officials said in a press release.Last month, the two parties reached a lease agreement in principle. Located about 20 miles west of Charlotte, N.C., the corridor features a short branch line running toward Belmont. The line also features interchange points with Norfolk Southern Railway in Gastonia and CSX Transportation in Mount Holly.Piedmont Railway was chosen after a competitive bid process. The rail line has been operational and under lease to Patriot Rail Co. LLC since November 2010.