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Railroad and Perth Amboy in snit over development site.

A storm is brewing over a stretch of decrepit railroad tracks in Perth Amboy, N.J.

Conrail has sued Perth Amboy over a proposed $30 million municipal complex that would effectively obstruct the rail company's existing tracks.

At issue is a stretch of track whose status neither side can agree on. Perth Amboy claims Conrail is standing in the way of progress while the rail company has leveled similar charges against the northern New Jersey town's proposal.

The lawsuit -- filed two weeks ago in a Newark federal court -- seeks to block Perth Amboy from condemning a section of the Conrail track to make way for the project. The suit contends that Perth Amboy cannot condemn the track since it is an active part of Conrail's line.

According to a Conrail spokesman, Conrail initiated talks with Perth Amboy officials in January 2000. Conrail indicated at that time that the complex would disrupt their tracks. Conrail claims that it's ability to maintain connections to a local freight yard and to direct traffic in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor would be eliminated if this section of track is condemned.

"Perth Amboy maintains that this is inactive. We say it is an active piece of railroad," said Bim McGeehan, a Conrail spokesman.

"If they were willing to pay to relocate the track, we would be happy. But they have refused to consider that option, so far," said McGeehan.

McGeehan characterized the talks thus far as "acrimonious." He did not, however, take an outraged stance on the conflict, unlike Perth Amboy officials who are insulted by what they view as Conrail's affront to the city's progress.

McGeehan also said that Conrail expects to see a rise in freight traffic on this line over the next ten years.

Frank Capece, special counsel to the Mayor of Perth Amboy, was livid in his appraisal of Conrail's litigious return fire. His biggest gripe about Conrail centered on them prematurely leaving a Dec. 7 meeting with city officials.

"This is an example of needless litigation," said Capece, labeling the area of track in question as "totally abandoned."

"There are couches in the middle of these old tracks and, in many sections of the line,, not even any tracks," said Capece, who added that negotiating with Conrail was "like dealing with Bulgaria."

"According to our research, this line hasn't been in use for twenty years. We do not think of it as an operating line. It troubles me that Conrail would act this way," said Capece.

He conceded that the line could be revamped for future use, which is one of Conrail's boilerplate claims.

Capece said that the development would be a public safety complex that would house the police department and various other city agencies. The complex would also house a youth center. It would be, in Capece's words, a "very positive development" for Perth Amboy.

The Washington, D.C.-based Surface Transportation Board is the only governmental body that can legally abandon an active rail line. Until the federal courts in Newark make any decisions based on the suit, however, the case will remain in New Jersey.

"We are waiting for word on this from the Newark federal court. In the interim, we have written to the Mayor of Perth Amboy," said McGeehan.

Mayor Joe Vas recently criticized Conrail in the Home News-Tribune, a Northern New Jersey newspaper.

"They [Conrail] are difficult, stubborn and hard to deal with. There's a level of arrogance that is unbelievable. They think they can do what they want. They are bad citizens and bad property owners," said Mayor Vas in the December 14 issue of the paper.

The paper also featured a barbed editorial headed "Conrail owes city piece of land, apology" in another recent issue. The first sentence in the editorial was: "Conrail officials are acting like a bunch of spoiled brats".

Vas claimed that Conrail aborted the Dec. 7 meeting at the last minute after changing the agenda and insisting on "complete control of the meeting."

Vas said that he is now deferring to the Eminent Domain Act as a "last resort in its quest to make the municipal complex a reality for the safety and welfare of its residents."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Consolidated Rail Corp.; Perth Amboy, New Jersey
Author:CHAPMAN, PARKE
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Jan 3, 2001
Words:698
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