Except for a small section near the library, there will soon be no evidence that the railroad served Lewes for nearly 150 years.
Delaware Department of Transportation contractor Frontier is moving toward a Monday, Oct. 1 deadline to have rails and ties removed from Lewes-area railroad tracks.
A section of the Delaware Coast Line Railroad from Cool Spring to Lewes was decommissioned when DelDOT determined that the cost was too high to repair the damaged 100-year-old Lewes-Rehoboth Canal railroad swing bridge.
DelDOT's railroad Program Manager Bob Perrine said it's a multi-crew operation that includes removal of spikes, loosening of rail-joint bars, removing the steel rails, removing the ties, and eventually picking up all of the material left behind.
Also included in the $4 million project is removal of 22 railroad crossings. So far, five crossings - Cool Spring, Savannah Road, Kings Highway, Monroe Street, Gills Neck - have been taken away and paved over.
Perrine said work on the remaining 15 crossings will be done once work to remove the rails and ties is completed.
Lewes Mayor and City Council voted to preserve a small section of railroad track for historical purposes between the library and the Rollins Community Center, between Kings Highway and Adams Avenue.
Nearly 150 years of rail service
The railroad bed is 147 years old, Perrine said, making it the oldest in the state and one of the oldest in the country. The track right of way is owned by the State of Delaware.
Delaware Coast Line Railroad had hauled materials to and from SPI Pharma near Cape Henlopen State Park a few times a month. That all changed when it was discovered the historic swing bridge was unsafe and was shut down in September 2016.
The removal of the tracks brings to an end nearly 150 years of rail service to Lewes. The last train to Lewes pulled out Dec. 15, 2017, with three tanker cars that had to be trucked from PSI Pharma to a rail section behind the Cape May-Lewes Ferry maintenance facility.
Delaware Coast Line Railroad began service to Lewes in October 1982. Railroad President Dan Herholdt said his company had made about 650 trips to Lewes.
Park rail section could be trail
The rail crossing on Freeman Highway falls under the Delaware River and Bay Authority. Perrine said removal of the crossing could coincide with track removal from Cape Henlopen State Park to Freeman Highway.
Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation officials have included a 1.5-mile trail along the railroad bed as part of a plan to add 13 more miles of trails in the park. If built, the trail would connect to other Lewes trails and to a possible trailhead and parking lot at Freeman Highway and Cape Henlopen Drive.
Removal of the canal swing bridge will be a separate project, Perrine said. The goal, he said, is to have the bridge on display at a place where it can be used for educational purposes.
Rail bed will become trail
The 3.2-mile section of rail bed from Savannah Road west to Minos Conaway Road in Lewes will be converted to a multi-use path as part of the second phase of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. Work on Phase 2 is expected to begin this fall.
Phase 1 of the 10-foot-wide trail from Gills Neck Road to Savannah Road in Lewes opened in fall 2016. The trail connects to the Junction and Breakwater Trail between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.