It's the beginning of the end for the eastern section of the Delaware Coast Line Railroad line between Cool Spring and Lewes.
Crews from Diamondback Signal have started removing a dozen railroad crossing signs as Phase 1 of a decommissioning project. The signals will be relocated to other crossings in need of upgrades on the Delmarva Central Line between Millsboro and Harrington.
Crews removed the major crossing signals on Cool Spring Road March 19 and the signals on Savannah Road March 20.
The signals were upgraded 2 ½ years ago, said Dan Herholdt, project manager and general manager of Delaware Coast Line Railroad.
In Phase 2 of the $1 million project, the tracks will be removed, from the SPI Pharma plant near Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes to Fisher Road near Cool Spring. Herholdt said that phase should begin in mid-July.
The rail line was decommissioned because state transportation officials decided that the $3 million estimated cost to repair a swing railroad bridge over the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal was too high.
Use of the 100-year-old hand-cranked bridge was halted in September 2016 after it was discovered the bridge settled 7 to 8 inches into the canal. Significant erosion has taken place in the canal bank around the bridge, one of the last remaining swing bridges in the country.
SPI Pharma was the lone company along the short stretch beyond the bridge that the railroad served. Delaware Coast Line Railroad had averaged two to three transports to SPI Pharma per month. The company has been trucking its product since the bridge was closed.
The decommissioning of the rail line ends a 144-year-old history of rail service to Lewes. Delaware Coast Line Railroad – based in Georgetown – will continue to serve customers on other rail sections in Sussex County.
Rail bed transformed to trail
The rail bed will be used for upcoming phases of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. Construction on Phase 2 of the trail – from Savannah Road to Minos Conaway Road – is expected to begin this fall.
Phase 1 of the 10-foot-wide trail from Gills Neck Road to Savannah Road opened in fall 2016. The trail connects to the Junction and Breakwater Trail between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach.