The Nashville & Eastern Railroad Authority board voted to spend $880,000 to improve its railroad tracks, but the amount is less than operator R.J. Corman Railroad Group wanted.
The money is from the state fuel tax allocation to the authority, and the low bid for the work came in at about $1.12 million. That left the authority and R.J. Corman with the choice of making up the difference of about $240,000 or cutting back the scope of the project.
Kevin Walker, the authority's consulting engineer, told the board that an examination of the track determined "well over" 10,000 ties needed replacing and the scope of the project had already been reduced to replacing about 7,000 ties, mostly east of Lebanon, and replacing some track at the Nashville interchange.
"We feel very strongly about this scope of work," R.J. Corman Chief Engineer Ed Quillian told the authority in saying his company would put up half the difference between the amount available and the low bid. "We will add at least half the differential to the $880,000."
Quillian said the company has run two track surveys this year using special rail cars that test the integrity of the line. The portion used by the Music City Star commuter line from Lebanon into Nashville "came back with zero defects," he said. Lebanon to Carthage, however, needs work.
"Regardless of whether its 10 cars or 100 cars a day, you still have to maintain a certain standard in safety, speed and (Federal Railroad Administration) regulations," Quillian said.
Walker said when track is not up to par, two options are available: limit traffic or reduce speed. Both those factors could adversely affect R.J. Corman's efforts to build traffic. And a portion of the authority's funding is dependent on how much business R.J. Corman has.
Authority Treasurer Henry Schumpf pointed out that the authority ended the 2018-19 fiscal year with about $540,000 in the bank, and is facing loan repayments to both First Tennessee Bank and the United State Department of Agriculture, as well as other projects that require authority to match a portion of grants. On his motion, the board voted to reduce the scope of the project to $880,000 plus whatever R.J. Corman adds.
Grant Chaney, R.J. Corman's director of commercial development, told the board that traffic on the line is down about 12%. He attributed that to reduction from a couple of large customers. On the positive side, he said he has several new projects and customers lined up that should come on line later this year.