When Conrail and Penn Central abandoned or discontinued operation of several rail lines on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia during the last year, local governments and users stepped in to save the lines, and protect local industry and future business expansion.

The most recent transfer of operating rights occurred Oct. 1 when the Delaware Coast Line Railroad Co. took control of a former Conrail route linking the Delaware cities of Georgetown, Lewes, Milton and Ellendale. The 23-mile line was purchased by the state of Delaware from the old Penn-Central railroad several years ago.

Delaware Coast, a newly organized company in Ellendale, Del., outbid Conrail for rights to operate the line for one year. Under a subsidy arrangement with the state and county, shippers will share the cost of operating the line.

Doug Dibble, vice president of Delaware Coast, said his railroad has trackage rights with Conrail to move locomotives between the two lines.

Present shippers on Delaware Coast include Draper-King Cole cannery of Milton; Fisher Enterprises, a Lewes fertilizer manufacturer; Barcroft Inc., a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Lewes, and several light users from the Georgetown Industrial Park.

Earlier this year, the Snow Hill Shippers Association of Snow Hill, Md., leased 26 miles of railway from the Worcester County government. The line runs from Snow Hill to Frankford, Del.

After Conrail abandoned the line last year, the shippers obtained a $275,000 loan from the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development to lease it from the county. The loan was made under the provisions of the Maryland Industrial Land Act, which provides state funds to local jurisdictions for the purpose of improving their industrial base. The county said a loss of rail service to the area would create a hardship for several local industries and a loss of potential business expansion.

The shippers also received a grant of $750,000 from the state to rehabiliate the track.

The line, which has been open since May 17, is operated and maintained by the Maryland Delaware Railroad. Primary users include Perdue Farms Inc., Holly Farms Poultry Industries, Moore Business Forms and Showell Farms Inc.

The Eastern Shore Railroad of Cape Charles, Va., has been operating for one year on 70 miles of track from Pocomoke City, Md., to Cape Charles, Va. The line also includes two car ferries for the 26-mile crossing across the Chesapeake Bay into the Norfolk area.

The line, which Penn Central abandoned last year, was bought by the Accomack-Northampton Transportation District Commission of Virginia.

The line's previous managers include the Virginia and Maryland Railroad and Conrail.

The system transfers back to Conrail at Pocomoke City as it heads north toward Wilmington. At the southern end, it transfers to several major rail systems in the Little Creek-Norfolk area.