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Local rail companies score millions in state money
Two regional short-line railroad companies are sharing pretty big slices of $27.1 million in state rail infrastructure improvement funds, which were announced this week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Waterloo-based Finger Lakes Railway Corp. is getting $2.8 million, while Sodus-based Ontario Midland is receiving $2.9 million.
“New York’s rail and port infrastructure is critical to local economies across the state, and these grants will not only support existing commercial activities but help attract new business investments as well,” Cuomo said. “With these improvements, we can keep these economic engines running, and ensure safe and efficient travel for both passenger and freight customers statewide.”
Mike Smith, president of Finger Lakes Railway, said the money will be used to make rail yard improvements at its Waterloo/Geneva operation, as well as yards in Auburn and Solvay.
In Wayne County, Ontario Midland Vice President and General Manager Sandy Saracen said the money will be used to make track repairs on the north-south line that runs from Newark to the hamlet of Wallington in Sodus.
Smith said the funds, which must include a local match, will help handle the growing number of cars at each of its three locations
“Our problem is our footprints (at each location) are long and narrow,” he said. “We are limited by the amount of track we have.”
At the Waterloo-Geneva yard, that is the case as well, said Smith, who explained that the railroad will be adding 2,000 feet of track. A 1,600-foot section will be for storing freight cars. The 400-foot track will be used for making repairs to cars.
The funds are welcomed, he added.
“We appreciate the fact that the DOT has been a steady hand in trying to support the railroad industry in New York,” Smith said.
Saracen said there was a time when such money went only to larger railroad companies. The funding, which she heard about when contacted by the Finger Lakes Times, is a big help for a small railroad that employs just five people.
“I was shocked and very happy,” said Saracen, who said Ontario Midland will be replacing 12.5 miles of track with the money, which also requires a local match.
“We’ve got a customer coming online that’s going to mean more cars,” she said, noting the company has an east-west line that runs from Wolcott to Webster. In 2011, Ontario Midland was awarded about $1.66 million through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to rehabilitate the line from Sodus to Rose, restoring rail service in the eastern portion of the county.
The company, which is marking its 40th year in 2019, is owned by its customers, which include Wiliamson’s Motts, owned by Cadbury Schweppes, Fleischmann’s Vinegar in Rose and Thatcher Chemical in Williamson, among others.
Smith said Finger Lakes Railway has seen its business rise significantly over the years. In 1995, the railway’s first year, it had 5,500 carloads; in 2018, that number is 18,000.
“Every one of those new carloads represents an economic decision by the customer to use rail,” he said.
Among the growing segments of Finger Lakes Railway is the movement of grain, said Smith, pointing to the national grain broker Lansing Trade Group, which has silos on Route 14 in the town of Geneva that store corn, wheat and soybeans. Those products eventually make their way by rail to the Port of New York for overseas distribution, he said.
Saracen said it’s possible the track improvements for Ontario Midland could begin in 2019, but it’s more likely to be in 2020.
Smith said Finger Lakes Railway hopes to have the work completed at the three yards over the course of the next two years.
This article first appeared on www.oneidadispatch.com
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