Study gauges potential rail redevelopment

NORWICH – The out-of-service railroad track through Chenango County was heavily damaged by flooding in 2006 and continues to deteriorate, but it is not without potential, according to a study conducted by a Pennsylvania-based transportation consulting firm.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Development Chenango Executive Director Maureen Carpenter, as she addressed a room full of county leaders Friday morning.

In 2008, the development agency commissioned TranSystems / Stone Consulting to study the portion of New York Susquehanna & Western railroad’s Utica Line, which stretches through 42 miles of Chenango County. The study was funded in part by the Chenango County Board of Supervisors and the Chenango County Industrial Development Agency.

The firm’s operations director, Randy Gustafson, presented the group’s findings to stakeholders at two meetings last week.

According to Gustafson, they were specifically asked to assess the current condition of the track and determine the potential for redeveloping rail service along the line as well as identify possible funding sources and business opportunities. The full results of the study fill more than 150 pages.

The consultant first addressed the history of the rail corridor, from its construction in 1869, through its acquisition by NYS&W in 1985 to the flooding in 2006 which put it out of service.

A line’s value is determined by the competitive nature of the railroad industry, Gustafson explained. The value of the portion of track through Chenango County has historically been its role as “a competitive link for a number of rail carriers,” rather than the volume of local traffic along the line.

“It was never really a center unto itself,” he explained. “It’s all about linkages.”

Local business opportunities

That’s not to say, however, that there are not opportunities for local business. Gustafson was able to identify several of these opportunities during his research.

There is still local traffic in the Sherburne area, but “the (lack of) connectivity south doesn’t hinder business,” he said. After the flooding, this freight was rerouted North to circumnavigate the embargoed portion of rail.

Gustafson identified potential in reopening the track through the City of Norwich. Sheffield (formerly Kerry Bioscience) has already requested a rate quote for freight to and from its facility.

Dominic Shea, who sits on Development Chenango’s board of directors, asked Gustafson what it would take to restore rail service that far south. According to the consultant, the largest impediment is small washout in North Norwich, which he estimated would cost roughly $15,000 to repair. Empty rail cars are currently being stored on the track just north of that washout.

If rail service was restored to the Woods Corners facility, it would also be a selling point for the former P&G facility. This is a “nice, flat, rail accessible site,” Gustafson said. While the track and siding are still in place adjacent to the plant, as the line is not in service, the property cannot be marketed as having direct rail.

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