Saratoga County

Supervisors to support rail yard plan

County supervisors will tell federal regulators they support the railroad joint venture expected


County supervisors will tell federal regulators they support the railroad joint venture expected to lead to re-establishment of a major rail yard outside Mechanicville.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is now reviewing the plans for a “Patriot Corridor” partnership between the Pan Am and Norfolk Southern railways, to be called Pan Am Southern.

The plans include re-establishing the former Mechanicville yard in Halfmoon and Stillwater, which is now empty but is owned by Pan Am. It will be a point for loading and unloading transit containers and automobiles, probably creating hundreds of new jobs in the yard and at businesses it will draw in.

The county board’s Law and Finance Committee on Wednesday approved sending a resolution to regulators saying local communities support the plan. The full Board of Supervisors will vote on it Tuesday in Ballston Spa.

“We’re looking to get this through so we can show support for the proposal,” said Supervisor Tom Richardson, D-Mechanicville. “It’s obviously going to be a great benefit to the city of Mechanicville and towns of Halfmoon and Stillwater.”

The “Patriot Corridor” joint venture announced in May will create a new partnership giving Norfolk Southern, one of the nation’s largest railroads, new access to New England. Pan Am, which owns the former Boston & Maine and Springfield Terminal rail systems, is based in Massachusetts.

Mechanicville had historically been a junction point between the New York and New England rail systems, though the yard eventually closed with the decline of the rail freight industry after development of the interstate highway system.

The joint operating agreement requires approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board, which is expected to make a decision in October. The county resolution will be sent to it as part of public comment.

The $40 million Mechanicville yard restoration is included in the federal application. Norfolk Southern will be investing in Pan Am, which will use the money to build the new yard, along with making other infrastructure improvements.

“We’d like to bring it back to its glory days,” said Michael R. Fesen, Norfolk Southern resident vice-president for government relations.

The three-mile-long, 80-acre yard that starts just west of Mechanicville was a major source of employment and community identity from the 1880s through its closure in the early 1990s.

Given the current cost of diesel fuel, rail companies are optimistic about gaining back some of the freight business they have lost to long-haul trucking. Rail is more fuel-efficient, they argue.

In a presentation earlier this week, Fesen said one freight train can save 300 truck trips, and a 10 percent shift nationwide from long-haul trucking to rail would save over one billion tons of fuel per year.

Norfolk Southern, headquartered in Norfolk, Va., is a large hauler of intermodal containers that can be moved from a rail car to a truck for short hauls, and it is the largest auto hauler in the East, Fesen said. The Mechanicville site would expand those services in the Capital Region, and probably bring with it new warehousing businesses.

The state is putting $3 million of economic development money into the project, state officials announced last month.

The two rail companies estimate 85 percent of the trucks coming out of the yard will go toward the Northway, using the new Round Lake bypass, scheduled for completion next year.

The rail companies want to restore the rail yard during 2009, and begin operations there in the spring of 2010.

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