Saratoga County

Brighter outlook rolls in with rail yard

Until the mid-1980s, the Mechanicville rail yard was a transportation hub in the Northeast, bringing

Until the mid-1980s, the Mechanicville rail yard was a transportation hub in the Northeast, bringing in trains from all points of the compass.

The Boston & Maine Railroad and the Delaware & Hudson Railway each had sprawling rail yards in an area that included a small piece of the city of Mechanicville and larger pieces of the towns of Halfmoon and Stillwater.

“They called it the Mechanicville yard,” said Mayor Anthony J. Sylvester of Mechanicville. He worked in the Boston & Maine yard for 17 years.

This same 200 acres will become a key railroad hub again with some container trains rolling in by year’s end.

Pan Am Railways and Norfolk Southern have joined forces in a venture called Pan Am Southern to build the $45 million intermodal and automotive rail facility. Pan Am Railway is a descendant of the Boston & Maine and controls railroad tracks that originate northwest of Boston.

“It’s halfway done,” said David Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern. “We are hoping to open the intermodal terminal by January 1.”

The old Boston & Maine and D&H railroad tracks, miles of them in the old yard, were taken out and sold for scrap years ago, Sylvester said most of the old rail yard buildings were leveled by a tornado that swept through the Mechanicville area in late May 1998.

The jobs in the old rail yard, sometimes passed down from generation to generation, also evaporated.

The new intermodal terminal will include space for large container boxes that are transported on trains but also can be loaded onto tractor trailers. The automotive portion of the yard, which will accept new automobiles coming from places such as Detroit, is expected to be finished by the end of 2012.

Local officials see the sprawling new facility as a major economic engine that could create spin-off businesses that will provide jobs and a boost to the tax base for the city and towns.

“We are looking for warehousing within the school district,” Sylvester said. He said such businesses would pay taxes to the Mechanicville City School District, which includes the city and large parts of Halfmoon and Stillwater.

“That would add tax base and jobs without more pupils,” Sylvester said.

Within the past three weeks, a new road into the intermodal and automotive yards was opened. The road includes a bridge across the Anthony Kill connecting the facility with Route 67 in the town of Stillwater.

looking for business

Stillwater town Supervisor Edward D. Kinowski said his town is planning for the business that he expects the rail yard will generate. The town has developed a zoning district along Route 67 in Stillwater that will allow business development as a special permitted use. Residents will be able to keep their homes in this overlay district or sell them to businesses, which wouldn’t need to get a zoning change to start operations.

Kinowski said the district has special architectural and design guidelines that will require businesses locating in the district to have buildings that have a rural, valley look. He said the designers will have to consider variations in the roof lines and topography of the land.

Residents at first expressed concerns about all the trucks on Route 67 entering the rail facility to pick up containers or loads of new cars, but the overlay district has been welcomed as a reasonable alternative, Kinowski said.

People interested in selling or buying land near the intermodal facility can contact the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. in Saratoga Springs. The district runs from George Thompson Road to the Mechanicville city line and from George Thompson Road west to the Malta town line.

“This is really a boon opportunity in a tough economic time,” Kinowski said. “Stillwater is open for business. We need tax base and want to grow.”

Part of the Pan Am Southern agreement is track, signal and capacity improvements on the 155-mile Mechanicville-to-Ayer, Mass., portion of the tracks. Pan Am Railways operates 2,000 route miles in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Canada.

Norfolk Southern operates 21,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia. It serves every major container port in the eastern United States.

Sylvester said about 100 construction workers are now on the new rail yard projects, with 50 truckloads of dirt per day brought into the site last week, along with dozens of loads of concrete.

“The workers come downtown and eat lunch and dinner here,” he said.

freight transfers

Pidgeon of Norfolk Southern said there will be three 4,000-foot tracks that will support the automotive transportation part of the rail yard and two 4,000-foot tracks that will support the intermodal part of the facility.

An intermodal rail terminal is used for transporting freight from one mode of transportation (rail) to another (tractor-trailer). These transfers of freight are called “lifts” and the Mechanicville facility will be capable of 70,000 lifts per year.

The facility will have parking spaces for nearly 700 new automobiles and nearly 400 spaces for trailer boxes, Pidgeon said.

“The beauty of the site is that it expands our intermodal capacity in the Capital Region,” Pidgeon said. The facility will replace an intermodal site in Albany County used by Norfolk Southern.

The automotive portion of the terminal will both unload rail cars carrying automobiles, called autoracks, and offer short-term storage of cars.

Pidgeon said intermodal terminals similar to the one being built in Saratoga County “have proven to be powerful engines of economic growth by attracting logistics, warehousing and distribution centers to locate nearby. And that creates jobs.”

Sylvester said he heard an intermodal terminal built near Roanoke, Va., brought as much as $600 million in new business to that area.

Pidgeon said that Norfolk Southern is also involved in an intermodal terminal in Franklin County in Pennsylvania. “It’s under construction right now and will open in 2012,” Pidgeon said. He said the facility will serve the south-central area of Pennsylvania.

Norfolk Southern said in its third-quarter report, released Oct. 26, that income from the corporation’s railway operations increased 26 percent to an all-time record of $938 million compared to the same period in 2010. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products, according to the corporation’s third quarter report.

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