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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bring on the freight trains

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A New Jersey construction company could begin restoring the long-dormant railroad extension in Calverton, N.Y., as early as mid-March, with the possibility of work being completed by summer's end, officials said. Freight trains could start heading into the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or EPCAL, soon after the job wraps up, said town community development director Chris Kempner, the Riverhead, N.Y., News-Review reports.

The Riverhead Town Board on Feb. 11 awarded a contract to Railroad Construction Co. Inc. of Paterson, N.J., to restore the overgrown rail spur leading into the EPCAL property from the Long Island Rail Road's main line. The company's bid of $3.49 million was the lowest of the seven received for the project, with the highest coming in at $6.7 million. The town received a $4.8-million federal stimulus grant to pay for the construction late last year.

The project is expected not only to help businesses operate out of Calverton but also to take trucks off Long Island roadways.

"Each rail car can hold four to five tractor-trailer loads," said Paul Victor, the president of New York and Atlantic Railway, a private freight rail company that currently has the contract with LIRR for freight services. Each rail car holds about 100 tons of materials, he said.

"We expect this project to reduce costs of business for many EPCAL businesses," Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a statement. The freight access, he said, will help companies expand to new markets due to the lower shipping costs, which would lead to job creation.

The spur, which runs along Connecticut Avenue, was used by the Grumman Corporation when the defense contractor built jet engines at the Calverton site. Grumman left Calverton in 1996. Once the restoration is complete, Riverhead Town hopes to sign a contract with New York and Atlantic to operate the spur, Kempner said,

However, the town must first work out an agreement with LIRR to construct the switch to allow trains to access the spur from the main line, according to Kempner.

"We're working with the LIRR and we hope to have an agreement in place by the end of March so we can put the switch in by May," she said, adding that all other permits for the project are in place.

While the bid is much lower than the grant amount, the town will have access to up to the full amount of the grant to complete the project, town officials said.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) was instrumental in securing the stimulus funds, which he has described a win-win-win situation.

"This rail improvement project will create jobs ... help lower the cost of shipping goods on Long Island and reduce truck traffic on area highways," he said.

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