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Friday, December 11, 2009

Succasunna, N.J., railroad reactivation inches nearer

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Morris County, N.J., is set to seek bids, and plans to reactivate the long-dormant railroad tracks behind Horseshoe Lake in Succasunna are moving ahead full steam, local media report. In a statement issued on Dec. 1 by the county freeholders, Freeholder Director Gene Feyl said that the Federal Highway Administration has issued its authorization for the Chester Branch Rehabilitation project. The move, according to Feyl, will allow Morris County to seek bids to improve the four-mile active freight line, which passes through Roxbury.

Meanwhile, Roxbury Township Mayor Kathy DeFillippo said that the renovations and improvements that the track's reactivation will require will be covered by the county, and the costs would be included in the federal stimulus funds the county is receiving for the project.

In February, the county applied for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority for $5.8 million in federal stimulus funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for this project, contingent upon federal authorization being received.

"The rehabilitation of the Chester branch meets the intent of the federal stimulus legislation by creating employment opportunities not only during rehabilitation but by the future economic opportunities it will create in Morris County," said Feyl. "This project has regional, long-term benefits, and I am thrilled that it has reached this critical milestone."

The Chester Branch now serves Roxbury Township commercial users, but also has the potential to also serve customers in Randolph Township, in particular the former Westinghouse site, now the BETA Corporate Park, Feyl said.

"The corporate park has a rail siding serving the property, and even though there are no current railroad customers, this could change once the rehabilitation work is completed and tenants see a reliable rail service option," Feyl said.

Roxbury Township officials had initially vocally opposed the project, citing potentially irreparable damage to the Horseshoe Lake bike path, walking path and motor vehicle access to the rear of the property.

DeFillippo said, however, that via negotiations with the county, all of those concerns would be jointly addressed.

"We will also be moving the bike trail west, toward the lake, and we will realign the roadway a bit further west, also toward the lake," she said.

DeFillippo said the county is looking to move quickly with the project, and said shovels should hit the ground by next summer, latest.

"The goal is for this project to be done by 2010," she said. "They want to move things along."

Township Manager Christopher Raths said Thursday that the township is currently in the process of scheduling a meeting with the State Department of Environmental Protection to see what, if any, permits are needed to relocated the bikeway.

In his statement, Feyl said that efficient use of this rail line has the potential to reduce truck traffic along major roads, including Route 10, Sussex Turnpike, Route 46, Route 80 and other arterial roads in the county. He noted that one rail car is approximately equivalent to four tractor-trailers.

The freight line was donated to the county by Chester Branch, LLC, in October, and the Morristown & Erie Railway has a management agreement with the county to continue to operate on the Chester Branch. The Morristown & Erie also operates the two other county-owned rail lines, including in Dover and one in Rockaway.

The Chester Branch connects to the High Bridge Branch, and these two lines connect to the NJ Transit line near the Roxbury- Rockaway Township border near East Dewey Avenue, enabling freight service to connect throughout New Jersey and nationwide, according to the freeholders.

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