They’ll be working on the rail spur at EPCAL

05/13/2010 12:00 AM |

Local, state and federal elected leaders help mark the start of work on the Calverton rail spur Friday.

Construction on the long-dormant railroad spur leading to the Enterprise Park at Calverton should start within days, officials said this week. The project, which has been years in the making, should take about six to seven months to complete, with freight trains expected to begin running by 2011.

But first, break out the gold shovels and blue hard hats.

Government leaders gathered at the site Friday for the ceremonial groundbreaking event on the $5.5 million job, the bulk of which is being paid for with federal stimulus funds.

The event was held at the Metro Biofuel company’s property in the park. It was attended by Riverhead Town officials, state representatives such as Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham), and federal representatives such Senator Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn) and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and others.

Peter Fleming, the vice president of Railroad Construction Company of Paterson, N.J., which was hired to do the job, told the News-Review that clearing work at the site would start sometime this week or next. Trees and brush have grown through the entire length of the tracks, he noted.

“The first thing we need to do is clear the site and right after that, we’re going to start surveying it in order to do the final design,” Mr. Fleming said. The clearing and surveying is expected to take three to four weeks, as is the design work, he said.

“All in all, we’re looking to finish the job in the better part of a six to seven month time frame,” Mr. Fleming said.

The railroad spur, which once carried materials to the Grumman Corporation’s naval weapons plant, which ceased operations there in 1994, has been abandoned for many years. It branches off the Long Island Rail Road’s Main Line, runs north along Connecticut Avenue, crosses River Road and then heads into the EPCAL industrial park adjacent to Eastern Wholesale Fence and Metro Biofuel.

Both of those companies plan to use the spur.

“We have rail cars going into Hicksville, so we pick up materials every day in Hicksville, up to four times a day, and then truck them from Hicksville to here,” said Peter Williams Jr., the CEO of Eastern Wholesale Fence, which he said employs about 300 people at EPCAL. “As soon at the rail spur is open, we’re ready to use it.”

Mr. Williams said the rail spur is what drew the company to Calverton.

“When we bought the building, we bought it because it was on the rail spur, so we’re waiting for it to be open for years,” he said.

Gene Pullo of Metro Biofuels said his company came to EPCAL because of the availability of tax incentives through the Empire Zone program, but he said the rail spur also is a major plus about the site.

“We will be able to move our products more efficiently and avoid traffic delays,” he said.

Each freight car is the equivalent of four tractor trailer trucks, noted Bruce Lieberman, chairman of New York and Atlantic Railway, which handles freight rail on the Long Island Rail Road and which will be handling the freight coming into EPCAL.

He said some of his Long Island customers have built relatively shorter spurs leading from main rail lines directly to their businesses, but there is no rail spur terminal site as big as EPCAL.

He also said about half his customers have materials freighted to a central location from which they truck their materials. He said ECPAL could also emerge as a central dropoff point.

“That way, they don’t have to deal with the Long Island Expressway or long haul trucking,” he said. “They are simply sending their local truck somewhere ten or five minutes away.”

The possibility of running passenger trains along the spur to the massive Riverhead Resorts project proposed for EPCAL isn’t being ruled out either.

“We’re going to use it to bring in the materials to build the facility, because the less trucks we put on the roads, the better it is from our perspective,” said Mitch Pally, an attorney for Riverhead Resorts, which is hoping to buy 755 acres in Calverton from the town for $108 million. The company is planning on building eight theme resorts, including one with an indoor ski mountain.

“Our hope is at some point, we’ll be able to use it for passenger service,” Mr. Pally said. “It makes a lot of sense to bring people and goods here by rail as much as possible.”

The rail spur project received a $4.8 million grant from the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (commonly called the stimulus money), along with a $650,000 Empire State Development grant and a $75,000 state sustainable transportation grant, for a total of $5.5 million in grants.

“This project would not have happened without the Recovery Act money,” Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said Friday.

The contract awarded to Railroad Construction Company was for $3.4 million.

Mr. Fleming, whose company has done rail spur projects leading into industrial developments in New York City and New Jersey, as well as the rail link to Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, said the addition of a rail spur in industrial complexes often show immediate benefits.

“The capacity for two facilities we did in New Jersey got so inundated, they’ve already expanded one facility, and they’re looking at expanding the second one,” Mr. Fleming said.

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