Renovated railroad line reaches midnight milestone

The long-awaited rail spur to the Enterprise Park at Calverton was connected to the LIRR’s main line late Saturday night. It is expected to connect to inside EPCAL next year.

The freight rail spur that will eventually lead into the Enterprise Park at Calverton was connected to the Long Island Rail Road’s main line over the weekend, and the switch that will be used to direct trains onto that spur also was constructed, Riverhead Town officials said.

New Jersey-based Railroad Construction Company has now cleared much of the brush and trees that had grown over the dormant rail spur, and have laid a new track part of the way down Connecticut Avenue in Calverton.

Work on the $5.5 million rail spur project is expected to be completed by early 2011, said Chris Kempner, the town’s community development director, whose office worked to obtain grants necessary for the project.

Town officials believe that, once complete, the rail line will encourage more businesses to locate at the 2,900-acre EPCAL property, which until the mid-1990s hosted a Grumman naval weapons plant. The developers behind the proposed Riverhead Resorts theme park project at EPCAL have said they envision passenger rail service being extended there as well.

The EPCAL rail spur was once used to bring materials into the Grumman Corporation, but has been unused and disconnected for more than 20 years.

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

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

The LIRR shut down its main line tracks heading to Riverhead on Saturday night in order to allow the connection to be made, according to Riverhead Town Engineer Ken Testa.

“So as of next week, there may be rail cars actually traveling on this to bring in ballast,” said Mr. Testa, referring to the rocks upon which the track is laid.

“It’s been an on-again, off-again project,” said state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who secured state grant money for the project nearly 10 years ago, only to see the Town Board reject the cash at the time because of some of the grant’s conditions. The Town Board later changed its mind.

“This will pay rich dividends for the economic development of the Town of Riverhead,” Mr. LaValle said.

The spur branches off the LIRR’s main line, heads 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 which plan to use it once it’s built.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town plans to seek additional grant money to built another switch inside EPCAL, so the spur will better serve other businesses within the industrial park.

The New York Department of Transportation is requiring that a grade crossing, with gates and flashing lights, be installed where the trains will cross over River Road. Mr. Testa said that crossing is being manufactured and won’t be ready for about a month. The DOT initially planned to allow a passive crossing, in which the trains would stop and look to see if cars were coming on River Road, but later changed its mind.

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