EPCAL rail spur ready to roll at end of month

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The section of the rail spur that ends at Metro Terminals of Long Island which store and distribute eco-friendly heating oil in EPCAL should be completed by the fall.

The restored rail spur leading into the Enterprise Park at Calverton should be completed by the end of this month, according to Riverhead Town community development director Chris Kempner.

The $5.5 million project kicked off in May 2010 and tracks were connected to the Long Island Rail Road main line in mid-September 2010. In late October of that year, a freight train used a portion of the restored track for the first time, getting as far as Connecticut Avenue and carrying ballast for use in building the rest of the track.

Once completed, the spur is expected to help businesses at EPCAL by enabling them to ship goods by rail and reduce truck traffic on roads leading to the facility.

“The rail spur will allow Metro to transport its fuel more efficiently,” said Gene Pullo, president of Metro Terminals, in a recent letter to Riverhead Chamber of Commerce president Janine Nebons, announcing plans for a mid-September ribbon-cutting for its new EPCAL terminal. “The same amount of fuel transported by 2,500 trucks can be transported by only 100 rail cars, improving the quality of life on Long Island by decreasing traffic and improving air quality.”

Metro Energy, based in Brooklyn, plans to establish a “biodiesel/bioheat clean fuel blending and distribution center” at EPCAL, according to Mr. Pullo. The company uses recycled restaurant grease and plant oils to make bio-diesel fuels that can be used to power cars and oil heaters.

The original rail spur was used to bring materials into the Grumman Corporation’s naval weapons plant, but had been dormant for more than 20 years. Grumman, which made fighter planes for the Navy and owned the land at the time, left the area in 1994. The spur branches off the LIRR’s Main Line and comes down Connecticut Avenue into EPCAL, ending up at the western end of the industrial park, near Metro and Eastern Wholesale Fence.

Peter Williams Jr., CEO of Eastern Wholesale Fence, told the News-Review last year, “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.”

The town received a $4.8 million federal stimulus grant and $650,000 from the New York Empire State Development Corporation for the job.

A New Jersey company called Railroad Construction Company was awarded the job to rebuild the spur.

At one point over the winter, the Town Board considered changing the endpoint of the spur so that it turned north as it entered EPCAL, traveling along Burman Boulevard rather than ending at the property’s western end.

Supervisor Sean Walter said at the time that the spur would serve only two businesses if it culminated at EPCAL’s western end and that it could serve more business if the spur were directed toward the center of the industrial park.

But the original plan is the one that’s being built.

“This is a phase one, and the businesses out there are going to have to make some decisions about how to use it,” Ms. Kempner said.

Some businesses, for example, might want to unload their freight at the spur’s terminus and transport it by truck to their locations, she said, while others might prefer to continue trucking their goods until a rail spur is built that reaches their businesses directly, she said.

“It’s really an individual business decision,” she said.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who had opposed changing the endpoint of the rail spur, said this week that Ms. Kempner and deputy supervisor Jill Lewis have handled issues regarding the rail spur for the town, and that she has not been involved in those discussions.

The restoration of the rail spur also has helped EPCAL gain consideration as a possible “freight village.”

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council is studying seven sites, including EPCAL, for a potential freight village for the New York metropolitan area. It defines a freight village as “an area in which all activities relating to transport, logistics and distribution of goods are carried out by various operators.”

The NYMTC study listed the rail spur as one of EPCAL’s strengths, along with its existing infrastructure, the presence of a runway and the fact that businesses are already operating there. It said EPCAL’s weak points are its distance from New York City and Nassau County and the need for substantial road access improvements to the site.

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