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Outlook 2012: Operations start at new intermodal rail yard even as construction goes on

Sunday, February 19, 2012
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Excavation at a new Norfolk Southern Pan Am Intermodel project near Mechanicville.
Excavation at a new Norfolk Southern Pan Am Intermodel project near Mechanicville.

— The new 207-acre intermodal and automotive rail yard in Mechanicville and Halfmoon began operating in late January but construction work will continue through most of this year.

Approximately 100 construction workers have been at the sprawling rail yard for more than a year, installing new track and preparing the site for freight containers in one area and new automobiles in another area.

"We started partial operations on the intermodal side," said Paul Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern Corp.

He said the milder-than-normal winter has allowed work to continue.

The intermodal side is where freight containers are brought in on trains and loaded onto tractor-trailers for road transport to distribution centers in the greater Capital Region.

The trucks also bring the freight containers to the rail yard and they are lifted onto trains for long hauls.

When the project is completed near the end of 2012, the intermodal side will be capable of handling 70,000 annual "lifts," the name given the transfer of freight from a train to a truck and vice versa.

New automobiles will also eventually be brought in on trains and loaded onto tractor-trailers for Northeast distribution.

Pan Am Railways and Norfolk Southern have joined forces in a joint venture called Pan Am Southern to build the $45 million intermodal and automotive rail facility. Pan Am Railways is a descendant of the Boston & Maine and controls railroad tracks that originate northwest of Boston.

Norfolk Southern is one of the nation's largest transportation companies, operating 21,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia.

100 new jobs

Stillwater Town Supervisor Edward Kinowski said local officials have been told when the Capital District Intermodal and Automotive Facility is complete about 100 jobs will be created.

He said start of operations at the intermodal area has created considerable truck traffic on Route 67, especially where a new bridge into the site has been built over the Anthony Kill.

He said Stillwater residents are concerned about the truck traffic and the town is looking at ways to slow down the traffic and make the area safer.

Kinowski said D.A. Collins Companies, which owns land in the Willow Glen area in Stillwater not far from the new bridge, is in discussion with Pan Am Southern about using its land for storage associated with the rail yard.

Other developers are discussing the need for warehousing facilities in Stillwater near the site. Kinowski said he understands warehouses of at least 300,000 square feet will be needed in the future.

The town is encouraging such spinoff development to increase its tax base.

Pete Bardunias, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southern Saratoga County, said the intermodal and automotive rail yard will help the economy in the southern part of Saratoga County.

"It will make it easier to bring products into and out of our area," Bardunias said.

He said manufacturing companies, such as the new GlobalFoundries computer chip manufacturing plant in Malta, will find the rail yard a real benefit when shipping and receiving products.

Transportation hub

Bardunias said this part of Mechanicville, Halfmoon and Stillwater has traditionally been a hub of transportation. The original Mechanicville rail yard was once the third largest rail yard in the United States.

Until the 1980s, the Boston & Maine Railroad and the Delaware & Hudson Railway each had sprawling rail yards in an area east of the new site that included a small piece of the city of Mechanicville and larger pieces of the towns of Halfmoon and Stillwater.

"They called it the Mechanicville yard," said Mayor Anthony J. Sylvester of Mechanicville when interviewed in November. He worked in the Boston & Maine yard for 17 years.

The old Boston & Maine and D&H railroad tracks, miles of them in the old yard, were taken out and sold for scrap years ago, Sylvester said, and most of the old rail yard buildings were leveled by a tornado that swept through the Mechanicville area in late May 1998.

The jobs in the old rail yard, sometimes passed down from generation to generation, also evaporated.

The automotive portion of the yard, which will accept new automobiles coming from places such as Detroit, is expected to be finished by the end of this year.

Local officials see the sprawling new facility as a major economic engine that could create spinoff businesses that will provide jobs and a boost to the tax base for the city and towns.

"We are looking for warehousing within the school district," Sylvester said. He said such businesses would pay taxes to the Mechanicville City School District, which includes the city and large parts of Halfmoon and Stillwater.

"That would add tax base and jobs without more pupils," Sylvester said.

Business spinoff

The town of Stillwater is planning for the business that it expects the rail yard will generate. The town has developed a zoning district along Route 67 in Stillwater that will allow business development as a special permitted use. Residents will be able to keep their homes in this overlay district or sell them to businesses, which wouldn't need to get a zoning change to start operations.

Kinowski, the town supervisor, said the district has special architectural and design guidelines that will require businesses locating in the district to have buildings that have a rural look. The designers will have to consider variations in the roof lines and topography of the land.

People interested in selling or buying land near the intermodal facility can contact the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. in Saratoga Springs.

"This is really a boon opportunity in a tough economic time," Kinowski said. "Stillwater is open for business. We need tax base and want to grow."

Part of the Pan Am Southern agreement is track, signal and capacity improvements on the 155-mile Mechanicville -to-Ayer, Mass., portion of the tracks. Pan Am Railways operates 2,000 route miles in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Canada.

Pidgeon, the Norfolk Southern spokesman, said three 4,000-foot tracks will support the automotive transportation part of the rail yard and two 4,000-foot tracks will support the intermodal part of the facility.

The facility will have parking spaces for nearly 700 new automobiles and nearly 400 spaces for trailer boxes, Pidgeon said.

"The beauty of the site is that it expands our intermodal capacity in the Capital Region," Pidgeon said. The facility will replace an intermodal site in Albany County used by Norfolk Southern.

The automotive portion of the terminal will both unload rail cars carrying automobiles, called autoracks, and offer short-term storage of cars.

Norfolk Southern said in its third-quarter report, released in late October, that income from the corporation's railway operations increased 26 percent to an all-time record of $938 million compared to the same period in 2010. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is a major transporter of coal and industrial products, according to the corporation's third quarter report.

 
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