A railroad company has received approval to connect a proposed landfill in northern Centre County with its track in Clearfield County.
Monday’s decision by the federal Surface Transportation Board granted R.J. Corman Railroad Company the right to reclaim about 20 miles of track abandoned by Conrail in 1990, 10 miles of which have been converted into the Snow Shoe Rails to Trails. The decision means the 20-mile trail network will be halved if the rail line is built.
“We’re not happy about it,” said Snow Shoe Rails to Trails vice president Jim Verost.
R.J. Corman, based in Nicholasville, Ky., operates short-line railroads in seven states. It began the petition process in 2008, asking to reactivate its rights — acquired from Conrail and Norfolk Southern — to connect its main line in Wallaceton Junction with Gorton, where Resource Recovery has proposed building a waste-to-ethanol facility, a quarry and an industrial park.
Residents in Rush and Snow Shoe townships in Centre County have opposed both the building of the railroad and Resource Recovery’s plans for development, which originally called for a 274-acre landfill. After the landfill proposal met resistance, Resource Recovery changed its proposal to the waste-to-ethanol facility, which would convert trash into the petroleum product but would also include a 50-acre landfill.
Representatives from R.J. Corman and Resource Recovery did not return calls for comment Monday afternoon.
The 22-page decision by the Surface Transportation Board cited the company’s right to reclaim previously abandoned rail lines. It also factored in the railroad’s service to planned and existing industrial development in the area, including fracking water treatment plants, surface deep mining on area coal reserves, highway improvement projects and the quarry. Rail service would remove up to 1,164 trucks per day from local roads, according to STB.
As part of the agreement, trains will be limited to traveling between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Trains will face a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit on the line, and 10 mile-per- hour limit when crossing state Route 53 and Ninth Street near Philipsburg.
Jim Long, president of Philipsburgbased A.W. Long Coal Company, said the decision would benefit businesses like his, which operate near the proposed rail line.
“I’m glad to see the rails coming because that could open the door for more industry and more employment,” he said.
Rush Township supervisors Jack Shannon and Mike Savage couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, but supervisor Pat Couturiaux also lauded the decision.
“We need the railroad back, going to bring jobs back to the area, and I’m for jobs,” he said.
Snow Shoe Rails to Trails treasurer George Holt said his organization had put countless hours into repairing and maintaining the multi-use trail, which is a favorite amongst local ATV riders.
More than $100,000 of state money has been spent to build two bridges that are in jeopardy due to Monday’s decision, he said.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re certainly open to hearing about alternatives,” he said.
The Surface Transportation Board decision encourages R.J. Corman to “attempt to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement” with the Headwaters Charitable Trust, which controls the Rails to Trails, but only requires R.J. Corman to construct a new trailhead facility, consisting of a gravel parking area and covered sign structure, at the new Gorton Road trail terminus.
The decision is certain to meet with public consternation, Centre County Commissioner Chris Exarchos said.
The Surface Transportation Board statement said it had received hundreds of written comments regarding the issue, but did not detail the nature of the comments.
“Hopefully, the Corman people will find an alternative for the trail, because a lot of people worked very hard to put it in and it was used extensively,” Exarchos said.
While the removal of trucks from local roads is a good thing — especially the northern parts of the county where traffic from the Marcellus Shale natural gas play is already an issue — he understood why residents there opposed a landfill.
“It’s a municipal zoning issue, so as long as it’s an allowed use, there isn’t much you can do,” Exarchos said.
“These type of issues are always tough,” he added. “It’s a balancing act between individual property rights and community rights, which always makes for a difficult situation.”
Cliff White can be reached at 235-3928. Follow him on Twitter @CliffWhiteNews