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Ogdensburg short line in the midst of $2.8 million track project

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OGDENSBURG — The New York and Ogdensburg Railway is on the right track — thanks to a rail rehabilitation project that recently halted for the season.

The $2.8 million project is replacing ties, ballast and rail along the 30-mile line between Ogdensburg and Norwood.

The railway is owned by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority and operated by Vermont Rail System. Jerome M. Hebda, vice president of Vermont Rail System, said the work will continue when the ground thaws.

“We had crews up here all summer, they put a lot of ties in and dropped a lot of ballast, they will be finishing the work this spring,” he said. “We probably only have about 10 percent left to complete of the 2012 project.”

Mr. Hebda was hopeful the project would expand the capacity of the line, which serves the Port of Ogdensburg, making it St. Lawrence County’s only intermodal rail link connecting to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The track is getting to the point now where it is able to be at full capacity. I don’t believe it will be this year, but it is within sight,” he said.

The project caps off a successful year, Mr. Hebda said.

“Right now we’re moving significant amounts of agricultural products in — there’s always new things we’re working on,” he said. “We had about 600 revenue carloads, and a lot of the interesting things we did were projects like the locomotives that went for exports.”

More than 200 of those cars carried wind turbine components into the port, which were eventually taken by truck to the Marble River Wind Farm in Churbusco. In July, five 200-ton locomotives were shipped to a Quebec mining firm, a project the railway orchestrated.

“The New York and Ogdensburg Railway is an essential business partner of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority and a key mode of transportation into the Port of Ogdensburg,” said Wade A. Davis, OBPA executive director. “As operator of the authority’s rail line, the NYOG has increased traffic and improved conditions on the line though the joint efforts of the authority and funding from the New York state Department of Transportation.”

Mr. Hebda said the railway would continue doing business related to the wind farms sprouting around the north country, even though there are no new projects planned for the Port of Ogdensburg.

“If you watched Congress recently, they did reauthorize the windmill tax break, so there may be some new projects coming,” he said. “We have some other windmill and utility projects that are happening in 2013, like moving transformers for some of the new power-generating facilities in the area.”

In the meantime, the railway is partnering with the OBPA to find customers and boost business along the line.

“We view the railroad as having great potential,” Mr. Hebda said. “As a long-term policy, we’re doing what we can to build up the business, we’re very positive in the work to find new customers that could benefit both the Port Authority and the railway. We’re encouraged by some of the prospects.”

Over $6 million of work replacing and improving bridges along the line remains before rail cars filled to capacity can transit the line.

“Mainly, there is bridge work that needs to be done, it may not necessarily mean repairs, but it means bridges need to be evaluated,” Mr. Hebda said. “I don’t know where the funding is going to come from.”

The Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority included a $60,000 engineering study in its 2013-14 budget for the bridge work.

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