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Railroad seeks to abandon track to West Valley

The Orchard Park Train Depot is a historic building, but the track in front of it could be history.

The Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad plans to abandon an unused, 28-mile stretch of track that runs from Orchard Park to West Valley.

The railroad could begin pulling up the track for salvage as early as next month, if the abandonment is approved by federal regulators.

The move is a boon for advocates of turning the route into a public trail. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has filed a rail-to-trail request, to keep the corridor from being split up and returned to private ownership.

"The rail corridor . . . would make an excellent recreational trail, and conversion of the property to trail use is widely supported throughout the area," Erik Kulleseid, deputy commissioner for Open Space Protection, said in the state's filing with the federal Surface Transportation Board.

A meeting about the multiuse trail idea in July drew supporters who hope the rail bed could become like the Pat McGee Trail in Cattaraugus County, which is used for hiking, bicycling and snowmobiling. That trail runs from the Village of Cattaraugus to the City of Salamanca.

But for rail buffs, the loss of the tracks would be an aesthetic blow for the depot in Orchard Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It would also mean the end of the line for hopes of a tourist train there someday.

"It would just be devastating to us to lose the track," said Robert Snyder, chairman of the Depot Committee of the Western New York Railway Historical Society.

The depot was built in 1911 by the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad, whose president, Harry Yates, lived in Orchard Park. The building now serves as an office of the railway society.

The group hopes to preserve a two-mile section of track north of the depot to keep it connected to rails that remain in use. The rail company is considering the request but isn't making any promises.

"We're always willing to work with a group like that," spokesman Michael Williams said. "But at the end of the day, we have a business to run."

The Buffalo & Pittsburgh filed a petition with the Surface Transportation Board on Sept. 16, proposing to abandon the line Nov. 5. The railroad is a unit of Genesee & Wyoming Inc., based in Greenwich, Conn.

Affected would be 27.6 miles of track, running from a point just north of the Village of Orchard Park to West Valley in Cattaraugus County. In Erie County, the line crosses through parts of Aurora, Colden and Concord. The track hasn't been used since 1997.

Operations will continue from Buffalo to a point north of the abandoned section of track, maintaining freight service to customers 84 Lumber and Electro-Abrasives, Williams said. However, the line has had discussions with customers about halting service on this segment in the future because of low business volume, he added.

The railway also would continue to serve the West Valley Nuclear Demonstration Project, using tracks south of the abandoned segment.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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