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RAIL DELAYS TOP AGENDA FOR REGULATOR

Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced Friday that the nation's top railroad regulator has agreed to visit Buffalo soon to meet with local officials and corporate leaders fearful that railroad tie-ups might close some businesses.

The New York Democrat said Linda Morgan, chairwoman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, has "agreed to visit Buffalo and to act swiftly to end these delays."

Schumer cited 14 Buffalo area companies that are experiencing "devastating" delays. The Ford Motor Co. stamping plant in Woodlawn, he said, "has cut its second shift" because of the logjam.

Schumer said he and Ms. Morgan will work out the exact date for her visit.

Ms. Morgan, an appointee of President Clinton's, heads the board that last year guaranteed that shippers in Detroit, Philadelphia and New Jersey would enjoy competitive service, but denied the same benefits to shippers in Erie and Niagara Counties.

Schumer announced her pending visit just as Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, was readying a protest to her that the promises made by her agency in 1998 have not been fulfilled.

The Quinn letter reminded her that the board, which she heads, said in 1998 that its decisions "will reduce rates and enhance service for all rail shippers."

The Surface Transportation Board allowed two national railroad companies, CSX and Norfolk-Southern, to divide rail service in Buffalo that had formerly been provided by the government-chartered monopoly, Conrail.

The board did not require CSX and Norfolk-Southern to set up "shared access" or competitive sectors in the Buffalo area. The board did require shared access in other markets.

The Quinn letter told Ms. Morgan that the assured improvements have not occurred.

"Rail shippers and receivers in the region have informed us . . . that service levels are below levels provided by Conrail, and rate increases have been applied," Quinn said. "Moreover, after a modest improvement in July following the initial virtual collapse of service . . . service levels have begun to decline again."

Six members of the state's congressional delegation on Friday sent letters to executives of Norfolk-Southern and CSX warning that shipping delays threaten the "very ability of some (companies) to remain in business."

Reps. Tom Reynolds, R-Clarence, and Amo Houghton Jr., R-Corning, and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., joined Quinn, Schumer and Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, in the protest to CSX Chairman John Snow and David R. Goode, Norfolk-Southern chairman.

The delegation warned Snow and Goode that they will press the Surface Transportation Board to set a firm deadline for service improvements and "impose specific penalties" on the two huge railroad companies if they fail to meet the deadlines.

Local shippers convinced that the ruling by Ms. Morgan's board clearly discriminated against Buffalo and the Niagara area have filed suit in federal court to overturn the board's decision.

John Cappellino, railroad expert with the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, said grounds exist for the Surface Transportation Board invoking emergency orders reversing part of its 1998 actions. The board could, he said, permit other rail carriers to enter the market.

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