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CSX SAYS IT WON'T LET COUNTY DICTATE REPAIR SCHEDULE

CSX Corp. officials said they have no plans to start a major railroad-crossing repair program in Niagara County.

At a recent meeting here, John P. Casellini, CSX resident vice president for state relations, told a group of shippers and political officials, "I think you'll find the capital projects we undertake will be focused toward economic development."

A report submitted to CSX by the Niagara County Department of Planning, Development, and Tourism contained estimates of $9,784,200 to repair or replace 16 overpasses and $1,774,950 to repair 41 grade crossings in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Cambria, Lewiston and the City of Lockport.

Those were the only municipalities that returned cost estimates with an itemized list of crossings. The Town of Lockport submitted four crossings that need attention; there are three in Middleport and two each in Royalton and Wheatfield, but no dollar signs were attached.

"In those instances where cost estimates are not available, we have attempted to generalize those, based on projects in other communities," said Samuel M. Ferraro, commissioner of planning, development, and tourism.

Casellini said the crossings CSX will repair are heavily traveled grade crossings. "Our capital dollars are going to be put in places that will expand our capacity and improve our services," he said.

As for overpasses, some of which have low clearances for traffic passing beneath, CSX would only work on those if they were dangerous.

James S. Thoman, an assistant division engineer for CSX, said bluntly, "We're not going to arbitrarily raise our bridges because you'd like more clearance. It's a big capital expense."

Casellini said to raise an overpass, the track must be boosted for a substantial distance away from both ends of the bridge. "Our freights don't run well with speed bumps," he said.

Officials in Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, and Cambria complained about falling concrete from overpasses. Thoman asserted, "They're cosmetic (problems). They're not structural defects."

Casellini said, "Where we have bridges that are structurally deficient, and we don't, we will address them regularly."

Thoman also pointed out that crossings east of Heath Street in Lockport are not CSX property, but instead have to be maintained by Falls Road Railroad Co.

Falls Road did repair crossings on Michigan and North Transit streets in Lockport this fall.

Another bridge that CSX says isn't its problem is the lift bridge connecting Tonawanda Island to the mainland in North Tonawanda. The city estimates $475,000 would be necessary to remove it. Thoman said it belongs to the old Tonawanda Island Railroad, not CSX.

Thoman said CSX posts a sign number and a toll-free telephone number at each of its crossings to take reports of malfunctions. The number is 1-800-232- 0144.

The most expensive estimates are for work in Niagara Falls, especially on seven particular trestles. Robert Buzzelli of the city Engineering Department said in a memorandum that it would cost $7,975,000 to repair the overpasses and another $445,000 to fix up eight grade crossings.

Only three of the seven trestles would be replaced with grade crossings, according to the memo. The most expensive, because of the need to acquire rights of way, would be the removal of the Portage Road overpass, at $2.25 million.

In North Tonawanda, Public Works Superintendent Gary J. Franklin wrote that 20 grade crossings need work totaling $614,950.

City of Lockport Director of Engineering Allan R. Rutter estimated $430,000 worth of crossing repairs are needed on Niagara, Church, Ontario, Prospect, Vine and Hawley streets. All are in Falls Road Railroad territory.

Lewiston Town Engineer Robert Gallucci said the Hoover Road grade crossing needs to be reconstructed at a cost of $45,000, but the job can wait until 2007.

Royalton Supervisor Lloyd L. Westcott provided no price tags for repairs to crossings on State Street in Gasport and on Telegraph Road.

Wheatfield Building Inspector Donald MacSwan said the Walmore Road crossing near Cory Drive is his top priority. He wrote that a "very steep grade makes (the) approach possibly unsafe."

MacSwan also said the Niagara Falls Boulevard overpass needs painting. But he supplied no cost estimates.

Village of Middleport Public Works Superintendent James E. Mahar said it's up to the railroad to figure out how much the work costs, but the priority order for repairs places Kelly Avenue first, followed by Vernon and Orchard streets.

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