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Chautauqua County Executive Mark W. Thomas said Monday that areas such as Dunkirk, Silver Creek and Ripley have seen a substantial increase in rail traffic since the breakup of Conrail lines in the region.

The downside to that, he said, is that some of those communities are not used to busy rail lines.

"We're just having some trouble with congestion in Buffalo (causing) trains to be set on the side tracks here in Dunkirk with coal in them, for instance, with coal dust blowing out into the community," he said.

"We've had some challenges with that, but, we're hoping that things get straightened out in the next couple of months with this divestiture of Conrail, and that both Norfolk-Southern and CSX are able to get their operations up to the . . . high-quality service that people are used to."

CSX and Norfolk-Southern bought the assets of Conrail and divided the trackage, cars, buildings and other properties between them.

CSX and Norfolk-Southern expanded their trackage and now control most of the shipments passing through Chautauqua County.

In the northern part of the county, safety has been a concern. Within the past year, two people have died from rail-related accidents. One pedestrian was struck by a train, while another person died when a train struck a van.

Thomas said that with an increase in rail traffic, residents must take extra precautions at crossings, even if there are gates and lights.

"Always look -- always look -- no matter what the crossing is you're going over," he said. "People are not used to having some of the rail traffic, especially in the northern end of the county."

Thomas is continuing to work with CSX, Norfolk-Southern and the State Legislature to create a Southern Tier Rail Authority. The authority would operate the former Conrail line from Hornell to near Corry, Pa.

Officials in the Jamestown area have pushed for an authority to help revive rail service in southern Chautauqua County. Thomas said jump-starting service around Jamestown could help the traffic problems in the north part of the county.l

"Hopefully, Norfolk-Southern could then route some of the traffic that's going through the City of Dunkirk on that Southern Tier Line, as well, so that . . . we would have the neighborhood traffic in Dunkirk reduced," he said.

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