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COST OF SHIPPING VIA RAILROADS FELL LAST YEAR IN BUFFALO AREA

Rail shipping rates in Buffalo have declined somewhat in the first full year after the breakup of Conrail, according to a federal regulator's report.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board examined rates charged by CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp. for the year following their takeover of the Conrail system on June 1, 1999.

In that period, freight hauling rates to and from Buffalo "have on the whole declined" from comparable shipments a year earlier, the board said in a statement by chairman Linda J. Morgan. The amount of the decline wasn't stated.

The report completes the first phase of a three-year regulatory review of the merger and its aftereffects. The board found that pricing data was adequate to support its conclusion, overruling rail customers who said the available data and price computing methods were flawed.

Shippers in Western New York have complained of uncompetitively high rates for freight under Conrail, and said they feared the rates would be perpetuated by CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Rail shippers also complained of lost and delayed freight when the merger was completed in 1999. Those complaints gradually tapered off in the months that followed.

The Surface Transportation Board also Friday announced the end of its examination of Buffalo's rail infrastructure, saying that CSX and Norfolk Southern are addressing service delays.

The rail lines "have invested substantial amounts on infrastructure to improve rail service in the immediate Buffalo area," the statement said.

The railroads continue to examine alternatives to clear congestion at a heavily used drawbridge over the Buffalo River, the report noted. The CP Draw, a CSX-controlled bridge used by national and international traffic, has been cited as a freight bottleneck.

U.S. Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, applauded the report, while urging that work continue on Buffalo's rail service.

"It is imperative that both the rail carriers and local shippers work together to make sure we provide the most efficient and cost-effective rail service to Erie County," he said in a statement.

More than 25,000 jobs in the region are tied to local rail service, he added.

At a national level, CSX and Norfolk Southern "have substantially resolved their transitional service problems relative to the merger," Morgan's statement said.

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