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Railroad Authority approves budget

The Southern Tier Extension Railroad Authority on Tuesday approved a $279,700 budget for 2009.

The budget will fund the operations of the 140-mile Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad (the former Erie-Lackawanna main line between Hornell and Corry, Pa.) and the 40-mile north-south Buffalo Line, which connects Machias Junction and the Pennsylvania border in Portville.

The budget contains no new federal or state money because the timing of the budget preparation is too early for potential 2009 funding allocations.

And, despite the economic downturn and uncertainties of state funding, the board decided to seek additional transportation funding to upgrade the two lines and keep them in shape to be economically competitive and boost development in the region.

The board voted to authorize a $894,898 bridge-rehabilitation grant application for Department of Transportation funds that would be used to rehabilitate one bridge crossing Great Valley Creek in Salamanca, another bridge at Belvidere and two in Alfred.

Also authorized was a negative declaration of adverse environmental impact for that project.
After a report from Don Rychnowski and Tom Barnes of the Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Agency, the board agreed to apply for additional federal money for grade-crossing safety corrections and other projects.

On other matters:

* Rychnowski updated the board on another $15 million that is due to be distributed in January through a federal transportation bill -- funding that could help bring a uniform 40-mph speed standard throughout the Southern Tier Extension system.
Most of the approved budget contains what is remaining of a $500,000 state construction grant, which the board calls "Bill Parment money," because it originated through Assemblyman William L. Parment, D-North Harmony.

* Rychnowski also noted the rail system has received honorable mention -- but fell short of being designated a regional railroad or included in an Empire Corridor, a new rail plan adopted by the state.

* Barnes told the board that progress has stalled in Southern Tier West's multimodal freight-transfer facility and manufacturing center project. He said 22 sites had been narrowed to a single location, but a feasibility study has foundered because of the lack of a response from the project contractor, the RNO Group of South Carolina, which should have replied months ago to issues raised by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

* The board requested a report on the condition of the system's two rail lines.

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