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Rail service expected back in two weeks

The flood-ravaged New York & Lake Erie Railroad should be back on track and providing freight service to all three customers in about two weeks, but permanent repairs will hinge on federal aid reimbursement and a $49,400 contribution from the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency.

Railroad operator Robert Dingman told agency board members last week that a $712,000 preliminary estimate to repair the damage could be revised downward after a meeting is held with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The cost of the most extensive repairs -- at Thatcher Brook Bridge near Gowanda -- was estimated at $262,500. The remainder of the preliminary estimate was taken up in other problem areas, included washouts, plugged ditches and culverts, and mud and rock slides that idled the short-line railroad Aug. 10-26.

Dingman's crews have made many temporary repairs, replaced embankments and laid down new ties using rented equipment, donated fill and other materials purchased with his personal funds, so trains can now travel a portion of the line. But he said complete restoration and payment of vendors and contractors will require help from the agency, the railroad's owner since 1978. FEMA aid would reimburse 75 percent of the cost of repairs, and state aid would provide an additional 12.5 percent, with the remainder to come from the agency.

The $49,400 request as the agency's share will help complete the temporary repairs and pay for repairs already made. The request comes on the heels of Dingman's Aug. 4 proposal to tear up and sell for scrap a 6.3-mile section of rail between Conewango Valley and Waterboro.

An estimated $290,000 from that sale could be set aside as a Railroad Rehabilitation and Development Fund for emergencies and to rehabilitate a chronic washout area that caused an embargo on freight service on the section serving Setterstix, the line's largest customer.

The funds, in addition to a promised $900,000 state grant that has been on hold since 2005, could also be used to add a passenger excursion service.

Besides Setterstix, the line serves Austin Milling, serving farmers in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, and Keywell, a scrap buyer in Frewsburg.

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