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Editorial: Old railroad bed, converted for use by the public, needs to extend north

The days when railroad trains coursed through small villages and towns have been largely relegated to the past. Left in place throughout the nation is a patchwork of railroad tracks.

There has been a growing movement to reclaim these rails and convert them into trails, where people can safely converge to walk themselves, their dogs and ride bicycles.

It is in that spirit that the new 1.8-mile multiuse recreational trail in the Village of Springville has been brought on line. As a recent News article by Joseph Popiolkowski explained, the trail will be perfect for snowshoers and cross-country skiers this winter.

The Pop Warner Rail Trail has been named in memory of the football coaching legend Glenn S. Warner. And, as reported, it is the first section to open along the discontinued 27.6-mile Buffalo & Pittsburgh Railroad right of way.

Members of Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization formed as the trail sponsor, have bigger plans. Gary A. Willert, co-chairman of the board, was quoted saying that the group envisions the trail extending beyond the Village of Springville “through five municipalities [and] two counties to make this 27.6 miles an interim trail that can be used by all Western New Yorkers and anybody visiting the area.”

The connectivity includes the towns of Orchard Park, Aurora, Colden, Concord and Ashford. The Erie Cattaraugus Rail Trail must take ownership of the corridor through “railbanking” and, as reported, the railroad and sponsor are close to negotiating an agreement.

This is much more than wishful thinking. These reimagined old railroad tracks are contributing to the quality of life and economy of small towns and villages. The new trails bring visitors, who get a chance to slow down and soak in the history surrounding them. They bring new customers into mom-and-pop shops and bed-and-breakfasts. At the same time, they preserve wildlife and history.

An interesting fact in the article involved the railroad’s role in carrying coal, beginning in the 1880s, from Pennsylvania to Buffalo and Rochester. Passenger service began in 1881. It is easy to imagine the tourists the service brought on excursions to the Southern Tier and scenic Cattaraugus gorge.

Rail passenger service to Springville ended in 1955. All rail service on the line ended as late as 1996. It was in 2008 that the railroad notified the federal Surface Transportation Board it wanted to discontinue use of the corridor. Rail ties and tracks were moved a couple of years later.

Rails to trails are an easy hit with users. Just consider the quick momentum of the Tonawanda Rails to Trails initiative and the smiles on the faces of trail walkers. The newly opened trail contributed to an image of safety and neighborliness. That there is no long-distance trail in the Southtowns for bicyclists, walkers and joggers is unacceptable. Residents should get behind trail advocates’ efforts. Elected officials should see it as a win-win for the environment and the economy.

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