Executive Councilor Ray Burton proposes to spend $850,000 of taxpayer money on a crumbling railroad line that runs through northern New Hampshire.
The St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad known as the SLR runs from Norton, Vermont through Groveton and Berlin before ending up in a small emaciated town in southern Maine named Danville Junction. The SLR was once a viable and profitable railroad but today this is no longer, with reasons running from the decline of papermaking to the competitve advantages of intermodal trucking throughout the northeast. So my question is why exactly Councilor Burton proposes to spend this $850,000 on what essentially amounts to a financial subsidy for a failing railroad in northern New Hampshire?
Councilor Burton responded to my request by outlining the $850,000 being used for about 23 miles of railroad improvements and added the role of the Federal Government in this project. “To his credit Congressman Hodes has secured another $450,000 for this project.” Burton stated. In a letter to the Editor Burton also mentioned “economic stabilization” as a reason why this project should go forward. During the past two years the papermills in Berlin, Groveton and Gorham have either shut down or sharply reduced capacity. Somehow I don’t Councilor Burton taking any position on these mill closures which resulted in some 600 workers losing their jobs. Papermills incidently, that would have provided rail traffic for the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad. I also don’t recall Councilor Burton mentioning anything about the very idea of “economic stabilization” when the mills announced they were closing.
I’ve been following the SLR and its operations since at least 1994 including its predessors, Emons Holdings Inc. and the Canadian National Railway. Every economic analysis I’ve done on this railroad shows a carrier that has done nothing but cut overhead costs, lay-off workers and continually ask for governement grant money. The later of which seems to have the strong support of the long-time councilor from the north.