An incident in northern New Hampshire happened which I hope doesn't turn into an urgent need for the use of taxpayer capital.
About two days ago the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad which runs from Norton, Vermont through the Berlin-Gorham area suffered a substantial derailment right over the NH border in Gilead, Maine. It was a substantial derailment featuring at least eleven tank and boxcars flipping and tearing up the right of way. It could have been much worse. I understand the tank cars were empty so damage to the natural environment was minimized leaving only the damage to the railroad infrastructure as well as costs associated with the disruption of service and commerce. Photos of the derailment and a press release are available on photos.nerail.org and wmur.com respectively.
Railroad contractor RJ Corman was immediately dispatched to scene to rerail the cars and replace the broken track. On the basis of what I've seen I don't think its unreasonable to think to get this railroad line activated it will cost the parent company of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic in the area of $850,000 plus any loss of revenue from the service disruption.
The question is does this railroad have the economic viability to sustain these derailment costs? My answer to this question is no they do not. And I think the NH taxpayers are going to be asked to help out and this wrong. The St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad is a former Canadian National Railroad property that essentially lost its economic footing with both deregulation, changes in commerce patterns and more recently the closure of paper mills in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. There hasn't been any real investment in the track or structures since the late 1970s and its starting to show. With its declining condition I'm surprised there haven't been more serious derailments on this line.
Currently, the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad (SLR) has applications in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine for transportation enhancement money to be used to rehabilitate this line. I'm understanding that Vermont has already given the SLR $5.0 million, New Hampshire is being asked for $11.5 million and Maine is being asked for $17.5 million. During the past year I've asked elected officials like Executive Councilor Ray Burton to explain why he supports this expenditure, he refers me to NH DOT who never have responded as to why this railroad needs the money. The railroad company which is based in Greenwich, CT. does the same thing. They did say the upgrades to the railroad would enable economic development and jobs in northern NH but when asked would not say exactly where.
I understand that Commissioner George Campbell is supporting the investment in the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad and has submitted this request to Governor Lynch. I hope the railroad officials will not use this unfortunate derailment to attempt to expedite use of taxpayer funds for the railroad. I also hope Governor Lynch will evaluate this application on its strengths and ability to create economic development and jobs in northern New Hampshire. And not a sense of urgency.
I hope Governor Lynch denies this application. I've been interested in the industry since 1987 and have been following the operations on this line along with the companies that operate it. My analysis is that it comes down to the matrix and effective movement of freight. A movement that involves time, distance and the direct role of freight into a well planned supply chain but also in the use of capital. I think if these factors are considered, the presence of interstate 95 and other railroad companies in the region decsively kill any economic viability of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Railroad.
So why are the NH taxpayers being asked to subsidize it?
I think this is a good question. I've been unable to answer it.