By Dan Hust
CALLICOON February 15, 2005 The tracks of the old Erie Railroad sit largely quiet these days, devoid of the hustle and bustle that characterized most of the lines 157 years.
But theres still life here on the worn steel rails that curve through western Sullivan County, small signs that indicate a purpose to its continued existence.
The station in Callicoon still has a few men responsible for maintenance. The signals (most of them) and crossing guard systems still operate. And the roar of a passing train still reverberates deep into the ground.
But unless you live or work right next to the railroad now owned by Norfolk Southern its hard to see much of anything, especially since one, sometimes two freight trains run through the area usually only late at night.
Each Tuesday and Thursday, however, you can count on hearing the echoing whistle of a diesel locomotive as it passes one crossing after another in the Delaware River valley.
And at the controls of that locomotive, you can find an amiable fellow named Joe White. Hes a middle-aged gentleman from Susquehanna, Pa. whos spent most of his life in the railroad industry, just like half a dozen other relatives.
These days, hes the engineer for #2209, a 1976 GE U23B locomotive capable of generating 2,300 horsepower.
Its the Central New York Railroad (CNY) Corp.s only engine.
And Whites the companys vice president and general manager.
The title means responsibility, he said as the engine rocked down the valley on a recent sunny afternoon. It doesnt mean youre a prima donna.
There are two people above him including company co-founder Walter G. Rich, president and CEO of the much-larger New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway in Cooperstown and Binghamton and about 10 people below him.
His steadiest partner these days is Steve Henry, a 7-year Conrail veteran and now a CNY conductor a fancy name for a tough job. There are no passengers on what White terms the local run, so his Horseheads coworkers job is to climb down from the cab in every kind of weather to couple or decouple cars at each stop.
Actually, excepting the beginning and end of the run in Kirkwood, a small hamlet near Binghamton where the locomotive is kept, there are only two stops on the entire 100-mile, three-hour run Cochecton Mills and Narrowsburg Feed and Grain.
Theyre the only customers left on a line that used to have hundreds. Indeed, although CNY is leasing the track from Norfolk Southern for just a dollar a year, they hardly ever have reason to travel the remaining 30 miles down to Port Jervis, where MetroNorths passenger service to New York City begins.
Company officials are looking to change that, especially since the corporations continued survival depends on it.
The only commodity a railroad sells is service, says White. The primary goal is to build that customer service up. We need to generate and solicit business.
(For info on business opportunities with the railroad, call CNY Marketing Representative Phil DeFazio at 607-227-8737.)
CNY is also hoping the various industrial development agencies of Broome, Delaware and Sullivan counties will give them a tax break eventually amounting to 100 percent, as is already the case in Pennsylvania.
Indeed, if that break cant be given by even one of the involved counties, its very likely CNY wont be able to make a go of it, since maintenance of the line is now falling to them.
(Although Norfolk Southern officials have declined to comment on the future of the tracks in question, CNY officials and local legislators have indicated the railroad giant is unwilling to invest anymore money into the line and will likely abandon it should CNYs plans fail.)
This Thursday, the Sullivan County IDA plans to hold hearings on CNYs tax abatement request in the four affected townships. The public will have a chance to speak up about the IDAs plan to offer a 20 percent tax reduction each year for the next five years, leading up to the full elimination of taxes at the end of that period ostensibly to offer the townships a chance to more slowly absorb the tax loss.
And its a tax loss theyre facing anyway, as the NYS Legislature has already enacted legislation that requires such abatements by 2009.
The hearings will be held this Thursday at the Tusten Town Hall in Narrowsburg at 10 a.m.; the Cochecton Town Hall in Lake Huntington at 11:30 a.m.; the Delaware Youth Center in Callicoon at 1 p.m.; and the Fremont Town Hall in Fremont Center at 3 p.m.