By Carley Dangona
WESTFIELD – A recent grant will enable a local short line railroad to improve its rail line to support its economic stability.
Pioneer Valley Railroad (PVR) in Westfield was one of seven industrial rail companies awarded a $310,00 grant as part of the Commonwealth’s 2014 Industrial Rail Access Program (IRAP). A total of $2.5 million was awarded. Railroads in Fitchburg, Adams, Taunton, Ayer, Lenox and Palmer also received grants. This is the second year the state has offered the program.
“This [type of program] is something that many states have had for many, many years,” Michael Rennicke, vice president and general manager of PVR, said. “Conceptually, it’s a means of improving the short lines, small railroads that are closest to consumers.”
Rennicke stated, “PVR can’t generate capital fast enough [to keep up with the infrastructure maintenance needs]. We’re really pleased that the state did this. It took a number of years to convince the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to do this. [The grants] will continue to help railroads increase their service in the Commonwealth.”
The IRAP funding for the seven projects is being matched by more than $1.9 million in private sector funds for a total $4.5 million investment in freight rail improvements in the second year of the IRAP program.
The Industrial Rail Access Program created as part of the 2012 Transportation Bond Bill provides grants to railroads, rail shippers and municipalities providing public benefits through improved use of the rail transportation network or enhancing economic growth through rail access.
PVR was formed in 1982 and has 22 employees. The company runs 17 miles of track and 6,500 rail cars per year, transporting goods such as aluminum, animal feed, lumber, wax and steel.
Its customers include Lowe’s Home Improvement, Southern States (Agway), A. Duie Pyle, Poland Springs and Yankee Candle. PVR directly services the industrial areas in Westfield and Holyoke. Rennicke estimated that PVR’s operations support approximately 3,500 local jobs.
“We’ll repair lines that weren’t repaired prior to purchase to help maintain and improve operations,” Rennicke said.
He explained that the old track – comprised of materials dating back from to the 1890s – will not be moved, but repurposed in the Easthampton section of track.
The new track material will be denser and more compact than the previous material to provide longer lasting durability. A staging area providing 25 rail car spaces will be created from the old track.