Regions Rail Infrastructure Remains a Key Economic Development Assetby jcappell
Situated at the crossroads of the breadbasket of the Midwest and the population centers of the East, Buffalo was born as a manufacturing and distribution center with transportation at its heart. While the region may be best known for the terminus of the Erie Canal, Buffalo was one of the great rail centers in the country. In the Early 1900's Buffalo was second only to Chicago in the miles of railroad crisscrossing the region. The region bustled with activity, producing finished goods and services for distribution to the rest of the country.
While demand for rail freight and logistics activity declined for many years, future trends point to a resurgence of rail freight and logistics opportunities in the region. Forecasts predict that the volume of goods moving through our national transportation network will double in the next 20 years, with 40% of intercity freight being handled by rail. Forecasts for our area may be even more robust considering our strategic cross border location, the containerization of cargo and various intermodal options that are unique to the region.
Recent investments by CSX in a new intermodal facility on the Buffalo/Lackawanna border provide a direct rail link to the Port of New York and New Jersey. Shippers can now route containers directly from container ships at the port, have them placed on rail cars and delivered to the Buffalo facility for trans-load. In addition, new investments being made to widen the Panama Canal will allow the large container ships that previously could not access East Coast ports, to deliver goods directly to Ports like New York and New Jersey allowing goods to from the East Coast to important destinations like the growing Southern Ontario and Toronto market.
The growing cost of fuel, congestion on our roadways and the increasing efficiencies of modern logistics are all factors which will favor areas with strong rail and intermodal infrastructure. This is not only true for long haul movements, but for local manufacturing and distribution facilities as well. More and more local manufacturers or companies looking to site a new facility are requiring access to rail and other freight modes.
Locally the ECIDA and Erie County have a long history of working to protect and enhance our rail freight assets. In fact the ECIDA manages two rail lines that are owned by Erie County. The rail lines which were abandoned as part of the formation of Conrail provide local freight service to businesses and industry located along the line. The Buffalo Southern Rail Line runs some 33 miles from Buffalo to Gowanda, while the Depew Lancaster and Western Railroad runs some 6 miles from Depew to Lancaster. Both rail lines haul a variety of products including fertilizers, metal products, paper and propane to various industries along the rail corridor.
Our region's strong rail infrastructure and unique location puts us in a great position to create opportunities and jobs in the coming years. Continued investment and focus on the logistics industry will be key to leveraging our rail legacy into new jobs and international opportunities.