Some local workers may be hired for Newtown Falls Railroad rehabilitation

Rehabilitation of the Newton Falls Railroad should start by early May and some local workers are expected to be hired, according to officials from the Maryland company leading the $6.8 million project.

Christopher F. Wysocki, safety officer for Rhinehart Railroad Construction Inc., Fallston, Md., said Friday that most of the work will be handled by company employees, but some jobs will be available to north country residents.

He did not have a specific number.

“We’ve partnered with the unions up there,” Mr. Wysocki said.

Materials for the 43-mile project have been ordered and bids are being accepted from outside companies to install the railroad ballasts needed to upgrade the rail line.

Mark C. Hall, a member of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency from the town of Fine, said he’s hopeful that some local residents can secure work on the project, but he doesn’t anticipate there will be a large number of jobs available.

“It would be absolutely wonderful if this provides some local employment, but this is a pretty specialized trade and very mechanical,” Mr. Hall said. “We hope that’s a side effect, but they’re a private company. What they do and how they do it, is their business.”

Paul F. Mitchell, operator of Mitchell Logging and Stone Products, Tupper Lake, said workers from his company are in the process of fixing the cargo loading area along the side of the rail’s main line. He has also placed a bid on the railroad ballast work.

Mr. Mitchell said he’s hopeful that a refurbished rail line will create a larger market for crushed stone which will help his business. For the past five years his company has crushed stone at the former Benson Mine site.

“It’s going to help us be competitive with stone producers from different parts of the country,” he said. “We’re hoping to see more processed stone go on the rail line.”

IDA Chief Executive Officer Patrick J. Kelly has said that reopening the railroad lines should spur redevelopment of the defunct Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. plant in Star Lake and the former Newtown Falls Paper Mill.

The project is also expected to generate business at lodging establishments, restaurants and businesses that sell construction-related supplies, he said.

“We’ve had inquiries from workers, local contractors and workforce organizations interested in the project,” Mr. Kelly said.

The rail line extends from Carthage in Jefferson County to Newton Falls and stopped running in the late 1990s. It was primarily used to transport cargo from the Newton Falls Paper Mill.

The rail work is being funded by a $9.9 million grant awarded by the Empire State Development Corp. through the regional economic development council process. Besides the rehab work, the grant funding will be used to cover engineering, inspection and other related expenses.

Mr. Wysocki said the number of rail lines being restored in the United States is expanding because industries are finding it more economical and safer than transporting cargo by truck.

“The interest in moving products by rail has rekindled due to the economic and safety benefits, no doubt,” he said. “The value of moving by rail is becoming more and more obvious to a lot of industries.”

Those interested in information about jobs on the Newton Falls Railroad can email Rhinehart Construction at: Jobs@RhinehartRailroad.com.

By Susan Mende, Watertown Daily Times