Batavia's rail system sits on beds that are more than 150 years old, but remain relevent and essential in 2012 to local business.
To help ensure the more than one dozen Batavia businesses that regularly use the line -- now operated by Genesee Valley Transportation -- can continue to depend on the rail system to bring in materials for manufacturing, the state and feds have ponied up nearly $500,000 in grants to make critical repairs.
This week crews are replacing the ties under the steel rails on portions of the entire three miles of the track.
"There's a lot to be said for the work going on out here because if you take the weak spots and strengthen them, that strengthens the whole line," said Director of Operations Doug Eisele. "What’s that have to do with the customer? A whole lot because (if) you derail somewhere, the customer is not getting his product until you get it cleaned up."
Throughout New York, according to Syracuse.com, short line rail is experiencing a resurgance in business, but refurbishing antique tracks is an expensive process primarily because the heavy equipment for the jobs is too costly for small lines to even think about buying for infrequent work.
That means contractors -- driving up costs -- are necessary, and that means without the grants, lines so essential to local business would continue to decline to the point of being impossible to use.
Typically, the tracks have been deteriorating for years because owners who were responsible for the lines before they were acquired by short lines (and this was the case in Batavia, according to Eisele) neglected routine maintenance.
According to the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, the number of short line companies in the U.S. has increased from 200 in 1980 to more than 500 today as national carriers have decided to sell of regional routes.
Eisele said rail makes a lot of sense for manufacturing businesses because it's so much more cost effective than trucking.
"Trucking is available to get there quick, but on top of that is the extra expense, whereas rail can undercut those rates and still provide reasonable service," Eisele said. "That’s really what the customers are looking for."
According to the Syracuse.com article, rail can ship "three to four trucks worth of goods 300 miles on a gallon of diesel."
The Short Line association reported in 2009 that "Short line railroads take the equivalent of nearly 33 million truck loads off the highways, saving the country over $1.4 billion annually in highway repair costs and improving highway safety and congestion."
GVT operates six lines with 300 miles of track in Orleans and Erie counties as well as Utica and the North counties along with one line in Pennsylvania.
The company is based in Batavia and employs locally -- including rail operations and company administration -- 22 people.
Steve Hyde, CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center, said GVT is definitely an economic development asset for Batavia.
In discussion with companies looking at Batavia as a location for manufacturing, the availability of rail is a common topic of discussion.
"Having a short line rail system that is well established and well respected and does a really good job like Genesee Valley Transportation is another major asset that helps our strategic development efforts," Hyde said.
While none of the current tenants of the new Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park has yet requested rail, Muller/Pepsi and Alpina have expressed an interest in rail, Hyde said, and future tenants might have a strong need for rail.
The GVT line runs right up to the property line of the ag park and the state has earmarked $1 million in grants to extend the line if the need arises.
The local short line connects into CSX tracks and typically, rail cars are picked up and dropped off at operations connecting the two lines.
For businesses such as Chapin, Graham, Genesee Lumber and Eddy Arnold Recycling, the GVT line is pretty much a direct part of their businesses, but for many other local companies, GVT's recently constructed transfer center at Evans and Mill streets offers a cost-effective way to send and receive large shipments via rail.
The 22,000-square-foot warehouse can help any business throughout Western New York not directly connected with a rail line eliminate hundreds of miles of highway shipping for the more cost-effective alternative of rail.
The ease of access for local rail is also the best bet for turning old factory space in the heart of Batavia into thriving business ventures again, according to both Eisele and Hyde.
"We have buildings here that have been vacant for years," Eisele said. "If a new customer can come in and get a business in shape, if we have the track there that hasn't been used in years, we would come in and find ways to get that track back into shape so the could get their business going. The whole idea is to bring business back into the county and that's what we do."
Hyde said GCEDC is available to help revitalize that aging industrial infrastructure.
"Having an active rail line near some of those older industrial sites to help those things redevelop over time is good and we would certainly be happy to be part of the team," Hyde said.