Pols Cheer New Yaphank Rail Terminal Debut

Long Island Press: September 28th, 2011
By Spencer Rumsey

With a hot sun beaming down in Yaphank, the crowd of politicians, railroad executives and other invited guests was almost giddy with excitement waiting for the shiny black diesel locomotive to break through the banner stretched across the track proclaiming the grand opening Tuesday of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal, Long Island’s first multi-modal freight facility.

Located on 28 acres a quarter mile south of the Long Island Express and near the Baseball Heaven sports complex on Sills Road, this $40 million investment, a partnership of Long Island and upstate businessmen, was a long time coming. If the forecasts are correct, it marks the beginning of a new era in cargo transport that could transform our region.

Instead of out-of-state trucks coming through Queens and roaring up and down the LIE, there will be train cars loaded with freight using the Long Island Rail Road lines under the auspices of the New York & Atlantic Railway. Nationally, 15 percent of freight travels by rail; here on the Island, the figure is less than one percent—so far.  “We still believe this is a great economic engine for this area,” said Thomas F. Longe, president and CEO of D.A. Collins Companies. The project, which is a collaboration of the Brookhaven Rail Terminal and US Rail of NY, has been in the planning for almost eight years, he said.

In the short run, the terminal will handle aggregate stone, building materials and intermodal containers, giving LI businesses access to wider markets for delivery and for shipment, thanks to a new spur off the LIRR’s Greenport line.

With the new track behind him, Jim Pratt, a Brookhaven Rail Terminal partner, told the audience assembled under a tent that “a year and seven days” after they’d broken ground they were open for operation.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko admitted that when he took office in 2010, he first thought the project “was D.O.A.” But then he pulled the file, he said, “and the merits won me over.”

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Coram), who sat on the House Transportation Committee, was credited with getting federal authorization for the privately financed project from the Surface Transportation Board.  “It really is a success story,” Lesko said, adding that he sees benefits coming with more jobs (already 25 full-time employees are on site), reduced truck-traffic air pollution, and increased shipment of products (and produce) on and off the Island. “This is really a seminal moment in the region’s economy.”

Civic associations in the area were also on board early, Lesko and others said, and the BRT made sure that cargo noise will be kept to a minimum. The area is still rather rural and isolated, and the facility itself actually rests below surrounding ground level.  With an adjacent 80-acre parcel slated for expansion, the facility could be handling half a million tons of cargo in just a few years, assuming demand keeps up with supply. But economics weren’t all that was on the minds of those in attendance t the opening.  Smiling at the crowd, Lesko said, “Trains turn grown men into young boys—I realized that when I was here last year [at the groundbreaking].”

Operating the diesel locomotive for the opening day ceremony was engineer Jay Eichler of Moriches, who admitted, “I always wanted to do this since I was a kid!”

He said he could pull the throttle of the reconditioned 1983 GM “LaGrange,” its informal name, and reach up to 70 mph, thanks to its 2,000 horsepower engine, but for the purpose of switching freight cars, let alone giving short tours to visitors on opening day, he’d keep it down to 10 mph maximum. It was still an inspiring ride, many agreed.