Citizens get a glimpse of life over the tracks

PAT FRIDGEN
Citizens had a chance to review plans for a rail terminal in Greencastle during a public information session last week. An aerial view of the proposed facility shows that an overpass will be built on Hykes Road, Milnor Road will be closed at the tracks, and truck traffic will access the rail yard through Commerce Avenue and Armada Drive until Exit 3 is upgraded. The intermodal facility will be constructed in the center of the picture on what is now 200 acres of farmland.

Milnor Road will be closed to through traffic, with cul-de-sacs formed from the Williamsport Pike and US 11 accesses.

A bridge, known in railroad language as a grade separation, will carry traffic over four rail lines at Hykes Road.

The Commerce Avenue intersection will serve 380 additional trucks per day, though only 23 per hour during the 1 p.m. peak time.

The whistles will no longer blow.

Those are some of the changes for Antrim Township once the Norfolk Southern Railway Company terminal is constructed on 200 acres south of Greencastle. The Franklin County Regional Intermodal Facility is expected to be completed by early 2012.  NS officials hosted a public information meeting Aug. 27 at Green Grove Gardens Business Center so people could learn about the project and submit their comments.

The Greencastle location near exit 3 was chosen because it met site criteria, said Susan Terpay, Director of Public Relations. Two spots in Hagerstown and one in Maugansville were rejected because of space limitations and interference with the I-70 overpass.

The function of the intermodal facility is to transfer freight from one transportation mode to another without actually handling it. Truck containers will be loaded two-high onto rail cars, with four trains running daily, two arriving and two departing, carrying 85,000 containers annually.

"Our strength is moving things for the long haul," Terpay continued. "At the terminal we will exchange cargo."

The parking lot will have spaces for 600 tractor-trailers and containers.

Improvements to the rail line are projected to pull 40,000 trucks off the road between Harrisburg and Memphis, Tenn. in the ensuing four years.

NS spokesman Roger Bennett added, "Trucking companies are choosing to use our services. They usually have 100 percent turnover with drivers. This way drivers will have shorter loads and can be home at night."

The company is improving 2,500 miles of rail route in its Crescent Corridor from New Orleans to New Jersey. The upgrades should allow the trains to run five to 10 miles per hour faster. From the average of 22 mph, that efficiency translated into "a huge change" for NS, Terpay said.

Getting to Antrim

Talks with Franklin County officials began in 2007, said Bennett, but work began much earlier in the southern states. Franklin County Area Development Corporation was one entity involved.

As the environmental studies and public comment process continues, he said, "Antrim Township will have input. We have had some meetings with a couple supervisors over the months to discuss this. But the railroads do have a certain federal pre-emption. We are not subject to zoning."

He noted NS taxes are paid at the state level and Pennsylvania had a formula to filter monies down to the local level. An NS brochure stated the Franklin County region would receive $14 million in revenue over a decade.

Bennett said the rail facility would employ 50 to 70 people. The four-mile-long center, impacting traditional travel on the rural roads, would increase traffic on Hykes Road, but "at this time we have not agreed to improve Hykes."

As to the amount of truck traffic at Commerce onto Armada Drive, he said the impact was actually very little for Antrim's roadways. In comparison, a Walmart would generate 1,000 vehicles daily.

Terpay stressed that the company always worked well with local partners.

The public

NS was prepared for 200 visitors, and no tally was available, but in the last hour more company officials from Harrisburg, Atlanta, Philadephia and Baltimore were on hand than local citizens. Those present learned much through the multitude of poster, video and computerized displays, as well as personal contact with corporate railway personnel.

"I'm trying to process it all," said Joan Kosola, who lives next to the proposed site on Milnor. "This will be a big change. My quality of life, with the neighbor's cows virtually in my backyard, my tranquility and serenity, may be gone. I have the best of both worlds, or at least I did."

She had spoken to several NS representatives and judged them to be genuinely interested in working through any issues.

Ben Haldeman preferred that Milnor remain open, possibly with a tunnel. He and his wife liked the shortcut to US 11 from their home on the western side of the township.

One woman asked not to be identified. She had lived for 35 years on Hykes Road, which she considered already a dangerous intersection at Williamsport Pike. She had witnessed numerous accidents due to speeding and running stop signs and didn't want the situation accentuated.

Shelton and Martha Martin and their four young children checked site maps. They had heard a rumor that Milnor would be closed before it got to their house, but found that not to be true. "You hear lots of stories," Martha said. "I guess we'll get used to taking 11 to Greencastle, but we liked Williamsport Pike because it was faster."

Antrim supervisor James Byers said the Hykes Road improvement plans had been delayed until the rail issues were settled, and Greenmount Road should get improved as it would likely become a bypass to Mason-Dixon Road for people heading to I-81.

Lucy McDowell investigated the lights and noise implications because of their home near the Food Lion Distribution Center. NS planned to put in downward projected lights with half the output of store parking lots, and promised low noise emissions. "We should be okay, they tell us. My husband John is a train nut. He's all excited about this, although he won't hear the whistles any more."

Because the former railroad crossings will be closed, the trains will no longer be blowing warning signals.

Several visitors asked NS personnel about employment opportunities.

John Vucetic from K&J Security in Lebanon greeted guests entering and leaving Green Grove. He had been hired as a security guard for the day, as well as earlier for the same occasion in Harrisburg. Both events went smoothly, but he had heard that citizens in Alabama had been quite unruly.

Last chance

Anyone who wishes to share an opinion on the project and didn't get to the informational meeting may send comments to: Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation, Attn: Mike Lapano, c/o CHA, Inc. Scranton Life Building, 538 Spruce, St., Suite 700, Scranton PA 18503-1820. The comments must be signed and sent by Sept. 4.

Joan Kosola, a Milnor Road resident, spoke to several officials from Norfolk Southern to learn the impact of an intermodal railway facility next door to her country home.