LEWISBURG — The Joint Rail Authority of SEDA-Council of Governments will invest $8.9 million in 2023 to update more than 200 miles of track and infrastructure.
Steven Beattie, the executive director of the Lewisburg-based SEDA-COG JRA, said projects to replace rail crossings and repair or replace bridges will begin this year.
Located at 201 Furnace Road, Lewisburg, the JRA was formed to manage approximately 220 miles of rail lines operated by five short line railroads, serving more than 100 customers in central Pennsylvania, including Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Union, Northumberland and Snyder counties.
“This is important because our customers rely on our service,” said Beattie. “Our customers are part of the supply chain. If we’re delaying our customers, then they’re losing and it hurts their bottom line. Typically, our maintenance projects are ensuring the integrity of our infrastructure and providing operational efficiencies for our operator.”
Beattie, a lifetime lover of railroad, replaced Jeff Stover on Jan. 3. He began his career as a project manager for area engineering consulting firms, including Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc., where he managed the Lewisburg office. He later joined the Larson Design Group where he worked in a multitude of roles: Site/Civil Engineering senior project manager, Retail Design senior project manager, and the director of Sales and Marketing. He most recently served as the Community Development/Grant manager for the Borough of Lewisburg for 18 months.
The $8.9 million investment is for upgrades across the entire system. Within Union, Snyder, Northumberland, Montour and Columbia counties, the following capital improvements will be made: $4.8 million for 15 crossing upgrades along the Shamokin Valley Railroad and $630,000 for the rehabilitation of a bridge across Fishing Creek near Ruppert on the North Shore Railroad. Those 15 crossings on Shamokin Valley Railroad will receive upgraded signals and/or surfacing within the City of Sunbury, Upper Augusta Township, Snydertown Borough, Ralpho Township, Coal Township and City of Shamokin, according to information provided by SEDA-COG Communications Coordinator Elaine Stauder.
The railroad crossing projects are funded through the federal Railway-Highway Crossings (Section 130) Program that is passed through by the state. The bridge rehabilitation is funded by the Rail Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP), said Stauder.
Some of the infrastructure is more than 100 years old. Many of the bridges have never been touched, said Beattie.
The contracts will be bid out and awarded throughout the year, said Beattie.
Last year, the JRA purchased nine new miles of track in Snyder County from Norfolk Southern, bringing the JRA’s total track mileage up to approximately 215. It was the first expansion of the JRA in nearly 20 years
The nine miles of track consist of 7.7 miles between Selinsgrove and Kreamer and 1.3 miles from Selinsgrove to the Panda Hummel Station in Shamokin Dam. The first run on the Selinsgrove Industrial Track by JRA’s operator North Shore was on Sept. 27. The SEDA-COG JRA has an operating license and term lease for the SIT. Norfolk Southern still owns the land beneath the railroad. The JRA owns the track, signals, bridges and culverts, essentially the capital improvements.
“Our mission is to promote economic development through our rail service,” said Beattie. “Rail service is very important to a lot of large businesses in the Valley. If we had not done this, Kreamer Feed would have likely lost its rail service. With what our mission is, we took on that role. Our intention is to grow customers on that line and work with local economic developers and municipalities, and our operator, to offer rail service out to Kreamer. Right now it’s not a lucrative business move, but our hope is it will be in the future.”
It has been 40 years since the creation of the JRA when Conrail abandoned railroad lines. The Joint Rail Authority is governed by an 18-member board with two board members from each county served by the panel, including the newly joined Snyder County.
The JRA owns the lines but contracts with a private operator — North Shore Railroad, based in Northumberland — to provide rail service. Susquehanna Union Railroad Company (SURC), a noncarrier holding company, is the holding company for North Shore Railroad Company, Nittany & Bald Eagle Railroad Company, Shamokin Valley Railroad Company, Juniata Valley Railroad Company, Lycoming Valley Railroad Company, and Union County Industrial Railroad Company