Port Authority’s rail proposal draws ire

VIENNA – Research into the possibility of reopening long-abandoned rail lines and running them to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport is not sitting well with at least one Vienna Township trustee.

Vienna Township Trustee Phil Pegg, who attended Wednesday’s meeting of the Western Reserve Port Authority, expressed his concern that reopening rail lines abandoned decades ago, could back up traffic, slow safety force response and create problems for residents who have built on and near the former rail.

Despite the concerns, Port Authority officials on Wednesday voted unanimously to spend another $10,000 to continue studying the possibility that they say could create a new economic development draw.

Pegg said he has spoken to officials in Fowler and Brookfield and with the Trumbull County Planning Commission who said they have insufficient information about the Port Authority’s plans.

”We are pretty much in the dark,” Pegg told the Port Authority board members. ”We have concerns, both safety as well as community input. We would like more information as to where this line is going to go, how this line is going to be run and is there any benefit for anybody outside of the port authority?”

A consultant hired by the port authority has been studying the feasibility of extending a rail line to the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport site to allow “transloading” services for expanded industrial development of the airport area.

A report specifically looked at abandoned rail line near Warren-Sharon Road and running northwest to areas just north of King-Graves Road. Extensions could be added running west to areas near the airport.

The $30,000 ”Rail and Transloading Feasibility Analysis” study funded jointly by the Port Authority and the Trumbull County Engineer’s office that was released last month indicated “air-rail linkages are unlikely,” but noted rail could help trigger increased industrial development near the airport.

Port Authority Executive Director Rose Ann DeLeon last month described the study as an analysis of opportunity for economic development.

”We know with the oil and gas industry there are going to be a lot of needs,” DeLeon said. ”This is really a planning initiative rather than a true development that we are going to undertake right away. In the end, it’s about economic development.”

Port Authority member James Floyd responded that the study being undertaken is a preliminary attempt to determine if the opportunity even exists.

”It’s not that this is being pushed by the port authority to the detriment of anybody. The question is, is this even a feasible idea?” Floyd said.

The board voted Wednesday to enter into a new $10,000 contract with Hamman Consulting allowing the company to begin negotiations for a development agreement with a short rail operator and to look into funding for construction of new lines.

Following the meeting, Pegg noted the rail line in question has been abandoned for so long it has been returned to area property owners. At least one, he said, has built a home on the line.

”If there is a fire on Warner Road, how are you going to get your fire trucks across? Things like this need to be addressed. We would like it addressed before they start laying track,” Pegg said. “Just tell us what’s going on. We are not against it. We need the development over on Ridge Road, but we are not getting 100 percent of the information, I feel.”