Gowanda rail’s update from abandoned to efficient

GOWANDA — After winning the Spirit of Gowanda Business Award, the New York and Lake Erie Railroad gave its history, background and update for its future in Gowanda.

HISTORY ON THE RAILS

The New York and Lake Erie Railroad was chartered by the legislature of New York on April 24, 1832, and built as a broad-gauge (6 foot) railroad from Piermont-on-Hudson to Dunkirk, 446 miles. After the fits and starts of financing, years of grading, major bridge building and track laying, the first trip on the completed railroad was performed on May 14, 1851. It was a grand occasion for the Southern Tier of New York State with dignitaries such as Daniel Webster, secretary of state; Millard Fillmore, U.S. president; the attorney general; the postmaster general; and the Secretary of the Navy aboard. The governor, and ex-governors, of New York state were also passengers and guests.

Gowanda, in the town of Persia, needed stages and wagons to connect with this great railroad enterprise at Dayton until the arrival of the Buffalo and Jamestown Railroad in October 1874. The Buffalo and Jamestown, later the Buffalo and Southwestern branch of the “Erie,” coupled with the line from Hornellsville to Buffalo, became the major access for the Erie’s service of the Queen City, along the second largest rail hub in the United States. Gowanda’s industrial growth, including the glue factory and tannery, was facilitated by the presence of the railroad.

The Erie never was a get-rich-quick enterprise and by 1972, the last in a string of bankruptcies brought the railroad into the US federal bailout of the bankrupt eastern railroads through the creation of Conrail.

When Conrail was inaugurated on April 1, 1976, the tracks from Salamanca to Dunkirk and Buffalo to Waterboro were all slated for immediate abandonment.

RETURNING TO GOWANDA

The NY & Lake Erie was chartered on Aug. 9, 1978, for the purpose of saving the rail infrastructure comprising the aforementioned branches of the Erie and preserving rail freight service to towns and villages of Cattaraugus and Erie counties.

Robert and Linda Dingman negotiated with the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency, the Cattaraugus County legislature, the Chautauqua County legislature, the Federal Appalachian Regional Commission, Erie County and its IDA, New York state DOT and with the bankrupt estate of the Erie Railroad to organize and acquire the rail assets according to a system plan developed by Southern Tier West.

Success was achieved on Oct. 14, 1978, by running the first train to replace Conrail from Salamanca to Little Valley. Featured celebrants on that day were Assemblyman Daniel Walsh, state Senator Jess Present and Congressman Stan Lundine’s Chief of Staff Tom Crowley.

BRANCHING OFF

The NY&LE negotiated and acquired the trackage from Gowanda to Buffalo Creek Junction and began to service towns in Erie County on April 13, 1980. In July 1982, the system was completed according to plan through the purchase of the tracks from South Dayton to Waterboro Junction, a junction with the Erie/Conrail mainline. Waterboro is located 11 miles east of Jamestown on what has become trackage owned by Southern Tier Extension Rail Authority (STERA), controlled by Norfolk Southern and operated by Western NY & Pennsylvania Railroad.

COMING TO FRUITION

While rail freight service has declined along with the departure of industries on these tracks, tourist passenger trains have been successfully run over all acquired segments including short trips, day-long excursions, dinner trains, murder mystery tours and visits from Santa and the Easter bunny. The ability to restore freight service has been maintained to be included in our community resources, if required. The tourist attraction of train rides has recently increased in popularity and these visitors to our community bring substantial dollars to spend at gift shops, gas stations and purveyors of food and beverages.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Western New York Rail Corridor Project (WNYRCP) is the up-to-date vision for the rail assets that the NY&LE and its partners have preserved. The current plan is to improve freight access by reconnecting track between Conewango Valley and Waterboro to the STERA line and negotiating trackage rights to access Jamestown and Buffalo area passenger train stations. The goals include: 1) providing a gateway for aggregates destined for Pennsylvania and for raw materials from the west; 2) providing Jamestown with train rides for festivals, etc. 3) providing access to Buffalo for Canalside events and Southern Tier day-trip adventures.

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