Federal grant awarded to help improve section of rail lines stretching from Rollinsford to Ossipee
By JOHN QUINN Union Leader Correspondent
ROCHESTER – Like a group of train enthusiasts who love watching diesel engines roll by, a $2 million project to make 42 miles of railroad safer and more efficient drums up a lot of excitement in the area.
From the rail yard at Ossipee Aggregates Friday morning, Federal Rail Administrator Joseph Szabo explained some of the benefits of a three-way partnership which will help improve safety, reliability and service along New Hampshire Northcoast Railroad’s line which stretches from Rollinsford to Ossipee.
Szabo said the grant is part of $474 million in funds which will help 52 transportation projects in 37 states. He added in the past five years, TIGER provided $808 million in 48 competitive projects.
“These are projects that target aging infrastructure,” Szabo said, adding these repairs help connect local sites to major rail lines across the country.
Szabo said the grant will help improve the tracks, at railroad crossings and restore a mile-long section of rail in Ossipee that has not been in use since a washout occurred in 1993.
“It’s not just a win for New Hampshire, but all of New England,” Szabo said.
Area officials are excited about the project and hope it encourages other infrastructure improvements – especially for passenger service in the region, according to Christine Soutter, economic development manager in Somersworth.
“We love trains,” Soutter said, adding the opportunities are boundless.
Szabo said to their partners, “these projects are not luxuries, but absolute necessities.”
Once completed, Northcoast Railroad will be able to transport more materials on 286,000-pound rail cars, which can carry the equivalent of three tri-axel tractor trailers. As a result more sand, gravel and propane will be able to be moved by rail and reduce wear on the road networks, according to Dean Boylan, chief executive officer of the railroad, which is owned by Boston Sand & Gravel.
Boylan said this stretch of track has been in service since trains delivered mill goods, ice and Gonic bricks in the 19th Century.
He added the railroad currently transports up to 700,000 pounds of materials in 30 rail cars via Ossipee and Rollinsford three times a week. He added the improvements will allow them to move up to another 100,000 pounds each trip.
Additionally, Boylan said they hope restoring the washed out section – which is located near the end of the line in Ossipee - will encourage businesses to expand by taking advantage of the increased access.
The project will be paid for by $1.4 million in federal funds from the U.S. Department Transportation’s Transportation Investment Generating Economy Recovery (TIGER) program. N.H. Northcoast Railroad, which operates the line, will provide $450,000 while the state will contribute $150,000 in matching funds.
The project will rehabilitate two railroad crossings to add signals at the mill in Somersworth and realign the junction on Acton Ridge in Wakefield. Both improvements will make the crossings safer for pedestrians, trains and vehicles to pass through the areas.
“This truly was a team effort on behalf of everyone,” Boyland said, adding improving the efficiency and safety of the line is “win-win.”
Mike Pillsbury, deputy commissioner for the N.H. Department of Transportation, said the line is an important link between Carroll and Strafford counties and helps connect the area to the region – from Portland, Maine to Boston, Mass.
For more information TIGER grants, visit www.dot.gov/tiger.