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April 30. 2013 7:55PM

Milford rail operator braces for state decision on track

A small rail operator is poised to lose control of a railroad track in the Milford area today, when state transportation officials seek approval of a deal to give Pan Am Railways subsidiary rights to the 18-mile, state-owned track.

More than a year in the making, the deal would push Peter Leishman, a Democratic state representative from Peterborough and the owner of the Milford-Bennington Railroad Company, off the track he's used for some 20 years.

Leishman's company uses the track to transport crushed stone from a Wilton quarry to the Granite State Concrete processing plant in Milford. But in early 2012, the state asked bidders to submit proposals and a 2½-year deal, billed as a trial period for the new operator, goes to the Executive Council today for approval.

The Pan Am deal has drawn criticism.

The e-bulletin "Atlantic Northeast Rails & Ports" criticizes state officials for how they handled the bidding process, suggesting they cut corners to favor Pan Am Railways.

And in a letter to executive councilors, the chairman and chief executive of Monadnock Paper Mills said he believes Pan Am has a vendetta against Leishman and will stop at nothing to keep him from succeeding.

"This contract simply does not pass the smell test," Richard Verney wrote the Executive Council.

Leishman said he thinks Pan Am is obsessed with getting control of the line.

"I don't know. Nobody can make any sense of it," Leishman said.

John W. Schultz, the vice president of transportation for Pan Am subsidiary Springfield Terminal Railway Company, referred questions to company spokesman Cynthia Scarano. A telephone message left for her was not returned on Monday.

Last summer, a state official said Leishman failed to live up to a provision in his contract that establishes the minimum use for the track. But no one was available to speak Tuesday.

Department of Transportation spokesman Bill Boynton said Tuesday he doesn't know any details about the contract and can't comment.

"Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement will be present on Wednesday to answer questions from the Governor and (Executive) Council on this and any other agenda items," Boynton said in an e-mail.

Leishman said he is set to resume transporting stone for Granite State Concrete, and his employees recently participated in a training seminar. But if Pan Am gets the contract, he warns that the rail giant will have two years to negotiate a price with Granite State, meaning the company may not have access to the rail in the meantime.

mhayward@unionleader.com