Helping Long Island, One Rail Car at a Time

Yaphank Train Station• OP-ED by Assemblyman Dean Murray

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, gas shortages prevented supply trucks from reaching Long Island. Freight rail stepped in to fill the void, bringing lumber and supplies to homes and businesses through an extensive and efficient rail network — a system made possible because of a flexible regulatory environment.
Though sometimes overlooked, freight rail plays an integral part in our economy, both here and across the United States. A new study from Towson University, in fact, concluded that nearly $274 billion in economic activity was generated across the country from freight rail in 2014 — activity that supported nearly 1.5 million jobs.
In my district, the Brookhaven Rail Terminal (BRT) in Yaphank, which opened a year before Sandy hit, has been so successful in its five years of operation — the terminal handled more than 4,000 freight cars over the past two years — that it is expanding capacity and adding a new track to meet growing demand, a development highlighted in the recent State of the Industry report by the Association of American Railroads.
The report also focused on two businesses using the benefits of freight to help Long Island. LBM Advantage, a nonprofit cooperative lumberyard supplier, is using freight rail to transport lumber to small lumberyards throughout the Island and has seen its market share increase nearly 50 percent since BRT opened. And Wenner Bakery has helped eliminate 2,000 truck trips — reducing congestion and wear and tear on our roads — by using BRT to deliver 35 rail cars of flour each month to its bakery in Bayport, enough to make 9 million loaves of bread.
Throughout New York, nearly 68 million tons of cargo, from agricultural supplies to motor vehicle parts, are carried across more than 3,400 miles of track each year.
The system is able to operate safely and efficiently because of a regulatory overhaul in 1980 that modernized economic regulations on railroads and gave them the same creative control over their operations that is seen in other industries across the United States. Since that time, American railroads have invested billions to create the most efficient freight rail transportation system in the world — offering a stark contrast to the crumbling highway infrastructure seen in many parts of our country.
Giving the railroads control over their operations has allowed the industry to flourish, and its success can be seen in the thousands of jobs it supports throughout the state. Today, more than 3,400 New Yorkers are employed by the freight rail industry, taking home annual average wages and benefits totaling more than $100,000. The Towson study also found that every railroad job supports nine additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, demonstrating the positive ripple effect of a freight rail industry able to invest at a high level.
Keeping this regulatory environment intact will allow the rail industry to continue expanding and improving, which will in turn reduce traffic congestion and pollution and cultivate economic growth. Upsetting the balanced regulations in place today will only serve to undermine four decades of industry growth, along with the jobs and economic activity it generates every year.
After Sandy, we were given a firsthand look at what an effective rail system can do for Long Island. Lawmakers must work to ensure the regulatory environment we have in place that allows rail to flourish is strengthened rather than weakened. With a healthy rail industry, we all reap the benefits.

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