Ontario County Freight Corridor Development Plan - Town of Manchester
Finger Lakes Railway – Ontario County’s Freight Rail AssetWhen other localities and counties were losing freight rail service in the 1970’s, Ontario County stepped in to secure the continued operation of critical rail lines linking Victor, and communities in between, with service provided by the Finger Lakes Railway (FLKR). This service provides the critical link to the main national long haul rail lines (CSX, Norfolk and Southern, etc.) and access to national and international markets.
FLKR owns and operates the line between Canandaigua/Geneva to the Seneca County Line. Ontario County owns the Ontario Central Railroad that is operated by FLKR between Victor and the Shortsville junction. Go to Finger Lakes Railway Service Maps. Finger Lakes Railway has been in operation for twenty years and is an important part of Ontario County’s economic development infrastructure. For more information go to Finger Lakes Railway.
Local Comprehensive Planning and the Rail Corridor ProjectThe Town of Manchester in partnership with the Villages of Clifton Springs, Manchester and Shortsville are concurrently updating their respective comprehensive plans. The municipalities all share responsibility for overseeing the development and redevelopment of the corridor as they do for their entire community. Accordingly, the freight rail corridor plan has been designed to become part of their comprehensive plan updates.
What is the Ontario County Freight Rail Corridor Plan for the Town of Manchester?The freight rail corridor plan will look at development or redevelopment options for lands along the seven miles of the Finger Lakes Railway corridor in the Town of Manchester and the Villages of Manchester, Shortsville and Clifton Springs. It is a collaborative effort undertake by Ontario County, the municipalities, and Finger Lakes Railway
The plan will match suitable sites with development or redevelopment opportunities and be a prototype for rail corridor plans throughout Ontario County to be integrated into local land use plans and community and county economic development initiatives.
The purpose of this project is to prepare a plan that meets the following objectives:
- Demonstrates careful planning to assure that future development benefits the community and minimizes impacts to the surrounding communities related to safety, noise, congestion, and environmental and community resources ;
- Identifies appropriate “Shovel Ready” development sites and areas for industries and businesses that are enhanced by, or related, to freight rail service and infrastructure;
- Specifically defines physical, regulatory, or institutional implementation actions including, but not limited to, public and/or private infrastructure projects, land use planning and zoning changes, environmental and quality of life improvements; and
- Creates a prototype that can encourage other localities to cooperatively plan their rail corridors.
Project Partners and FundingOntario County in partnership with the Town of Manchester and the Villages of Manchester, Shortsville and Clifton Springs has received a grant from the Genesee Transportation Council to undertake this study.
The Project Advisory Committee is comprised of representatives from the Ontario County Planning Department and Economic Development Department, the Town and Villages, the NYS Department of Transportation, the Genesee Transportation Council and Finger Lakes Railway.
Fisher Associates with VHB Consultants and Highland Planning are the project consultant team conducting the project.
Railroad’s Long Relationship with Manchester, NYFrom the Beginning
Historically, the combination of free flowing streams that provided water power and the proximity to the Erie Canal made the Town and Villages in Manchester a focal point of industrial development in the 19th century. Rail service began to supplant the Erie Canal for moving freight.
In the early 20th century, the Lehigh Valley Railroad (LVRR) built the Manchester Yard which was one of the largest such rail support facilities in the country. The Yard had a dispatcher/control tower, provided fuel service, primarily coal and ash disposal, and was a maintenance center for freight cars and locomotive as well as track and signal repair. (The Roundhouse still stands today.)Manchester yard was also a division point where thru-trains changed crews and long distance freight trains would be reconfigured for their next destination just the way airline hubs function today. The Yard also had a hotel, restaurant and professional office space. Terminal facilities were also located there for loading and unloading freight that was either to be shipped or was being delivered to the area. Freight rail was dominant into the 1950’s and 1960’s.
In the 1970’s industrial and commercial developed was no longer concentrated in central locations but was disbursed regionally along the largely-completed federal interstate highway system. Trucking provided the mobility and flexibility to serve widely dispersed locations. Rail was largely relegated to heavy freight and bulk cargo leading to the break up of major railroads and abandonment of most of the nation’s and County’s rail infrastructure.
In the late 1970’s, the pending abandonment of the section of the Lehigh Valley line between Shortsville and Victor would mean the loss of freight service to important industries along the line. In 1979, Ontario County intervened and took ownership of the line and leased its operation to the Ontario Central Railroad (ONCT). Conrail took over much of the old New York Central / Penn Central lines in the region, including the tracks between Canandaigua and Geneva which provided the critical connection to the national freight rail network.
In the 1990’s, Conrail sought approval to sell the “Geneva Cluster,” which was comprised of 118 miles of track in the region, including the Canandaigua branch from Geneva. This time the Ontario County Industrial Development Agency assisted the Finger Lakes Railway by approving a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement which was mirrored by all six counties where the lines were purchased by FGLK. This acquisition was essential to maintain the ONCT interchange at Shortsville as well as retain freight service to business along the entire rail corridor. In 2007, the Finger Lakes Railway acquired Ontario Central Railroad and its lease to operate the County-owned portion of the railroad from Victor to Shortsville.
Since the 2000’s, the sustained high cost of fuel for trucking, rail’s significant weight-to-miles per gallon advantage over trucking, and a seamless global intermodal transportation and distribution system, has again made access to freight rail service a highly valuable, asset for businesses and economic development. The legacy for today’s villages and towns, however, is a land use development pattern that was created during 19th and mid-20thcentury. It was then randomly fragmented by abandonments, bankrupt owners that could walk away from serious environmental problems, and often single purpose retrofits of formerly prime locations for other uses.
Freight Rail Access in the 21st Century
Trucking is often considered the only option for shipping/receiving products and materials. The cost of fuel necessary to move a ton of goods per mile has been steadily increasing. Congestion on highways and terminals has increased delivery times.
Access to freight rail service is increasingly important to businesses and industries looking for alternatives to trucking product or raw materials directly to or from their facilities or who want cost effective access to freight rail shipping facilities. Businesses of all sizes recognize the importance of competing in regional, national and international markets. A well integrated freight rail and highway system reduces shipping costs and provides access to those markets.
For information, comments, questions or thoughts about the project, email Maria Rudzinski.
Links: Lehigh Valley Railroad Historical Society
Transportation Strategies for Freight and Goods Movement in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Region