By Ed Runyan
‘It’ll bring more business to town,’ said a Warren man who will see an increase in train traffic beside his house.
WARREN — Soon, residents of Warren’s North End will again hear the rumble of freight trains heading south into town from the former Copperweld Steel mill in Warren Township.
Trains will pass through their neighborhood and back out of town to the east, carrying steel.
It’s something of a time warp for a community that has seen more plant closings than expansions and more railroad abandonments than railroad expansions in recent years.
In this case, Trumbull County officials secured about $838,000 in state grants and money from the Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corporation to improve the rail line, which hasn’t been used since Copperweld last used it nearly a decade ago. Copperweld closed in January 2001.
The improvements, now in progress, will enable Warren Steel Holdings, which reopened part of the former Copperweld mill in 2007, to ship raw materials and finished steel less expensively than it does now, said Alan Knapp, Trumbull County Planning Commission director.
It could lead to additional steel production and additional jobs, he said. The company is also spending about $1.8 million to improve parts of the rail line within its property.
“We have a steel mill here, and we should do what we can to retain manufacturing jobs in our county,” Knapp said. “We have lost 17,000 manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years.”
The county project, awarded to Amtrac Railroad Contractors of Maryland, involves creating one new section of track near the southwest corner of the intersection at North Park Avenue and North Street, directly behind Hal-Mar Printing, which was once the home of the Halsey-Taylor Drinking Fountain & Water Cooler Co.
The new section of track will curve to the east, connecting the line with former Conrail main-line tracks near the General Electric Ohio Lamp plant. The present tracks curve to the west, but that section isn’t usable because the main-line tracks are no longer used just west of there, at Mahoning Avenue.
Richard M. Sheldon, who lives with his wife, Sue, in a rental house on North Street right beside the section of new tracks, said he’s not the least bit concerned about the train traffic likely to occur when the construction is complete within a couple of months.
“We’re used to having trains go by here,” he said, looking out his living room window at the construction site.
Trains haven’t used the tracks for about 18 months, he said, though the main-line tracks that run across the back of his house still operate on occasion to serve Ted Bloom Industries a short distance away.
The construction may involve relocating the driveway that serves the Sheldons’ home, which they have occupied for 18 years, Richard said.
But the construction and additional train traffic will be worth it if it brings more jobs to the area, Richard said.
“It’ll bring more business to our town,” he said.
Knapp said Warren Steel Holdings, owned by the Privat Group of Ukraine and employing about 100 people, has been shipping its steel bars by truck and rail during its first two years. Using only rail will cut costs, Knapp said.
The grant money is being used to create the new section of track, replace about one-fourth of the railroad ties and improve four railroad crossings in Warren: at North Park Avenue and at North, Hall and Comstock streets.
A separate project by the Ohio Rail Development Commission involved improvements to the railroad crossing at North River Road, about 550 feet west of Mahoning Avenue, in Warren Township.
The new curve near North Street will have a wider radius than the current curve, and that will allow the trains to improve their safety and increase their speed from about 2 miles per hour on the old track to around 10 miles per hour, Knapp said.
Mark Zigmont, economic development coordinator for the planning commission, said the renovated rail line will also make it easier for businesses in the Warren Industrial Park near Mahoning Avenue to use rail in the future.