Boardman officials try to stop ‘eyesore’ in its tracks
Township officials say they’re fed up with trash and railroad cars along the former Youngstown & Southern rail line, but railroad officials contend they are doing their part to keep it clean.
Trustee Chairman Thomas Costello, township Administrator Jason Loree and Zoning Inspector Anna Mamone said they all have contacted the Columbiana County Port Authority, which owns the rail line, about the litter and cars to no avail.
“It’s an eyesore,” Costello said. “All those trains are to be tarped. We’re lucky if half of them are tarped.”
Tracy Drake, chief executive of the port authority, said the railroad company that uses the line should respond to complaints.
“I would like to see [the line] operational and successful and also a good neighbor,” he said.
Powell Felix, president of the Indiana Boxcar Corp., which has crews and engines on the railroad, said that hopper cars have netting across the top to prevent items from flying out and are stored temporarily on sidings — extra pieces of track that enable trains on the same line to pass each other.
“Unfortunately, the line doesn’t have many sidings. They are where they were 100 years ago,” Felix said.
As for the trash, Felix said the railroad primarily has hauled construction and demolition material to a landfill in Negley, Columbiana County, and doesn’t create the type of trash township residents and officials have complained about.
“I’m not saying something could never come off,” he said. “... If it did, we’d be glad to come take care of it, but the cars have not had any significant history on leaving a debris field.”
Felix was surprised to hear the cars on the siding called an eyesore.
“The railroad’s been there long before any of those houses were there. If you build or buy a house by the line, expect to see railroad cars,” he said.
About 11 years ago, the port authority was granted state funding to repair the 36-mile line from southern Youngstown to Darlington, Pa. From 1996 to May 2001, no trains ran on the tracks.
“For the port authority, this has been a difficult project all the way through,” Drake said.
Around the same time that the port authority gained control of the tracks, Boardman Park had secured a grant to convert the line into a hike-and-bike trail with the condition that it be changed back to rail lines if needed.
“Given my choice of trash train or a hike-and-bike trail, I’d take the hike-and-bike trail,” Costello said.
Costello was a trustee when the port authority took over the tracks, a move he opposed then.
“We’re keeping a train system to haul trash from the East Coast that blocks the single largest thoroughfare in Mahoning County twice a day,” Costello said, referring to U.S. Route 224.
Drake said that the line is used to transport between 3,000 and 5,000 boxcars per year, “quite healthy for a regional railroad.”
Asked if the railroad has promoted economic growth, Drake said, “As the economy and companies’ needs change, companies move in and out, and the ability to access the railroad can be important.”
When taking over the line, the port authority listed nearly a dozen businesses that expressed interest in using the railroad. Penn-Ohio Recycling Inc. became the main customer, taking construction waste to Negley. A manager at Crouse Mills True Valley in North Lima said the store uses the line occasionally throughout the year for bagged goods such as mulch. A representative with Wester Fuel & Supply Co. out of Youngstown said the company uses the railroad about once every six months.
Two of the biggest customers were expected to be Boardman Supply Co. and R.L. Lipton Distributors, according to past media accounts.
Boardman Supply Co. changed owners in 2002, hauling a few times on the rail line, and became Boardman Concrete and Builders, which has since closed.
Walter Kohowski, operations manager for R.L. Lipton on McClurg Road, said in his six years at the company, the railroad spur that could attach the building to the main line has not been functional. In addition, shipping preferences for breweries have changed.
“The major breweries have expanded, and smaller breweries throughout the country are brewing for each major supplier, so you get your product faster by truck,” Kohowski said. “... Today, I will receive beer that was bottled and canned yesterday. It’s [about] freshness.”
Although not as many businesses as were expected are using the tracks, township officials want those who do haul freight and the railroad operators to keep the line clear of debris and extra boxcars. Mamone said she has fielded complaints from residents about the railroad cars dropped off near the Boardman Park entrance. Loree has led volunteer groups on trash cleanups along the line.
“What has it done for Boardman Township other than be an eyesore and not a good neighbor?” Costello said.