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New Business for Washington County Railroad

MONTPELIER - The granite train is a go, and soon.

A contract to ship 54,000 tons of waste granite for a dike system in Florida has been signed, bringing vital work for the Barre granite industry and revitalizing a nearly dormant rail line between Barre Town and Montpelier Junction, an area development official said Friday.

Darren Winham, Executive Director of Barre Area Development, said the shipments are expected to start as soon as the end of May and will bring two 10-car trains through the state capital five days a week with additional trains expected in Barre and Barre Town from the Rock of Ages facility in Websterville.

The imminent use of the little-used rail line between Barre Town and Montpelier Junction now ramps up the urgency for officials in Montpelier, who have been supportive of the business prospects for the region but have expressed considerable reservations about what the rail traffic will mean to the busy state capital. The rail line, called the Washington County Railroad, crosses one of the city's key thoroughfares, Main Street, at an already busy spot for traffic by the Shaw's grocery store.

The contract was signed in the past two days, according to Darren Winham, when a representative from Northeast Materials Group met with the Army Corp of Engineers in Florida to finalize the deal.

Rock of Ages decided years ago to try to sell the waste granite and recently contracted with the Northeast Material Group to help land contracts for the granite, said Winham. The group has been working with Rock of Ages and the Army Corps of Engineers. "But they hadn't actually gotten any deals, and then bang, we got this one," said Winham. Rock of Ages has 40 million tons of the waste granite that's easily accessible, said Winham, while the contract announced Friday is for 54,000 tons.

The quarry is actively seeking additional contracts, said Winham, which means the contract with the Army Corp of Engineers could be just the beginning.

The intent is that these trains will be up and running by the end of May, said Winham. "We're very excited about it," said Winham. "We see it as a big, big boon to commerce in the region." Officials added that if the rail line is upgraded for use it may attract other shippers. "Barre Area Development has been contacted by several local businesses that would be interested in rail use should the track be used more frequently," Winham said.

Winham detailed how the increased rail traffic should break down. "We expect to see 10 car trains, five days per week for the three months it will take to fulfill this project. Montpelier and Berlin will see a morning and afternoon train with 10 cars included," he said. "Barre City and Barre Town will see additional trains between the yard behind Main Street, Barre City and Websterville. At this time we are hoping these can be 5 car trains," he said.

Winham said the project is only the first of what the development group hopes is new use for Barre's abundant granite. The roughly 54,000 tons of granite for this project will be shipped all the way down the Eastern Seaboard for use as armor rock for the Herbert Hoover Dyke System in Lake Okeechobee, he said.

Northeast Materials Group is seeking to provide granite for use in large-scale marine structures, such as retaining walls and breakwaters that would be built by the Army Corps of Engineers on the United States coast using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, Winham said.

Representatives from Barre Town, Barre City, Berlin and Montpelier, as well as from the State of Vermont Rail Division, Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation and Barre Area Development were all briefed Friday by officials from Northeast Materials Group and Rock of Ages. Montpelier Mayor Mary Hooper and City manager William Fraser could not be reached for comment Friday. They have both raised municipal concerns about the impact of the trains and also reports that a rail siding may impact a key redevelopment and bike path along Stone Cutters Way. Since rail is the most efficient and cost effective method of transport for these materials, the granite would be transported by rail from Barre Town to Montpelier Junction through Barre Town, Barre City, Berlin, and Montpelier.

The amount of rail activity will be determined by the volume of granite required to fulfill such contracts and use from other area businesses. In addition, some upgrades to the rail line might be made.

aid. "It is quite an endorsement for not only the quality of Barre granite for multiple uses, but also the multimodal ability of our region to be competitive on a project so far away," he furthered.

Times Argus Staff - Published: May 8, 2010

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