Santa Rides The Rails

SALAMANCA – Some things go hand in hand. Trains and Christmas fit into that line of thinking.

A representative from the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad said his crews have been busy making holiday dreams happen on the tracks, at the final meeting of the Southern Tier Region Rail Authority, onMonday.

At a Christmas parade Saturday, one that took nearly two hours to pass by the viewing stand, according to Bill Daly, STERA Board Chairman and Chautauqua County IDA executive director, a Christmas train delivered Santa Claus to the renovated train station in the city of Jamestown, where he heard the wishes of good boys and girls, after the parade.

“The entire upper floor of the building was jampacked with people,” said Carl Belke, WNYPA president and COO. He estimated attendance in the facility to be over 1,000, and there were plenty of things to do with the children, ranging from crafts to musicians.

The Jamestown stop was not the only one made by Santa on the WNYPA line. A new stop for the holiday train was added this year, as Meadville, Pa., had a visit, Belke said.

“If we are going to get the Christmas train out and put together, I want to make sure we are able to get good use out of it,” he said. “I will put a crew on it and bring it out. There are so many people that appreciate seeing the trains, especially on the holidays.”

Daly said the people of Jamestown, still in the early throes of the reopening of the historic train station, were pleased with the rail stop.

“I know people loved it,” he said.

Additionally, the Christmas train acts as a tool for the railroad in public relations, Belke said.

“Yes, the people love seeing the train, and we love to bring it, but it brings so many intangibles to the railroad, in terms of public trust and understanding when projects come around,” he said.

Before the holiday season kicked off, a symbolic train excursion was held for elected officials and dignitaries in the Falconer area, Nov. 22. The trip marked the end of the majority of a project to fix and reroute the train over a new bridge in the area. Aboard the train were members of STERA, Chautauqua County officials, New York state elected leaders and U.S. Representative, Tom Reed, R- Corning.

The project, a $1.6 million bond award in December 2011, replaced a bridge that had reached the end of its useful service life. The bridge, Belke said, failed to meet its inspection and weight test for 273,000 pounds. That weight limit is an old standard, used by the rail industry and the federal government. The current standard would require the bridge to meet a 286,000 weight test. The new bridge to be opened will meet 315,000-pound tests, Belke said.

“This is going to remove the last of the lower weights in our system,” he said during the October meeting. “Usually, we try to upgrade to have an improvement that meets or exceeds the anticipated standards for what is expected in the next 10 years. This, we believe is probably a 100-year improvement.”