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Buffalo-Niagara Falls rail line cited for critical problems

WBFO's Mike Desmond

State rail inspectors found some critical problems on a CSX rail line running through downtown Buffalo and on to Niagara Falls, which carries six Amtrak passenger trains each day.

It is all part of a continuing Albany crackdown on rail safety issues in the wake of a disaster in Quebec three years ago involving trains carrying crude oil.

State inspectors now walk rail lines or travel along them on special vehicles modified to work on streets or on tracks. The inspectors spot check rail lines and rail cars.

This time, they found a few problems on crude oil tank cars in the Tift Street rail yard, one serious. Amtrak uses the Niagara Branch between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, with much of that passenger train only. Three critical defects were found, according to Department of Transportation Intermodal Transportation Specialist Brian Peck.
"The FRA track safety standards is how we look at the track," explained Peck. "We inspect to that and the higher tonnage you would think that there would be more predominant defects, but the track is inspected the same. We look for the same things regardless and they are sometimes more evident in a high-tonnage area."

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

The Niagara branch through downtown is not high tonnage, but the same rules apply: either fix the problems or slow down trains. That happened for a while after this inspection until repairs were made.

Across the state, Peck said his inspectors found other serious problems, but most were not serious and overall track conditions are better than they used to be.

"The track is getting better through our efforts and through railroad upgrades, and their efforts in inspecting and upgrades in materials and rails and ties," said Peck.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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