Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waterfront compromise scheme: follow-up

I've received a number of questions and comments on the scheme I presented last ThursdayI had proposed the construction of a private rail spur from the existing north-south rail line to the Greenport quarry via the South Bay causeway. My goal was to give the City of Hudson and the Greenport quarry owners/operators the better part of what each considers most essential. It was and remains a shot in the dark, as the issues involved are complex and I made a number of blind assumptions. Anyway, here goes.
Did you find out if rail-based loads from Greenport can be delivered to O&G's manufacturing facilities in Connecticut? Or would they have to be transferred to a barge?
O&G's facilities in Stamford and Bridgeport (I don't know if the gravel is currently sent to one, the other, or both) appear not to accept rail loads. Gravel is directly unloaded from barges at the plants, so the scheme likely works only if the rail loads are transferred to barges somewhere south of Hudson (I still do not know if there is a place to do this) OR (a new suggestion) if the rail loads are sent to O&G's facility in Danbury, as an existing train line leads there. This latter scenario seems highly unlikely, however.

A train can transport only a fraction of what a barge can transport. Doesn't cost inefficiency rule out rail right away?
It might. But I did some research on this, and the results were interesting. A rail hopper car carries about 225,000 lbs., while a barge carries from about 2,000,000 to 6,000,000 lbs. This means you would need between 9 and 27 rail cars to do the work of one barge. (O&G uses mostly smaller barges with an occasional super-jumbo.) In this scenario, barges probably win over trains.
     However, there is an inefficiency embedded in the current model that can't be ignored: the efficiency of barging is compromised by the inefficiency of having to truck the gravel to the barges. Even using the largest end-dump gravel truck at capacity (25,000 lbs.), at least 80 truck trips are needed to fill one small barge, 240 trips to fill the largest barge. Per above, 80 truck trips can be replaced by a single 9-car train. 
     Update, 1/19/2011: According to the LWRP, 183,458 tons of aggregate were shipped through the port in 2007. This would have required 1,631 rail cars, or a little over 6 cars per day from Monday to Friday.

If you're looking for a rail-based solution, why not go with the old idea of trucking gravel to the ADM facility on Route 66, and use that rail to bring gravel to the Hudson port?
This may be a more viable option than what I've put forth. However, it would bring more trains through Hudson's 7th Street Park, which I was trying to avoid. Also, the ADM proposal—at least as previously put forthcontinues to transfer gravel to barges at the Hudson waterfront, an activity that many in the city would like to eliminate. And finally, the ADM scheme suffers from greater operational inefficiencies than either the current practice or my scheme, as it requires three modes of transporttruck to train to barge.

How about trucking the gravel to the ADM facility and transferring it to trains, but sending the trains the other way (eastward/south eastward) to Connecticut?
The ADM line, which apparently used to continue to Claverack, has been abandoned and removed east of ADM. Incidentally, it is often thought that the ADM line is the active line that passes through Chatham; it is not.

The scheme uses the South Bay causeway, which is precisely what some Hudsonians oppose. How do you justify this?
The scheme is a compromise, so some things could not be achieved. But in many regards the scheme gives environmentalists more than what they have asked for. The city would own the entire upper half of South Bay and land on both sides of Route 9G. The city would have full ownership and control of the port, which would not be used for gravel transfer. And there would be no gravel trucks or trains in the immediate vicinity of people using the waterfront park or the train station.

Is it realistic to have a new rail crossing of Route 9G?
Politically, new crossings can be difficult to pull off, as highway departments don't like them. But if it can be demonstrated that greater overall safety results from getting gravel trucks off Hudson's streets, it might have a shot. Remember, we'd be looking at one 9-car train in lieu of at least 80 trucks. And if the trains can run off-hours, all the better.

Is the conveyor you've shown crossing Route 9 the one currently in place (but apparently not in use)?

Your scheme would solve part of the truck route problem, but not all of it. What about all the other trucks traveling through Hudson, say from the Rip van Winkle Bridge to the malls on Fairview Avenue?
I don't know at this point. I would hope the scheme would head off opposition from those affected adversely by a truck route relocation, as it would reduce the number of trucks traveling on the new truck route, wherever it ends up.

This proposal is interesting, but ultimately it seems naive.
That's more or less why I put it out there. I think if one pursues only obvious, safe solutions, he'll miss alternatives that turn out to be viable, or the alternatives that grow out of the "naive" proposal. I have heard others say that Sarah Sterling's proposal to have the city negotiate the purchase of the dock and land from Holcim is also naive. But her proposal helped me develop a new alternative. Perhaps my own naive idea will lead to a workable solution. Naïvete is useful and even necessary to problem solving, as long as you know you're being naïve.

Is there any possibility Holcim would sell their waterfront land and dock to the city?
If I were Holcim, I wouldn’t be interested in selling my port to the city and then having to use it under the city's watch. But
what if the city offers Holcim a good-sized chunk of change for the port and land, while showing Holcim that it can move as much material as it currently moves without interference from the city, and without having to run eighty trucks to fill a single barge? Does that become appealing to Holcim?

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