Strong rail demand spurs $4.2M for 6 Western Pa. upgrade projects
When Mike Yaras first began working on the railroad a little over 30 years ago, timber ties were laid by hand. Train cars were shorter. Spikes were heavier.
“There's a lot of things we used to do in the old days by brute force,” he said. “We don't do that anymore. We have equipment to do that.”
Yaras is now a roadmaster with Genesee & Wyoming, which operates rail freight lines throughout Western Pennsylvania as well as more than 60 short line railroads across the U.S. and five other countries. He engineers the tracks from Punxsutawney stretching across to New Castle.
At 58, Yaras has spent most of his life in the same industry his father worked in for 43 years. The allure of fixing track and building lines kept him from pursuing other jobs.
“I have a degree in business administration but I've always come back to rail,” he said.
Though Pennsylvania's rail freight lines date to the Industrial Revolution, new public and private investment in the lines has positioned them in the growth of manufacturing in the state's southwest. The natural gas industry has fueled these investments, as shipments of sand, water and chemicals are shipped across the Marcellus Shale region.
“As the economy is starting to rebound we're starting to see changes,” Yaras said.
More improvements are coming to southwestern Pennsylvania rail freight lines this year. The latest round of rail grants, totaling $33 million from the State Transportation Commission, will funnel nearly $4.2 million to six southwestern rail projects that are expected to retain and create more than 6,700 jobs in the local economy.
Yaras recently supervised the engineering of upgrades to the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Northern Subdivision, a 15-mile stretch of track starting in Butler and heading north. The updates began in 2010, bolstered by a $3 million grant from the state government.
Steel and concrete replaced the timber trestles on the near-century old bridges.
“That type of improvement will last over 100 years,” said Jerry Vest, vice president of government and industry affairs for Genesee & Wyoming. “It helps solidify the rail.”
Vest, who lives in Allegheny County, has worked in the rail industry for 27 years. Though the technology has changed, the need for businesses to get their products to market hasn't, he said.
“No one transports something just for the sake of transportation,” he said.
Rail transportation jobs in the greater Pittsburgh region are set to grow 9.2 percent — from 1,960 to 2,140 — through 2020, according to long-term employment projections compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The Keystone State Railroad Association estimates that every railroad job created supports 4.5 indirect jobs.
State investment propels rail upgrades. From 2010 through 2011, the state share of nearly $100 million in rail projects was around 70 percent, according to the Keystone State Railroad Association.
Mike Filoni, vice president of sales and marketing with the Allegheny Valley Railroad, said rail is more fuel efficient for businesses transporting goods. Around four truckloads of freight can fit in one rail car, he said.
“Every amount of freight that we put on the rails takes that off the highways,” he said.
One recent state award, a $1.1 million grant to the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation, will go toward repairing 2.4 miles of its tracks along its 33-mile interchange. Keeping the line operational is estimated to create and retain more than 5,300 jobs.
Westmoreland County Commissioner Tyler Courtney said the repairs are needed because increased traffic on the route in recent years has worn down curves in the tracks.
“The natural gas industry is shipping a lot of products,” he said. “You're seeing an increase in the use of rail service to get the products close to the area where they're being utilized.”
Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Clinics go mobile to bring health care to streets of Western Pennsylvania
- North Allegheny redistricting prevented crowding in schools, officials say
- Mt. Lebanon, Pittsburgh Foundation team
- Home-schooled students from North Hills advance in robotics competition
- 3 girls land role as Clara in Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company’s ‘The Nutcracker’
- Moon woman awarded with Pennsylvania honor for garden
- 9 Western Pa. female leaders honored at black history banquet
- Young Achiever: Joey Santillo
- Students get personalized approach to jobs at Bethel Park
- Pittsburgh Boy Choir open to all faiths
- Upper St. Clair’s Goddard School set to open by summer