Economic Development

Regional Chamber, Partners Form Rail Commission

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — A new commission of elected officials from Mahoning and Trumbull counties and economic development agencies are working to identify the current rail infrastructure in the Mahoning Valley, and ensure railroads and the corridors they run on are fully utilized to serve both businesses and communities.

The Mahoning Valley Rail Commission was created as a response to a May 2018 request by a Class 1 railroad to begin the abandonment of 14 miles of rail line that runs from Newton Falls through Warren. Responding to the eventual approval of the request, eventual approval of the request, Trumbull County Commissioners brought together the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Mahoning Valley Economic Development Corp., Mahoning County Commissioners and the Western Reserve Port Authority to form the commission.

While there is no protocol for rail abandonments in the Mahoning Valley due to their infrequency, the commission has been working since earlier this year on determining how these situations can be addressed with the most optimal outcome, according to a release by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

At the time of the request, the chamber started work to salvage the line. It contacted the Federal Surface Transportation Board that oversees the abandonment process, notified local businesses and property owners and contacted developers who may have had interest in purchasing the line. Additionally, Trumbull County pursued negotiations directly with the railroad company.

“We need to be proactive rather than reactive. These types of situations do not arise often, but we need to make sure that when they do, we’re prepared and have a plan to assist in any way possible,” said Mauro Cantalamessa, president of the Trumbull County Commissioners. “That was really the impetus for creating the rail commission … making sure we do everything we can for communities and businesses that currently benefit or will benefit from rail usage.”

The commission has committed to exploring how it can examine current and future railroad challenges throughout the Mahoning Valley, according to the release.

“We have a number of businesses and many property owners with developable sites and buildings that place a great value on these rail lines. A big focus of this Commission will be to protect and bolster that resource,” said Shea MacMillan, manager of Business Development at the Regional Chamber.

Some initiatives have already been put in motion, such as establishing regular communication with rail operators, surveying and meeting with businesses that currently benefit from rail or may have a future use, marketing current rail served sites to potential end users, identifying funding streams that could be used to support the preservation/acquisition of such economic assets and, ultimately, being prepared for abandonments when they do occur.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.