Most Newberrians are aware that a network of tracks, together with few buildings railroad cars, and the occasional engine, exists toward the center of our west end community. Yet few of us understand the present day dynamics of these “yards” as a component of SEDA-COG’s eight county Joint Rail Authority (JRA) and their importance to the greater Williamsport Area.*

On Friday, November 30th, members of the Newberry Partnership’s Safe, Clean and Green Committee (SC&G), accompanied by several NCP board members climbed aboard a caboose, affectionately known to yard workers as “the cheese box”, and received a fully annotated tour of this industrial complex.

Initially, the SC&G Committee contacted Jerry Walls, Board Chairman of the JRA, over concern that frack sand, which is transported to and distributed from the Newberry Yards, might pose a health hazard.

A sub-set of frack sand known as silica dust is invisible and respirable and a known carcinogen. Acknowledging our concern, Mr. Walls suggested that it might be valuable for members of the Partnership to get a first-hand view of what takes place in the yards – an excursion was planned.

As the caboose, pulled by a small engine, rolled slowly along the tracks on this chilly November morning, Partnership members joined Jeff Stover, Executive Director of the JRT who was on the rear deck of the caboose offering commentary and answering questions. He was accompanied by Garry Shields, President of the Lycoming Valley Railroad along with Todd Hunter, Director of Marketing and Tom Avery Director of Operations. The Lycoming Valley Railroad is one of the six Central Pennsylvania railroads that essentially leases the right to operate on land owned by JRA, a mutually supportive relationship and one that continues to grow.

In short order it became clear to those of us on the deck of the cheese box that this was a hub of considerable activity, servicing a wide variety of commercial enterprises from Lonza and Palmer Industrial Coatings, to Bulkmatic and High Steel Structures, to name just a few. From the deck we saw a 100 car coal train preparing to leave the yards and we passed extensive storage lots of communication poles – the largest in the country. Many of them would be headed for New Jersey to replace poles destroyed by Sandy.

And what about our initial concern over frack sand? We saw many rail cars transporting the sand to a variety of distribution points owned by several different companies. A distribution operation owned by Unimin, a large Belgian owned company provided closed system silos that release their sand directly into trucks – a state of the art system. Other operations were less sophisticated, some of the rail cars were not originally designed to handle the fine particles of frack sand and we did see sand on the tracks, (the Lycoming Valley Railroad has purchased a rail borne giant vacuum to remove the sand). After talking to staff on the tour and reviewing available information, the bottom line would appear to be that a health risk from frack sand might occur from intense or prolonged exposure, a concern for those working with it regularly.

It should, we believe, represent little concern for Newberrians living in the vicinity.

~ Submitted by Robbie Cross, Chairman, Safe, Clean and Green committee

*The October/December 2012 issue of Inside Newberry, offered an informative article called Newberry Rail Yard – Past and Present by Jeff Stover


Members of Newberry Partnership’s Safe, Clean and Green Committee took a ride in “The Cheese Box”.

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