By Gary Abernathy [email protected]
Greenfield’s effort to save its rail spur was recently featured in a story by Aljazeera America, which noted that “Greenfield is the smallest municipality in America to own its own rail line,” according to records kept by the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA).
The Aljazeera media network has often been controversial, originally accused by critics for having anti-American biases. It was founded as an Arabic news outlet, but has expanded in recent years to become one of the largest media outlets in the world, with several spinoff news organizations including Aljazeera America.
Ron Coffey, city manager at Greenfield, said Tuesday that when Aljazeera America initially contacted him, “I had some misgivings” about speaking with the outlet.
But after talking with others who were familiar with its reporting, and checking out a couple of articles it had produced – including a story about the recent accident near Xenia involving a truck carrying 2,200 pigs – he decided to agree to the interview.
After the story came out, “I thought it was a pretty nice article,” said Coffey.
The story on the rail line notes that “for locals in Greenfield the train only means one thing: job security. In an era when long distance trucking on the interstate network dominates much U.S. trade, Greenfield has shown that a reliance on an old-fashioned railway can actually provide a lifeline to a small community.”
The 29.5 mile stretch of rail owned by Greenfield is said to be responsible for the survival of as many as 1,000 jobs in Greenfield, Leesburg and New Vienna.
As The Times-Gazette has noted in a long series of articles in recent years, Greenfield fought to put together a financial package needed to make repairs to the rail line.
A big piece of the puzzle was announced by then-city manager Betty Bishop in 2012 when a total of nearly $3.8 million dollars became available to the village in the form of federal grant monies from the Economic Development Administration. High bids and other EDA roadblocks have hampered the project, but the repairs are now in progress.
As The Times-Gazette reported on June 18, “Two weeks ago the long-awaited rehab project on Greenfield’s rail spur officially began with crossing improvements, with four already done and repairs on a fifth crossing slated to begin Friday.”
Coffey said then that a total of 24 crossings will be improved as part of the railroad project. Most of the work is being done on Friday through Monday, when the trains do not run.
The Aljazeera America story notes that “the city of Greenfield leases the line to the Indiana and Ohio Railway, which is owned by Genessee & Wyoming. The city earns revenue from a per-car fee. When Johnson Controls reopened in 2011, approximately 200 railcars came to the plant. That number has increased every year since. In 2014 the city brought in $88,000 in revenue while spending $107,000 in upkeep.”
Coffey told the publication, “It’s not quite a break-even situation,” but the article notes that “everyone recognizes the price to pay is small compared to losing all the jobs that come with the rail.”
The Aljazeera America article can be read online at this link.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.
Photo: Ron Coffey