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Editorial: Rail deal one to watch

June 16, 1998

Federal regulators last week approved a $10 billion deal that will divide Conrail between the CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines, but for now, the impact it will have on the Tri-state area is uncertain. That makes it all the more important for local officials to make sure regulators attend to the region's concerns.

Last week spokesmen for the two lines told The Herald-Mail that it was too soon to tell just how the new arrangement would work, though both talked enthusiastically about the potential for increased business and improved service.

That's a must for existing rail users, like those in the Chambers 5 Business Park in Chambersburg, Pa. and for industrial manufacturers who could be lured to the region if there were reliable rail service available to supply them with raw materials and ship their products. In addition, the potential increased rail use holds for cutting state highway maintenance costs and reducing air pollution justifies some extra attention by local governments.

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What sort of extra attention? Even though the National Surface Transportation Board will be monitoring the new arrangements in great detail for next five years, we believe that members of the Quad State Legislative Conference should resolve to provide NTSB with information on local service, and perhaps more important, on carrier response to requests for help.

It's one thing to track existing service for on-time performance, but we feel the NTSB also needs to hear how well the two carriers taking over Conrail's lines respond to proposals to, for example, provide rail access to sites like new business parks.

That's important because although the region's location will attract a certain number of distribution operations, the long-term goal of local economic-development operations has to be attracting the higher-paying jobs associated with heavy manufacturing.

CSX and Norfolk Southern are promising great things, and given all the federal scrutiny, they will probably deliver. But it would be unfortunate if the Quad State people don't make sure this important development undergoes some local scrutiny as well.

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