UPTON, Mass. — A group that supports short rail lines filed a letter with the Surface Transportation Board on Tuesday supporting the Grafton & Upton Railroad’s plans to maintain its wood pellet facility.
The American Short Line and Regional Transportation Association, a non-profit group that represents about 450 small railroads around the country, urged the federal agency to support the G&U‘s case.
“Because of the differences inherent in moving commodities, especially bulk commodities, between one mode of transportation and another, it is frequently necessary to repackage materials during transit,” said Keith T. Borman, vice president and general counsel for the association in a letter dated Feb. 25.
“Because it is integral to the transportation process but not to the manufacture of the commodity itself, ASLRRA is concerned that for the Board to decide otherwise would both be illogical and an unfounded further restriction on the beneficial role transloading plays in efficient and cost effective freight transportation.”
He closed by saying the Grafton & Upton Railroad is a “legitimate transloading service beneficial to the shipping public and in conformity with the prescriptions set forth by the Board in previous transloading cases."
The STB is weighing arguments from the Grafton & Upton Railroad and seven Upton residents before deciding if a wood pellet facility on its property is exempt from state and town laws. The residents have argued that the repackaging of wood pellets does not fall under the federal definition of "transportation."
On Jan. 23, the board issued a “declaratory order” to hear the case brought by the residents who claimed on Aug. 1, when they filed the petition, that the bagging, storing and transloading being conducted by the railroad at its 25 Maple Ave. location is not transportation by a rail carrier as defined by the Interstate Commerce Act. If the board succeeds, Upton can regulate the operation under its zoning bylaws.
The STB has not set a date on when it plans to rule on the matter.
This is not the only legal case facing the Grafton & Upton Railroad. The town of Grafton asked a U.S. Federal Court judge to decide whether the railroad's plans to construct a propane transfer terminal falls under federal pre-emption rights, meaning federal rules rather than local would govern the operation. That trial was argued in January and the judge has not set a date on when he will rule.