LI officials working on the railroad
Long Island business executives joined about 200 transportation officials and lawmakers in Albany this week to discuss creating a new industry out of what many consider an antiquated mode of travel - the railroad.
The gathering at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and sponsored by the state Department of Transportation and the Empire State Development Corp., was not just an academic exercise.
The state recently received $151 million in federal stimulus money to help it create a high-speed rail system similar to some in Europe.
Owen Watford, business development manager at Ronkonkoma-based Retlif Testing Laboratories, and John Schatz, president of Hauppauge-based Twinco Manufacturing Co., were at the session. Retlif tests rail parts such as signals. Twinco makes railroad signal equipment.
"What we got out of this is that the money is there" to start an industry, Watford said. "It [the session] built a little excitement for everybody in the rail business."
Ray Donnelly, a director of the Long Island Forum for Technology, said there are as many as 40 Long Island companies providing products or services to the rail industry.
"I don't want to overstate it," Donnelly said. "It's not the Lunar Lander project" that took astronauts to the moon. "But for some companies on Long Island, this could be very significant."
Schatz said the business may be a few years out. "It's going to be awhile before we see . . . [railroad car companies] getting orders for cars or signals," Schatz said. But, he said, high-speed rail is "desperately necessary" for the economy of the state.
Dennis Mullen, ESDC's chief executive, said the session was aimed at bringing together manufacturers, railroad executives and lawmakers, to get them talking about an industry.
"A lot of people feel trains are an antiquated" way of transportation, Mullen said. "They're not. If you go to Europe, high-speed rail is accessible and affordable. But we're not there yet. That's our challenge."