ITHR/NS: WATCO Breaks into Northeast

Cargill Salt Mine, Two Small Customers, and (Potential) Converted Power Plant

08 Nov./Ithaca Region NY – A Watco entity contracts to operate northern section of Ithaca Secondary. Cargill’s Lansing salt mine is the major customer; controversial Cayuga power plant and a plastics manufacturer stretch out the line.

The Ithaca Secondary interchanges with the NS Southern Tier line at Sayre, just south of the NY/PA state border. The line runs north nearly 49 miles to the Ludlowville village of Lansing. {NS system map; inset: STB filing #246764; annotation by ANRP }

A new Watco entity, Ithaca Central Railroad (ITHR), will lease ~48.8 miles of the NS Ithaca Secondary Branch between MP 272.2 (Sayre, PA) and MP 321 (Lansing, NY). The ITHR 08 November Notice of Exemption filing requests STB permission to operate as a Class III short-line railroad . The track is currently Class 2, and will be maintained as such by ITHR.

Two definite (maybe three, maybe four) customers
  1. In Waverly, NY Advanced Drainage Systems, a national manufacturer and distributor of construction and building supplies, receives rail service.
  2. In Lansing, the Cargill salt mine spans approximately 13,000 acres riddled by miles of caverns approximately 2300 feet below the surface of Cayuga Lake. It is the deepest rock salt mine in North America. The mine provides ~200 jobs, and produces >2 million tons of road salt annually. Most of the yield is purchased by the sate for local use, and is delivered by truck. But as much as half of a year’s production will be railed out of state, mostly to Vermont, Virginia, and North Carolina. The mine can store ~32 cars on four tracks, and many more on the main line. In August 2017, NYSDEC granted a permit to add a fourth access shaft at the north end of the mine[1].
  3. The 312-megawatt Cayuga generating station is one of two functioning coal plants still operating in New York. Successive owners of the plant have been petitioning state and local governments since 2016 for permission and subsidies to convert the plant to natural gas. Following a 21 November resolution by the Tompkins County State Legislature opposing any fossil fuel feed, he plant’s future is in doubt . Currently, the plant serves to support peak usage events, and last received a coal shipment this past Spring[2]. The future of the plant is a major local issue, with well-organized opposition to its continued operation.
  4. According to Watco spokeswoman Tracie VanBecelaere, there is a fourth active line customer, shipping magnesium chloride.

Ithaca Central will be the first Watco railroad operation in the northeast region. The company operates contract terminals in Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn NY, and in Bayway and Linden, NJ. Elsewhere in the U.S., Watco operates 30 short line railroads on more than 4,500 miles of track.

The Ithaca Secondary line (MP 271.7 – ~MP 298 right, and ~MP 298 – MP 318 left) serves ADS in Waverly, Cargill’s salt mine in Lansing, and a magnesium chloride shipper (also probably in Lansing). Detail of the mine’s underground configuration is shown. MP 318.6 to MP 321 (not shown) is the Milliken Industrial Track, serving the Cayuga power plant, which may be converted to natural gas or shuttered. {OpenRailwayMaps,, Google; annotated by ANRP }.

[1] On 07.January.2017 ten Cargill mine employees were trapped for 10 hours in an elevator stuck 900 feet beneath the surface. Shaft #4 will improve worker access and safety, and will provide operational access to prospective additional excavating “rooms.”

[2] “… multiple NS Southern Tier Facebook pages where daily train operations are relentlessly posted and the Milliken [aka Cayuga power] bound coal trains (symbol 524) have not been seen or heard from in several months (May 2018?).” “The power plant received their last coal train back in April and looks like that will be the last.” On 28 January, a 105-car unit coal train delivered to the plant.