(Warning! Lots of Personal Opinion Herein! Not Meant to Offend Anyone! I Came Here to Praise Stourbridge, Not to Bury It!)
As owner of a company that was, and still is, considering a location startup along the Stourbridge Line, I'd like to add my two cents. If my tone sounds a touch confrontational, it is only because I have nothing but the highest respects for Al and Mrs. Siebold (Stourbridge Line), Mary-Beth Wood (Wayne County Economic Development) and a real estate owner who might not wish to have his name mentioned (but who is a hell of a person). I feel somewhat responsible for the situation of the railroad at present as the business expansion we had hoped to complete has been held up not only by investors who feign interest for months on end, but also certain potential customers who have failed to follow through with their obligations. I'm certain that everyone here who knows Mr. and Mrs. Siebold, Ms. Wood, and the real estate owner in question know what incredible people they all are. For those who haven't had the priveledge to know these people as friends, please accept my respectful assessment of the situation.
Al Siebold and his wife are two of the hardest working folks I've had the honor to work with. Mr. Siebold went incredibly far out of his way on at least a dozen occassions to help our business venture move forward. Often times, what Mr. Siebold did was far above and beyond the call of duty for a railroad manager. His lessons in business, his endless patience, and the possibly hundreds of rate requests he saw through on our behalf make me believe that whatever he was being paid wasn't near enough. Mr. Siebold took my level of understanding of railroading from that of one something only slightly more than a railfan's and something far less than an average shipper's to that of a railroading business professional's. I am not the only potential shipper who voices such a high opinion of the Siebolds (and M&E's Stourbridge Line). Many potential shippers and end users, due to my business these are all member's of the Marcellus Shale energy community, who have had the pleasure of working with the Siebolds have expressed similar opinions to me when the topic of alternative shipping options is on the agenda. Though it is my understanding that Mr. Siebold has since retired, I sincerely hope that he is involved when our first loads (or those belonging to a competitor) arrive at Lackawaxen for final delivery.
Similarly, Mary-Beth Wood is a credit to her agency and lent to my company an incredible knowledge of financing options and government assistance programs. Like Mr. Siebold, Ms. Wood has some tough barriers when attempting to lure business to Wayne County. In the case of our company, ongoing debate concerning energy extraction techniques, certain (very vocal) members of the local and not-so-local community, and an investing environment still somewhat shy of even the slightest risk were all conspiring factors in why we have yet to ship a single load of material aboard the Stourbridge. Ms. Wood has the patience of a Saint (which is a plus when dealing with me), a depth of knowledge concerning finance and government programs that is baffling to those of us who lack any understanding of such matters, and is a fierce advocate for the economic health and vitality of the region. Again, when we (or a competitor) ship a load to the area, I sincerely hope Ms. Wood is involved and recieves her due credit.
The problems with shipping to destinations along the Stourbridge Line are very few in number, but with ramifactions great enough in severity to hamper even the heroic efforts of those mentioned above.
Firstly, as anyone who has been keeping up with the activity in the Marcellus Shale knows, the bulk of extraction operations are taking place (primarily) well to the west of Wayne County. Though congestion, real estate pricing, and other costs associated with shipping to locations closer to the activity sometimes (in my opinion) outweigh the costs of shipping to points more distant, many end users don't recognize that truth and won't even entertain the discussion. Furthermore, an ongoing shortage of trucking to bring sand, pipes, mud, water, waste brine etc. to/from the well sites hamstrings even the best efforts of those committed to the success of thier railroad or region.
Secondly, due to the extra overhead costs required for shipping (one or two more railroads touching the freight compared to other points) it is very difficult for the Stourbridge Line to compete in per ton pricing. That is not to say that it can't or hasn't happened. Mr. Siebold and the people at NS, CSX, and NYS&W really went out of thier way to try to make the moves to Wayne County economically viable. Some of the prices I recieved (4 railroad routing) were nearly identical with certain others (with only 3 railroads in the routing). Others were not, but that is sometimes to be expected. All I can say is that incredible efforts were made on behalf of my company and on the behalves of the other companies considering locating aboard the Stourbridge.
Thirdly, there is a certain after-taste (my words) in the mouths of people attempting to see industrial development in Wayne County caused by the concerns once voiced by certain citizens over the potential pollution that a company called Flexi Foam (sp?) might have brought to the area. If I recall the story correctly, Flexi Foam wanted to located either in the old DFSI Building in Honesdale or somewhere nearby and were "chased off" by local environmental concerns. That factory, incidentally, is now served by the D-L, over the mountain in Lackawanna County.
I am a very vocal environmentalist and side with that community even in certain cases when the majority of well meaning people don't. There are legitimate environmental concerns related to my business and also to styrofoam manufacturing. That being said, the people I've run into at town meeting after town meeting appear to be nothing more than a very small core of people who've hijacked the environmental movement to serve their own ends. The vast majority of poeple concerned about pollution and environmental damage are good, kind, generous people with whom most railfans would find much in common. I'd even go as far as to say that environmentalism is, somewhere deep inside, a form of railfanning! However, there is a seemingly professional crowd of objectors who "chased off" the foam factory and who speak out against my industry who have no true interest in the environment. Most of this "professional objection" crowd are nothing more than rich homeowners with either have nothing better to do or who don't consider "that kind of work" or "that industry" acceptable according to their system of morals.
Again, there are lots of good people who object to what we do. We spend countless hours meeting with them, explaining away the untruths being told about our industry, but also then listening with open ears and minds to the concerns of those who honestly care. I feel that if more people in industry and all of the people who populate all of the "movements" spent a little less time watching this network or that (depending upon their political beliefs) and more time listening to one another, we'd discover that we all have a lot to offer one another. In fact, one of our best public relations moves is spearheaded by a young lady who ABHORS what we do. She took the time to listen to me and I took the time to listen to her and before we knew it, we discovered that if we worked together we'd all get more accomplished.
(END EDITORIAL...sorry about the rant)
Again, thirdly, we and other potential shippers have heard the Flexi Foam story time and time again. Responsible business owners do not want to move into a neighborhood in which they will be unwelcome. I am willing to see past the Flexi Foam incident, but not everyone I've spoken to has been convinced because of the "professional objection" community's constant presence.
Fourth, ongoing discussions at the State and Federal Government level about a potential ban on certain extraction processes directly impacts the area best served by the Stourbridge Line and Wayne County's other forms of transportation and real estate infrastructure. When this dispute is finally resolved, and the dispute goes beyond the borders of our fair State, the Stourbridge and Wayne County will be able to move forward with more certitude.
Now, to be clear, I don't think any of those drawbacks outweigh the excellent service, professional courtesy, and sincere efforts that are offered by the people of the Stourbridge Line and Wayne County. Indeed, when writing reports on the locations, I always heavily favored the Wayne County / Stourbridge Line locations because of the Herculean efforts of the people involved. A few extra dollars per ton can add up and might well in some cases mean the difference between a successful, profitable operation and one that is hemmoraging money to the point of ultimate failure. That is not the case in my industry and (in my opinion) I'd take a railroad that depends on its shippers as much as I (as a shipper) depend on them.
In a world defined by poor customer relations, outsourced services, and a seemingly national case of piss poor work ethic (my opinion), finding men and women like Mr. and Mrs. Siebold and Ms. Wood who are willing to work for your the right to host/serve your business needs is truly a delight.
In closing, it would be a shame if the M&E is "pulling out", but it would have to be expected after so many years of good, honest efforts with so little revenue to show in return. I've always had a place in my heart for the M&E and the people who make it work. I know a lot of people here have differing opinions of the railroad, especially since the tragic loss of a man I knew only when I was young as "Mr. Ben", however the M&E and its people are the type you'd want working for you if your business depended on it. If they are not involved when we finally get some solid legs beneath this project I will be upset and feel somewhat responsible (though our efforts have been wearying and draining as well). I hope the M&E keeps at it because their work ethic and attitude will be sorely missed.
Final Edit: Please do some research and find out the truth about hydraulic fracturing before you make up your mind one way or the other. As an outspoken environnmentalist I know that the process is, like all forms of energy extraction, fraught with great peril. However, in my opinion, if corners aren't cut, if money is spent on proper materials, and (most importantly) if the government actually does what it is supposed to do and regulates/monitors those invovled in the process then we can all hopefully look forward to a future slightly more rich in domestic energy.
Best Wishes to All!