Railroad Predicts Savings From Hauling Trash By Train

May 01, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

A Union Bridge-based railroad wants to add a new product to the tonsof cement, coal, lumber and other materials it hauls -- trash generated by county residents.

In a letter to the County Commissioners, the president of Maryland Midland Railway Inc. suggested that the railroad ultimately could reduce trash collection bills for county residents and landfill fees for commercial haulers.

The railroad has offered to transport trash to Northern Landfill near Westminster and Phoenix Recycling Inc. in Finksburg from transfer stations that could be established along the tracks.

Most Carroll municipalities contract with waste-disposal companies to serve their residents, while those living outside municipal borders form individual agreements with the companies. County government does not pay for trash-collection service.

At a recent county mayors' meeting, Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said county residents are overpaying for trash removal because of the county's non-involvement.

Maryland Midland President Paul D. Denton sees economic benefits for the privately owned railroad and county residents should the commissionersrevamp the waste-disposal system.

The transfer stations -- where waste-disposal companies would unload trash -- could be set up in Taneytown, New Windsor and Finksburg, said Denton. The trash haulers could save money by eliminating the long trips they now make to the landfill. They also could employ fewer trucks to do more collection because transport time would be reduced, he said.

Ideally, haulers would pass on lowered costs to consumers -- either individual households, municipalities or the county.

"We wouldn't take the place of trash haulers or compete with them," said Denton. "We're simply offeringa transportation link in the chain. We're offering a service -- a cheaper way of getting it there."

The commissioners, who have considered using rail to transport solid waste, referred the proposal to James E. Slater, director of the Department of Natural Resource Protection, which is developing a comprehensive solid-waste management plan.

Slater questions whether using rail would save money, though the department has not analyzed the cost. The rail routes might be too short to make rail service cost-efficient, he said.

"It seems it would be an awful expensive way to go for short hauls," he said. "We don't know where the break-even point is."

One rail car generally cancarry about four times the load of a typical hauling truck, said Denton.

Slater also questions whether trash haulers would lower theirrates, even if integrating rail service would lower their costs.

If solid-waste collection and disposal took place on a regional basis, rail service might be more effective, he said.

"We need to minimize haul routes, but it may be more efficient with transfer stations and larger trucks," he said.

The county would have to pay to construct tracks from the railroad's main line to the landfill. But those costs could be refunded over time under a Maryland Midland policy, said Denton.

Solid-waste disposal -- and how to finance it -- has become frequently debated issue. The commissioners this spring considered assessing a new $47-per-home fee, in addition to raising the $15-per-ton landfill fee, to pay for county solid-waste programs. But theytabled both proposals for further study. The tipping fee decision could leave the solid-waste program with a $650,000 shortfall in fiscal1992.

The commissioners also have discussed dividing the county into regions and having trash haulers bid to obtain franchise rights.

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