Thoughts On Trains, Natural Gas, And The Interstate Highway System

Bookmark and Share

Photo by Antonin Duallia on UnsplashIt was a lonely vigil.

And by “vigil” I mean Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

And by “lonely” I mean I was by myself, all alone in a church I never went to before. Betsy was staying with her recovering father and Peter was not feeling well.

Only I wasn’t alone. Parishioners packed St. James (aptly named because it’s in the City of Jamestown). The walls echoed of adult voices speaking with excited anticipation. Children squealed, murmured, and asked questions only children could ask. The place was alive. And I watched with glee from a darkened corner in one of the front pews.

It was refreshing going to a church that emits life. I got the impression it wasn’t just Easter. These people knew each other. They weren’t going to Church just to punch the clock. There were families there. Young families. Families whose kids visibly enjoyed that anticipatory excitement exuded from the adult crowd. They sensed something was happening. Something big.

It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced Mass like this. Perhaps I’d have to go back to when our own kids were young. When we knew all the families in the Parish. When Mass was alive. When the future was still far off, a potential one could still dream of.

But kids got older. They graduated and moved away. Then the families moved away or moved on. We lost more than we gained. Now it’s a collection of memories of a past that contains more volumes than the future.

Wait. Am I talking about Church or New York State?

Or both?

Those kids. Those families. They didn’t just leave the Parish. They’ve left the State. While this exodus may affect larger communities to a lesser extent than our rural towns and villages, whatever level of growth we once enjoyed has melted away faster than the springtime snow.

Why? Who or what is responsible for this population drain? How has our once bountiful region, a region of natural beauty that not so long ago held such cherished promise, faded from a preferred destination for settlers to a prison from which to escape?

Perhaps the answer lies in a recent headline. National Fuel Gas, one of the dominant energy providers in this part of New York State, is said to be looking into selling off its namesake gas lines.

That’s right. A fuel company founded on the very premise of an energy source synonymous with the Greater Western New York Region is thinking about getting out of the business.

NFG has a rich history. Its website states, in 1821, “The nation’s first natural gas well for commercial use was drilled in the village of Fredonia, N.Y., by William Hart, and was used to illuminate 100 street lights on the main street in the village.” It goes on to say, “National Fuel is incorporated on December 8, 1902, organizing interests in Buffalo and Western Pennsylvania natural gas investments that had been placed in John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Natural Gas Trust.”

Why the change of heart?

It’s simple. New York State doesn’t want you to use natural gas anymore. While this reality may be a decade or so in the future, it will make obsolete the entire gas pipeline infrastructure that required more than a century to build. Apparently, NFG can read the tea leaves and wants out before its properties become valueless.

That’s concerning.

And we have a precedent for this concern. Little more than a half century ago, no fewer than six mainline railroads cross-crossed our region. I could say the same of the rest of the nation. At the time, the railroad industry was in decline. Short-sighted leaders worried then about the redundancy of rail lines.

So, the industry consolidated. Today, we have only two east-west Class One rail corridors. The rest have gone to weed (or, in the case of our local Lehigh Valley right-of-way, to trail).

It’s funny. In the Town of Mendon comprehensive plan from the 1960s, Town officials expected the Lehigh Valley to play a prominent role in the Town’s future. A decade later, Conrail tore up the rails along with all that future potential.

Contrast this with the state of the road infrastructure. In the 1950s, it was determined we needed more roads. This wasn’t just because more people were driving. No, the primary reason for the development and expansion of the Eisenhower Interstate System was national defense. We needed a redundant transportation infrastructure to move troops, supplies, and equipment in a quick and reliable way.

As a result, while the railroads shrunk, the vehicular roads expanded. According to Car and Driver, the interstate highway system has grown from zero in 1956 (when it was officially born) to 47,662 miles (as of 2017). During roughly the same time period, Railserve data shows total mainline track miles shrunk from 220,221 in 1956 to only 94,372 in 2014.

Obviously, we have lost more railroad miles than we have gained interstate road miles. Is that enough to provide the infrastructural redundancy necessary to protect our nation in the event of a natural or manmade event? There’s no way of knowing for sure. What we know with certainty is the greater the redundancy, the greater the protection.

Which gets us back to New York State’s idea to eliminate natural gas.

This will certainly be a hardship to underrepresented populations. I spoke to a farmer in Schuyler County about this. He explained how much of his business, not only the farm but the transportation infrastructure used to get his produce to market, depends on natural gas. Eliminating this vital energy source would devastate his livelihood.

Similarly, the cost to Western New York homeowners to convert from natural gas to electric is onerous, besides being less efficient. Anyone who has experienced the worst of our winters knows this. Or, in the case of Kathy Hochul, should know this. There’s a very real possibility that removing natural gas as a heating option may be the death sentence for some unfortunate residents.

Public safety is therefore the number one concern for energy policy. Just like our multifaceted transportation infrastructure, we need to maintain a vibrant infrastructure (think power grid) composed of diverse sources of energy. That means gas, electric, nuclear, hydro, as well as the burgeoning alternative energy sources of wind and solar.

What we can ill-afford to do is quit the biggest source of energy. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows natural gas is far and away the biggest source of energy in New York State. It’s four times bigger than nuclear power (the next largest source after motor gasoline) and five times larger than the next biggest non-petroleum source (hydroelectric power). Solar and wind power aren’t even listed and “other renewables” are ten times smaller than natural gas.

It’s irresponsible and a significant health hazard to our communities for New York State to consider banning natural gas. Furthermore, allowing the vital natural gas infrastructure to atrophy presents a serious risk to national security.

The majority in Albany needs to listen not just to those who live in New York City, but to the real lives of those living in the Western New York Region.

Failing to do so will impact more than merely the demographic make-up of those attending Sunday Mass.


  1. […] with health hazards in the Greater Western New York Region? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “Thoughts On Trains, Natural Gas, And The Interstate Highway System” because you’ll want to see how Albany’s “good intentions” may put you and your family at […]

Speak Your Mind


You cannot copy content of this page

Skip to content