March 05, 2008

Why Are Freeholders Wasting Public Funds to Benefit M&E Railroad?

Submitted by James Neville
Coalition to Stop the Train

Over the last several months, five municipalities in Union County have passed resolutions citing breaches of contract in agreements made between the M&E Railroad and the Freeholders of Union County — and between the freeholders and the NJ State Department of Transportation.

These resolutions cite the opposition of each town’s elected officials to the state and county continuing to honor contracts, which must be voided due to non-performance
and third-party injury to the taxpayers of New Jersey.

Over six years ago, the board of freeholders assured local communities that deactivated, abandoned rail lines in Union County would never carry rail freight without full agreement of affected communities. In fact, a letter signed by then-Freeholder Senator Scutari was sent out to assure mayors, town councils and citizens that the century-old tracks would never be returned to service.

The freeholders reneged on their commitment, signed a 10-year agreement with the M&E, leasing the 22-mile right-of-way for 17 cents a month. Additionally, the M&E was awarded a no-bid contract to restore the railbed. To date, $14.6 million in public funds have been appropriated in support of this private railroad’s enterprise. There have been heated public hearings where the voice of the people was ignored. Protests, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and lawsuits have not brought about change.

The breach of contract cited in the resolutions has to do with M&E’s failure to supply a “detailed written Business and Operating Plan” as required by the 2002 contract. Imagine embarking upon a project that to date has cost the taxpayers almost $15 million without any plan in place to justify the expenditures. These expenditures cover only a quarter of the freight trackage through Union County.

Considering the contract breaches and the depletion of public funds during this current budget crisis, why would the freeholders want to waste additional public funds for the benefit of the M&E freight railroad? For six years, M&E has not lived up to their part of the deal. It is now time for the freeholders to stop the waste and put an end to this reactivation once and for all.