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Railfan Extra Board - July 2010

A pair of Alcos power their train up the steep grade at Coneseus Lake Jct., New York on a warm summer morning in August 2008. Shortline Livonia, Avon & Lakeville is a local fan favorite, due in part to its classy fleet of immaculate Alco power. Thanks to an aggressive management team, the railroad is now celebrating 45 years of shortline success.

A pair of Alcos power their train up the steep grade at Coneseus Lake Jct., New York on a warm summer morning in August 2008. Shortline Livonia, Avon & Lakeville is a local fan favorite, due in part to its classy fleet of immaculate Alco power. Thanks to an aggressive management team, the railroad is now celebrating 45 years of shortline success.

A sweet success story in Western New York

By Otto M. Vondrak/Photos by the Author

The Barrilla pasta plant in Avon has become a another major source of traffic for the railroad, helping to put a lot of covered hoppers behind engines 418 and 425.
The Barrilla pasta plant in Avon has become a another major source of traffic for the railroad, helping to put a lot of covered hoppers behind engines 418 and 425.

Standing in a grassy field in rural Livingston County, about 25 miles south of downtown Rochester, New York, the morning sun warms your back but has yet to lift the dew off the grass. Soon, the unmistakable advance of Alcos can be heard in the distance. Glossy black engines with yellow accents come into view. Cresting the grade, the engineer backs off on the throttle, and a mix of covered hoppers and tank cars rush past. No weedy streak of rust, the newly installed welded rail makes this line good for 40 in most parts.

The Livonia, Avon & Lakeville is well-known for its roster of Alco power, wearing a coat of gloss black that would make a Steinway piano jealous. This venerable shortline is celebrating more than 45 years of continuous service, tracing its beginnings to a 1964 abandonment notice from the Erie Lackawanna. Local businessmen rallied to raise money to purchase the 13 miles from Avon south to Lakeville and Livonia. Operations commenced with the help of a lone 44-tonner, and the railroad averaged about 50 carloads a year in the those days. Hoping to attract more curious weekend passengers, the railroad hosted a 2-8-2 and later a 2-8-0 for many years. In 1972 the 44-tonner that the railroad relied on at the beginning was supplanted by a former Lake Erie, Franklin & Clarion RS-1, what would be the first of many Alco acquisitions.

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When the Western New York Syrup & Sugar Corp. opened its new plant in Lakeville in 1971, it quickly became clear that the LAL's future was in freight. Boiler repairs sidelined steam for good on the LAL in 1975, and the engine was sold off a few years later. Passenger excursions ended in 1977 as the railroad began to focus primarily on its growing freight business. Increased traffic demanded a second Alco added to the roster in 1978, followed by third in 1981. Sweeteners Plus opened its expanded Lakeville plant in 1983, and quickly became the line's primary source of traffic. On an almost daily basis, covered hoppers full of sugar cane are exchanged for tank cars of processed corn syrup. The world's supply of Cool Whip™ is manufactured in Avon, and is also one of the railroad's "sweet" customers.

In 1996, the LAL expanded north from Avon with the purchase of the Conrail "Rochester South Cluster." This permitted easier interchange and better connecting service with both Conrail and the Rochester & Southern. With more expansion on the horizon, a fleet of surplus Alco Centuries was purchased from Guilford Transportation and shipped to Lakeville for rebuilding. By 2001, the LAL had expanded its operations to include the Bath & Hammondsport, the Ontario Central, and the Western New York & Pennsylvania railroads.

In 2006 Italian pasta manufacturer Barilla announced they would build a new manufacturing plant in Avon. One of the reasons they cited was the excellent service provided by the railroad. With a roster of more than 20 Alco locomotives and increasing carloads system-wide, this sweet success story will continue for years to come.

 
 

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