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Marines help out at Westover removing rail line

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

CHICOPEE With sledgehammers and heavy equipment a group of Marine reservists helped remove part of a long abandoned rail road track that runs through the center of Westover Air Reserve Base last week.

The Marines were part of Detachment Bravo of the Marine Wing Support Squadron 472 who are tenants on the base. Major Jim Chiacchia explained the removal of the track was part of the reservists' annual training.

The Marines were part of a combat engineer unit and Chiacchia said that while the job was "unusual," it provided the Marines with "great real time training."

Champanine Saviengvong, an environmental engineer at the base, explained the track had to be moved in order to make room for a new base operations building. The current operations building is on the flight line and Saviengvong said the new building would be in a more strategic position.

Air Force safety requirements dictate the removal of the old track, she added, which was started by the Army's 226th Rail Road Transportation Company so the building site would be clear.

The track originally brought coal to the base generator and supplies. The base hasn't used coal since the 1970s.

The Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company had used one end of the line, but the firm hasn't used the track since the 1980s. Saviengvong said the Guilford Rail Road had owned the other end of the line but the company had abandoned it.

The section in the base itself is "an island," she said.

A total of seven and a half miles will have to be removed. What the Marines are not able to remove will cost the government about $10,000 a mile to remove the tracks and restore the land underneath it. The Air Force will have to go through a bidding process and it might take up to two years for the project to be completed.

The Marine operation was saving " a lot of money," she added

The new base operations building is expected to be completed in January 2007.