Upstate New York Toys for Tots train formally canceled

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The Capital Region Toys for Tots train consist assembled at Oak Island, N.J., yard in 2018. The train will not operate in 2019.
Juniata Terminal
ALBANY, N.Y. — New York State's Capital Region Toys for Tots train, which last year featured former Pennsylvania Railroad E8s, will not run this year, to the project's overseer says.

“For a variety of reasons we were unable to secure the necessary permissions to operate the train this year," a note on the train's Facebook page reads.

While Toys for Tots had been in discussions with Norfolk Southern, which owns the tracks, the railroad ultimately did not provide clearance for the train to operate, Marine Staff Sgt. Patrick Lurenz tells Trains.

Lurenz coordinates the annual project with Gunnery Sgt. Vinny Roman. With the train scheduled to run on Dec. 7, "We had to make a decision and say, 'I can't be a week in front of the event and not have a backup plan if it's not a go for this year... My impression is not that they don't want to do it, I just don't think right now they can do it, or it just didn't happen in time this year."

The train ran last year from Binghamton to Delanson, in New York.

“Norfolk Southern is honored to have served as one of the sponsors of the Capital Region Toys for Tots train for the last four years, maintaining our commitment to participate through the train’s 20th anniversary run in 2018. Prior to last year’s event, Norfolk Southern advised Capital Region Toys for Tots that we would not be able to continue our participation in the train excursion in the future,” a NS representative says.

Bennett Levin, who owns the E8s and some passenger cars that ran on last year's train, was involved in the attempt to put together this year's train. Levin says he doesn't know why NS was unable to clear the train, and also notes that management had committed last year only to run the 2018 train. Asked whether the E8s would have been part of this year's train, he says "we never got to that point" where the consist was being planned. The engines are currently in storage.

Lurenz says the passing of former Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman in March may have had an impact on the process. Boardman was a vocal supporter of the Toys for Tots train, both when he ran Amtrak and after his retirement. Lurenz says that Toys for Tots didn't realize at the time how much Boardman and his chief of staff Brian Gallagher helped smooth the way for the train to run each year.

"It's not that we took it for granted. We didn't know there was that much logistical work to do," Lurenz tells Trains.

Last year's train delivered about 18,000 of the 250,000 toys the group distributed to local organizations, Lurenz says. Most of those organizations cannot afford to send trucks to the distribution centers in the immediate Capital Region. Toys for Tots is now working on assembling teams of trucks to handle the deliveries to the localities the train would have served.

Where the absence of the train will be felt is mostly in the ability of Toys for Tots to show large donors firsthand the impact their donations will have, Lurenz says. By riding on the train and seeing the large crowds of children waiting at each stop, donors get a real sense of what their gifts can mean, which helps to convince them to repeat their donations. The train also serves to publicize the project in general, and help the public know where they can donate, or receive gifts.
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