Good Question: Erie Canal Comeback? Don't Bet On It

June 06, 2017 06:24 AM

Did the Genesee Brewery in Rochester spark an Erie Canal comeback? The brewery's big transport of fermentation tanks certainly generated a lot of interest, but is it a sign the canal is reclaiming its past as a major commercial transport route?

To get the answer, first we take a look at the past. 

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Opened in the early 1800's, the canal was once packed full of cargo ships connecting Albany and Buffalo. By the 1950's, the railroad and the St. Lawrence Seaway put a dent on business.

At its peak, some 33,000 commercial vessels used the canal per year. Today, that number is just under 4,000.

Most of us think of the canal more as a recreational waterway not a commercial one. But did Genesee re-ignite interest for commercial transport?

First, was it even worth it for the brewery? They had to transport very large fermentation tanks.

"There were only two options. We could build the tanks in pieces and transport them in pieces via the highway and do erection and final welding on site or build them as a whole and ship them down the Erie Canal. Said Project Manager Mark Fabrizio.

The second option ended up being the best in terms of quality and cost.

Taney: How much money did you save by using the canal?

Fabrizio: Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the process was not seamless. Heavy spring rainfall delayed the trip by about two weeks. 

In the end, however, Fabrizio says it worked well for them.

Taney: Would you use the Erie Canal again?

Fabrizio: Yes, absolutely this has been a very successful mode of transportation for us.

The problem, Fabrizio told us, the canal only makes sense for certain trips, like the one Genesee had to take to transport very large equipment. Smaller equipment that can be flown, put on a train, or in a big rig remains the best option.

"There are not a lot of circumstances where the Erie Canal is a viable option." Fabrizio said.

So it might not be a comeback but business is increasing along the canal.

According to the N.Y.S. Power Authority, more than 160,000 tons of cargo moved through the canal in 2016. That's the most in more than two decades. This year, they expect 200,000 tons.


Pat Taney

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