Seneca marshals probe rail ties on New York tracks

By Carolyn Thompson
Buffalo, New York (AP) July 2010

The FBI on July 9 offered a $10,000 reward to help solve a case of vandalism that damaged an Amtrak train traveling through the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation.

The passenger train hit two railroad ties placed across CSX Railroad tracks on the Seneca Nation’s western New York reservation July 5. No one was injured but the train’s air lines were damaged.

“This incident appears to be a deliberate act by an individual or a group of individuals who have no regard for the safety of the travelers on the train,” said James Robertson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Buffalo office.

State police investigators said the motive was under investigation but noted they had seen “No Mail – No Rail” signs on the reservation. The signs apparently refer to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act, or PACT, a new federal law that threatens many Seneca businesses by preventing them from shipping cigarettes through the mail.

Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr. met July 9 with Robertson, U.S. Attorney William Hochul and State Police Major Christopher Cummings and condemned the vandalism as irresponsible and dangerous. He said Seneca marshals were searching the site with state and federal investigators.

“We want to get to the bottom of this very serious matter and make sure there are no repeat incidents,” Snyder said.

State attempts to collect sales tax on cigarettes sold on the reservation led to fiery clashes between tribal members and troopers in the 1990s. The state at the time backed off on collection efforts but the issue is again on the table in Albany.

“While the Seneca Nation is at odds with the federal government over the PACT Act and the state of New York regarding planned collection of sales tax on cigarettes, we would never condone putting innocent railroad workers and passengers in danger as a result of those differences of opinion,” Snyder said.