Saratoga County

Dream of scenic train awaits funds

State and federal money to upgrade the railroad tracks running from Saratoga Springs north to Corint

State and federal money to upgrade the railroad tracks running from Saratoga Springs north to Corinth is way behind schedule but the dream of fall foliage tourism trains and winter ski trips remains alive.

“Our ultimate goal is still to get to Saratoga,” said Corinth Town Supervisor Richard Lucia.

The town of Corinth, which bought the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks several years ago using federal grant money, is hoping for a promised $1 million state Department of Transportation grant so about 16 miles of track and crossings between Saratoga Springs and Corinth can be upgraded. The work would allow train speeds to increase to 40 mph from the current snail-like 10 mph.

The rehab was expected to be finished last summer but the state money never materialized.

“We are kind of at the end of the rope,” Lucia said, waiting for state and federal grant money that has been sidetracked during the difficult economic times.

Jon “Jack” Kelley, former vice president of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp,, has been working on the tourism train project for more than 10 years. He said he has put together grant applications for both state and federal funding that appeared certain, only to be scrapped at the last minute.

“We had $3 million promised,” said Kelley, who currently works for Prime Companies in Latham as a private sector economic development specialist.

Right now the state DOT grant for $1 million seems to be the most likely, Kelley said, but appears held up somewhere on a desk in the state Capitol.

Kelley, who grew up in Corinth, said it has been his dream and the dream of others to have a scenic train that people can ride from Saratoga Springs to North Creek in Warren County. In winter, this would become a ski train, connecting skiers from New York City to the Gore Mountain Ski Center in North Creek.

“The scenic train is not Republican or Democrat,” Kelley said. “It has been part of my vision, part of my dream.”

Corinth Supervisor Lucia and Corinth Village Mayor Bradley Winslow both say they also want the tracks improved so that commercial/industrial trains can reach the former International Paper Co. mill in Corinth. The last trains to regularly use the tracks were heading to and from IP’s Hudson River mill in Corinth. The mill closed in 2002.

Kelley agrees it is important for economic development that the 300-acre International Paper site have efficient railroad access.

Lucia said former Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, now a U.S. senator, was working with a local group of rail planners before being appointed to the Senate earlier this year. He said one of Gillibrand’s staff members held monthly meetings on the railroad-related issues. Lucia said the group working on the project will reach out to new 20th District Congressman Scott Murphy.

Rob Scholz, Murphy’s district director, said Murphy wants to “pick up where the congresswoman left off.” Scholz said he hasn’t yet heard from the railroad people.

“We will do everything we can to work with them,” he said.

beaver problem

The restoration work on the Saratoga Springs-to-Corinth line has also been plagued by beaver dam problems. One of the washouts blamed on beaver dams happened in 2006 above Daniels Road in Greenfield and took out a section of tracks. Repair work cost $1 million of a $2.2 million federal track upgrade grant that Corinth hoped to use for other improvement work.

Last November, beaver dams also caused a large pond to develop along the tracks farther north in Greenfield. Local communities and emergency units were able to open the beaver dam and avert what could have been another major washout.

Scenic trains have been running for seven years in Warren County, where track upgrades were made over the past decade using state and federal money.

The Upper Hudson River Railroad runs scenic trains from May through October on 40 miles of former Delaware & Hudson Railway Co. tracks from North Creek into Saratoga County and the town of Corinth, where the train turns around to go back north.

Warren County received a $2.5 million federal grant some years ago to establish small train stations in Thurman and Hadley.

The train boarding platforms, including parking and other infrastructure, have been completed or are close. However, the price tag on the small stations, including $500,000 in local matching money, has caused some controversy.

William Lamy, Warren County’s Department of Public Works superintendent, said what people are seeing in the small platforms is just “half of the project.”

He said the $2.5 million in work includes engineering and design work for fully enclosed train stations in the future as well as extensive site development work.

The money also includes $251,000 to purchase the site for the Hadley station and $300,000 in track work at the Thurman station. Electrical, sewer, drainage work and parking are also included in the cost.

“There’s more than just the shelter,” Lamy said.

An old train station in Corinth was demolished last year. Plans for a reproduction of the 1914 station have been proposed but, again, state and federal funding is needed.

Corinth Mayor Winslow said the completion of the new station is “totally dependent” on getting the necessary state and federal money. Winslow said the village currently has other priorities, including a new water filtration plant and repairing some of the village’s aging infrastructure.

Kelley said he looks at the train stations at Thurman and Hadley as a good investment in the tourism industry.

“They are investments that will return monetary dividends,” Kelley said. He said a new train station in Corinth would also be a sound investment, especially if it contained a small restaurant or a coffee shop.

“As soon as you start seeing regular train service, people’s interest will be rejuvenated,” Kelley said.

He said business interests planning resorts in North Creek and developers looking at tourism-related businesses are eager to see the scenic-ski trains rolling through Saratoga County up into the Adirondacks and North Creek.

Supervisor Lucia said one bright spot on the otherwise gloomy railroad scene is that the North American Railcar Operators Association will again be bringing about 25 small railroad motorcars, sometimes called “speeders,” to the upper Hudson tracks in July.

The group, which customizes little motor cars that were once used routinely to inspect tracks for defects, first came to Saratoga and Warren counties last summer. Kelley said the people operating the vintage rail cars had a wonderful time and were impressed by the views of the upper Hudson River as they operated along the riverside tracks.

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