Railroad won’t oppose Adirondack trail plan

DEC thinks 30-mile rail route could become a recreation trail
Oil tank cars sit on tracks on a rail line the state wants to turn into a recreational trail.
Oil tank cars sit on tracks on a rail line the state wants to turn into a recreational trail.

Categories: News

ADIRONDACKS — The railroad company that owns use rights to a former freight line running through wilderness lands south of the High Peaks won’t oppose the state’s efforts to acquire the line for possible recreational use, according to federal filings.

A letter filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Surface Transportation Board on Oct. 18 states that Iowa Pacific Holdings and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have reached an agreement for the railroad to surrender the 30-mile stretch of tracks between North Creek and Tahawus, parts of which run through state-owned wilderness.

“We are writing jointly to inform the board that (Saratoga and North Creek Railway) is willing to negotiate an interim trail use agreement with the department,” state Assistant Attorney General Joshua M. Tallent and Iowa Pacific Holdings general counsel David Michaud wrote in the letter.

“In addition, SNCR has no objection to proceeding with the pending abandonment on a voluntary basis,” it continues. “Accordingly, SNCR irrevocably represents that it does not now and will not in the future oppose the department’s abandonment application.”

The Surface Transportation Board still must issue a decision on the state’s application, but the agreement buoys those who see potential in replacing the rails with a recreation trail that would run through southern Essex County forests.

“DEC has identified the line as potentially well-suited for public recreational use,” the state wrote in an earlier filing. The state would assume maintenance and financial liability for the line as part of any agreement, it said.

The tracks were built for the U.S. government during World War II for transporting titanium ore mined in Tahawus, but they haven’t been used since major mining operations ceased in the 1980s. Nearly half of the route runs through state-owned wilderness lands, much of it along the scenic Boreas River.

Chicago-based Iowa Pacific, which operated a tourism train between Saratoga Springs and North Creek from 2012 until shutting it down in 2018, won federal approval to use the line north of North Creek in 2011. But plans to resume freight traffic on the line never panned out. A later plan to store abandoned oil tank cars on the rail tracks in 2017 outraged environmentalists. In 2018, the DEC moved to have the line declared abandoned, a move initially opposed by Iowa Pacific.

“DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Attorney General Letitia James won a great victory for the “forever wild’ Adirondack Preserve and the citizens of Essex, Hamilton and Warren counties,” said William C. Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council. “Together, all New Yorkers can reclaim our common heritage and take back the public lands that were seized by the federal government so long ago. Together we can decide which uses should be made of this beautiful corridor in the future.”

Revolution Rail, which sub-leases a portion of track near North River for tourism pedal-car trips into the wilderness, has asked the Surface Transportation Board to consider its economic interests in any ruling.

The connected section of tracks that run south of North Creek is owned by Warren County and, in Saratoga County, by the town of Corinth. Warren County is hoping to find another rail company interested in operating a freight or tourism train on the line, which in Warren County closely follows the Hudson River — but has had little success so far, since the Saratoga and North Creek Railway failed due to lack of ridership and financial problems. Some officials have advocated that the tracks also be removed from that line in favor of a recreation and bicycling trail.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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