I suppose I’ve been waiting 20 years to ride the Saratoga and North Creek Railway. Maybe longer, if I could remember back that far.
It was in 1992 that Warren County bought the 40 miles of railroad track between North Creek and Corinth, which the Delaware & Hudson was glad to give up after the ilmenite ore mine in Tahawus closed. Some folks were already talking about ski trains from Saratoga Springs to Gore Mountain in winter, and scenic excursion trains in the summer and fall.
As a guy who has always wanted to see where every set of railroad tracks he ever saw went, I followed the discussions with interest.
When I was a kid I loved watching trains being banged together at Boston & Maine’s East Deerfield, Mass., yard, and as an adult I’ve hiked remote corners of the Adirondacks, so I had a double interest: Those tracks run through otherwise inaccessible woods, and along secluded miles of the wild Hudson River.
Boosters said a new train business would be running in a year or two. Reporters wrote those predictions down and published them. Maybe even me. I’ve since learned to take such predictions with appropriate levels of sodium chloride.
Sometimes it seemed like the scenic train was never to be, even after Jerry Solomon and John Sweeney found federal money to throw into track restorations.
Warren County sponsored a short-run train between North Creek and Riparius from 1999 to 2010. It was a quick but scenic ride, though customers had to drive to North Creek to catch the train.
The tracks below the Warren County line weren’t really accessible until after the International Paper mill at Corinth, the railroad line’s last commercial customer, closed in 2002.
At that point, Saratoga County backed plans to restore those tracks, but a flash flood in Greenfield in the spring of 2006 left a swath of tracks, literally, dangling in the air. Not good, not good at all.
By then, I was profoundly cynical about when anything would happen. But, as often happens, I was wrong.
Another $1 million in federal money fixed the damaged track. Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, a player in the western freight and excursion train markets, won the contract to provide scheduled passenger service between Saratoga and North Creek, and began service last summer.
So on July 4, I hopped aboard at the Saratoga train station for a daylong excursion. I wanted to see those otherwise hidden stretches of the Hudson River. My wife was going because you can browse for antiques and jewelry in North Creek. Our son went, but I think he was humoring me.
My wife has learned to let me sit by the window, so that when I say, “Hey, the train scared those geese!” she can agree without having to glance up from the visitors’ guide.
Yes, we saw geese, at least I did. There were vast swamps in
Greenfield and Corinth I never knew were there before. Somewhere in the Greenfield woods, Santa tells me there’s a branch office of the North Pole, though the elves had it well-screened.
The high bridge over the Sacandaga River at Hadley offered a spectacular view of the historic bow bridge below. A few miles past that, the tracks start to border the Hudson, with so many long views of rocks and rapids I lost count.
I was told we’d taken the gondola up Gore Mountain before. Fair enough. So in North Creek, it was lunch at a little Main Street deli where the baguettes were muy fresh, and a little browsing. The opportunity to buy a real moosehead — an animal, not an ale — was successfully resisted.
We’d ridden coach rather than in the dome dining car, on the theory — at least my theory — that it would be more relaxing.
Since the trip back to Saratoga began with the announcement from the dome car that there was no cheese for the salmon appetizer (cheese on salmon?), followed by “Please remember: There are 100 of you and only three of us,” I’m guessing we made the right decision.
Iowa Pacific recently won federal permission to re-open the 30 miles of track from North Creek to Tahawus, over the objections of some environmental groups. The overgrowth is already being cleared as far as North River.
The plan is to haul crushed rock from Tahawus, but that ride would have its own scenic attributes: It crosses the lower end of the Hudson River Gorge and then follows the Boreas River for miles through the state Forest Preserve before reaching what everyone would agree is an ogre-ugly mining site.