The first train has run on a newly revived Adirondack freight line, less than two months after the owner won federal approval to use the abandoned tracks again.
In a largely symbolic run, a train operated by the Saratoga & North Creek Railway traveled six miles on the line from the Warren County hamlet of North Creek to the Barton Mines property in North River on Wednesday afternoon.
The tracks, which continue on to a former iron and titanium ore mine in Essex County, had been unused since 1989, and were overgrown with vegetation only a few weeks ago.
Within 12 months, the railroad hopes to be operating what it calls the Sanford Lake Branch as far north as Tahawus, 30 miles away, just south of the High Peaks. There’s the potential for the railroad to haul out millions of tons of crushed stone left from that site’s active mining era, for potential use as gravel in road construction and for other uses.
“The availability of rail will make it easier to get that material out,” said Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, parent company of the Saratoga & North Creek railroad.
The tracks run past Sanford Lake, a large pond in the Hudson River near Tahawus that is giving the rail line its new name. Rail officials estimated about 20 new jobs could be created for the hauling operation.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway last year began running what has proved to be a popular scenic tour train along the Hudson River between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. That will continue even if freight service is established.
Iowa Pacific Holdings owns other scenic train and freight operations, and applied to federal regulators in late 2010 to run freight on the line.
U.S. Department of Transportation in mid-June cleared the way to reopen the 30 miles of track between North Creek and Tahawus.
The DOT overruled objections from Protect the Adirondacks! and the Sierra Club, which argued that parts of the line run illegally through the state Forest Preserve, and should be removed under the state constitution’s “forever wild” clause.
Work to clear the tracks began within days of DOT’s decision.
“We had support on both sides of the [congressional] aisle, and at the state and federal level,” Ellis said. The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation both supported the plans, as well.
Ellis said the first six miles of track, running along the Hudson between North Creek and North River, proved to be in better shape than expected once brush and overgrowth was cleared.
“The track proved to be in excellent shape when it was mothballed,” Ellis said. “We found there were not as many [problems] as we thought there might be.”
Once freight service is developed, Ellis said dispatchers will control traffic to prevent conflicts between freights and the scheduled scenic passenger trains on the single line to Saratoga Springs, where freight trains would join the national railroad network.
The Tahawus line was built during World War II so titanium ore could be hauled from what were once open-pit iron mines. The tracks have been unused since 1989.
There are about 100 million tons of mine waste at the site, which owner NL Industries has been selling for use as aggregate stone and hauling out by truck.
Railroad officials said the freight cars will also be available to carry lumber and other materials if there are customers on the line.
Only one freight train per day in anticipated on the line once it is developed.