The Saratoga & North Creek Railway is losing money on its tour train service and looking to negotiate new arrangements with the three counties through which its trains pass.
It also appears a plan by the railroad to load low-level radioactive waste at Corinth — which might have been a new source of freight revenue — is no longer being pursued.
The railway, which operates a scenic train year-round between the Saratoga Springs rail station and North Creek in northern Warren County, has lost more than $1 million over the past four years, said Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, which owns the line.
“The train itself makes a profit, but when you throw in all the costs like track rehabilitation and track maintenance, we are losing money,” Ellis said in an interview on Friday.
The line has operated since 2011 under a contract with Warren County and the town of Corinth that runs through 2016. The 30 miles of track between Saratoga Springs and North Creek are owned by the town of Corinth and Warren County, while Iowa Pacific owns another 30 miles, extending northward from North Creek to the former titanium mine at Tahawus, in Essex County.
The rail company bought the Tahawus line in 2011, hoping to develop a freight business hauling construction aggregate from the old mine site. The first loads were hauled last year, following rehabilitation of the long-unused tracks.
“It’s important to get Tahawus open, because we need to haul freight, but in the short term we are losing money,” Ellis said.
Ellis said he was unsure of the current status of a proposal the railroad floated last month to have low-level radioactive waste from a nuclear cleanup brought to Corinth for loading and then shipped to a disposal site in Texas.
Corinth Town Supervisor Richard Lucia said he believes the idea is no longer being pursued. Though the railroad made a presentation on the idea to Warren County officials, a planned presentation in Corinth last month was canceled.
“I believe from my last conversation with their representative that that has gone by the wayside,” Lucia said on Monday.
The source of low-level radioactive waste was never identified, but it is believed to be the cleanup work being done at part of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna.
Without that potential deal, the railway is trying to find other ways to address its financial problems.
Last week, an Iowa Pacific representative approached Warren County offering to sell the track to Tahawus, though county officials showed little interest in buying it.
Ellis said the railroad hopes to have future talks with all three counties involved: Saratoga, Warren and Essex.
“We’d like to reach a solution that works for all three counties,” Ellis said. “We don’t expect an instant answer, but we want to engage with the counties.”
Lucia, whose town owns the 16.5 miles of track in Saratoga County, said he’s ready to sit down with the railroad “when the time comes.”
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty of Warrensburg did not respond to a request for comment.
Warren County and Corinth receive a percentage of Saratoga & North Creek’s revenue. Warren County anticipates receiving about $39,000 this year, while Lucia said Corinth generally receives a small amount of money.
Ellis said the railroad would like to renew the contract, but it needs to make money.
“We like the line, we like the market, and we want to stay in it if it makes financial sense,” Ellis said.
Lucia said he would like to see Iowa Pacific renew its agreement. “I find them a very good company to work with,” he said.
The line, which follows the Hudson River much of the way, does summer and fall excursions, a holiday “Polar Express,” a winter ski-train, and special events trains at other times. It hasn’t achieved the 70,000 to 90,000 riders per year it hoped for, but Ellis said he sees room for ridership growth through partnerships with Amtrak and cooperative marketing with local businesses. “I think there’s some growth to come in the market,” he said.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway is one of three tourism trains operating in the Adirondacks. Others operate out of Old Forge and between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
Iowa Pacific also operated the Cape Cod Scenic Railroad and a number of excursion trains in the West.