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What you need to know for 01/22/2018

Editorial: Don’t let up on Adirondack rail storage

Editorial: Don’t let up on Adirondack rail storage

Threat of storage of rusty rail cars still exists so state, environmentalists must keep up pressure
Editorial: Don’t let up on Adirondack rail storage
Empty train cars from the Midwest are stored on unused tracks in the Adirondacks near Minerva on Oct. 25, 2017.
Photographer: NATHANIEL BROOKS/THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s great that the Cuomo Administration and environmental groups were finally able to pressure Union Tank Car Co. to remove 65 abandoned railroad cars from the Adirondack Park.

The decision to store broken-down, rusted, decaying, greasy old railroad cars on tracks located in scenic and environmentally sensitive areas — including along the Boreas and Hudson rivers and intruding into the state Forest Preserve — demonstrated an insensitivity to the very nature of the Adirondack Park and to the people who enjoy it for hiking, biking, skiing, fishing and camping.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had initiated legal action and had lobbied billionaire Warren Buffett, the CEO of Union Tank Car parent company Berkshire Hathaway, to have the company’s decommissioned rail cars removed.

Earlier this week, the company said it would comply by the middle of next month.

Now that this one company has abandoned its plans for storing rail cars in the park, the same officials that pushed against this effort need to keep up their efforts so that some other company doesn’t come in later and try to do the same thing.

The owner of the railroad tracks where the cars are being stored, Iowa Pacific Holdings, has announced plans to store up to 2,500 of the 58-foot-long rail cars on the tracks, essentially creating a 22-mile-long junkyard.

Without new state regulations in place, and perhaps the involvement of the federal government, what’s to prevent another company from contracting to have its old railroad cars stored there?

The next company that comes along might not be as accommodating to the concerns of state officials and Adirondack groups as Union Tank Car has proven to be.

Railroads in the Adirondack Park are important.

They provide transportation for people and materials and bring about economic benefits, as well as help offset pollution and reduce car and heavy-truck traffic on Adirondack roads. The state should encourage the use of existing tracks for commerce and tourism.

But Iowa Pacific isn’t operating a railroad with its storage plan, despite its claims. It’s operating a junkyard.

Storing railroad cars on tracks in a single, long line is no different than storing them in a field parking-lot style. A junkyard by any other name is still a junkyard.

The Cuomo administration is on the right track (no pun intended) by pursuing legal action, including seeking a cease-and-desist order on future storage of rail cars on the Tahawus Branch.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation also is seeking a “petition for waivers and exemptions” from the federal Surface Transportation Board to support the state’s filing of an application for ‘adverse abandonment,’ according to Cuomo’s office.

That would mean the company would be forced to abandon its right to operate as a railroad the area where the rail cars are being stored. Without that right, the company couldn’t claim its junkyard as legitimate railroad operations.

State officials also need to continue to push federal officials and our representatives in Congress to work with federal Department of

Transportation officials on regulations to ensure that environmentally sensitive areas in the Adirondacks and elsewhere are no longer vulnerable to these abuses.

State officials also might consider offering the rail companies alternative storage locations for their rail cars.

Certainly there are brownfield sites and permitted junkyards where these cars could be stored. Why not entice the companies with an alternative to Adirondack storage of rail cars while generating income for the state? It’s worth considering.

Union Tank Car’s decision to remove its rail cars from the Adirondacks is a welcome sign and evidence of the effectiveness of grassroots campaigns.

But it’s not a sign for anyone in the state to ease up on the pressure for a permanent, environmentally sound solution.

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