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Adirondack Explorer

Friday, January 19, 2018

Schumer joins fight against tank cars on Adirondack rail line

Tank cars

Tank cars on tracks near the Boreas River in the central Adirondacks. Photo by Brendan Wiltse

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has written a letter to a federal agency condemning the storage of empty tanker cars on a rail line in the central Adirondacks.

“The Adirondack Park is a uniquely valuable and vulnerable natural resource, and is protected by the New York State Constitution as ‘forever wild,’ and is just about the worst place one can imagine for a junk yard of old railcars,” Schumer wrote the Surface Transportation Board, which regulates railroad disputes.

In the fall, Iowa Pacific Holdings moved about seventy-five tank cars for storage to its rail line, which extends from North Creek to an old mine in Tahawus.

Most of the cars are owned by the Union Tank Car Company, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. Although Berkshire Hathaway agreed to remove the cars, the president of Iowa Pacific has said he plans to store up to two thousand cars on line.

Iowa Pacific’s subsidiary, Saratoga and North Creek Railway, took over the line in 2012 with the intent of transporting rock from the now-closed mine in Tahawus. At the time, Schumer and state officials supported the move, saying it would boost the local economy. However, the railroad has been unable to ship the rock profitably and so the line has been idle.

Senator Charles Schumer

Iowa Pacific says it needs revenue from storage fees to maintain the line and help supports its tourist train, which runs between Saratoga Springs and North Creek (south of the corridor in dispute).

Schumer and the state say storing tank cars on the line is not what they had in mind when they supported Iowa Pacific’s petition to reopen the line. In December, the state Department of Environmental Conservation told the Surface Transportation Board that it will file legal papers contending that the rail line is effectively abandoned. Schumer’s letter takes a similar tack.

“You can’t run freight service with thousands of rusty cars sitting on the line, and even if you could, storing old oil cars in the Adirondack Park is an unacceptable action,” Schumer wrote.

The New York Democrat also said storing tank cars poses “a serious environmental hazard.”

Ed Ellis, the president of Iowa Pacific, contends that the cars have been cleaned and inspected and pose no hazard. He also says they are out of view from the public.

Environmental groups, however, say the cars could deteriorate if left for a long time. They also say a long line of cars would create a wildlife barrier. Finally, they object in principal to using the Park as a “junkyard.”

The Surface Transportation Board may not decide the case for months.

Click the link below to read the senator’s letter.

Schumer letter

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

2 Responses

  1. Greg G. says:

    “However, the railroad has not been unable to ship the rock profitably and so the line has been idle.”

    Don’t you mean “has been unable”?

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