By STEPHEN LEON
Two connected railroad corridors, long mired in uncertainty, inched closer to a potentially recreational future in the past two months.
In October, New York State reached an agreement with Saratoga & North Creek Railway (owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago) seeking a “voluntary abandonment” designation of the line that runs from North Creek to the old Tahawus mine in Newcomb.
Then in November, the Warren County Public Works Committee voted 9-2 to begin the abandonment process for the 40-mile stretch of tracks the county owns from North Creek south to Hadley. Warren County also owns the land beneath the tracks.
The voluntary abandonment, which has to be approved by the federal Surface Transportation Board (a process that takes about six months), frees the state, counties and municipalities involved to explore other uses for the corridor besides freight and passenger rail.
Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore said the Public Works Committee’s resolution to begin an abandonment process was scheduled for presentation to the full Board of Supervisors at the next meeting on Dec. 20, after the Explorer’s print deadline, where it would be determined “whether the board wants to instruct me to do that.”
Even if the abandonment designations are approved, there are still several possible outcomes for the corridor. The company Revolution Rail already has been offering excursions on “rail bikes”—two-seaters that fit the rails and run on pedal power—over a scenic 3-mile stretch beginning in North River. After a break, the bikes are turned around and the users return to the point of origin.
Then there is Paul Mitchell, who operates a company selling tailings from the Tahawus mine for road beds. He currently ships them by truck, but has expressed an interest in putting them on rail cars. There is occasional mention of bringing back tourist trains to some portion of the line, but companies that have tried that in recent years have not succeeded financially.
Mixed-use rail trails (bicycling, running, snowmobiling, etc.) have grown in popularity in recent years and are seen as a likely eventual outcome for at least part of the corridor. With the abandonment designations, local governments and their constituents are free to turn underused tracks into vibrant corridors for outdoor activity.
“The abandonment process allows us to have a direction with an endgame in place,” said Moore. “This corridor’s a great asset and we want what’s best for it.”