By MIKE VIRTANEN
The Saratoga and North Creek Railway has been removing its equipment from North Creek, where its tourist trains halted a month ago, and has moved 24 remaining tanker cars from its tracks farther north, according to people from the area.
The railroad made its last passenger run from Saratoga on April 7 with no plans to resume.
Ed Ellis, president of parent company Iowa Pacific Holdings, had told Warren County officials the service wasn’t making enough money and the railroad needed revenue from storing the tankers, which sparked opposition from environmentalists and state officials who don’t want them parked in the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Now Warren County has retained a railroad attorney to help address “numerous breaches” in the county’s contract with the railroad, said Matt Simpson, Horicon supervisor who heads the county board’s Public Works Committee.
The railroad owes the county, which owns 40 miles of the rail line used by the trains from Saratoga to North Creek, $28,000 from the fourth quarter of last year, payments from the first quarter of this year and about $25,000 in property taxes, he said.
There are also two-and-a-half years left on the contract for the rail service, Simpson said.
“We’re not in a hurry to do anything with the rail line. It’s going to be a long process,” Simpson said Wednesday, noting federal procedures required for abandonment of a railroad. “Even if we were to choose to get out of the railroad business it would probably take us several years.”
Neither Ellis nor Iowa Pacific’s attorney responded Wednesday for requests to discuss the developments. Ellis had offered at a public meeting to sell the Tahawus line to the county for $4 million. No offers were made.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he saw the remaining 24 tankers in North Creek on Tuesday evening, the same cars he’d seen previously on the Tahawus tracks where most of the other tankers were removed earlier this spring.
Meanwhile, an economic analysis recently filed with the state by the new owner of the long idled Tahawus titanium mine in Newcomb said shipping crushed stone from the tailings by rail isn’t feasible at current market prices.
Ellis told county officials the railroad needed the income from storing the tankers to tide the business over until the freight business got under way.
In North Creek, Laurie Prescott Arnheiter, owner of the Hudson River Trading Company, said the railroad’s other equipment has been leaving, and the loss of the tourist trains hurts hers and other businesses in the Warren County hamlet.
“It’s sort of very very sad to watch all of our railroad cars going down the track knowing they’re not coming back, not any time soon,” she said. “It’s crippling. When this railroad first started running, and they were bringing hundreds of people a day, you could imagine for a small community the impact.”
“A lot of the people that were coming in were older,” she added. “These are definitely people that would have ever used a bike trail.”
Bauer and other environmentalists have proposed replacing the tracks with a multi-use recreational trail. Not everyone in North Creek likes the railroad, and the proposed trail also would bring business to the hamlet, he said.
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constructing a rail trail to Tahawas would bring many tourists to the area and surely would benefit the regional economy.