By MIKE VIRTANEN
The railroad company that was negotiating to take over the 30-mile idled rail line from North Creek to the former Tahawus mine in the central Adirondacks says it’s no longer interested.
In a filing last month with the federal Surface Transportation Board, Denver-based OmniTRAX said it has decided to discontinue negotiations for the purchase of the Tahawus Line assets and had notified state officials and the current owner. Negotiations had begun last year.
“OmniTRAX continues to believe, however, that the Tahawus Line possesses sound commercial prospects for the right operator, but it has concluded that continued pursuit of this opportunity is not right for OmniTRAX at this time,” company attorney Robert Wimbish wrote in June.
New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation now plans to pursue a federal declaration that the line is abandoned now that those negotiations have ended. The DEC said this week that it will propose an amended briefing schedule for that proceeding at the U.S. Surface Transportation Board in the coming days.
OmniTRAX also was among the four bidders for the 40-mile stretch of tracks from North Creek south to Saratoga Springs that’s owned by Warren County and the town of Corinth.
Matt Simpson, Horicon town supervisor who chairs the Warren County Public Works Committee, said a negotiating team has been appointed to meet with representatives of United Rail, “which wants to look at operating a tourist train.”
It was one of the four rail companies that responded to the municipalities’ request for proposals.
Those talks with United Rail should begin soon, he said.
The two rail segments at issue connect in North Creek, where retail businesses had benefited from tourist trains on the municipally owned southern tracks and want to see them resume.
Some environmentalists want the northern segment of tracks, still owned by the railroad that once operated the tourist trains, turned into a recreation trail without trains.
The Saratoga and North Creek Railway, a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific, halted passenger service from Saratoga to North Creek more than a year ago. Its owner said it couldn’t sustain the tourist business and needed either freight service it had once anticipated from the Tahawus mine on its northern tracks, or the ability to keep storing idled tankers and freight cars there.
State officials and environmentalists objected to that storage in the Adirondack forest preserve and the cars were removed in the spring of 2018.
The former titanium mine at Tahawus, shuttered for decades, produces rock tailings sold for construction projects and currently shipped by truck.
Meanwhile the DEC had requested holds on its bid to have the Tahawus line declared abandoned while OmniTRAX and Iowa Pacific negotiated.
OmniTRAX had told the Surface Transportation Board it was “optimistic” it would negotiate the purchase of the line and restore freight operations.
In their filing to the federal board last September, New York officials initially said the 30-mile tracks in the Adirondacks had no active shippers and the owner had “no reasonable prospect for developing future freight service.” That permits a federal finding of abandonment under the test of “public convenience and necessity,” the DEC said.
OmniTRAX subsequently showed interest in buying the line, while Iowa Pacific removed its trains and nearly all equipment.
Iowa Pacific did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Simpson said he believes there are still rail companies interested in freight options on the Tahawus line, which connects with the rails in Warren County, but he hasn’t seen specific proposals.