Future of unused rail corridor still undetermined
By Tim Rowland
A recreational rail-bike company in North Creek hopes to purchase the long-dormant Tahawus railroad line to Newcomb and keep it open to freight services, according to a filing with the federal Surface Transportation Board.
If it comes to fruition, the plan would be a win for local governments that want to preserve the line, and a blow to the state and environmental groups that want to transform the corridor into a multi-use rail trail.
According to Tuesday’s filing, Revolution Rail said it has been in talks with SMS Rail, a New Jersey short-line railroad that operates in the northeast. “In the event that Revolution Rail is the successful bidder in the underlying bankruptcy proceeding and becomes the owner of the subject rail line, SMS will provide freight rail service,” the filing states.
Revolution Rail indicated in the filing that two ready customers exist on the line, Barton International and Mitchell Stone Products. “In these discussions, both shippers expressed interest in the restoration of freight rail service on the Line and encouraged Revolution Rail to buy it.”
Robert Harte, owner of Revolution Rail, said he believes his company would provide a viable conduit for serving both recreation and economic development in the central Adirondacks, and that he has good relationships with both the Town of Newcomb and with conservation interests.
Started in 2017, Revolution’s North Creek hub has gone from six to 16 rail bikes, and the company now has 38 employees and three other locations in New York, New Jersey and Colorado. Harte said North Creek has attracted tens of thousands of visitors of all ages.
“There’s a lot happening in Newcomb, and we’d love to partner with them,” he said. “We think we can create a lot of economic impact.” He said the rail bikes attract people of all ages and are a way to see the wilderness for people who could not otherwise be capable of backcountry hiking.
Ongoing debate around the line’s future
Revolution’s filing is the latest twist in a decade of intrigue surrounding the 30 miles of remote track that once carried titanium ore from Tahawus, a former mining town near the High Peaks. The line has seen scant use since the mine closed in the 1980s, but under federal law, the STB must declare the corridor officially abandoned before it can be put to another use.
Revolution Rail offered $700,000 for the Tahawus Line in what in bankruptcy parlance is known as a “stalking horse” bid — a baseline offer for company assets that serves as a minimum entry point for other bidders.
The bid was rejected by the STB in September, over concerns that Revolution Rail was not a legitimate freight carrier — a concern Revolution’s filing was meant to address.
Meantime, the Open Space Institute submitted its own $1.5 million bid for the corridor, with the intention of railbanking it for three years. Railbanking allows for recreational use, but preserves the track should the need arise.
Revolution Rail’s filing comes a week after the STB rejected a request to derail the state’s request for abandonment of the line.
The DEC asked the Federal Surface Transportation Board in 2018 to decommission the Tahawus Line, which became the subject of controversy after a past owner stored tanker cars along the banks of the Boreas and Opalescent rivers.
William Brandt Jr., the court-appointed trustee, asked the STB to dismiss the state petition. The STB demurred, writing “The Trustee’s pleading does not provide any new evidence about the need for common carrier freight service over the Line …”
Brandt had hinted there was interest in the line, but had offered no specifics, noted the DEC in arguing against dismissal of its abandonment petition. “(T)he Board should certainly not deny the Department’s application on the basis of the Trustee’s unsupported, unverifiable claims,” the DEC wrote in December.
In siding with the DEC, the Surface Transportation Board said its ultimate decision over abandonment would likely depend on what carriers step forward, if any. Without a buyer acceptable to the STB and bankruptcy court, the line would be sold at auction.
Other issues too would have to be sorted out, involving other governments, most notably Warren County, which owns the tracks south of the Tahawus Line. Warren County voted to begin its own abandonment proceedings in 2020, but was advised by the STB to wait until the Tahawus issue was settled.
Claudia Braymer, a Warren County Supervisor representing Glens Falls, said railroad interests have nibbled from time to time, but there has not been any sustained commercial success. She said OmniTRAX was the most recent carrier to openly kick the tires, but seemed to have concerns about the cost of refurbishing the tracks.
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Bill Keller says
As I drive by the “tourist” train stations in Thurman and Hadley all I see is the total waste of tax dollars on wishful thinking. The thought that skiers would travel to Gore Mountain by train from Saratoga was laughable. Why turn a quick trip by car into a lengthy train ride? I haven’t seen a train pass by in years. Then Warren county moved the ice cream caboose from Raparius to Thurman, never to open after refurbishing. Tax dollars spend easy don’t they. What freight would be hauled and from where? More wishful thinking? IMO railbanking would be the only way to go.
Multi-use trail is another term to describe a snowmobile trail friendly to 70 mph machines screaming up and down for 6 months of the year. As if there isn’t enough of that already.
There is ZERO state support to have a well maintained connected network of Nordic XC trails even 1/10 the length of snowmobile trails in the Adirondacks. Everything is piecemeal and disconnected. Only BREIA’s 50 km of groomed trails comes close. It isn’t even in the park and is privately endowed. I would gladly come to the Adirondacks for multi day visits in winter if something like BREIA existed there.
Indeed, the domination of winter sports in the Adirondacks by snow machines is really sad… it is a missed opportunity to build supporting businesses for XC clientele. Muscle powered sports, whether XC, canoeing camping or back packing is woefully under supported by NYS. If you want to burn gasoline, opportunities abound.
Sailboat Scotty says
Go revolution rail! I took one of your excursions out of North Creek last year with my son and it was awesome. A completely new way to experience the forest that I had never expected. This coming from a member of ADK, a “sixer” (ok I will get to the other 40 someday). I’m just getting older now and the mode of rail pedal transportation is appealing to me.
To me, the biggest concern is lack of ANY action. Haul freight, run rail-bikes, tear out the rails – I don’t really have a dog in this fight. But spending another decade or two letting the rails crumble while opposing groups “brainstorm” without making any progress should be unacceptable to most Park residents.
My personal suggestion would be to haul away the tailings from the defunct Tahawus mine and re-wilding the scars, (even if it requires funds from state/federal cleanup coffers) over say a 10 year window, then close and tear up the distal section of track for recreation, keeping the southern section for rail-bikes and excursion trains. Perhaps this is crazy thinking, but I never see remediation of the mine scars even whispered in any proposals. Why is this? Re-wilding the river, wetlands, and mining scars should be an important DEC/NYS priority. I was hoping the bond act could help with funding, but I hear nothing but crickets about the elephant in the room. Re-wilding will be much less likely to occur without the rail spur.
I should continue that re-wilding of the Tahawus mine isn’t the only option for that parcel. Haul away the tailings, mitigate erosion and cleanup of toxic debris, then create a Visitor Center – including parking, shuttles, education, trails, winter center, and perhaps DEC facilities. It is a beautiful spot – one of the best vistas – that is currently unused. A little forward thinking with the surrounding Towns should be able to come up with a NEW vision for the old mine. Shame it is going to waste.
Worth Gretter says
One important part of remediation would be removal of the “temporary” Hudson River crossing at the middle of the old mine, about 1/2 mile north of the route 76 bridge. It consists of concrete culverts covered with tailings. They have plenty of tailings and can just add more when a washout occurs!
If you put the coordinates 44.051046, -74.062265 in Google Maps and choose satellite view, you will see it.
It will be a happy day for me when this abomination is gone from what should be a wild and pristine river.
A good storm on that drainage might just do the work for us! Then, perhaps the area will get some attention. It is certainly an unnatural and illogical throttle on a truly magnificent river!
LeRoy Hogan says
Rail bikes do really well in the Catskills. On the other hand in our mountains in the Cats and Daks …
With more rail trails, hikers will clog up the roads and parking lots with so many vehicles every beautiful Saturday and Sunday. They come in flip-flops and expect to hike the mountains. They leave trash. They come out of the woods on strange parts of the highway, lost and looking for a ride.
Over time there are more unprepared people attempting some of the most serious climbs. More than 65% of hikers do not have essential gear.
What also is a peeve is how much is spent tending to hikers and how little they spend in return. The old joke is they show up with a $20 bill, and they leave with the same $20 bill.
Yeah, that’s an old joke, as is the rest of your post.
Ed Burke says
I loved the Saratoga North Creek Railway the three times I took it, twice as jumping-off trips to start bike tours. Also have talked to several friends who had a blast on the rail bikes but my preference would be to replace the rails with a well-maintained bike path. Serious cyclists would certainly use it and rental bikes at North Creek would open up easy, inexpensive family rides to Riparius and/or North River. I’m definitely a train lover, my father worked for the D&H for 45 years and I took a 7000 mile Amtrak trip in 2017, but this route screams ‘bicycle’. Ten minute train ride here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkXn4e2iF5k