Bids so far include Open Space Institute, Revolution Rail
By Tim Rowland
Thirty miles of railroad track in the heart of the Adirondacks will go on auction block next month, an event that could determine whether the corridor remains viable for hauling freight or develops into a recreation-only rail trail.
Qualifying bids are due by Feb. 23, with the auction to be held by video conference on March 3 in Denver.
Colorado is home to the San Luis and Rio Grande Railroad, a holding company for Iowa Pacific Railroad, which owned the Saratoga and North Creek Railway between North Creek and Tahawus, an old mining community in the Town of Newcomb. Both San Luis and Iowa Pacific have filed for bankruptcy, and the Tahawus line is currently controlled by court trustee William Brandt, Jr.
Two bidders for the SNCR assets have been made public, the Open Space Institute and Revolution Rail, a rail-biking company currently operating out of North Creek.
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OSI’s bid, at $1.5 million, is more than twice Revolution Rail’s, but Revolution Rail has said it would keep the line open to commercial traffic, which carries weight with federal regulators. The court seeks to maximize compensation for the lines’ creditors, but also takes “public interest” into account, or in this instance the value of maintaining commercial rail service.
OSI’s plan would be to temporarily “railbank” the line, allowing recreational use, but leaving the door open to commercial use if the need arose.
Although the state has not offered to buy the line, the Department of Environmental Conservation prefers the rail-trail option, and is seeking to have the U.S. Surface Transportation Board declare the route abandoned.
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OSI and the state have argued that the rail trail would be an economic engine in its own right.
“OSI believes that a possible outcome exists that will result in greater year-round recreational options along the line, expanded local economic activity, and the long-term protection of the park’s natural resources,” said Eileen Larrabee, OSI’s Senior Vice President for Communications. “That being said, an OSI bid that goes well beyond the existing stalking horse offer is under active consideration.”
The stalking horse, or baseline, bid of $700,000 is from Revolution Rail, which says its plan allows it to expand its railbiking operation, while contracting with a short-line railroad to haul occasional loads from Barton International, producer of industrial abrasives, and Mitchell Stone Products, which recycles waste rock from the old Tahawus mine.
Rob Harte, owner of Revolution Rail, said his company is environmentally sensitive, and recreation would be a primary focus of the corridor. Trains would only run now and then, on an on-call basis. “Revolution Rail Co. has been operating since 2017, with hopes to expand its very popular rail-biking excursions throughout the line,” Harte said. “In addition RRC will work with a nearby rail freight company to provide freight services upon reasonable request of local shippers.”
Harte said the wilderness character of the line would be maintained, and there would be no repeat of 2018, when Iowa Pacific created a furor by mothballing tanker cars on Tahawus Line sidings.
“No tanker cars would be stored on our tracks; that practice is incompatible with our vision for the future of these tracks,” Harte said.
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