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County cleans up North Creek railroad site

Fed up with the slow pace of cleanup at the Warren County-owned train depot in North Creek, the county had its own workers remove debris believed to have been left by the departing rail company, Saratoga & North Creek Railway.

Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, said the material was loaded up for disposal by county workers, and the county planned to bill Saratoga & North Creek Railway for the cleanup. The costs had not been determined.

While county leaders took matters into their own hands at the rail depot, SNCR has removed all but one of its train cars from the county’s rail line. The one boxcar that remains cannot move and will likely have to be cut up for scrap, Simpson said.

“Except for the one, their [train] cars are out of Warren County,” Simpson said.

SNCR had run tourist and limited freight trains on the county-owned line between North Creek and Hadley for about 6 years, before failing finances led to a halt in operations in the spring. The company apparently owes Warren County nearly $60,000 in unpaid revenue, for unpaid property taxes and cleanup costs.

As Warren County worked to clean up the mess left behind by SNCR, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Attorney General’s Office on Monday formally filed their application to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to have the company removed as rail operator on the line north of Warren County’s line, between North Creek and Tahawus. The agencies had filed a statement last month that abandonment of the rail line would be sought.

And while the DEC publicly stated last month it was looking only to remove SNCR from the line and was not seeking to foreclose future rail operations on it, the application refers to the possibility of “conservation activities and “boosting ecotourism” on the line if abandonment occurred.

In its 202-page application, the state argues that SNCR has not had a freight business on the line, there are no apparent plans to move freight on the 29.7-mile line and SNCR appears to be in the process of vacating the line.

“The line was constructed as private industrial track on state-owned, constitutionally protected wildlands to serve a mining operation that no longer exists and in response to wartime exigencies now long past,” wrote state Assistant Attorney General Joshua Tallent.

The agencies opined that “the public interest favors abandonment,” because it would allow the state to make decisions how its forest preserve land can be used. (About half of the line crosses state land).

Abandonment would also prevent SNCR from storing former oil tank cars on the line again, as the company’s movement of dozens of tankers there last fall caused a major controversy.

The application also provided a glimpse into why Johnsburg garnet company Barton International did not pursue rail shipping from its business.

“Barton apparently lost interest in shipping its products by rail after Canadian Pacific Railway (with whom SNCR must interchange freight) took 31 days to move one boxcar of garnet from New York to Louisiana. Canadian Pacific’s tortured routing took the boxcar first to Montreal, then to Toronto, and eventually to Chicago, Detroit, and Memphis before delivering it to its ultimate destination on the Louisiana coast,” Tallent wrote.

SNCR is reportedly in the process of selling the line to a Colorado-based transportation company. The current owner of the former NL Industries property at the end of the line has proposed to move stone from the site via rail, but the state claim points out the company has moved stone by truck for years and could continue to do so.

No timetable was released for an Transportation Board decision. Simpson said opposition to the abandonment effort from municipal officials (including the Essex County Board of Supervisors) and the current owner of the former mine may be enough to convince the Transportation Board to allow railroad operations on the line to continue. A link to the application can be found at bit.ly/2MlasON.

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