State says it isn’t seeking shutdown of rail line

The state Department of Environmental Conservation clarified its position this week on its efforts to have a rail line in Warren and Essex counties declared “abandoned,” saying it isn’t seeking to close the line to future rail activity.

Numerous public officials in the region have claimed for weeks that the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s effort to have the U.S. Surface Transportation Board declare the stretch of rails between North Creek and the hamlet of Tahawus in Newcomb abandoned would prevent anyone who buys the line from operating a railroad on it again.

The Essex County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution this week, opposing the abandonment process, with Newcomb Supervisor Robin DeLoria saying the “tracks would be ripped out.”

That conclusion was based on a preliminary filing by the state attorney general’s office in early August, which referred to “prospect of beneficial non-rail use” of the property and “lack of any reasonably foreseeable future need for rail service” on the line.

That concerned some people, as the rail line’s owner, Iowa Pacific Holdings — parent company of the former Saratoga & North Creek Railway — is in negotiations to sell the line to a Colorado-based transportation company that hopes to use the line to remove stone tailings from a mine in Tahawus. Warren County owns the rail line between North Creek and Hadley and had leased it to Saratoga & North Creek Railway.

The DEC said late Thursday, though, that it is trying to remove the owner of the line and have train car storage banned on the Tahawus line, but not foreclose on the ability to run trains on the line in the future. SNCR caused considerable angst by putting out-of-service tanker cars on line.

DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said late Thursday that DEC representatives spoke to county supervisors about the issue on Wednesday.

Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, said the DEC reached out to local leaders this week to clarify its intentions.

“DEC has been actively communicating throughout this process with the county officials and continues to follow up with ongoing dialogue with the counties,” Severino said in an email. “As relayed to the counties, DEC’s actions are intended to remove Saratoga North Creek Railway from the Tahawus line and ensure that long term rail storage will not happen in the future.”

Elected officials in Warren and Essex counties said they had not heard from DEC before the paperwork was filed, and numerous supervisors in the counties where the tracks are located criticized the DEC for taking the action without consulting them.

The full DEC application for abandonment is expected to be filed next week before the Surface Transportation Board, and will be available on its website.