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State, environmental group oppose effort to stall Tahawus rail case

The state and Adirondack Council have asked the federal government to reject a request to further delay having the railroad line to Tahawus declared abandoned.

New York state wants the stretch of rails between North Creek and the former mines in Tahawus considered abandoned because of a lack of rail activity. United Rail Inc., seeking to buy the remote line in northern Warren and Essex counties, has asked the U.S. Surface Transportation Board to continue to hold off on hearing the state’s request.

That request was filed last summer, after a dispute between the state and the rail line’s owners, Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, over the company’s storage of empty tanker cars on the line. The line crosses the state Forest Preserve. Iowa Pacific ultimately relented, but pulled up local stakes and closed its local operation, Saratoga & North Creek Railway.

The abandonment has been delayed for months by Iowa Pacific’s efforts to sell the line. United Rail is believed to be the only suitor still interested, and last month the company asked the Surface Transportation Board for an additional 60-day stay, to be followed by a “status report” on negotiations in mid-September.

The state attorney general’s office asked the board to reject the request. Assistant Attorney General Joshua Tallent wrote that United Rail’s proposal to operate on Warren County’s stretch of the line, south of the Tahawus line, showed that freight traffic was not a major part of its business proposal, and it did not consider freight operations viable.

“The fact is that no freight has moved on the line since the 1980s, when the mine it once served as private track ceased operations,” Tallent wrote. “While a large quantity of waste rock remains at the former mine site, no carrier has succeeded in moving this heavy, low-value commodity by rail. United, a short line aggregator with little apparent freight experience, has not shown that it has a concrete and economically viable plan to transport stone on the line.”

The state could reconsider its position if United Rail showed a “viable plan for freight service” on the line, Tallent added.

The Adirondack Council, which was among the environmental groups that condemned the tanker storage in 2017-18, on Monday joined in the state’s request to move forward with abandonment, submitting a letter to the board.

The Council pointed out that abandonment would not necessarily result in tracks being torn up, but would instead return the line to local control.

“We want to see control of this line taken away from the Chicago-based company that abused it so that local and state officials can decide the best use,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway said in a prepared statement. “That company is gone now and this 30-mile section of tracks doesn’t have an operator. Under such circumstances, the state can petition to regain control over the line. It has filed a petition asking the federal government to give the line back. We support that effort.”

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