DEC asks federal officials to declare Tahawus rail line as ‘interim trail’
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has asked the federal government to declare a section of railroad from North Creek to the former mining hamlet of Tahawus as an “interim trail” while it is determined whether the rails should be considered abandoned.
The DEC filed a request Monday with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board seeking a “certificate of interim trail use” for the 30-mile stretch of rails owned by Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which pulled up local stakes nearly two years ago. The DEC has been seeking to have the rail line, which ends at the hamlet of Tahawus in the town of Newcomb, declared “abandoned” after a dispute over SNCR’s decision to store old tanker cars on the line.
Much of the line is in the state Forest Preserve, along and near wild and scenic rivers like the Hudson and Boreas.
The abandonment proceeding had been stayed for nearly a year as SNCR sought to sell the rail line, but those efforts have not yielded a sale, and the leading suitor, OmniTRAX, has halted negotiations.
So the STB set a Sept. 30 deadline for public comment on the abandonment proceeding as the proceeding goes forward.
The process of using an unused rail line temporarily as a trail is also known as “railbanking.”
Assistant State Attorney General Joshua Tallent wrote that granting a certificate for interim trail use is “wholly consistent with the granting of DEC’s abandonment application.” He wrote that no freight has moved on the line since the late 1980s and the “likelihood that freight service will resume in the future is, for a number or reasons, extremely remote.”
“DEC maintains extensive recreational facilities — principally hiking trails and related infrastructure — in the general vicinity of the line,” Tallent wrote. “Accordingly, DEC has identified the line as potentially well-suited for public recreational use. In the event the board issues a certificate of interim trail use, DEC will seek to negotiate an interim use agreement with SNCR.”
Interim trail use would not result in the tracks being torn up and would allow rail traffic to resume if there was a need for it.
A use agreement between the DEC and SNCR would “allow the railroad to avoid substantial maintenance and liability costs while permitting DEC to coordinate with concerned municipalities and other stakeholders to ensure the line benefits the region in the future,” Tallent added.
Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, an environmental attorney who has advocated for turning the rail corridor in Warren and Essex counties into a recreational trail, said she was “pleased that DEC is taking the lead on railbanking the Sanford Lake Line so that it can be used for trail purposes.”
Also filing comments on Monday’s deadline were Revolution Rail Co., which operates a rail bike business in North River, toward the south end of SNCR’s tracks. The company took “no position” on abandonment, but asked that its “contractual interest” in operating on the line be protected.
Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway submitted a letter supporting abandonment, saying it would allow “municipalities to explore alternative uses for the line and environmentally friendly economic development opportunities.”
Mitchell Stone Products of Tupper Lake, which owns the former mines at Tahawus, has opposed the abandonment request out of a desire to move stone south from the mines via rails.
SNCR and its parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, have not responded to requests for comment on the STB action.
There was no timetable set for the STB decision on abandonment.