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Tahawus rail line may be scrapped

The Chicago-based rail company that owns a controversial rail line in the central Adirondacks that the state is seeking to have declared “abandoned” has consented to the abandonment, records show.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office submitted a letter to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board on Friday indicating that Saratoga & North Creek Railway had consented to abandonment of and interim trail use on the so-called “Tahawus” rail line between North Creek and the hamlet of Tahawus in Newcomb.

The state has been seeking to have the 30-mile stretch of rails considered abandoned in light of SNCR’s lack of rail activity on it, after the company stored dozens of out-of-service tank cars on the line two years ago. SNCR hoped to ship stone tailings south from the former iron and titanium mines in Tahawus, but no market developed for it.

The line crosses the state Forest Preserve as well as the Hudson and Boreas rivers, and the Department of Environmental Conservation and environmental groups vehemently objected to that practice. SNCR paid $1 million for it in 2011, as the line had been shuttered for more than 20 years after NL Industries halted mining operations in Tahawus.

The state began an abandonment proceeding last year, which was stayed as SNCR sought to sell the line. But with no bidder lined up for it, SNCR agreed with the state that the prospects of new rail traffic are dim and is negotiating with the state for an “interim trail use” agreement.

“SNCR irrevocably represents that it does not now and will not in the future oppose the department’s abandonment application, and that the public convenience and necessity favor abandonment of the subject line,” Assistant State Attorney General Joshua Tallent wrote in a letter to the STB, which was also signed by SNCR’s counsel, David Michaud.

Ed Ellis, SNCR’s chief executive, did not respond to a Post-Star email inquiry for comment. SNCR is owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago.

There was no timetable released for when STB would make a determination as to whether the line would be deemed abandoned.

Abandonment of a rail line means it no longer has use as a railroad, and other uses, such as a recreational trail, can be explored. Abandonment does not preclude railroad traffic on the line in the future if a need arises, however.

Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore told Warren County supervisors Monday that an abandonment declaration could affect the future of Warren County’s rail line, particularly as the county negotiates with a new suitor for the line, United Rail.

Warren County owns the stretch of line south of North Creek, to Corinth. The town of Corinth owns the stretch of rails between Corinth and Saratoga Springs. United Rail wants to operate tourist trains on both stretches, with the possibility of freight traffic as well. The company also sought to buy or lease the Tahawus line.

“The fate of that line has been a determinant as to what happens with our line,” Moore said.

Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, an advocate for converting Warren County’s rail line to a recreational trail, said the abandonment development should signal to county leaders that it was time to take another look at other options for the rail line “We should be planning for something else for the railroad,” she said Monday.

A possible contract between Warren County, Corinth and United Rail is in limbo, as Moore said the municipalities are awaiting information from the rail company about performance metrics to be included in a contract.

The county has had a series of operators over the past two decades who have run tourist trains, but failed to make enough money to survive. SNCR walked away from the contract with Warren County, though it did pay the county over a million dollars over five years, and paid the maintenance costs.