Warren Co. holds off on abandonment request for North Creek railroad

A Saratoga & North Creek Railway locomotive sits unused in North Creek in September 2017. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board has advised Warren County supervisors to hold off beginning proceedings to have the county’s rail line declared “abandoned.”

The county Board of Supervisors voted in December to begin the process to abandon the railroad, which would allow county leaders to explore non-railroad uses for the 40-mile rail corridor from Hadley to North Creek. Some are pushing to convert the line into a recreational trail.

County Administrator Ryan Moore said he contacted the STB after the abandonment vote by supervisors, and he was told that the agency’s advice was that county should wait to decide whether to move forward after the STB rules on an abandonment proceeding for the so-called Sanford Lake or Tahawus rail lines north of Warren County’s line.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has asked to have that line, which is owned by Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC through a subsidiary that ran trains on Warren County’s rails, Saratoga & North Creek Railway, abandoned as well.

The DEC moved for abandonment after SNCR stored old tanker cars on the line, which runs through miles of state forest preserve from North Creek to the hamlet of Tahawus in Essex County.

Moore said he was told that the STB was “quite close to a ruling” on the Tahawus matter.

“They say what happens with the Tahawus case will make all of the difference here,” he said.

The DEC moved for abandonment of the Tahawus line in the summer of 2018, but the proceeding was held in abeyance as SNCR unsuccessfully tried to sell the line. No timetable was released for the decision, however.

Complicating the situation is that the Tahawus line, as one of Iowa Pacific’s assets, has been placed in receivership as part of a bankruptcy filing. That means the company cannot do anything with the Tahawus line without court approval.

Essex County leaders also asked Warren County supervisors to hold off on an abandonment request, since much of the Tahawus line is in Essex County and abandoning Warren County’s stretch of rails would have an impact on the Tahawus line.

SNCR ran trains on Warren County’s line for seven years, moving a small amount of stone from mines in Tahawus over the line it owns as well. SNCR, which also ran tourist trains, pulled out of the region amid money troubles in 2018.

Warren County sued SNCR over unpaid revenue and taxes, and the county won a default judgment last month. The county is awaiting word on the amount of damages it will be awarded.

Collecting on whatever judgment that is filed will likely prove more difficult, however.


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