Press Releases

Adirondack Council Supports State Move to Regain Local Control Control Over Tahawus Rail Line

Sends Letter to U.S. Surface Transportation Board Backing ‘Abandonment’ Petition

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Adirondack Council today submitted a letter of support to the federal agency that regulates the use and operation of rail roads, asking the Surface Transportation Board to accept the New York Attorney General Letitia James’s petition to declare the Tahawus Rail Line to be abandoned.

“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,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “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.”

Janeway was quick to point out that if the Surface Transportation Board (STB) grants New York’s petition for “adverse abandonment,” the ruling would have no impact on future decisions about the use of the line.

“This would not authorize anyone to pull up the tracks or do anything new to the rail line,” Janeway said.  “It would simply give back control over the line’s future to the people who care most about it, the residents of Essex and Warren County and the state taxpayers, who own some of the land under it.”

Janeway noted that the state had submitted its petition months ago, but agreed to suspend the proceeding while local officials negotiated a deal with a possible new operator.  At the time the Council also supported suspending the proceeding. It has now become clear that no new operator is forthcoming to operate the Tahawus Lake line, so the abandonment proceeding should be completed, he said.  The state renewed its petition in July.

While it has not proposed any new service on the line, one potential bidder on a nearby section of track – United Rail – is opposing the state’s efforts.

The Tahawus Line runs between downhill ski hamlet of North Creek in Warren County (home of Gore Mountain Ski Center) and the iron mining ghost town of Tahawus in Essex County.  The line was purchased and operated for a while by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago. IPH recently removed its equipment from the rail line, following a contract dispute with Warren County. 

Warren County owns the rails connecting North Creek to the Canadian Pacific RR main line in Saratoga Springs.  Before it left in 2018, IPH also removed dozens of scrapped oil tanker cars it had been storing for a fee along a scenic portion of the Upper Hudson River on the Tahawus Line.  The company had promised local officials it wouldn’t create an oil car junkyard on the tracks, then did so anyway.  The owner of the cars, Warren Buffett, insisted they be removed from the Adirondack Park.

Part of the line also is located on state Forest Preserve, which is protected from development by the NYS Constitution.  The corridor for the line was seized by the federal government during World War II.  The rail road was used to remove ilmenite ore from the former iron mines at Tahawus so it could be used to create titanium for airplanes and ships.

In its letter to the STB, the Adirondack Council said it is “opposed to the request by United Rail for continuation of the stay order currently in effect and asked the STB … to issue a procedural schedule for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s application for adverse abandonment.  The Adirondack Council agrees with the (Attorney General) that good cause has not been demonstrated by United Rail to further warrant holding this proceeding in abeyance and we believe that it is now appropriate for the Board to receive comments on the abandonment application.”

The Council’s letter continues:

“The Adirondack Council has previously expressed its support for the NYS DEC application but also supported a temporary stay to allow OmniTRAX, Inc., a potential purchaser of the Tahawus Line, time to reach agreement with the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, Inc. (“SNCR”) who is the current operator.   However, on June 14, 2019, OmniTRAX advised the Board that it no longer seeks to purchase the Tahawus Line.

“On July 11, 2019, United Rail, a company headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada and, according to its website, “is in the business of acquiring short line railroads in both the freight and passenger operations sectors” notified the Board that it had commenced “preliminary” discussions with SNCR about the possible purchase of the Tahawus Line. United Rail requested the Board to extend the stay order and stated initially that it was chosen by Warren County to be the operator of a rail line that directly connects with the Tahawus Line in North Creek, New York.  However, on July 22, United Rail removed this statement about Warren County from its letter to the Board.

“The Adirondack Council has previously indicated that it would fairly evaluate any legitimate freight rail investment and operation that would protect the environmental integrity of the Park and that could result in environmental benefits, such as cleaner air and reduced emissions, by reducing truck traffic of stone aggregates from the tailings mine.  However, no party has asserted that that the rail would supplant regional truck delivery in favor of serving distant markets by rail.  As previously explained, freight rail service has not been provided on the line since the 1980s and there are high hurdles to establishing this service based on existing economic, legal and physical restrictions.  United Rail has not provided any meaningful information let alone a viable plan for freight rail service that would justify continuation of the stay order.

“Accordingly, the Adirondack Council agrees with the NYSOAG that the Board should deny United Rail’s request to extend the stay order and allow the adverse abandonment application to move forward.  This course of action would best serve the public interest and the citizens of New York by allowing the state and its municipalities to explore other potential uses for the Tahawus Line that are consistent with the purposes for which the Adirondack Park was established.”

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.  The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 19, 2019 

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