Thursday, October 19, 2017

First Oil Tanker Rail Cars Moved Into Adirondack Forest Preserve

stored tanker carsOn October 17th the first used oil tankers were transported through Saratoga and Warren counties by the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, part of Iowa Pacific Holdings, to a section of siding track along the banks of the Boreas River in the Town of Minerva, Essex County.

On October 18, twenty-eight used oil tankers cars were lined on track north of the North Woods Club Road on rail line traversing the Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest area of the Forest Preserve. Each tanker car is roughly 58 feet in length and the 28 cars line nearly one-third of a mile of rail track.

At a meeting with the Warren County Board of Supervisors on Friday, October 13th, Iowa Pacific CEO Ed Ellis stated that his railroad had the space to store 20,000 rail cars along the Sanford Lake Railway in Hamilton and Essex counties, which adjoins the Saratoga to North Creek rail line north of North Creek.

Saratoga and North Creek Railway leases rail lines from Warren County and the Town of Corinth and owns the Sanford Lake Rail Line in Hamilton and Essex counties. The shipment of 28 used out-of-service oil tanker rail cars could be the first of many. Iowa Pacific Holdings has stated that these rail cars would be stored indefinitely.

Local government and environmental leaders have called on Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency to stop this plan.

stored tanker cars“We must stop the trashing of the Adirondacks with old out-of-service rail cars. Where is Governor Cuomo? Where is the Department of Environmental Conservation? Where is the Adirondack Park Agency? This is a major moment in the history of the Adirondack Park and the forever wild Forest Preserve, yet state leaders are AWOL. This runs counter to everything that the Adirondack Park is all about and must be stopped,” Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said in a statement sent to the press.

“I am very disappointed with the rail car storage on the Sanford Lake line. The people of Minerva are very proud of their community and work diligently to preserve our history as well as to maintain our properties. I am very concerned not only of the environmental factors of having these cars sitting in the middle of the Adirondack park but also the issue if the trains are on the track the potential of having aggregate from Tahawus shipped to market is mute. These cars also will be stored on a dead end line accessible only thru North Creek and most importantly over an aging train trussel over the Hudson river.  There are many groups and individuals who work tirelessly to keep the Adirondack Park as the jewel that it is, but I cannot see how storing these cars goes along with this vision,” Minerva Town Supervisor Stephen McNally’s said in the same press announcement.

stored tanker carsPeter Bauer says legal work continues to investigate the legality of storing used oil tanker cars on the Sanford Lake Railway. The railway was created during World War II, when the federal government condemned an easement to build the rail line using eminent domain under emergency powers, for the express purpose of transporting titanium from the Tahawus Mine.

Iowa Pacific Holdings now owns this easement, which a statement by Protect the Adirondacks said would revert to the state on Forest Preserve lands, and private landowners on private lands, if the rail line ceases to operate.

“The change in use from transport to storage of rail cars raises serious legal issues due to the history of how this rail line was created,” according to Protect. “Other legal issues involve APA permit jurisdiction for new commercial uses and regulations under the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act as well as issues under DEC jurisdiction involving both the Rivers Act and the Forest Preserve management. Legal reviews are also being conducted of regulations under the Surface Transportation Board and Federal Railroad Administration.”

“There are many questions around this highly controversial activity. We need answers from state and local leaders,” Peter Bauer said.

To view a video of the tanker cars being moved near the Boreas River, click here.

Photos of stored tanker cars courtesy Protect the Adirondacks.

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55 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Crazy that a railroad can become a warehouse!

    Quite a different interpretation of the word “park”.

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    Unless the statement about 20,000 rail cars is a typo, this is again a blatant case of Ed Ellis and Iowa Pacific telling an outrageous lie. No way to call it anything else.

    North Creek to Tahawus is 29 miles. At 5,280 feet to the mile, there are 153,120 ‘ of track, plus two short sidings and probably a few more tracks left at the mine. Even if all the cars stored are 58’ long (some other types are longer) that allows for 2,640 cars to be stored on the main track with perhaps another 200 or so on the sidings and the remaining tracks at the mine.

    Even if Iowa Pacific used all 60 miles from Saratoga to North Creek, which is not envisioned, there would only be room for less than 6,000 additional cars.

    Ed Ellis told Warren County that he wouldn’t stop storing the cars unless Iowa Pacific was paid over $1 million per year to make up for the revenue that was going to be made with the car storage. I have no way of checking whether that really is the revenue figure, but it seem like a blatant attempt at blackmail.

    • Scott says:

      Maybe that’s why they don’t want to convert the Remsen-Placid rail to a trail…there’s another hundred miles they can use.

    • Paul says:

      Tony, I don’t think that is how blackmail works. Blackmail includes not “revealing” something. That isn’t the case here. The county does not need to pay them anything. He is just giving them a ridiculous alternative to what the company apparently can legally do. It’s not good.

      • Boreas says:

        The Mob would call it an ‘insurance policy’. The ‘premium’ might be the best money the county will ever spend. But the premiums typically never end…

    • James Falcsik says:

      With 2,640 cars, at $1.00 per day, 30 days will net $79,200 each month. Multiply this by 12 and you get $950,400.00 in storage revenue per year. Very close to the statement by Mr. Ellis. Not quite sure of the rate he is getting, but this is a common value in the railroad industry.

  3. John henry says:

    My understanding is the rail company gets millions in funding and tax benifts yet is behind paying the bills. Simply end all funding set up a boycott of the trains and start leagal actions to end leases. Cost them in court more than they get in fees to store and bingo it’s over . I will donate boycott signs

  4. Jim S. says:

    This is just further proof of how useless rail transportation is when not running between two or more huge population centers. The more I hear about things like this the more I side with ARTA. Get rid of the rails and build rail trails.

    • Paul says:

      Railroads actually deliver things to relatively remote locations for a decent profit in many cases. This isn’t good, but it isn’t saying that all rail transport is not profitable and a good thing in many cases. We already have too many trucks on the roads spewing too much CO2.

  5. Scott Thompson says:

    If the rails are repaired to Tupper or Placid will it look like this? The State DOT better be spacific when they are contracting the use of the Corridor! Looks like the “Hood” has come the the Adirondack Wilderness!

    • Larry Roth says:

      No, it won’t. My understanding is Iowa Pacific owns the right of way in this part of line, and they have access year round. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad only has seasonal use of their line, so they can’t store cars on it, and they’re not in the freight business in any case.

  6. Tim says:

    “Storage” is a euphemism for a dump for useless railroad cars. The railroad will go bankrupt and they will sit there forever.

  7. Paul says:

    Isn’t October 28th a week from this Saturday??

    This must be a mistake?

  8. Paul says:

    Peter, do the state agencies and others you are calling out have any jurisdiction? What would they need to do to stop it. Its a RR? They apparently do this kind of stuff on their tracks.

  9. Larry Roth says:

    I’m not keen on this idea. At the very least, Iowa Pacific needs to ensure there are no leaks or other issues with these cars.

    On the other hand, everyone who complains that there’s not enough companies providing jobs and pumping money into the local economy should be careful what they wish for.

    There’s also a bit of irony in hearing people calling for government action – when often people, sometimes the same people, have been known to scream loudly when they perceive the government telling them how to run their business.

    Not to mention the people angry about rail cars sitting quietly in the woods – on a right of way they’d rather be roaring along on a snowmobile…

  10. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I do like tourist trains but this is something completely different. Boooo!

  11. Byron Hadley says:

    Jim S- right on! This “storage” of the ugly, dirty, potentially hazardous rail cars is unacceptable. I already called our state assembly and emailed our congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

  12. Byron Hadley says:

    My sister punched me in the face when I mentioned this to her.

  13. Neal says:

    Maybe the railcars could become a tourist attraction. If you don’t like the tourist idea we could all travel more especially overseas air travel to use more oil and the cars would not be surplus.

  14. hiker va says:

    Could this be a well thought out plan by Mr. Ellis? Also wonder if these cars are the old type that cannot be used any longer for transport. If so, Mr. Ellis is very likely being paid by the tank car owners for this “storage”, which may mean nothing more than letting them rust into the ground. Can’t help but wonder if the cost to “recycle” these cars is much higher than what the owners are paying Mr. Ellis for “storage”, thus both the cars owners and Mr. Ellis win. The notion of Mr. Ellis asking for seven-figures not to store the cars on the tracks sure makes one wonder about his intentions. Best thing the county can do is cancel any agreement they have with him, return whatever fees he has paid, ask him to remove the cars and take bids from scrap companies to rip up these tracks once and for all, thus eliminating these types of shenanigans in the future. Letting these cars and whatever residue is inside them rust into the ground could lead to an environmental nightmare. In the end, follow the $$ and the answers are sure to abound – ?

    • Larry Roth says:

      There are really good reasons to keep the line – because titanium is a strategic metal that’s vital for defense industries – and our major source of supply is Russia.

      • Curt Austin says:

        No, this is not the right ore for titanium metal. The mine was for making titanium oxide pigment, only. It was a “hard rock” mine, supplanted by ore in the form of sand you can just scoop up. Source: Gordon Medema, the former mine manager.

        • Larry Roth says:

          Is that the case, or is it just that the percentage of ore that can be refined into metal is not as good as other currently available supplies? Given a shortage, it could become practical to refine it. A low quality supply is still better than no supply.

          • Curt Austin says:

            OK, I’ve done some research, and it seems I jumped to the conclusion that ilmenite was not favored for making titanium metal, since that’s what was mined at Tahawus and it was used only for making pigment. Of course, the mine was owned by a pigment company, so perhaps that’s the only reason. The other form of ore, rutile, is also used. During my time as a metallurgist at GE, I often heard “rutile” but never “ilmenite”. Anyway, sorry for the misinformation.

            But I’m not aware of any current shortage, though mining is a bit like farming – supply, demand, market disruptions – prices can swing wildly. For example, the widely reported shortage of rare earths was because low Chinese prices forced the closure of what had been the world’s biggest mine – in California! Which is why, by the way, the stories about mining rare earths at Tahawus were goofy.

  15. Todd Eastman says:

    So Iowa Pacific cannot afford to dispose of this useless rolling stock.,.

    … a rural region serves as a fine dump.

    Northern Wisconsin is full of these rolling mini-Superfund sites.,.

  16. Joe says:

    Force them to post a bond that would cover removal in the case of abandonment or bankruptcy.

  17. Taras says:

    Perhaps someone with a strong knowledge of tanker cars can answer this:

    How long can a railroad car be parked outdoors before aging (rusting) causes mechanical problems that may require servicing before it can be moved again?

    One year?
    Five years?

    • Boreas says:


      I don’t pretend to have specific knowledge of tankers, but there are tons of variables – just like a car:

      1. AGE when parked
      2. CONDITION when parked
      3. Amount of usage cycles when parked
      4. Quality and quantity of historical maintenance.
      5. Types of chemicals hauled and cleaning chemicals/cycles.
      6. Types of seals present in the valves.
      etc., etc.

      So depending on condition, they could be leaking now. It also isn’t only about leaking of fluids. There is a tank FULL of some kind of vapor sitting there – could be under slight pressure – could be a lot – depends if they are vented to the atmosphere or not. Could be toxic, could be benign. Condition of the vents and safety relief breakers (rupture under a set pressure or vacuum to keep the tank from rupturing or collapsing) are a factor. Hot and the cold weather cycles could even alternate between vacuum and pressure. Essentially, it isn’t the metal you have to worry about, it is the condition of perishable seals and valves, and the mechanicals in general.

    • Boreas says:

      To view it another way: Let’s say they sit for 5 years. A MULTITUDE of things have to go right, but only one thing needs to go wrong! This is the same for any mechanical system like these tankers. This is why I pucker a bit every time an oil train passes by within yards of Lake Champlain or my house. Entropy ALWAYS wins!!!

  18. Wally says:

    Where is Earth First when we need them? I’m too old now.

  19. Boreas says:

    Does anyone know the status of the mine property itself? Who owns it? Are there any toxic clean-up issues? Could a future owner (state or county?) need usage of the rails to remove tailings or bring in fill? Perhaps the state or county could work with the owner to keep the line open for use instead of rendering it impassible with stored cars.

    • Larry Roth says:

      Given that the mine produces titanium ore IIRC, there’s strategic importance to keeping it open – especially since world supplies are limited. My understanding is that Russia is the major supplier, and titanium is vital for aerospace. So, keeping the line intact is important. But given how long it would take to restore production, there would be plenty of time to move the rail cars.

      Here’s some info on titanium from the WSJ.

      • Neal says:

        By having the empty tank cars on the tracks they are preserving the railroad right-of-way for future use.

      • Boreas says:

        I have no problem with IP and the mine using the line, but how can the line be maintained properly when it has cars parked on it? It is going to decay as well as the cars, making removal of the cars and future mine shipping more complicated.

        • Larry Roth says:

          If you look at the photo, the cars appear to be on a siding. If they are only using sidings to store cars, then they can still use the main line. I seem to recall that end of the line had actually been covered by a landslide or something similar in one area a while back, so if they’ve been using the line now, I’d guess they’d been doing work on it.

          • Boreas says:


            From what I have been reading here and in other local papers, IP’s intentions are to use more than the sidings. From a previous article in AA:

            “Ellis said. His company’s thirty miles of track, with its capacity to store 20,000 cars, “is a piece of the 7,500 miles of track needed to store 75,000 cars over the next ten years,” Ellis told the Supervisors.”

            Ellis seems to be stating they intend or at least have the option to use every inch of the line for storage. It would make sense to fill the sidings first with cars least likely to be called back into service. It would also make sense to store the cars that would least likely to be placed into service toward the end of the line. But storage of cars on the main line will certainly interfere with proper maintenance of the line to prevent deterioration and subsequent isolation of the stored cars due to washouts, bad bridges, etc.

            I am not saying the only stock that will be stored on the line are the obsolete DEC-111 tankers. Each type of rolling stock has its own risks. All can carry invasive plant/animal/insect species in addition to any toxic residues or fuels. The DEC may not have any say in what the line is used for, but they do have the responsibility for keeping invasive species and toxins out of the air, land, and waters of Park. How they accomplish this task in this situation remains to be seen.

            What I don’t know is what the process is for putting stored cars back into service. I would assume some sort of transportation safety re-certification needs to take place before they can be moved into general ‘traffic’. If they cannot be certified where they sit, how are they legally moved to where they CAN be certified? Just curious.

    • Curt Austin says:

      The mine is still owned by the Texas outfit that bought National Lead many years ago. It’s head was an unsavory guy who, among other things, raided his daughters trust fund to pay for the Swift Boat smear job on John Kerry (the daughters sued him and won). He died a few years ago. I’ve heard the mine property is for sale. There’s a nice lodge on the property.

      I’ve thought about starting a rumor that the real motivation of Iowa Pacific is to build a casino on the property. 😉

      It has been fully remediated to state and US standards, I was told by the fellow still in charge of the property. They’ve taken steps to re-vegetate it, and have stocked the flooded pits with fish. The same fellow tried to sell stone, but concluded it was not feasible. Others have told me it is not desireable stone due to its high density – stone is used by volume, not by weight.

      • Boreas says:

        Thanks Curt. Hmm – I have been looking for an investment. I’ve never owned a mine before. Certainly plenty of stone for landscaping and several water features. As long as I don’t have to mow grass, it could be quite a deal!

  20. Dick Carlson says:

    As horrible as this idea is another consideration is it’s probable “fence” against large animal movement. Maybe a moose of deer could jump the space between cars, but mostly they would be pushed to find an end to go around.

    • Boreas says:


      I don’t know if they must remain coupled during storage. They could probably leave some gaps every so often. They just have to couple them together again after an inspection to look for downed trees, etc.

  21. JOHN says:


  22. Larry Roth says:

    For those who want an update on the rail car situation, here’s something from the Post Star. Short version, the cars have been inspected, they’re safe, and the numbers of cars coming are not as high as first feared. As was pointed out, they own the line where the cars are being stored, and they have the right to do so.

    • Boreas says:

      Ed Ellis has made many conflicting statements with regard to rail car usage and storage on this line. At one time he planned to store uncleaned tank cars because owners wanted to avoid the reported $3500(?) cleaning fees. Then hauling tailings from the mine. Then it was hopper/coal car storage. Then it was storage on the side lines only. Then it was potentially thousands of stored cars on the main line. At this point we have what appear to be older, ‘safe/cleaned’ (according to the state inspector) DOT-111 tankers with no statement of what they previously hauled.

      What concerns me and many others is the lack of any consistent statement of long-term planning regarding storage from a company in financial difficulty. The attitude of ‘we own the line and can do whatever we want with it’ shouldn’t give us confidence with the long-term impacts of this enterprise. Shouldn’t this be a concern for the local residents and taxpayers that will likely foot the bill for clean-up and removal if IP does become insolvent? As has been mentioned previously, perhaps a clean-up bond would be part of a possible solution. Regardless, the fact that they own the line shouldn’t mean their enterprise shouldn’t be scrutinized carefully for safety and potential environmental and financial impact to the area by state and local governments and agencies.

  23. Jim says:

    Simple solution, buy the tank cars, are there 100 of them?
    At $50K each that’s only $5,000,000
    At 70,000 lbs each the scrap value would be about $500,000 minus scraping costs and transportation.

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