Thursday, November 21, 2019

Viewpoint: Make Saratoga & North Creek Line A Hudson River Bike Trail

section of the Tahawus Railroad north of Route 28N in Minerva provided by Protect the AdirondacksWhat follows is an announcement sent to the press by Adirondack Forest Preserve advocates Protect the Adirondacks:

Protect the Adirondacks supports transition of the 55-mile-long Saratoga and North Creek Railway to a new public multi-use recreation trail. Given its location, the dominant use would be as a bike and walking trail. This new public trail from Saratoga Springs to North Creek would connect dozens of small communities such as Lake Luzerne, Hadley, Stony Creek, Thurman, Riparius, The Glen, and Warrensburg, among other hamlets and businesses, along the rail line.

We believe that this new trail would be very popular and heavily used. It could stimulate new opportunities for communities and businesses up and down its route. Running on the banks of the Hudson River for more than 30 miles, this trail would delight as one of the loveliest public trail systems in New York, bringing people through scene after scene of wild natural beauty. From bases in Saratoga Springs or North Creek, bicyclists and walkers, among other users, would enjoy a stunning trip with long unbroken sections at the north end.

Currently, the Saratoga and North Creek Railway corridor is owned by Warren County and the Town of Corinth. These municipalities own not only the rails, but also the lands underneath them. They have previously leased the railroad to a private company, which unsuccessfully operated tourist and commuter trains. These efforts have all failed and the last rail company that held the lease defaulted and no new railroad company is currently interested in leasing the line. Last week, a Warren County Board of Supervisors Committee voted to begin abandonment proceedings for the 55-mile-long Saratoga and North Creek Railway.

“The possibilities and benefits of a new recreation trail from Saratoga Springs to North Creek and then possibly north to Newcomb are immense. This trail would fast become a popular biking route for local cyclists and bike-riders from across New York and the Northeast USA. Many businesses along the railway would spring up and this public recreation trail would be a shot in the arm for the towns and hamlets along the way. The idea of converting this rail line is an idea whose time has come. A transition will not be quick. This is a long-term investment to build a long-term asset for the region,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.

In an oddity of history, two separate and distinct railroads meet in North Creek. There is the 55-mile-long North Creek and Saratoga Railway that runs to the south and the 29-mile-long Tahawus Railway that runs north from North Creek to the Tahawus Mine in Newcomb. These two lines, though linked together, have separate histories and different current legal status.

oil tankers in north creekThe last railroad operator who leased the Saratoga and North Creek Railway had also purchased the Tahawus Railway easement in 2011 and tried to link the two railroads into one cohesive commercial enterprise. All business efforts failed. With its railroad ventures in the Adirondacks crumbling in 2017, the railroad company gambled on a controversial move to import used oil tanker railcars for indefinite storage on the Tahawus Railway. The company planned to store 2,000-3,000 used oil tankers on the empty tracks between North Creek and the Tahawus Mine in Newcomb. In 2017, over 100 oil tanker railcars that were transported into the Adirondacks for indefinite storage and were placed on tracks on the banks of the Opalescent and Boreas rivers. The section on the Boreas River was in the Forest Preserve. In 2017 and 2018, Protect the Adirondacks and others campaigned to stop long-term storage of used, out-of-service oil tankers on the Tahawus Railway.

In 2017, state agencies intervened to stop oil tanker railcar storage after Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his opposition to the plan. The last railcars were removed in 2018. Since the oil tankers were removed, the 29-mile Tahawus Railway has been dormant. The company has never figured out a viable or profitable way to haul materials from the Tahawus Mine in Newcomb.

To permanently stop the possibility of oil tanker railcar storage on the Tahawus Railway, the State of New York started formal “abandonment” proceedings at the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB). In October 2019, the NYS Attorney General submitted a letter to the STB formally requesting “voluntary abandonment” of the Tahawus Railroad. The state did so after reaching an agreement with the private company Iowa Pacific Railroad. The voluntary agreement accomplished three things. First, the voluntary agreement permanently prevents the rail line from being used for storage of railcars. Second, Iowa Pacific bought itself some good will with the state. The company is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and is looking to sell its ownership of the Tahawus Railway corridor. Third, voluntary agreement will keep the rail corridor intact in the highly likely event that Iowa Pacific goes bankrupt, which would enable the possibility of converting the railway to a public multi-use public trail. It is expected that the STB will approve the voluntary abandonment.

“Now is the time to start planning for the future of this 85-mile rail corridor that runs to the heart of the central Adirondacks. Now is the time for local communities to begin the process of envisioning new uses for the railroads and to take a hard look at conversion of this railway to a multi-use public recreational trail. Now is the time for state intervention to partner with local communities to create the Hudson River Bike Trail,” said Peter Bauer.

More information on Protect the Adirondacks is available on their website.

Photos: Above, a section of the Tahawus Railway line north of Route 28N in Minerva; middle, oil cars that were stored between North Creek and the Tahawus Mine in Newcomb; and below, abandoned passenger cars on the Tahawus line between North Creek and North River.  (Photos provided by Protect the Adirondacks).

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47 Responses

  1. Steven says:

    That’s a excellent idea. I’ve always enjoyed the drive along the Hudson River up Route 28. A bike and walking path would allow visitors to enjoy even more riverside scenery at a more serene pace. I wonder if you could ride that stretch now, on a mountain bike, since the trains are out of the way? That may be an adventure for next spring.

    • Boreas says:

      Steven,

      I am not sure it is legal to walk, bike, or even snowmobile it yet, as I would think it is still private property. I am sure many people do, but I am not sure it is strictly legal.

  2. Steve B. says:

    This potential trail, plus the Tupper/LP trail, plus a lot of dirt road networks that have opened up in the Essex Chain as well as west of Tupper, is the kind of stuff guys like me – avid cyclists, will gladly come up to ride. While there I’m buying stuff – food, gas, gear, lodging, etc….. And BP next time I’m bringing my buddies. Every added mile of trails like this helps the local economy. So this is great news.

  3. Sean A.Nolan says:

    Why not go full on hiking, biking and the use of the peddilng cars (sorry brain fart on their names) for use on the lines. You have camping areas close by various location along the rails. Why not expand the idea of bases to include Hadley and other possible areas close to the tracks and link ups to the various bike/running/walking pathways also near it.

  4. Larry Roth says:

    I’ve ridden that rail corridor several times, including the last run to North Creek with the dome car. The scenery is beautiful, especially from the high bridge at Hadley. The views along the river are splendid as well. If you’ve never done it by train, you’ll never know what you’re missing.

    It’s a funny thing. The railroad must go because if it can’t pay for itself it’s considered not worth having. The trail will never pay for itself either, but spending taxpayer money on that is just fine. Ditto for all the highways and roads in the area. Only railroads are expected to make money.

    Protecting the Adirondacks is a worthwhile goal to be sure – but every mile of track removed is a commitment to more traffic on highways, and fewer alternatives to move people and goods around. Instead of leveraging the historic investment and infrastructure in towns that grew up around a working rail system, roads have contributed to sprawl – housing developments scattered around, Big Box stores on the edges, with acres of parking and a demand for public services.

    It’s putting off facing up to the big challenge we now face. 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Rail is far more energy efficient than rubber wheels on pavement. Every rail line is removed is an opportunity lost to cut our carbon footprint. If we continue to treat railroads as marginal or obsolete, we are ignoring a place where we can make a serious impact on climate change.

    It’s far easier to make railroads carbon free than highways – and it can be done a lot faster. Simply switching to trains running on biodiesel would make them effectively carbon neutral. The Dutch have a national electrified rail system; they’ve invested in enough wind power to cover 100% of the electricity needed to run it. Alstom has developed hydrogen fuel cell train sets with zero carbon emissions.

    The rest of the world is investing in rail. Only America thinks ripping up rail lines is progress.

    While electric cars, buses, trucks, etc. would also cut emissions (as long as the power to charge them is carbon free), it will take more power because they are just not as energy efficient. It’s also going to take longer before everyone makes the switch.

    And here’s the thing: it’s not an either/or choice. We can do more than one thing at a time – and we’re going to have to at the rate climate change is ramping up.

    The damage from the storm that hit Halloween night led to emergency declarations in 11 counties. Millions of dollars of damage was done to highways alone. It’s going to take months, possibly years to repair them. That kind of event is going to be happening more frequently.

    In contrast, the CSX main line had several washouts from the storm near Utica – it was back in service late the next day, including Amtrak service. It’s a lot easier to restore a rail line than a road; we are going to need that kind of resiliency.

    If we are serious about protecting the Adirondacks (and the planet), giving up a transportation choice that could reduce our carbon footprint is not the way to go.

    • drdirt says:

      Larry, I always liked the way you promoted ‘rails AND trail’ in the last go-around .,., I would suggest side by side on this corridor as well .,,.,, most of this corridor is wide, and bikers and hikers and skiiers can always go around bridges when necessary. It is a far better scenic train ride than the one out of Placid as far as ‘scenery’ goes .,.,., Shouldn’t we study this option and bring it seriously into the discussion?

    • LeRoy Hogan says:

      Rail with trail certainly makes for a multi-multi recreation with the addition of trains and rail bikes.

  5. Bob says:

    Line it with limestone or cinder not paved asphalt.

  6. Mark Soloski says:

    This is a great idea, but would it be necessary to remove the rails and ties in the section between Saratoga and North Creek in order to implement the bike/hike plan? I ask because this is not stated and because, if so, it ends any hope of any form of rail service

  7. Curt Austin says:

    A trail has gained wide support by the Warren County Supervisors, after giving their rail venture the best possible opportunity to work. This is the middle section of the 90-mile corridor.

    Their actions must be in concert with NY’s intentions for the northern section. Those intentions are not quite clear to me, though I’m told they are aimed at a trail. They would have to declare that they do not believe hauling stone from the old mine is viable. They have solid facts to use: Neither NL, SNCR, Mitchell Stone nor OmniTrax could find customers. A bit of research into bulk freight rates and a simple calculation suggests the challenge is indeed insurmountable. Last I knew, however, Mitchell and the Town of Newcomb have not given up. I’m counting on Newcomb residents realizing that their best shot at having a store and diner again is increased traffic from a rail trail. Railcars full of stone do not stop for lunch.

    That accounts for most of the corridor, and I believe it will indeed become a trail.

    The Town of Corinth owns the southern 14 miles. They have a very different objective in maintaining rail service: luring heavy industry to the old International Paper site. They have not yet given up on that idea, but they will find themselves in an awkward position if they block the path between Saratoga’s Greenbelt Trail System to what will become a popular rail trail to the north.

    Snowmobilers will be happy. Mr. Gibson didn’t mention them, of course, but just as for ARTA, trail advocacy requires that we maximize potential happiness. My guess is that they will at least regain the routes and connectors they lost when SNCR refused access to the corridor, about 100 miles. Elsewhere, I hope the local communities get a say. In any case, NYSSA is on it. I’m a cyclist, by the way.

    The most significant voices opposing a rail trail conversion have been from those who advocate for railroad transportation. The most reasoned of them now accept it has been proved difficult on this corridor. But people do not live on reason alone, thank goodness! We must accept that natives of North Creek and North River grew up in a railroad town – it is part of their identity. Let’s ensure that the trail helps celebrate this significant history.

    As I told the Warren County Supervisors earlier this week at their decisive meeting, this will be no ordinary trail. On a 0-10 scale, this is an easy 10.

  8. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I see no mention of funding for converting and then onto maintaining all the new rail trails..

  9. Edward R Frulla says:

    I would support this if the corridor was opened to snowmobiles in the winter and not restricted solely to cross country skiing.

  10. Ginny Alfano says:

    Revolution Rail has a wonderful rail ride that heads north out of North Creek. If a walking/bike trail is made to North Creek, the rail ride would be a great addition to your trek. So much fun to think about!

  11. Judson Witham says:

    So You’re CENSORING Comments ….. That’s Very UNAMERICAN

    • Judson Witham says:

      The Rail lines are for the GENERAL PUBLIC and should remain so. The Last this the Area needs is more WALKING TRAILS. I suggest FREE ENTERPRISE ZONES for Mom and Pop and Home Grown Businesses should be given a TAX FREE RIDE along the CORRIDORS. LITE RAIL SYSTEMS would serve that purpose greatly. The Adirondacks need Good Jobs ….. Not more SILLY TRAILS so DEC can get bigger and bigger Budgets and more and more and more DEC Power. JOB CREATION TAX FREE CORRIDORS not more Greenie Tree Hugging BS. ADIRONDACKS JOBS ……. Not More GOOFY TRAILS.

      • Boreas says:

        Try to make a little sense here. Any idea how many people are employed as a result of hiking, camping, skiing, hunting, and biking tourists? Not a good idea to piss off the people we depend on.

      • LeRoy Hogan says:

        With over 5000 miles of trail in NYS and still we need more to make it better? I am thinking millions $$ more spent and still might not be enough. Is the miles needed of trail actually infinite?

        • Boreas says:

          LeRoy,

          You do realize the difference between hiking trails and multipurpose rail trails? This has been a silly argument since – forever. The two are not the same. The closest rail-trail of any length to where I live is in VT! Anyone who rides a bike can see the advantage of a rail-trail over riding on the narrow, difficult roads in the mountains with 60 mph automobiles driven by texting drones or tractor trailers brushing your elbows.

          • LeRoy Hogan says:

            Trails are trails except rails converted to trails is $1,000,000.00 per mile so I see that as being the only difference. My fellow mountain biker friend states there is no such thing as truckers and vehicle drones texting while whizzing by him when he goes biking.

  12. Larry Roth says:

    Here we go again – the same old promises from the same people. Talk about restoring a rail line and the question is, “Who’s going to pay for it?” Talk about building a trail and the response is “I can’t wait to use it.” There’s self interest and then there’s enlightened self interest.

    Rail trails are paved with red ink. They do not pay for themselves, they do little to make the economy stronger – they just continue to pile more eggs into the tourism economy basket.

    Rail trails take no traffic off highways. They do not create jobs. This rail corridor still has potential for commercial development as well as tourism. For the owners of one section to take action that ignores the other stakeholders is shortsighted at the very least.

    Thirty percent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. Rail is far more energy efficient at moving goods and people. The recent storm damage on Halloween night should have demonstrated to one and all that we are in a climate crisis. That kind of event is going to become more common in the years ahead.

    If we are serious about having a future we can live in, we should be investing in infrastructure that will do something about it. We have to stop subsidizing highways at the expense of railroads as we’ve been doing for decades. We need to change government policies and mindsets that are making the problem worse, not better.

    The rest of the world gets it – only in America do we think tearing up railroads is progress.

    • Steve B. says:

      Larry, you are conveniently forgetting that somebody has to pay to maintain a functioning railroad. And for what ?. There’s no viable industry in this area and it’s been determined that the Tahawus mine is not economically viable. Nobody is arguing about the viability of rail to move goods in areas that have a need, that’s not the case here.

      Recreational facilities do help the economy, though for some reason the idea of tourism as an industry seems to be something you are against. I’m certain the residents of Lake George, Lake Placid and Old Forge would debate that with you.

      • Larry Roth says:

        I’m not against tourism – certainly the tourism potential of the line is there. But this is an opportunity to provide more than just tourism. We are not just talking about recreation – we are talking about transportation – and more important, a way to bring in tourists in a way that lowers their carbon footprint. While there is no viable industry in the area – you claim – removing the rails will raise the bar that much higher for any industry that might otherwise consider locating in the region.

        And you forget that somebody will have to pay to maintain a trail. There are no freebies – everything has a cost. There’s no shortage of trails in the area; but only one rail line.

        • Steve B. says:

          There’s NO trails in the area of this rail trail, unless you consider the proposed LP/Tupper MUP. There are hiking trails, but that’s a completely different thing. Snowmobiles and bikes are generally not allowed on hiking trails.

          If you put in a rail trail in LP/Tupper you’ve got tourists wanting to visit LP, Saranac and TL. Add this trail and you’ve got people visiting Lucerne, Warrensburg, North Creek, Newcomb. And so on.

          • Larry Roth says:

            If you’ve got Rail all the way to LP, you’ve got tourists coming from all of the Amtrak system and elsewhere.

            They already come for the existing trails; this gives an additional way to get there, plus people who wouldn’t want to have to drive to get there.

            There are already 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails in the state. They can live without these.

      • LeRoy Hogan says:

        Its funny that Catskill Mountain Rail Road pays to maintain the rail that they lease from Ulster County. On the contrary the new new Ashokan Rail Trail is not being maintained by the users but instead by the tax payers.

    • Boreas says:

      Do we need a rail line to a defunct mine? Is there a lot of tourist interest in tailings? No one wants the tailings due to the cost and impracticality of shipping them by rail. If there is a market, for the line then use it. If there is no market for the rail line, close it and let someone else use it. Hopes and wishes are no reason to maintain a rail corridor.

  13. John doe says:

    Good luck. The fact is the rail line ownership is a right of way. In our property deed, it is specifically written that should the rail line ever be removed, the right of way would be lost and the land the track lie on will be completely returned to the property owner. Myself, along with many property owners would reclaim their land. I would not approve of a bike trail running through my backyard. Granting access to anyone to my property. We have the issue of liability, should someone be hurt on the trail, who is responsible for the injury? Could the actual property owner be sued by someone whom was injured? These are real life actual situations that have occurred in other places who have had similar plans. So you will end up with a bike trail that is broken, and segmented. It would take an act of Eminent domain to seize private ownership of the land to make this a reality. And no court is going to approve it. Fact is eminent domain requires a necessity for use, and a bike path is not a necessity.

    • Sean A. Nolan says:

      Ownership is the key word. If the land is purchased by someone or entity, then a court would in all likelihood also give the right of way to that new owner. There are dozens of cases with this very type of precedent. It would also make it easier for an eminent domain call. Eminent domain is about benefit as well as necessity of the public good.

      • LeRoy Hogan says:

        John doe … I have read stories of private property access to trails have been closed by the landowners due to crowds disrespecting the land even dealing with human feces.

        On the contrary, train and rail bike crowds are better controlled and less likely have the problem of polluting your land.

    • Boreas says:

      John doe,

      You have many valid concerns, and a consult with a lawyer would be a good idea – regardless of the plan. However, with regard to liability, keep in mind ANY landowner is open to be sued for damages if gross negligence can be proven. That is why any smart landowner has liability insurance and/or an umbrella policy. But keep in mind, just because someone brings a suit against you doesn’t mean it is valid or that they will win. Again, that is why there is insurance – BIG lawyers on your side.

      If the State takes over control and maintenance of the corridor, Unless you did something to cause an accident (like dropping a tree on someone or diverting water that causes a washout), I don’t see where you would be in serious jeopardy for any accident on your portion of the trail. That would be the State’s baby and their team of lawyers.

      Many, if not most landowners along a bike trail feel there is more to gain than to lose. What makes your land more valuable – a working railroad or a community trail that you and your family can use? But don’t get ahead of the process – this is just a discussion. The State has not really made a statement as to their final plans – much too early for that. Perhaps NYS will also see an advantage to just letting the corridor revert to Nature and abandon the idea of a rail trail.

  14. Keith Gorgas says:

    There’s a quote often ascribed to Albert Einstein, which I have no idea if he really said. Something like “You can not prepare for war and peace at the same time.”
    Here a quote from Keith Gorgas “You can not claim to care about our carbon footprint and Global Climate Change, and endorse the destruction of railroad infrastructure at the same time”
    It is intellectually dishonest, and displays the utmost contempt for our fellow and future human beings.

    • Boreas says:

      Keith,

      Who is being dishonest here? What is THIS corridor providing? What can THIS corridor provide? Everyone here agrees railroads have their place in the world. No one is looking at shutting down a useful RR, but there is nothing special about rusty rails – anywhere. The last income anyone made on the northern section of this line was storage of old rolling stock – and we all know how that turned out. How long would any state continue to maintain a road that had no current or potential use? Save rail investment for areas that need or require it. Perhaps the southern part of the line could be useful, but the Tahawus section?? At least there was an argument for keeping the Tri-lakes section, but are a lot of people clambering for rail service to the outskirts of Newcomb or the mine? I haven’t heard anything.

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        Boreas, your point is well-taken. I was referring to the principle rather than a specific location. Before I was crippled, I used to bike and run on rail trails in numerous locations, and where they have no use for rail, particularly in urban and suburban areas, they serve an excellent purpose.
        The Adirondacks are criss-crossed with abandoned rail lines that, with the State purchase of so much land, will never again be needed, and would make excellent bike trails.
        One of the virtues of rail transportation in wilderness areas is that tourists can enjoy the areas “in a bubble”. It’s a very low impact means of enjoying the public asset. The more people are exposed to wilderness, the more people value it and support the preservation of it. The rest of the world gets this.

  15. Shari Chase says:

    How about adding equestrians to the proposed users list?

  16. Judson WITHAM says:

    Hahahahaha THE TREE HUGGERS want more SOCIALIST TRAILS ….. WHAT a Hoot. FABIAN SOCIALISTS GALORE

    • Sean A. Nolan says:

      Judson, ACTUALLY there are NO rails to oppose creating more “SOCIALIST” TRAILS. Meanwhile REAL money, you know capitalism, that would be put into the bordering communities is not happening. More communities would benefit from those “SOCIALIST” TRAILS then railroads. Your “TREE HUGGERS” are ready and willing to ACTUALLY spend money NOW for those “SOCIALIST” TRAILS.

  17. JohnL says:

    ‘Bout time we had another rails versus trails discussion. Or, we could just cut and paste all the comments from previous articles. Po-TA-to, po-TAH-to.

    • Boreas says:

      JohnL,

      Not really a discussion. Discussion typically involves people listening to one another and considering their opinions. Doesn’t happen much these days. Such is the world we live in…

  18. Dick Carlson says:

    RevRail in North Creek has approximately 20,000 people ride their rail bikes each year. The original Upper Hudson River Railroad had 24,000 guests their last year. Rail trail construction – easily $100,000/mile and maintenance is $1200/mile – this from the Rails to Trails Conservancy. Split the difference – Rail bikes here, tourist train there and bike route next to the track on a much smaller section. Economics – read this on the NH Tourist Railroad… https://www.visitwhitemountains.com/press/economic-study-reveals-importance-of-local-tourist-railroad-to-regional-economy

    • Steve B. says:

      I think the section south of North River, or maybe just Warrensburg and south, would be better suited to multi-use trail. I suspect the section between North River and Tahawus would not see as bike traffic due to the fact that it’s very remote and has zero amenities along the 17 miles (approx) between NR and the Blue Ridge Rd., and the add’l 7 up to Tahawus. I think it’s a beautiful area, but when I think about a family outing, I’m just not seeing it. In some respects the Lake Placid – Tupper trail will have the same issues in that it’s a long way between TL and lake Clear, only Floodwood in between (15 miles one-way). Dedicated cyclists (like myself) will use these trails and could handle the out and back distances, not so sure the attraction to beginners.

  19. Mike Sullivan says:

    I think it is Great idea. It can also intervene with rafting and kayaking and open up a new fishery along the Hudson.

    • LeRoy Hogan says:

      Rail bikes are a health benefit and I did just buy a kayak for 2. I have a bid for guided tour via Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

  20. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Rail bikes are a health benefit and I did just buy a kayak for 2. I have a bid for guided tour via Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

  21. Curt Austin says:

    These discussions go south from a variety of distractions. So, let’s get back to the salient observations:

    1) There is no reason to be optimistic about significant railroad transportation ever returning to this corridor. That ended in the 1950’s except for the mine. SNCR was a very serious attempt; whether or not you think they managed it well as a business, it simply did not attract enough passengers. Furthermore, service and ridership fell during their tenure. There was never any freight. Warren County’s effort to find a new operator failed.

    2) Hauling stone from Tahawus is similar. NL tried and failed. SNCR tried and failed. Mitchell Stone and United Rail failed. Why? $0.03 per ton-mile is an optimistic freight rate for hopper cars. At 1.5 tons/cubic yard and 200 miles, that’s $9 per yard. Compare to the usual cost of stone: around $12/yard. Include $3 for Mitchell, and you’re doubling the cost for a commodity that is not scarce.

    How the corridor is divvied up among various potential users will be the subject of argument, but a trail will be good for nearly everyone, somehow. For now, let’s unite behind the idea that the corridor should become a trail rather than sit unused for another thirty years.

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