Adirondack Rail Trail

In this July 26, 2013 photo, Dick Beamish of Saranac Lake, a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, stands on deteriorating railroad tracks on a causeway across Lake Clear in Saranac Lake, N.Y.. He hopes the state will decide to tear up the tracks and create a 90-mile biking, hiking and snowmobiling trail from Old Forge to Lake Placid, in Saranac Lake, NY. (AP Photo/Mary Esch)

Mary Esch

Media around the Adirondacks have picked up on the comments made earlier this month by Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, about his desire to have the board look into its options regarding converting the county-owned rail line into a recreational trail.

It was interesting to see a county board chairman push for discussion of the issue, and clearly was a shot across the bow of Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which operates tourist trains and limited freight service on the tracks between North Creek and Saratoga Springs, and its parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings.

Many county leaders are perturbed with the rail company's late payments and apparent repeated violations of its contract as well as the rail tanker car storage controversy, and supervisors clearly want to see their options. (In a public meeting Tuesday, county Administrator Kevin Geraghty asked SNCR's general manager to urge Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis to respond to his phone and email messages, which Geraghty said Ellis has not been doing.)

North Country Public Radio and Adirondack Daily Enterprise have covered and/or opined on the issue in recent days, in light of litigation over an effort to create a rail trail in Hamilton, Franklin and Essex counties.

A group of Warren County residents have been pushing for abandonment of the railroad operation going back to 2011, when the county booted the former railroad operator and solicited other proposals, winding up with SNCR. Others point to the popularity of the Warren County Bikeway, built on an abandoned rail line.

But there are many, many potential obstacles and questions that have to be addressed before any significant planning can even take place:

1) Can Warren County legally rip up the tracks it owns, landlocking Iowa Pacific's tracks to the north between North River and Tahawus? Federal railway regulations are remarkably complex, and the issue has been raised on and off for years with no concrete answers or legal research released publicly.

2) How much can Warren County do with the town of Corinth owning tracks from Hadley south to Saratoga Springs? Can both the town and county get on the same page for the project?

3) What will Iowa Pacific's reaction be? It seems from recent public comments that the financially struggling company wants someone to buy it out of upstate New York, judging by the comments made after the latest round of tanker car discussions. Will the state pull the trigger on the Tahawus line?

4) Who would pay for the work to create the trail, and is state or federal grant funding available? Proponents have said that the proceeds from selling steel from the rails could fund it, and is that feasible?

The crux of the matter is that this issue has been debated for seven years with no easy solutions or consensus. 

I would love a new recreational trail through the woods and along the Hudson River as much as anyone. But having seen how government works, we shouldn't expect any real movement along those lines (pun intended) for many years to come.

-- Don Lehman

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Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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