We’re not taking back our earlier endorsement of the proposal from Saratoga & North Creek Railway to store cars on its tracks in the Adirondack woods, but the railway’s executives should have made it clear to Warren County supervisors from the start that what they intend to store are tanker cars.
In 2015, the railway proposed bringing used oil tank cars onto its lines for storage, and we joined Adirondack environmental groups and county supervisors in opposition. Those cars would have been empty but not necessarily clean, and the prospect of having the remains of toxic sludge sitting in dozens of cars in the middle of the Adirondack forest was unacceptable.
This proposal is different, because these tanker cars will be professionally cleaned before storage, according to Ed Ellis, the president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, parent company of Saratoga & North Creek Railway.
Ellis has not said the cars will be oil tankers. For all we know, they could be cars that carried even more toxic and environmentally damaging substances. So before they go along with this plan, supervisors must satisfy themselves the cleaning process will be thorough.
The county’s Finance Committee came out against the plan, but supervisors are meeting with Ellis next week to hear more about it. They have a financial incentive to hear just about any money-making proposal the railway comes up with, because last year they signed a new five-year contract.
Under the contract, the railway takes care of track maintenance and upkeep and guarantees Warren County a minimum revenue level. So far, the deal has worked out well, with the county collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars.
But the railway is struggling to maintain its scenic excursions and has struggled to find any contracts for freight runs. Its prospects for meeting the terms of the contract for four more years are in doubt.
Under these circumstances, supervisors have to consider any notion that could help the railway turn a profit.
Adirondack environmental groups have again come out against the plan to store tanker cars on the track. But as we said before, the line belongs to the railway, and if the company can certify the cars will be clean, no legal or environmental reason exists to oppose their storage.
Some will argue that parked train cars are unsightly, but “unsightly” is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not like the railway intends to dump slag on the tracks.
The railway could have done a much better job presenting this plan. When they first brought it to supervisors, they should have had answers to obvious questions, such as whether tankers were going to be stored on the tracks and how many there would be.
But now that more of the details are known, the critical question is whether railway executives can guarantee no environmental contamination will result from this undertaking. If they can, supervisors should approve it.