We agreed with the leaders of Adirondack environmental organizations who spoke out two years ago against a plan to store oil tank cars on rail lines in the state forest preserve.
The dangers of pollution and even human injury from toxic residue in the tank cars were clear.
But we don’t agree with the opposition now to the storage of empty rail cars on the lines by the same company, Saratoga & North Creek Railway.
The rail cars may already be in place or are at least on their way to an unused line the company owns north of North Creek in the Adirondack Park.
Peter Bauer, director of Protect the Adirondacks, characterized the empty rail cars as “garbage” in a press release and likened the railway’s action to importing waste into the Adirondack Park.
These rail cars will be parked on the tracks. They are functioning — they have to roll along the rails to get to the storage spot. They aren’t garbage.
Protect the Adirondacks is also arguing that parking hundreds of rail cars on the tracks constitutes a change of use for the company and requires permission of the Adirondack Park Agency. This also is a stretch.
Railways park rail cars on their tracks, for short periods and long ones. It’s no more a change of use than it is, for example, for an automobile repair shop to have cars parked on its lot for weeks or months.
We can understand why environmental organizations and local politicians are concerned. The tracks run through beautiful wild forests, along rivers and in environmentally sensitive areas. The cars must not contain any hazardous materials that could pollute the surrounding woods and waters.
But the railway is struggling to make money on its line. Freight operations have mostly not worked out, and its scenic passenger service hasn’t gone well either. Bills are going unpaid, including bills from Warren County, which last year signed a five-year contract with the company.
So if the railway has found a way to bring in some revenue, that’s good news for the county.
But Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Council, which also opposes on-track storage, are saying the cars will be an “eyesore.”
These are train tracks, and they are meant to carry rail cars. The cars don’t transform from OK to eyesore when they stop moving.
The Protect website has photos of rail cars parked on Route 28 along the Hudson River. Some of the cars have been spray-painted with white graffiti. They don’t look bad.
Other photos show other cars, in worse condition, on a different section of track. These have flaking paint, some of which has fallen onto the ground. It’s fair for counties and the Park Agency to demand the rail company clean up any pollution from the cars.
Since Warren County has committed itself to a deal with Saratoga & North Creek Railway that stretches for four more years, local taxpayers have a stake in the company’s viability. Ideally, it will be able to run passenger and freight services at a profit, but since it is struggling with that, we’re glad it has found another way to make money.
You could make an argument that the stored rail cars don’t clatter or shake the ground and are therefore less disruptive to the wilderness than ones that are moving. But moving or still, the cars should be allowed on the tracks.