The operators of the Saratoga & North Creek Railway have petitioned the federal government to resume service on a long-shuttered former rail line between North Creek and Tahawus.
Iowa Pacific Holdings, which operates the North Creek-based railroad, made the application to the U.S. Surface Transportation Board late last month. It does not specify when trains would resume or whether tourism trains, freight trains or both would be operated.
The company's application comes as it seeks $5.4 million in federal grant money to rehabilitate a stretch of rail line between Saratoga Springs and North Creek that the company recently took over.
Jack Kilgallon, the railroad's right-of-way roadmaster, told Warren County supervisors that $2 million was being sought for the stretch of railroad between Saratoga Springs and Corinth, and $3.4 million was sought for rail upgrades between Corinth and North Creek.
"It will allow us to make broad improvements to the track, crossing improvements," Kilgallon said.
The company has spent more than $1 million on the tracks and the Saratoga Springs station since taking over operations in July. Of that, $300,000 was spent on the Saratoga Springs station, Kilgallon said.
"The tracks have never been in better shape," Warren County Public Works Superintendent Jeff Tennyson said. "The working relationship we have with the railroad folks has been excellent."
Thurman Supervisor Evelyn Wood said concerns were raised about the Mosher Road track crossing at Thurman recently after a town public works vehicle nearly collided with a train, and Saratoga & North Creek Railway crews were on the scene to improve sight distances at the crossing the next day.
The company's plans for the long-dormant northern stretch of the line were unclear this week.
Iowa Pacific has asked the Surface Transportation Board to resume operations on 29.7 miles of track between North Creek and the hamlet of Tahawus in the town of Newcomb, once it finalizes a purchase of that railway from NL Industries.
Ed Ellis, Iowa Pacific's president, said last week that he could not comment on the application to restart trains on the rails between North Creek and Tahawus. He referred a reporter to the company's application to the Surface Transportation Board, a federal agency that reviews rail line purchases and mergers.
The application does not specify the type of trains that would be run on the northern stretch of the line.
NL Industries has been removing tailings from titanium dioxide mines in the region in recent years, sending them out by truck, Ellis said when interviewed in September for an article about the firm's plans to purchase the northern spur.
The tracks have been unused since the mines closed in 1989, and with trees and other vegetation growing through the rails, extensive rehabilitation work will be needed.