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Railroad boarding

Passengers board a Saratoga & North Creek Railway train in North Creek in 2012. Negotiations between Las Vegas-based rail company, United Rail Inc., and Warren County to restart train service on the line to North Creek broke down this week.

The company that was hoping to take over railroad operations in Warren County next spring withdrew from contract negotiations late Wednesday, leaving some county leaders to push for a conversion of the rail line to a recreational trail.

United Rail of Nevada notified Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore late Wednesday it was withdrawing its bid for a lease-to-own deal to operate Warren County’s rail line from Hadley to North Creek.

But the company’s executive vice president, Michael Mason, said late Thursday that it is still negotiating with the Corinth Town Board for a lease of the stretch of rails the town owns between Saratoga Springs and Corinth.

The Warren County withdrawal came after the company had sent a proposed contract to Moore, which Moore told Mason would have to be reviewed by the county Board of Supervisors negotiating team, according to emails provided to The Post-Star.

Mason responded with a three-sentence email that read, “It is clear that we are not an immediate priority, and a further delayed timetable doesn’t work for our investors. Therefore, we are withdrawing our bid to acquire the line from Warren County. I thank you for the time and effort you have spent on this project.”

The county board had been waiting since Aug. 13 for United Rail’s suggested performance metrics for the contract, focusing in part on passenger and minimum train trip numbers, Moore said.

“We gave URAL the opportunity to draft these performance metrics for our review, which we believed was a fair manner in which to proceed rather than the county arbitrarily determining what those metrics would be,” Moore wrote to county supervisors.

Mason said that Warren County’s timetable and his company’s were not in agreement, so United Rail believed it was best to move on.

What the breakdown in negotiations with Warren County means for the town of Corinth was unclear Thursday. Corinth had contracted with the prior operator, Saratoga & North Creek Railway, and has been in discussions with United Rail as well.

Corinth Supervisor Richard Lucia did not return a phone call Thursday. But Mason said United Rail still hopes to work out an agreement with the town of Corinth for a tourist train in Saratoga County, as well as work with Amtrak for other excursion trains in upstate New York. The Corinth Town Board is reviewing a proposed contract, he said.

“Our intention is to create excursion trains from Manhattan to Saratoga,” Mason said.

Bolton Supervisor Ronald Conover, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said county officials need to work with the state to plot future use of the rails.

“This is really a state or regional asset,” he said. “There are lots of ideas about what we can use the corridor for. The most important thing right now is protection of the corridor.”

Moore said it did not appear that rail operations were viable on Warren County’s line any more, and county leaders have reached out to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss the state’s involvement with the line’s future.

“I feel confident that over the past year and a half we fully explored the freight option and the passenger option,” he said. “We tried very hard to make these options work, but the challenges proved to be too great. It appears that recreational use is the best future use of this asset, and we would like to work with the state and our neighbors to make that happen.”

United Rail was the lone remaining suitor out of four that made proposals last year, after the municipal rail line owners sought a new operator. Saratoga & North Creek Railway had pulled out of local operations.

Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, which oversees the rail line, said he believes Warren County leaders need to sit down with their counterparts in Essex and Hamilton counties to discuss the future of the rail corridor in the three counties. Saratoga & North Creek Railway owns the rail line north of North Creek, to the hamlet of Tahawus in Essex County, and recently agreed to have it declared abandoned. Various groups have sought to turn that unused portion of the rail line into a recreational trail.

“I think we need to have a meeting with the three counties to assess what our opportunities are, and to protect them,” he said.

Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer, a proponent of converting the rail line to a recreational trail, said county leaders should work with the state for “future opportunities” of a trail on the line.

Andrea Hogan, supervisors of the town of Johnsburg, where the rail line’s historic North Creek station is located, said she was disappointed by United Rail’s decision. She thinks the county should wait for the abandonment proceedings on the north end of the line to conclude before making decisions on the county line’s future.

Supervisors have questioned whether United Rail had the resources to put together a viable local operation, as the company has had limited involvement with other railroads. Those questions were amplified when the company’s purported plans to buy a railroad in New Hampshire over the summer fell through.

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Don Lehman covers police and court matters and Warren County government. He can be reached at 518-742-3224 or dlehman@poststar.com

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reporter - crimes & courts, public safety and Warren County government

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

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