QUEENSBURY | Saratoga & North Creek Railway is losing at least a million dollars annually on its local operations, and the company wants to sell a section of track and hopes to get up to $5 million in funding for track repairs.
That was the message Monday from a railroad parent company executive, who told Warren County leaders the company has endured “seven-figure losses” as tourist train passenger numbers flatten and its efforts to move freight on the line have fallen short.
David Simpson, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC’s director of government affairs and strategic initiatives, told county supervisors the company would like to sell the 29.7-mile stretch of railroad tracks from North Creek to Tahawus, which it bought in 2011, so it could be owned by the “public” as the stretch of rails to the south is.
After a county Public Works Committee meeting, Simpson said the company would like to see Warren County, or a railroad authority of which the county would be a part, purchase the northern spur for $1.5 million. The company has not said how much it paid for the spur.
The tracks sat unused for 30 years until the rail company made $500,000 worth of repairs and resumed occasional freight train traffic there in 2012.
But Simpson said that stretch of railway and crossings needs about $5 million worth of work to handle trains that would remove stone tailings from the closed NL Industries mines in Tahawus.
He said there is a market for the stone, for use as a construction aggregate, and the rail company would like to remove 1.5 million to 2 million tons a year, carrying it to barges in the port of Albany to be shipped south to New York City. There is enough material to last through 20 years of removal at that rate, Simpson added.
Simpson said state economic development funding could be sought to pay for the repairs. That application, though, would be complicated because the line passes through three counties — Warren, Essex and Hamilton — and the northern counties are in a different economic development zone than Warren County, Simpson said.
Revenue from passenger traffic would need to more than double to get to the break-even point, Simpson noted.
“It’s really tough to do it on passenger service alone,” he said.
Improving those tracks could also allow tourist trains to go north of North Creek, which could open up opportunities for hikers and through the First Wilderness Corridor program.
Saratoga & North Creek Railway has a contract to operate trains on the tracks, owned by Warren County and the town of Corinth, through June 2016. Simpson said the company was not asking to moderate the terms of the contract, which provides revenue to Warren County based on ticket sales and freight traffic, but added, “We really need a game plan by the end of the year.”
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the county has no plans to buy the tracks from the rail company, but will do what it can to help the company.
“We do know they need to get some freight moving on their line, and we need to support them to try to make freight sustainable,” he said.
On another railway note, Simpson said a proposal to carry low-level radioactive waste on the rail line from Corinth to Saratoga Springs, before transferring to another train for disposal in Texas, was “somewhat in doubt.”
He said the contractor transporting the material seems to be favoring “other, more economic alternatives.”
The material was believed to be coming from a cleanup at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, although the rail company has not publicly identified the source.
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.