The shutdown of Saratoga & North Creek Railway will be a blow to smaller towns in Warren and Saratoga counties that relied on tourist trains for the visitors they brought to the region.
While the railway’s ridership was not as broad as hoped, Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said the railroad was a big part of a number of events in Lake Luzerne and the neighboring part of Hadley.
Late last year, the railroad worked out an agreement to partner with Stony Creek Ranch in Stony Creek, with a new platform built there for holiday trains.
“It’s a shame to see this,” said Merlino, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors Tourism Committee. “It hurts the little towns along the way.”
“I think we would all love it to continue,” said Glens Falls 4th Ward Supervisor William Loeb, adding he hoped there would be a way to “salvage” the relationship and re-open talks with Saratoga & North Creek Railway. Glens Falls 1st Ward Supervisor Jack Diamond, though, said the company should pay the $28,000 it owes the county before any additional discussions occur.
Merlino also pointed out that the railroad paid more than $600,000 in revenue to Warren County during its nearly seven-year stay and handled all of the maintenance on the rail line during that period as well. The company has estimated it has spent “millions” of dollars on its local operation.
Merlino praised the efforts of railway general manager Justin Gonyo, who seemed to do all he could to make the operation viable and work with town supervisors.
The railway’s owner, Iowa Pacific Holdings, announced last month it was shutting down after Warren County leaders notified it that late revenue payments and other contractual issues, including not running a sufficient number of trains, had resulted in the company defaulting on its five-year contract with the county.
Relations between the railway and county took a bad turn last fall, when the company moved tanker cars for storage on the Sanford Lake line it owns north of the county — and town of Corinth-owned line. The storage, which supervisors believed the company’s owner had pledged not to do, angered elected officials, residents of the area and environmental groups.
Gonyo told Warren County supervisors that 43 of 77 tanker cars had been moved off the Sanford Lake line in recent days, with 24 remaining as of Monday. He said they will be taken out in the coming days.
“Other than that, we are packing up the show,” Gonyo said.
Supervisors met behind closed doors in an executive session Monday for about 90 minutes to discuss the next step with the railroad. Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county board’s Public Works Committee, which oversees the railroad, said no decisions were made.
“It’s very complicated,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
He said supervisors hope that SNCR will continue to maintain the tracks, as it needs them to move trains to and from its line north of North Creek. He said other potential operators have made overtures about using the Warren County line, but none were in attendance at Monday’s meeting.