SARATOGA SPRINGS - Local officials hailed Wednesday's inaugural run of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway as a step forward in the region's tourism industry.
About 100 area VIPs got their first glimpse at the Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC line after more than a year of negotiations and planning.
And they were almost universally impressed.
"It's a historic day for Warren County," said Dan Stec, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors. "The change to the railroad is like what happened at the (Warren County) airport. Their (Iowa Pacific's) predecessor moved us forward, but this is a new level."
Iowa Pacific replaces the Upper Hudson River Railroad as Warren County's official rail operator. Joint negotiations between Iowa Pacific, the town of Corinth and the Canadian-Pacific Railroad, which owns the rails south of Corinth, have brought trains from North Creek to Saratoga for the first time since 1956.
Officials said the link with Saratoga opens up a significant opportunity to usher Amtrak-traveling New York City tourists into the Adirondacks.
"This brings it all together," said Jean Raymond, supervisor of Edinburg, referring to the link to the southern lines.
Several area supervisors remarked about the plush seating and food service, complete with bow-tie wearing waiters, in the first-class seating area being a draw for moneyed tourists looking for relaxing travel.
Rail service between Saratoga and North Creek officially opens to the public this Saturday.
The intermunicipal deal will guarantee that Warren County receives at least $82,000 in the first year, compared to the $19,500 it received last year.
Warren County spent about $70,000 last year on bond payments and taxes on the lines. Iowa Pacific will pay the taxes as part of the deal, which amounts to about $14,000 a year. Iowa Pacific will also be responsible for any track repairs costing less than $50,000.
Iowa Pacific is in negotiations with the owners of a northern rail line between Newcomb and North Creek, opening up the potential for freight service.
"Iowa Pacific is interested in expanding," said Gene Merlino, supervisor of Lake Luzerne.
Mike Pratt, manager of the state-run Gore Mountain Ski Center in North Creek, said ski area officials are currently researching the best way to get winter train passengers from the North Creek Rail Depot to the mountain.
Early 20th century "ski trains" are widely credited for placing North Creek on the tourist map.
Iowa Pacific has committed to running regular ski trains between Saratoga and North Creek throughout the winter.
"We're hoping the demand will force us to expand our shuttle service," Pratt said.
During the summer, the railway will run a regimented daily schedule with trips between its two hubs, but will also operate sightseeing tours to other towns along the line, including Riparius, Thurman, Lake Luzerne and Stony Creek.
Groups like the North Creek Business Alliance are ahead of the curve to get summer passengers into Johnsburg's business district. The organization has secured a six-seat golf cart and plans to ferry incoming tourists to and from Main Street.
"We want to people to spend the night and get a new perspective of North Creek," said Anna Bowers, manager of Bar Vino in North Creek.