Key allies for rail plans
ALBANY, May 01, 2012 (Menafn - Times Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Federal and state officials are lining up to support plans to reopen a 30-mile stretch of Adirondack rail line connecting North Creek with a former mine at Tahawus, now that the railroad has agreed the line could one day be converted into a recreational trail.
A request by the Chicago-based Saratoga and North Creek Railway, pending before the federal Surface Transportation Board, to resume freight traffic is backed by both of the state's U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as the state Environmental Conservation and Transportation departments.
An apparent key to gather support came in mid-March after railway owners agreed to make the line available as a recreational trail after mine wastes at Tahawus had been hauled away. The owners also agreed in the interim to make its right of way along the tracks available to snowmobilers.
"The longer term goal of ultimately creating a pedestrian-friendly trail along this corridor can also be realized upon future abandonment," according to a letter to federal regulators from DEC Deputy Commissioner Marc Gerstman and DOT Deputy Commissioner Stanley Gee.
While the company did not specify to the state how long it might take to haul away an estimated 100 million tons of mine waste, Gee and Gerstman's letter told STB regulators that environmental, economic, recreational and safety issues from the project "have been addressed satisfactorily."
In a statement Monday, Schumer said the project would "not only cut down the amount of truck traffic and emissions in the Adirondacks, but would pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy each year. Now that all stakeholders have gotten on board, I am pushing this application to the top of the federal government's agenda."
The railway's owner seeks common carrier status for the line from federal regulators. That would allow the railroad to haul freight from other businesses.
Some 13 miles run through the forever-wild state Forest Preserve, and the bid to reopen it has drawn a legal challenge from a conservation group, Protect the Adirondacks.
The challenge is legally complicated, revolving around an easement that the U.S. government took over state objections during World War II to construct the line to the mine and ship strategic titanium ores for military production.
Protect spokesman Dave Gibson said the group wants the easement issue resolved, but is not necessarily opposed to the idea of the rail line coming back into use. "The state should not bury its head in the sand on this," he said. If the easement is legally invalid, then the railbed would revert to the state, which then should take public comment on future rail use, he said.
The railroad bought the line -- which it believed legally included the easement, which is set to expire in 2062 -- this year from NL Industries, which stopped mining in the 1980s and shut down the line in 1989.
The railroad plans to invest 5 million to fix the tracks so it can haul out rocks discarded during ore mining, called tailings.
But Protect the Adirondacks argues that the federal easement was specific to the strategic ore mining by NL Industries, and since the company stopped mining so long ago, the easement legally ceased, and was not available for the company to sell to the railroad.
Another group, Friends of the Upper Hudson Rail Trail, negotiated for two years with NL Industries to donate the line for use as a recreational trail before the railroad bought it. "This was one small victory for us," said Chairman Curtiss Austin. He said "it could be a matter of years" before the railroad would be finished with the line so it could be converted.
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