Over the course of the year, controversy has flared over Iowa Pacific Railway and its subsidiary the Saratoga North Creek Railroad’s storage of rail cars on sidings in the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Council is now asking billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett to intervene.
The Saratoga North Creek Railway leases part of its line from Warren County and reports to county officials its activities along that portion of the tracks. The remainder of the line is owned by the railroad. In September the railway reported to supervisors its plan to store old rail cars on tracks between Warren and Essex counties.
Then in October, 28 58-foot-long used tanker cars were parked on siding near the North Woods Club Road in the town of Minerva and will remain there until they are once again needed.
At the time Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked what he thought about the railroad’s actions. “They own the track so they believe they have the right to store their trains on their track in the Adirondacks. It is unsightly. It's out of character with the Adirondacks. We don't own the tracks. There's a question as to what legal right we have to oppose it. But we oppose it 100 percent and we are going to do everything we can do to stop the owner from storing the trains on those tracks.”
About 70 tanker cars are stored on rail sidings near the Boreas River and Upper Hudson River in the Adirondacks. The day before Thanksgiving, the Adirondack Council sent a letter to Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett asking him to intervene and remove his company-owned and any subsidiary’s rail cars. Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway says they followed the money. “In looking into the ownership we and others were able to discern that most of the cars are owned by various companies that are part of Berkshire Hathaway. And knowing Warren Buffett and the Berkshire Hathaway reputation we thought that this seemed like something that he probably did not know about and that if he knew about the Adirondacks and what a national treasure it is he would probably direct that these cars be stored somewhere else. So that's why we’ve contacted him.”
Janeway does not know if Buffett is familiar with the situation or with the Adirondacks. He believes the odds are good the billionaire philanthropist will take action. “This storage of cars was happening in Chicago and when people reached out to the company owning the cars and went around Iowa Pacific those cars were moved in two days. So we think this is a very realistic and smart strategy to be doing. It does not stand on its own. It is combined with other legal actions that are being looked at.”
Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says this strategy could work. But he also cautions that even if Berkshire Hathaway pulls rail cars out, Iowa Pacific may find other companies willing to replace the cars. “The only long term strategy for keeping rail cars out of the Adirondacks on the Iowa Pacific is to one, if they block the main line because they put so many cars on the main line. They can only store about 270 cars on the sidings that have. But if they go beyond that number they're going to have to start putting the derelict railroad cars on the main line south from Tahawus. When that happens it's no longer an interstate railroad and the federal preemption no longer protects their activity. And that means that basically New York state government can use its legal tools to get them out of there.”
The Adirondack Council sent the letter via FedEx on November 22 and has not yet received a reply. The council’s website has a template so individuals can also send personalized letters.