Economic Development officials in Warren County are requesting funding to conduct a feasibility study to expand regional short-line rail service.
The Economic Development Corporation of Warren County and Warren County have filed a joint application to examine the economic feasibility of expanding passenger service and restoring freight service on the Saratoga and North Creek Railway.
The 30-mile stretch of tracks is operated by Iowa Pacific and stops at seven stations between the Spa City and North Creek. Before 2011, the tracks were operated by the Upper Hudson Railroad, which provided scenic rail trips.
Ed Bartholomew, president of EDC Warren County, said he wants to explore the possibilities of expanding service on the short-line rail to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station, the Albany-area hub.
“So that we can have more of a direct, more efficient connection by having [Saratoga & North Creek Railway] start in Rensselaer, and then move through Saratoga and then into Corinth, Hadley, and North Creek.”
The Amtrak station in Rensselaer brings a large amount of passengers up from New York City. Bartholomew argues that the rail expansion would allow more visitors without cars more access to the Adirondacks, boosting the regional tourism economy.
The other component of the feasibility study would take a further look at reintroducing freight service, which Bartholomew says could be tricky.
“It’s complicated by the fact that Saratoga North Creek franchise stops in Saratoga, so you would have to employ another railroad, Canadian Pacific, ‘CP’, then at another point you’d have to get involved with another railroad, CSX. So another component of this is really going to be looking at the feasibility and perhaps some clarity on governance of all of these railroads in a short span of a few miles,” said Bartholomew.
Expansion of service along the Saratoga & North Creek Railway has been discussed several times. In December, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer visited the station in Saratoga Springs advocating for the Short Line Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Act. The bill would allow tax credits valued at 50 percent of the cost of track maintenance and upgrades, up to $3,500 per mile, and they would be extended through 2016.
Schumer said expanded freight capabilities could bring rare earth materials from the Adirondacks to the Tech Valley.
“This freight rail portion could create new jobs in our state as well,” said Schumer. “Because they bring titanium tailings from the Adirondacks left over from the mining during World War II, down the line toward businesses in the capital region, creating jobs at both ends, and to other freight lines.”
On the other side of Warren County, Bartholomew said EDC would also like to take a look at the potential of expanding rail that services the forest products industries clustered in the Glens Falls area.
“There’s a little bit of a line coming in from Fort Edward that serves a number of industries in Glens Falls that is looking increase the capacity of track and lines into those facilities because right now they’d like to be served by rail five days a week, there’s not enough equipment in the area, and the rails are saying ‘If you want Finch Paper, if you want Irving Tissue to increase your capacity you’re going to have to go out and lease or buy those cars yourself,’” said Bartholomew.
The tracks from Saratoga Springs to North Creek are owned by Warren County and the Town of Corinth.