NORTH CREEK - In a spirit of celebration June 10, four men joined hands and raised them into the air - moments after they had signed a railway contract that will soon link Warren County to Saratoga County via rail for the first time in decades.
"All aboard," exclaimed Neil Bagus of Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, the new railway operator, moments after the firm's CEO ceremoniously signed a five-year contract with Warren County officials to operate trains on the county-owned tracks.
Passenger train service that includes domed cars for panoramic scenic vistas, ski train trips, dining cars and themed excursions, was greeted with optimism and praise Friday as the agreements were ratified.
Initial train service is to begin between July 1 and 15, depending on approval from the Federal Railway Administration, Iowa Pacific officials said. Plans call for three round trips per day, two from North Creek to the Saratoga Springs rail station and one from North Creek to Hadley.
The contract calls for Iowa pacific to operate at least 100 round-trip passenger trains from May to October, a minimum of 30 ski trains and at least 50 dining excursions after they are established. The agreement also guarantees local taxpayers an income of $81,958 to $190,000, depending on the success of the rail service.
But the local officials attending the June 10 signing ceremony, held on the platform outside the historic North Creek train depot, weren't focusing on figures.
Instead, they were anticipating a future of boosted local tourism, rail commuting for locals, and expanded jobs and a revitalized economy - all prompted by the new railway operation, which is to feature freight traffic as well as extensive passenger service.
Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed recounted the history of the rail line - noting that it was established after the Civil War in 1871 to reap the area's resources. He also noted the railway's historic claim to fame - at the depot in September 1901, Teddy Roosevelt learned that U.S. President William McKinley had died from an assassin's bullet, and he was to be sworn in as the next head of state. Goodspeed also mentioned that the depot was where his father left his hometown to serve in World War II.
Goodspeed praised the efforts since the early 1990s to rehabilitate and preserve both the rail line and train depot.
"This is a day to celebrate what we've accomplished," he said. "This major venue of transportation in the North Country and its history has been preserved for future generations. And this new rail service not only generates tourism dollars, but it's also about linking the rural communities of the Adirondacks to the rest of the world."
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec said that the signing of agreements with Iowa Pacific represented a turning point for transportation in the area.
"We're looking to a much brighter future with the railway," he said. "We're very thrilled this has come together."
Richard Lucia, supervisor of the town of Corinth, Warren County's municipal partner in the railway, praised those who had lobbied for millions of dollars in grant money to bankroll the rail's revitalization.
"This is an amazing, awesome, historic event today," he said. "Even naysayers have contributed to this day by making us all work harder."
Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis, wearing a Teddy Roosevelt-style hat, praised all those who had fought to preserve the railway, noting that many other communities in the U.S. had allowed theirs to be scrapped, and regretted it.
"Your rail line was saved in a great way, and visitors and residents will be able to go from here to the Saratoga Springs rail station and connect to Amtrak and see the world," he said.
Ellis revealed June 11 that his firm will be bringing "Polar Express" that will run out of Saratoga Springs into Warren County in November and December. These trains, decked out with Christmas themes, have proven very popular on Iowa Pacific rail lines - attracting as many as 26,000 passengers total for the special runs, he said.
Horicon Supervisor Ralph Bentley, a long-time supporter of the rail line, said he was pleased the expanded rail service was now a reality.
"This is a great day for all the towns along the rail line, and I know it will provide jobs for residents of northern Warren County - including Horicon," he said.
Joanne Smith of North Creek, a local activist and former business owner, said the rail service would reap benefits for all.
"This project took a long time, but it's vital to the whole county," she said. "Our area's economy will be vibrant again because of this railway."