QUEENSBURY - The railroad once dubbed as the "train to nowhere," is finally going somewhere.
In recent years criticized as a money-losing, doomed operation, a new pending agreement for the railway through rural Warren County promises an array of new passenger services and excursions, as well as freight traffic - together envisioned to jumpstart the economy in the lower Adirondacks.
Warren County Supervisors endorsed a contract Thursday with a new rail operator that guarantees local taxpayers an income of $81,958 to $190,000 - six percent of the rail line's gross revenues - depending on the success of the rail service.
The operator, Iowa Pacific Holdings, also pledges to operate at least 100 round-trip passenger trains from May to October, and a minimum of 30 ski trains and at least 50 dining excursions. The prior operator had run fewer than 50 trips this past summer - and no ski or dinner trips.
Area officials, including Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed, lauded the agreement.
"What was once a controversial issue is emerging as a project that will have great economic impact, creating jobs and interconnecting our rural communities as well as boosting tourism," he said. "Flash forward 20 years, and this is going to be perceived as one of the great economic and sociological events in the North Country."
The contract was endorsed in concept at a Board of Supervisors public works committee meeting held Thursday. It is subject to approval Friday April 15 by the full county Board of Supervisors - and approval by the Town of Corinth, Warren County's partner in the railroad venture.
Although the county leaders have focused primarily on the tourism benefits of passenger trains, Iowa Pacific has said that freight traffic will be their focus.
The company's officials have talked to supervisors about establishing distribution and warehousing services on the southern end of the rail line as well as transporting pulp wood and minerals out of the Adirondacks - all envisioned as creating jobs and boosting economic development in the western region of the county.
The Supervisors endorsed a plan to put away five-sixths of its revenue, during the first year, into a reserve fund for track repairs that cost more than $50,000. The pending agreement calls for Iowa Pacific to bankroll track repairs up to $50,000.
The agreement also calls for Iowa Pacific to pay the taxes on the railway bed, now about $14,000 per year. This cost was formerly shouldered by taxpayers.
The agreement initially limits the freight traffic to one train in each direction per day - runs that are likely to occur during the night when no passenger trains are running.
Supervisors balked at this restriction, noting they'd like to see freight traffic increase - and spur economic development in the process. For decades, there has been no freight traffic whatsoever on the rail line.
The agreement prohibits the transportation of hazardous or toxic substances, including fuel, beyond the required amount to operate the train, unless approved by the county.
The supervisors also endorsed a plan to set up a public authority to oversee the rail line. County Attorney Paul Dusek said such an authority would streamline rail-related administration and help buffer the county from liability in case of a calamity.
The rail service, to be known as Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, will be continuing to offer Thomas the Tank Engine excursions as well as a Polar Express trip in the winter, a service that's popular and profitable on Iowa Pacific's other lines in the western U.S.