Saratoga-North Creek Railway at the North Creek train station
The federal Surface Transportation Board Monday, May 14 announced that it has ruled on the Saratoga-North Creek Railway’s case to operate the Tahawus Line from North Creek to the former mine in the town of Newcomb.
Although the railway’s Dec. 2, 2011 appeal was denied — upholding the director’s Nov. 23 decision rejecting the railway’s class exemption to operate as a common carrier on the 29.71-mile line — this week’s ruling also said the Board’s previous concerns had been answered in full. Therefore, the railway has a green light to proceed.
“Subsequent filings have provided enough information to resolve the concerns that led to the director’s decision,” stated the ruling. “Thus the railroad may now file a new notice of exemption for the operating authority it seeks.”
Being a common carrier means the railway would provide service to any shipper upon request, not just NL Industries, the owner of the Tahawus mine. Railway operators want to ship rock from the mine, which had been in full operation from the 1940s to the 1980s mainly processing ilmenite for titanium dioxide.
Obtaining an automatic class exemption to operate as a common carrier removes the application process, thereby expediting the railway’s operation of the Tahawus line.
The STB’s rejection of Saratoga’s exemption came on the heels of a petition filed Nov. 11 by the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks protesting the railway’s notice of exemption. Protect listed seven issues about Saratoga’s exemption status, including the firm belief that an environmental review and a historic assessment must be performed.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) initially raised concerns over the state-owned lands the Tahawus line crosses; however, DEC and Department of Transportation officials filed a joint letter with the STB March 15 urging approval of common carrier status for the Saratoga-North Creek Railway.
During the appeal process, many letters of public support were filed by supporters, including towns and counties and state and federal politicians.
On May 14, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Bill Owens hailed the STB’s recent decision as a victory. They had lobbied in support of the Tahawus Line.
Schumer has long pushed for more domestically produced rare earth elements, which are critical to high-tech and manufacturing companies across New York. Reconstructing this line will create short-term construction jobs, and long-term jobs once hauling begins.
“The reopening of this rail line will reduce the amount of truck traffic and emissions in the Adirondacks, but will also pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into the local economy each year of this project,” Schumer said. “I am thrilled that STB has heeded our call, and that reconstruction of the rail line and ensuing economic activity from its completion can benefit the Adirondack Region for years to come.”
According to Iowa Pacific Holdings, about 15 to 20 people would be employed during reconstruction of the track, and the completed rail line would pump at least $160,000 into the local economy each year. The representatives also noted that once hauling begins again, it will create numerous additional long-term jobs.
The company anticipates hauling 100 million tons of material and tailings from the Tahawus mine for this project. A great deal of these tailings contain titanium remnants from mining at Tahawus from World War II until the mine closed in 1989.