A small group of VIPs takes the historic train ride on the Saratoga & North Creek Railway's Sanford Lake Branch Wednesday, Aug. 8 from North Creek to the Barton mine processing plant in North River, a total of 6 miles. The railway is re-establishing freight service along these tracks, which had not been used since 1989 when the Tahawus mine closed. From left are Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, Inc., Charles Bracken, Jr., chairman, the Barton Group; and Brian Barnoski, operations manager at the Barton mine.
Freight train service was discontinued on the tracks between North Creek and the town of Newcomb in 1989, when the Tahawus mine shut down. But that all changed Wednesday, Aug. 8 when the Saratoga & North Creek Railway opened 6 miles of track to North River.
A ceremonial inspection train took the first run, and made history in the process.
It was a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony in the hot sun. VIPs were in front of the engine 52 at the North Creek station. Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, parent company of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, said a few words, followed by Barton Group Chairman Charles Bracken Jr.
Ellis cut the ribbon, the two climbed aboard a red caboose, waved to the crowd from the back of the train, and headed for North River, home of the Barton mine.
They first passed mile marker 29 — the tracks begin at the Tahawus mine almost 30 miles to the north. Railway manager Steve Torrico said that’s an original mile marker from the Sanford Lake Branch, built in 1942. Construction began on the tracks 70 years ago this month.
“In 1989, the Delaware and Hudson ran the last ore train from Tahawus to North Creek and down to Saratoga in 1989, and they shut this line down,” Torrico said. “The line was never abandoned. It’s just been sitting here dormant, and last year our company, Iowa Pacific, bought this line from National Lead. So we have rehabilitated the first 6 miles of track to get to Barton Mines and here we are taking our first trip on the first 6 miles.”
Torrico joined a group of a dozen VIPs, plus federal and state inspectors. Shortly after leaving the train station, they moved from the stuffy caboose to an open-air rail car, with railway executives, Barton managers, North Creek Business Alliance leaders and former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed.
“It’s a great day for the North Country,” Goodspeed said. “It’s something a lot of people have worked very hard on for a number of years going all the way back to the late ’80s when the station was collapsing, to here we are with a renovated station, an active museum, freight service, passenger rail service and a vibrant economy in downtown North Creek that’s spreading out to other parts of the Adirondack economy.”
The brush and trees were cleared along the tracks just enough to make this run up to the Barton processing plant at 10 miles per hour. It’s real progress, but it’s mostly symbolic. There’s still plenty of track to be fixed, according to Ellis.
“We’re going to press on to Tahawus,” Ellis said. “We’re really proud to have made it this far, and we’re thrilled that Barton Mines is here with us. We’d like for them to become our customer. We’re working very hard at that. We’re working to make that happen. So we’re just thrilled that the line is open.”
The railway offers daily passenger service in the summer from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, plus a Polar Express and ski trains in the winter, but officials need freight service, from the Tahawus and Barton mines, to be profitable. Bracken said what’s good for the railway is good for his company.
“From Barton Mines’ perspective, it’s great to have another alternative for transportation, and a great alternative,” Bracken said. “And as everybody knows, we’re very focused on the environment with our green office building in Glens Falls. We welcome Ed, and we love the fact that we’re going to have that alternative. And, as I said back in North Creek, being one of the oldest and largest employers in this area, anything that stimulates the economy in this area is good for Barton Mines and good for the economy ... so we look forward to welcoming them and hopefully sometime soon we’ll have our first truckload, or trainload, of garnet going down the rails.”
In addition to garnet, the Barton Group is looking to sell some of its tailings, rock leftover from the garnet-extraction process. Tailings can be used in construction projects.
The North River trip was designed to show Barton officials that the railway is serious about freight service and ready to do business.
The freight cars will be available to carry lumber, minerals, and other materials, and this expansion is expected to create up to new 20 jobs.
Other dignitaries on the trip included David Simpson, Principal, David P. Simpson Consultants, LLC; Steve Gregory, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Permian Basin Railways; Brian Barnoski, operations manager at the Barton mine; and Mike Bowers and Joel Beaudin, co-chairs of the North Creek Business Alliance.