NORTH CREEK - Passenger train service, including sightseeing excursions with dome cars, are expected to be operational by July 1 on the Warren County railway - with three trains running daily between North Creek and Saratoga Springs.
Sarah Munley, director of marketing for Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC, the new operator of the county railroad, delivered this news at a gathering June 1 of area business and tourism representatives.
Munley said this open forum, held at the Copperfield Inn, was to seek marketing advice from local business owners and residents for Iowa Pacific Holdings' inaugural year running the railway, which is expected to include freight runs and ski trips.
"This all came together a little hastily," Munley said, adding that Iowa Pacific is still trying to catch up on advertising for the summer season. The contract between Warren County and Iowa
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Pacific was signed in April, several months later than both the company and area officials had anticipated.
Munley presented schedules and outlined the equipment to be used. The trains will include two dome cars that hold 72 passengers each, equipped with dining tables and offer tableside food service in upcoming years. Other coach cars will resemble standard Amtrak passenger cars, with food available but no seat-side service.
Hoped-for dinner service will not be a part of this year's plans, Munley said. Other rail lines operated by Iowa Pacific offer the option, and the company has declared plans to introduce regular dining excursions.
The railway will offer three lines operating Thursday through Monday through rural Warren County along the Hudson River; they are titled the Hudson, the Merganser and the New York Express. The Hudson will run from North Creek to Saratoga Springs. The Merganser will run from North Creek to Hadley in the afternoon. The New York Express will make the North Creek to Saratoga Springs run in the early morning and late evening. Fares will be $19 for an all-day adult coach pass, and $40 for an all-day adult dome pass.
Officials and community members from Hamilton and Warren counties filled most of the available seating in the Copperfield's ballroom.
Kate Johnson, tourism director for Warren County, said she wants to get information about the railroad out as quickly as possible while the tourism season is ramping up.
Tanya Brand, Johnson's assistant, said the railway is a great attraction for bus tours that appeal to older adventurers.
"Seniors love rails and sails," Brand said, noting that that train travel is a great attraction for people who don't do much walking but enjoy sightseeing.
Cliff Welz, who was operations manager for the county railway through December, said his company had invested a lot of money into the railroad's operation over 12 years, but its importance to the community can't just be measured in revenue.
"I don't think there's any excursion railroad in the U.S. that makes money," Welz said. "It's more a labor of love."
Welz, and dozens of other area tourism officials, say the tourist railroad is an attraction that draws in tourists who spend money at area restaurants, stores, and lodging enterprises , important revenue for business owners, residents and local government.
Munley said tourists will be taking trips oriented initially on sightseeing, with ski trains, dining trips and special rail events being introduced later.
Crucial to the expanded services will be connections between the Saratoga-North Creek railway with Amtrak service in Saratoga Springs, Rensselaer, New York City and Vermont.
These four connections have been detailed in Iowa Pacific's proposals for the railway, endorsed enthusiastically this year by county supervisors.
Helen Miner from the Depot Museum said she has a daughter in North Carolina who can't wait to visit by train.
Miner also said she's excited by the prospect of visiting Manhattan on the rail, and hopes that Manhattanites will be just as excited to reach North Creek without having to get behind the wheel of a car.
Munley said Iowa Pacific is looking into providing a way for outdoor adventurers to bring their larger gear, like bikes and kayaks, on board for excursions into the mountains.
Iowa Pacific will be cross-promoting the Saratoga-North Creek service on other other scenic rail lines in the U.S. Munley said, and they'll be making consignment tickets available through area stores.
Also, Iowa Pacific is developing a website that Munley said would cross-promote local businesses while helping potential train passengers plan a trip.
Warren County's contract with Iowa Pacific 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.
In the agreement, Iowa Pacific Holdings 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.
Perky Granger, an events planner and publicist in Thurman, said she and others in Thurman are devising ways to cross-promote and incorporate train service with events in her town, like the Fall Farm Tour.
"We are impressed with the new folks and their expanded schedule," she said. "It will be a whole new experience for the communities and for the passengers who ride."
(Adirondack Journal Editor Thom Randall contributed to this report.)