NORTH CREEK-Negotiations have been dragging on between Warren County and Iowa Pacific Holdings since December in hopes that a new train operator will soon take over the rail line between North Creek and Corinth and beyond.
Iowa Pacific is interested in conducting a tourist and freight operation on the lines, servicing the towns along the route from North Creek to Saratoga. Despite previous deadlines, if an agreement is reached in the next few weeks, the lines could be operational by summer, according to Warren County supervisors.
"We are dealing with multiple elements," said Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed. "We are still number crunching and working the proposal through."
Iowa Pacific submitted a proposal in November after Upper Hudson River Railroad's contract expired and was denied renewal by the county after 12 years of operation.
Goodspeed anticipates a contract within 50-60 days but added that it must be done right rather than quickly.
The biggest change includes Iowa Pacific's desire to run freight on the lines after years of the tracks being used solely for tourist trains. The tracks are in good shape and ready for use as determined by an inspection made by Iowa Pacific at the time of their proposal submission.
The lengthy negotiations have, however, created problems for some traditional events hosted in North Creek. Thomas the Tank Engine will mostly likely not make his usual appearance in May.
Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific, plans on continuing the Thomas weekends, but later in the year.
"The train has a huge economic impact on this region," said Gore Mountain Region Chamber of Commerce President Dave Bulmer. "It is important that we work together to push the county to make a decision as quickly as possible."
The train attracts thousands of visitors to the Gore Mountain Region yearly and has spurred such annual events as Race the Train, Ales on Rails, visits from Thomas the Tank Engine and many others, he said.
The North Creek Business Alliance along with the Gore Mountain Regional Chamber of Commerce are exploring other options for an event in May to replace the Thomas weekend.
Goodspeed is optimistic about the future of the train, which will include a ski train, a dinner train, and commuter service to Saratoga Springs and New York City.
"This line will connect us with the rest of the world," he said.