Monday, May 03, 2010

Business may help put rail service back on track

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Freight traffic could resume on the Upper Hudson River Railroad as soon as next year, as a northern Warren County business seeks to get its product to market more cheaply, the Post Star reports. Barton Mines would use trains to transport product from its North River mines to markets right now, if it could, said Chuck Barton, chief operating officer of the company.

Barton said the company has made an application to the government to begin using rail transportation when freight traffic resumes on the Upper Hudson line. He said the status of that application was unclear.

The company, which mines garnet and produces garnet-related products, recently expanded production at the North River site and plans to re-enter the European sales market, Barton said. It also is working on a material that would use a byproduct of its production process, and if it decides to sell that material commercially, rail transportation would be an efficient way to get it out of Johnsburg.

"If it was to materialize, the railroad would be a nice option," he said.

It's been at least four decades since freight trains used the rail line that begins in the hamlet of Tahawus, Essex County and makes its way south to Saratoga Springs.

Representatives of a Maine-based railroad company were in Warren County last week to meet with Barton representatives and Warren County officials. Fred Monroe, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said the railroad representatives also inspected the tracks on the Upper Hudson line. The company, Maine Eastern Railroad, was one of three prospective operators for the railroad that met with county officials earlier this year.

The county is preparing to put out a request for proposals for a railroad operator for 2011, and the prospective operators that met with supervisors in February indicated they wanted to be able to have freight rights in addition to operating the North Creek-based tourist railroad.

Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said he was aware Barton had interest in using freight trains and said he had been approached by other business owners in the county who have interest as well.

"It could be a culture-changing event for Johnsburg if it happens," he said of the resumption of freight traffic to the North Country.

There are still some hurdles, however.

Warren County owns the freight rights from North Creek to Antone Mountain Road in Corinth, but Canadian Pacific Railway owns the freight rights for much of the line between Corinth and Saratoga Springs. Negotiations are under way to try to have those freight rights released, Monroe said.

"We want to make sure we have all the information on freight rights before we put out the RFP," said county Administrator/Attorney Paul Dusek.

NL Industries Inc., which formerly operated iron mines in Essex County, owns the section of rail between North Creek and North River. So the county or railroad operator would have to get permission to use the line, or someone would have to purchase the line from the owner.

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