Voluntary Rail Abandonment Opens Potential For New Adirondack Recreational Trails

Oct 24, 2019

A railroad company that has in the past been embroiled in controversy for parking unused rail cars in the Adirondacks is agreeing to a voluntary abandonment of tracks it owns the right to use.

A 30-mile rail corridor known as the Tahawus Line runs between North Creek and Newcomb.  It was built in the 1940’s when the federal government reopened mines to obtain minerals for the war effort.  Eventually Iowa Pacific Railroad obtained the right to operate the rail line and planned to use it to transport freight. But it wasn’t used for 20 years and New York state sought an adverse abandonment ruling from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.  Iowa Pacific has now reached an agreement with the state and the federal agency to voluntarily abandon the rail line.
The Adirondack Council calls the move a “great victory” for the Forest Preserve and its residents, in part because, as spokesman John Sheehan says, the line was imposed on the region by the federal government.  “In 1940 it was something that was very much important to the war effort and the federal government took an awful lot of land in Northern New York to make sure that this railroad got through, part of which was the Forest Preserve.  So this is really an opportunity for the people of New York to regain some of the land they lost when that happened. And the line itself doesn’t have a commercial purpose at the moment. So it’s an opportunity to maintain the corridor and provide a chance for the people who live in the area and other folks who are interested in the Forest Preserve to help chart a new course for this path.”

The Glens Falls Post-Star reported that Iowa Pacific is negotiating for an "interim trail use" agreement for the rail corridor.  Sheehan hopes the voluntary abandonment simplifies and speeds any settlement.  “I guess I didn’t see an awful lot of future for them on this line. They never really had put a commercial purpose to this portion of the line that seemed viable. So why they wanted to hold on to that didn’t seem to make an awful lot of sense.”  

Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer feels that the time for rail use of the corridor is past.  "The viability of a rail line has come and gone.  The entire impetus for its construction was mining rare minerals to meet the massive war effort of WWII.  And it’s really never had a viable economic future since that time. It’s been struggling.”

Bauer says voluntary abandonment means the corridor is preserved and other uses, such as creation of a recreational trail, can now be considered.  “Under the terms by which the land was taken from the Forest Preserve and private landowners during World War II if the line is abandoned then the land would revert back to the Forest Preserve and the private landowners. Under a voluntary abandonment the corridor will remain intact which would provide the opportunity to extend some type of recreational trail from North Creek the 29 miles up to the Tahawus mine in Newcomb.  So it creates that possibility.”

Calls to Ed Ellis, the President and CEO of Iowa Pacific, were not returned in time for broadcast.