Tourist Train Rolling South

QUEENSBURY Warren County supervisors expressed optimism this week that the tourist rail line which now operates primarily in North Creek will extend south to Saratoga Springs as soon as late 2008. Track is now set in Warren County and renovations to upgrade in Saratoga County are now underway, former Johnsburg Supervisor Bill Thomas said Saturday. We should be open and ready to go sometime this year. The county Board of Supervisors voted Jan. 18 to build train stations in the towns of Thurman and Hadley. But the stations are not the quaint buildings that county officials and rail enthusiasts had envisioned until recently. The two stations will be rail-side platforms with canopies -- at least until more grant monies can be secured for historic-looking buildings, Luzerne Town Supervisor Gene Merlino said. The $2.5 million in existing grant funds, earmarked for developing the two elaborate stations, will be spent in acquiring property and preparing the sites, he said. Constructing the quant rail-side buildings to accomodate passengers would cost Warren County about $800,000 more than it now has budgeted for the project, he added. The project cost more than we thought it would, so well be looking for more dollars, starting with Gillibrands office, he said, referring to U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand. He and other county officials said full-scale stations could be built atop the platforms later after the railway is operational to Amtraks Saratoga Springs station. The Upper Hudson River Railroad operates routinely between North Creek and Riparius, and for the last two years offered occasional, special trips south to Thousand Acres Ranch in Stony Creek. The rail line also offered several runs to a stop-off in Hadley, which is within walking distance of Lake Luzerne, where most passengers would likely visit, Merlino said. The railways ridership in the last several years has been boosted by a themed excursion, which includes dressing up their diesel engine as Thomas the Tank Engine, a popular animated television character. The railways ridership has approached 20,000 passengers annually, Thomas said. And that number may increase substantially when proposed ski train service is launched, bringing passengers from the Saratoga Springs station, which is part of the extensive Amtrak rail line. Former Governor Pataki predicted in 2006 that linking the railway to the Amtrak line would cause a year-round explosion in tourists that would boost the economy in the lower Adirondacks. Thomas would like to see the rail line go further into the Adirondacks than North Creek. He and others would like the railway to extend northward 33 miles from North Creek to Tahawus (Essex County), where titanium mining operations flourished decades ago. Grant funds had been set aside for this rail extension, he said, but Essex Countys portion of the monies, intended to purchase and rehabilitate about 28 miles of the track, was spent on a sewer project in Newcomb. Such a northward run into Essex County would offer spectacular views of the Adirondack backcountry, Thomas said, adding that economic benefits from tourism would be substantial. This railway development is a very worthy endeavor for the entire North Country, he said.

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