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Railway operator seeks to invest $1 million into county tracks, cap its fees

The Gore Mountain Snow Train rides again.

The Gore Mountain Snow Train rides again.

— Ellis noted that his firm had purchased insurance to cover major bridge failures, leaving a limited liability for both parties.

The track upgrades would include about 1,170 feet of new rail, and new ties — an average of 80 per mile — as well as 84,000 feet of new ballast, or crushed stone foundation under the rails. Crossings would also be replaced.

The result, Ellis said, would cut the travel time between Saratoga and North Creek by up to 15 minutes, reduce unexpected delays to the schedule and provide a smoother ride for passengers, he said.

Ellis noted, however, that the upgrades wouldn’t allow the trains to move faster than the 30 m.p.h. limit for Class 2 track under federal regulations. Improving the rails and rail bed to allow a far higher speed wasn’t feasible because of tight curves in the northern portions of the route, he said.

County officials said the upgrades were to improve the rail line for the long term and to avoid expensive short-term repairs, most likely with the expectation of carrying freight over the line.

The existing contract calls for Iowa Pacific to pay taxes on the line — about $14,000 per year — maintenance costs and track repairs that cost less than $50,000.

The county is now obligated to put away five-sixths of its revenue into a reserve fund for track repairs costing more than that amount.

Sources at the county have said that Iowa Pacific is currently seeking between $5 million and $6 million in state transportation grant money to help bankroll additional track improvement. The source said that the track improvements were being pursued by Iowa Pacific with the anticipation of transporting freight over the line.

Iowa Pacific has applied to federal transportation authorities to being hauling freight across the 28.7 stretch of tracks between North Creek and Tahawus.

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