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Feds may make decision on Tahawus RR appeal soon

Saratoga-North Creek Railway at the North Creek train station

Saratoga-North Creek Railway at the North Creek train station Photo by Andy Flynn.

— The federal Surface Transportation Board may soon make a decision regarding the Saratoga-North Creek Railway’s proposal to operate a line on the Tahawus track between North Creek and Newcomb, according to STB officials.

The decision will simply be an answer to the railway’s December appeal, made to the three STB members, asking them to reverse the director’s decision of denying the railway’s class exemption to operate the Tahawus line as a “common carrier.”

Being a common carrier means the railway would provide service to any shipper upon request, not just NL Industries, the owner of the Tahawus mine. Railway operators want to ship rock from the mine, which had been in full operation from the 1940s to the 1980s mainly processing ilmenite for titanium dioxide.

While there is no deadline for the STB decision, the board will likely rule on the appeal in the coming weeks, according to a spokesman in the STB communications office who wished not to be named.

If the appeal is granted, the Saratoga Railway will obtain operating authority. If it is denied, the railway must seek authority to operate either by 1) obtaining an individual exemption, or 2) filing an application. The railway could also choose not to pursue its attempt to operate as a common carrier.

Obtaining an automatic class exemption to operate as a common carrier removes the application process, thereby expediting the railway’s operation of the Tahawus line.

“However, even if the proposed transaction falls into one of the classes of transactions designated for an automatic exemption, the Director of the Office of Proceedings has discretion to deny the exemption if she believes that the transaction is too controversial, which is what occurred here,” the STB spokesman stated.

Controversy

On Oct. 25, 2011, Saratoga-North Creek Railway officials formally requested an exemption with the STB to permit them to operate common carrier rail operations along 29.71 miles of track called the Tahawus Line.

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