Feds rule on Tahawus railroad line

Appeal denied but exemption no problem

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 Monday, May 14 announced that it has ruled on the Saratoga-North Creek Railway’s case to operate the Tahawus Line from North Creek to the former mine in the town of Newcomb.

Although the railway’s Dec. 2, 2011 appeal was denied — upholding the director’s Nov. 23 decision rejecting the railway’s class exemption to operate as a common carrier on the 29.71-mile line — this week’s ruling also said the Board’s previous concerns had been answered in full. Therefore, the railway has a green light to proceed.

“Subsequent filings have provided enough information to resolve the concerns that led to the director’s decision,” stated the ruling. “Thus the railroad may now file a new notice of exemption for the operating authority it seeks.”

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.

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.

The STB’s rejection of Saratoga’s exemption came on the heels of a petition filed Nov. 11 by the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks protesting the railway’s notice of exemption. Protect listed seven issues about Saratoga’s exemption status, including the firm belief that an environmental review and a historic assessment must be performed.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) initially raised concerns over the state-owned lands the Tahawus line crosses; however, DEC and Department of Transportation officials filed a joint letter with the STB March 15 urging approval of common carrier status for the Saratoga-North Creek Railway.

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