The North Country Regional Economic Development Council continues to support railroad operations in northern New York.
In a planning document submitted to the state last week, the council again labeled rehabilitation of railroad infrastructure as a "key strategy." Last year, one of the council's priority projects was the $9.9 million rehabilitation of the Newton Falls railroad to a shuttered paper mill, and it also supported restoration of rail corridors in the Adirondacks, including the Remsen-Lake Placid line currently used by a tourist excursion train.
The council's planning documents state that "2012 saw remarkable progress on the rail front, including one priority project and three additional CFA funded projects, as well as significant steps forward for three other rail corridors in the Adirondacks."
The Newton Falls rail corridor runs 46 miles through Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The priority project was awarded funds last year that were partially tied to the potential reopening of Newton Falls Fine Paper. A deal to reopen the mill fell though recently, but St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency officials say the railroad rehabilitation is still needed to market the paper mill to potential buyers.
According to the economic development council, St. Lawrence County taxing jurisdictions along the rail line have signed off on a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes plan for the corridor, and "negotiations are well underway to secure the same consents in Lewis and Jefferson counties." The Mohawk Adirondack & Northern Railroad has also executed an agreement with SLCIDA to "allocate ownership of the line."
The council also reported that SLCIDA "has forwarded a preliminary design and phase 1 construction proposal" to Empire State Development and the state Department of Transportation that would include the use of MA&N personnel to clear the existing line, which would allow engineers to look at the railroad before winter. The council anticipates bids will be solicited this winter and that construction on the corridor will begin in the spring.
DOT has also awarded funds to upgrade rail infrastructure near Gouverneur and in Massena.
Meanwhile, the council "actively assisted in obtaining approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board" for "the resumption of freight service on the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad" between North Creek and Tahawus.
"This will allow removal of valuable materials at the former titanium mine at Tahawus by rail rather than truck, will strengthen the future of this Adirondack railway, and will create jobs in an isolated area of Essex County where they are greatly needed," the report says.
The report also claims that a "significant, privately-funded planning progress" has begun to rehabilitate the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, the stretch of railroad at the heart of a debate between train enthusiasts and supporters of replacing the tracks with a year-round, multi-use recreational trail.
Members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates' steering committee said NCREDC members are disregarding the growing number of people who want a recreational trail to replace the railroad. Dick Beamish said council co-chair Garry Douglas' "obsession with restoring railroads everywhere in the Adirondacks, whether they are needed or not, is giving his economic development council a black eye.
"His obsession is especially unfortunate considering that the NCREDC is otherwise performing a useful service in supporting a wide range of projects that will benefit the region," Beamish said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.