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A small group of VIPs takes the historic train ride on the Saratoga & North Creek Railway's Sanford Lake Branch WednesdayFrom left are Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, Inc., Charles Bracken, Jr., chairman, the Barton Group; and Brian Barnoski, operations manager at the Barton mine. Photo: Andy Flynn
A small group of VIPs takes the historic train ride on the Saratoga & North Creek Railway's Sanford Lake Branch WednesdayFrom left are Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, Inc., Charles Bracken, Jr., chairman, the Barton Group; and Brian Barnoski, operations manager at the Barton mine. Photo: Andy Flynn

Train makes opening run on Tahawus freight line

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For the first time in nearly a quarter century, a freight train made the trip this week from North Creek to the Barton garnet mine six miles outside the village A new company hopes to eventually reopen tracks all the way to the old Tahawus mine on the southern edge of the High Peaks. Andy Flynn has our story.

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Andy Flynn
Adirondack Correspondent

It was a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony in the hot sun. VIPs stood in front of the train at the North Creek station.

Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, parent company of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, said a few words. Then Barton Group chairman Charles Bracken  — the man whose company operates the nearby Garnet mine — praised the project.

Ellis cut the ribbon, the two climbed aboard the red caboose, waved to the crowd from the back of the train, and headed for North River, home of the Barton Mine.

Railway manager Steve Torrico says this journey revives an important route that has lain dormant for decades.

“The Delaware and Hudson ran the last ore train from Tahawus to North Creek and down to Saratoga in 1989, and they shut this line down,” he said.  “The line was never abandoned. It’s just been sitting here dormant, and last year our company, Iowa Pacific, bought this line from National Lead. So we have rehabilitated the first 6 miles of track to get to Barton Mines and here we are taking our first trip on the first six miles.”

Shortly after leaving the train station, Torrico moved from the stuffy caboose to an open-air rail car, with railway executives, Barton managers, North Creek Business Alliance leaders and former Johnsburg Town Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed.

Goodspeed said, “It’s a great day for the North Country. It’s something a lot of people have worked very hard on for a number of years going all the way back to the late ’80s when the station was collapsing, to here we are with a renovated station, an active museum, freight service, passenger rail service and a vibrant economy in downtown North Creek that’s spreading out to other parts of the Adirondack economy.”

The brush and trees were cleared along the tracks just enough to make this run up to the Barton processing plant, with the train going just 10 miles per hour. It’s real progress, but it’s mostly symbolic. There’s still plenty of track to be fixed, says Iowa Pacific's Ed Ellis.

“We’re going to press on to Tahawus, “ Ellis said. “We’re really proud to have made it this far, and we’re thrilled that Barton Mines is here with us. We’d like for them to become our customer. We’re working very hard at that. We’re working to make that happen. So we’re just thrilled that the line is open.”

The railway offers daily passenger service in the summer from Saratoga Springs to North Creek, plus ski trains in the winter, but officials need freight service, from the Tahawus and Barton mines, in order for the line to be profitable.

Barton executive Charles Bracken says what’s good for the railway is good for his company.

“From Barton Mines’ perspective, it’s great to have another alternative for transportation, and a great alternative. And as everybody knows, we’re very focused on the environment with our green office building in Glens Falls. We welcome Ed, and we love the fact that we’re going to have that alternative,” bracken said. . “Being one of the oldest and largest employers in this area, anything that stimulates the economy in this area is good for Barton Mines and good for the economy ... so we look forward to welcoming them and hopefully sometime soon we’ll have our first truckload, or trainload, of garnet going down the rails.”

In addition to garnet, the Barton Group is looking to sell some of its tailings, rock leftover from the garnet-extraction process, which can be used in construction projects.

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