Outlook 2013: Excursion railway meets with quick success and growing popularity
SARATOGA The Saratoga & North Creek Railway received some unexpected national recognition when a man calling himself the Excited Train Guy posted a video on YouTube.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for months and now I am finally getting it on film,” says the otherwise unidentified railroad buff.
He captured one of the railway line’s engines as it rolled into the station.
“Oh my God, listen to that horn. She is beautiful,” he exclaimed.
The social media posting went viral, getting more than 1.8 million views.
Steven Torrico, general manager for the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, said the video is posted on the railway’s website (www.sncrr.com) for all to enjoy.
“It helps spread the brand,” he said about the railway, which is owned by Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC.
Shelby Schneider, marketing director for the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., said it’s incredible that the video had so many views.
“It’s got Saratoga all over it. That’s good for us,” she said, referring to the classic locomotive in the video, which has “Saratoga & North Creek Railway” in large letters on it.
She said such a social media posting gets the word out for the Saratoga brand.
“Even if five people come to the area [because of viewing the video], that’s a good thing,” she said.
She said there are some people who are “real hardcore railroad enthusiasts” and these are the ones who may plan a special trip to see the engines and cars of the Saratoga & North Creek Railway.
The railway started passenger service in July 2011 on former Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks that run from Saratoga Springs to North Creek in Warren County and on up into the Tahawus in the Adirondacks. Iowa-Pacific Holdings LLC also operates scenic trains in the western part of the United States, as well as short-run freight service lines. The company also has rail holdings in England.
Torrico said ridership has increased on the line, which makes seven stops along its route from Saratoga County into Warren County and the Adirondacks. The railway also has a popular Polar Express train during the holidays that attracts thousands of young riders eager to talk to Santa Claus.
The rail line started running snow trains last winter but with an unusually warm and snowless winter in 2011-12, only 1,400 riders took advantage of these trains, which bring skiers from Saratoga Springs to North Creek and the state’s Gore Mountain ski center.
This winter’s weather is more normal, and as of early February, the snow trains had recorded three excellent weekends. “We are happy with that,” Torrico said.
During the first year of operation, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway had 47,000 passengers between July and December, including an unexpected 35,000 on the Polar Express trains.
In 2012, the Polar Express numbers dropped to 28,000 but passengers taking the regular train increased to 25,000, for a total of 53,000 riders.
The snow train was extended to three days — Friday, Saturday and Sunday — and a second snow train was added on Saturdays this season.
In 2012, the railway also started to offer freight service on the line. The 30 miles of tracks between North Creek and Tahawus have been re-opened to the location of a former titanium mine in Tahawus.
“We were thrilled with the condition the tracks were in,” Torrico said.
He said the Delaware & Hudson Railway Co. operated freight service to Tahawus until 1989 and had maintained the heavy-duty tracks very well.
“It was in really great shape when they stopped operating [to Tahwaus],” he said.
“We are working very diligently to find customers. It’s an ongoing process,” Torrico said about freight service. “There has been no freight on this railroad for 24 years.”
The railway hopes to start shipping for Barton Mines in the North Creek area sometime this month.
“[Barton Mines] had shipped in the past by rail,” Torrico said.
Torrico said parents are finding the snow train handy for sending their teenaged children for a day of skiing or snowboarding at Gore Mountain.
The railway and Gore Mountain have special ski and ride packages that include the train ride and a lift ticket.
“Moms drop their kids off at the Saratoga Springs station at 6:45 a.m.,” Torrico said.
The young skiers have breakfast on the train, ski a full day at Gore, and return to Saratoga Springs by 7 p.m.
The lift ticket and train ride combination is $55 for people between ages 13 and 19 and $70 for adults riding in the coach cars. If the skiers want to ride in the more luxurious dome car, the cost is $72 for teenagers and $87 for adults (including the cost of the Gore lift ticket).
“We run a regular schedule, a timetable schedule all year long,” Torrico said about the railway. The snow train runs Friday through Sunday through March 17.
Starting March 23 and running through May, passenger service runs Saturdays and Sundays only. Starting in June, passenger service increases to Friday through Sunday, and starting July 1, passenger service is seven days a week, through Oct. 31.
The Saratoga & North Creek Railway also can connect with Amtrak trains in Saratoga Springs.
“We had a fellow last summer commuting between North Creek and New York City,” Torrico said.
The man would park his car at the North Creek station on Monday, take the Saratoga & North Creek Railway to Saratoga Springs and then transfer to an Amtrak train for New York City, where he worked. He would come back on Friday, pick up his car, and drive to his seasonal home in the Adirondacks.
Back in the 1930s and early 1940s, there were snow trains leaving from Grand Central Station in New York City and going to North Creek for ski weekends. But today, most Amtrak trains coming from New York City to Saratoga Springs don’t have baggage cars, so a ski train from New York City isn’t possible.
Torrico said most people using the snow train live in the Capital Region, drive to Saratoga Springs and board the Saratoga & North Creek Railway snow train for their trip to North Creek and Gore Mountain.
The railway service has free shuttle buses that take the snow train passengers and their skis up to Gore Mountain and returns them to the train at the end of the day.
A Teddy Roosevelt Festival will be held in North Creek the weekend of Sept. 14 and 15. Torrico said it was on Sept. 14, 1901, that vice president Teddy Roosevelt arrived at the North Creek train station on a horse-drawn buckboard from the Newcomb area and received a telegram that President McKinley had died from a gunshot wound and urged Roosevelt to get on the train and come to Buffalo as quickly as possible to be sworn in as the next president.
The festival will include a Roosevelt impersonator, an old-fashioned Adirondack celebration and a recreation of the buggy ride to the train station made by Roosevelt.
To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.