But I haven’t heard them talking about shutting down the tourist train that runs between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
The state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep the Adirondack Scenic Railroad in operation. The railroad operates two tourist trains: one out of Lake Placid and one near Old Forge. The latter accounts for the bulk of the railroad’s revenue.
There may be a better use for the rail corridor. If the Lake Placid train were shut down, the state could create an eighty-mile bike path between Old Forge and Lake Placid. It would be a bike path like none other in the East, traversing vast stretches of remote wilderness. Properly promoted, such a rail-trail could draw cyclists from all over the Northeast and beyond.
In the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Alan Wechsler writes about what would need to be done to convert the rail corridor into a recreational trail.
As Alan points out, long-distance rail-trails have proven to be big money-makers in other parts of the country.
I can think of only three arguments for keeping the railroad:
1. The train is a profit-making business that provides local jobs.
2. The train attracts tourists and boosts the local economy.
3. The tracks might be needed again for passengers and freight as the nation seeks to lessen its dependence on oil.
The first two arguments don’t seem to hold much water. As mentioned, the railroad relies on taxpayer dollars (as well as charitable donations) to stay afloat. And officials in the town of North Elba, which includes Lake Placid, say the train doesn’t do much for the local economy.
In any case, the question should be not whether the tourist train benefits the economy but whether the train benefits the economy as much as a rail-trail would. The town of North Elba has commissioned a consulting firm to look into that question.
The third argument is the one that gives me pause. How likely is it that we’ll want to revive this rail line in the future? If anyone has any thoughts or insight into this question, let us know.
Photo by Susan Bibeau: train tracks near Saranac Lake.
Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.