Thursday, June 6, 2013

State To Reconsider Use Of Adirondack Rail Corridor

ray-brook-railThe state announced today that it intends to revisit the management plan for a controversial rail corridor that traverses the Adirondacks, but don’t expect a quick decision.

The Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation have only just begun to prepare for a lengthy review that will include plenty of opportunity for public input.

A decision on the best use of the 119-mile corridor will take at least a year, according to DOT spokesman Beau Duffy.

Duffy said DOT, DEC, and the Adirondack Park Agency will begin holding public meetings this summer. He said the agencies will look at the environmental and economic impacts of various options for the corridor.

The rail corridor stretches from Remsen, outside the Adirondack Park, to Lake Placid. Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates tourist trains out of Old Forge and Lake Placid, but most of the tracks in the Adirondacks have gone largely unused for decades.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates has been urging the state to take out the tracks between the Old Forge region and Lake Placid and convert the corridor to a multi-use trail for biking, hiking, running, and snowmobiling. ARTA contends that such a trail would benefit the economy of communities along the corridor.

Rail advocates argue that it would be shortsighted to tear up the tracks as they may be needed someday for freight and/or passenger service. They have pushed for a side-by-side trail, which ARTA claims would be all but impossible, given the costs, environmental regulations, and the narrowness of the corridor. Adirondack Scenic Railroad also has raised the possibility of having a network of trails that connect to the corridor.

For more than a year, the debate over the train has all but taken over the opinion page of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, a daily newspaper in Saranac Lake. The paper has published hundreds of letters to the editor and op-ed pieces as well as numerous news stories.

In addition, a number of towns along the corridor have passed resolutions urging the state to remove the tracks or re-open the management plan.

Duffy said the public debate prompted the agencies to revisit the plan. “Given the community engagement, we felt it was time to take another look,” he said.

Lee Keet, one of the founders of ARTA, said he believes the evidence will show that a trail is a better use of the corridor. “I am delighted that the pressure brought by over twelve thousand citizens [who signed petitions], nearly all of the municipalities along the rail corridor, and organizations such as ours have moved this issue to where the general public can have a say.  Our goal was to let democracy work, not power politics or special interests,” he said.

In a news release, Adirondack Scenic Railroad said re-opening the management plan is unnecessary but believes a review will favor keeping the rail line. “Destroying our past and limiting our future is not in the best interest of the region. Upon further examination of the corridor, the Railroad believes that its owner, New York State, will make a determination to complete rail restoration as they had planned to do twenty years ago,” ASR said.

Click the links below (PDF files) to read Lee Keet’s full statement and ASR’s news release. (You will need to click a second time after leaving this page.)

Lee Keet statement

ASR news release

Photo by Susan Bibeau: rail corridor near the village of Saranac Lake

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.


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16 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Legal easement question. Does the state have the legal right to use the corridor for any purpose they wish? Was the corridor granted a ROW for a rail road specifically? Can it be used for something else or could the ROW go away with the tracks? Related could the DOT give bikers (or other users) a ROW to use roads that they have abandoned for automobile use?

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  2. Jim McCulley says:

    There is no easement it is owned in fee through adverse possession.

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

    • Paul says:

      Jim, Thanks, what does that mean? Can DOT do whatever it wants with the corridor?

      Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • Paul says:

      I think I get it. So the RR owned the land and then it reverted to the state for no payment of taxes??

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  3. Neal Estano says:

    I own a camp a short distance from the track. Outside of snowmobiles there is no use of the track. An occasional maintenance vehicle is about it. I say tear up the track and make use of the corridor. It will open up areas to the general public that are currently inaccessible.
    Who is going to take a passenger train from Old Forge to Lake Placid anyway?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

  4. paul says:

    there are how many miles of hiking trails in the park? choo choo :)

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

    • Mike says:

      The better question is how many miles of bike paths there are in the park. This isn’t road biking or mountain biking. This is biking for young and old. How many miles are there?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  5. Paul K says:

    How many hiking trials are in the park? choo choo :)

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Peter says:

    Two brief comments:

    1) No action should be taken until two or more years of use analysis is done on the side by side trail from Lake Placid to Ray Brook. This will provide objective numbers.

    2) A non-motorized use provision should be explored, particularly through wilderness areas, if those in charge elect to go with a trails option.

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  7. Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

    They may not build the side-by-side trail right away. Would it make sense to spend the extra money if the state may remove the rails?

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

    • Paul says:

      Also, I don’t think that data on number one would be very indicative of a larger trail project. It is about as fair as looking at the short tourist spurs we have now and concluding that a fully restored line would also be a bust.

      I personally would probably not ride on a rail-to-trail much but if this side-by-side trail were good enough for a road bike I would use a ray brook to placid trail just to avoid that stretch of 86 on my way to ride the roads over near Lake Placid.

      I support either use of the corridor but I would like to see the idea of a fully restored line (possibly with multiple RR uses) fairly compared to a long rail trail.

      Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Matt says:

    Finally.

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  9. Avon says:

    Ripping up the rails in the Taconic area (which used to connect White Plains with Chatham NY, on the Albany-Boston route) proved a great idea. Bike riders and walkers go from town to town. Families play together.
    But along this Adirondack route, there are almost no towns at all, and the flat forest is less scenic than the highway routes that people bike now, which have vistas.
    I can’t see much use of the route, except maybe for motorcycle races or something. Ugh.
    Once gone, rails are too hard to restore. The scenic railroad was non-viable for decades, but now it works. Let’s wait and see what works with rail in 10 years. In the meanwhile there are plenty of other places to hike, x-c ski and bike, and I’ll be using them.

    Like or Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. Buck Jordan says:

    It really is simple to please most all concerned.

    Fill between the rails with stone dust (or even asphalt.)
    Stone dust or even slag from Tahawus could be dropped by rail car then compacted. Trains could still use the rails (proceeding slowly, as now) AND bikers & snowmobile rs
    could ride the line getting off if a train approaches.

    This has been done in other states, like N.H. and PA

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