Supporters of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad continue to insist, contrary to assertions by state officials, that it’s possible to keep the tracks and build trails in and out of the 34-mile rail corridor between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.
The Trails with Rails Action Committee (TRAC) has prepared maps and engineer’s drawings showing where trails could be located within the corridor and, where that’s not feasible, where spur trails could be built that leave and re-enter the corridor. The map of TRAC’s proposed trails and sample engineer’s drawings can be found on the group’s website.
TRAC members will be attending public meetings in Tupper Lake and Lake Placid today and tomorrow to discuss their ideas with state officials and the media. (Prepared remarks of two members can also be found on the group’s website.)
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation will host the meetings at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake from 6-8 p.m. today and at the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid from 1-3 p.m. tomorrow.
DEC and DOT have proposed replacing the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a recreational trail that could be used by snowmobilers in winter and bicyclists in other seasons. The departments also propose fixing up the tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which runs tourist trains out of Old Forge and Lake Placid, argues for keeping the tracks along the entire 70 miles between Big Moose and Placid.
Wayne Tucker, a member of the ASR board, also contends that rails-with-trails is a viable option. We recently emailed him a list of questions about the rail corridor. The questions are show below in bold, followed by his answers.
DOT estimates that rehabbing the tracks will cost $200,000 to $250,000 a mile (depending on the segment) for a total cost of $17.7 million to repair the tracks between Big Moose and Lake Placid. This seems pretty close to the Stone Consulting estimate, but do you have any quarrels with it?
No, we have no quarrel with the DOT estimate for rehabbing the tracks. It’s slightly higher than the Stone Consulting estimate, but we attribute that to the increased cost of railroad ties. Our most recent project (Big Moose to Carter) seemed to confirm that.
DOT estimates that putting in a trail between Big Moose and Lake Placid would cost $21.2 million. ARTA contends this figure is inflated. What are your thoughts?
Again, we feel that DOT did their homework based on recent projects that Parks & Recreation Dept. have completed, and see no reason to dispute it. Similar projects with only an 8-foot-wide trail bed have equated to approx. $300,000 per mile.
The Iron Horse Preservation Society says it could build the trail for free, using revenue from steel salvage. Do you think this is realistic?
We most definitely don’t “buy” the Iron Horse Preservation Society estimate. Salvage experts have indicated to us that these 39-foot-long rails would have to be cut up and melted, and just the transportation to that final site would be costly. In addition, the ties disposal is pegged at $9.00 per tie, and there are probably 200,000 ties to be removed and disposed of as hazardous material (creosote soaked).
DOT and DEC say a side-by-side trail running the full length of the corridor is not feasible, for a number of reasons. Do you dispute this?
No, we don’t dispute that. To my knowledge, we have never touted a side-by-side trail running the full length of the corridor. Rather we have followed the original 1996 UMP recommendation of a combination of parallel trails where feasible, and connecting spurs where space or environment create limitations. The added attraction of the spurs is that it will put adjacent communities in physical touch with both Rail and Trail opportunities.
The state also says building spur trails that leave and re-enter the corridor is not feasible. Officials say it might be possible to build hiking trails that leave and re-enter, but these would not be usable by road and hybrid bikes (and road biking is one of the rationales for the rail trail). They also point out that the corridor passes through Wilderness Areas where biking is not allowed. How do you answer the state’s claim that spur trails are not an option?
We suggest that the state has not had time nor inclination to closely examine the detailed engineered drawings that have been researched and drawn in detail by volunteers from the TRAC group, in conjunction with in-depth field work provided by engineering aspects of our staff and Board, and also aided by local DEC Forester(s) and APA staff. These drawings detail every tenth of a mile of rail bed from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, and make suggestions as to the most prudent method of construction to conform to the individual locations and terrain. Initially over-looked by state personnel, some of those same personnel that have now looked at them in-depth are over whelmed by the simplicity of the solutions that existed right under their noses, and they are now reconsidering their original positions upon finding out that these connecting spurs are already built and in use for multiple years. It behooves us to reintroduce these facts to all those in charge.
If a parallel trail and spur trails are not feasible, is there another rails-with-trails option that I am overlooking?
You are not overlooking any other Rails with Trails solution, but in fact you are inadvertently overlooking the original 1996 proposed solution because of the state’s false contention that Parallel and spur trails are not feasible. In fact, they are a Win-Win situation for all three parties (Rail, Trail, & State). The Rail advocates would still have their historic corridor and increased customer base, the Trail advocates would also have trail access with the train available to take them to varied spots of egress for their biking or hiking interests, and the state completes the win-win scenario with the revenue created by the economic impact of these taxpaying recreationists. Not only is the Rails with Trails feasible for all the end users, including the handicapped or mobility impaired, but also appears to be the most cost effective solution proffered by all parties, as well as the shortest time frame to implement. To conclude otherwise is tantamount to sticking your head in the sand and ignoring the obvious.
If the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid are removed (as envisioned by state’s proposal), would ASR extend service from Old Forge to Tupper Lake? Do you see much demand for people taking the trail to Tupper? What kind of service do you envision?
Yes, in the event the state kills the tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, there are a myriad of vendors looking to create bundled destination packages to venues in Tupper Lake, with trains emanating from Utica and Old Forge. Although there’s no question Lake Placid is the choice destination of both New York State residents, as well as those nation-wide vacationers who would link to ASR via Amtrak’s national network of train routes, those same packaged entrepreneurs will make do with all the new services hitting Tupper Lake area (expanded Wild Ctr., expanded Woodsmen Days, Tin-Man, Condo functions, Next Stop Train Station, renovated downtown, increased boating venues, etc. ) In 25 years, Tupper Lake could be the next Lake Placid.
How many paying customers used the Lake Placid train last year? How many used the Old Forge train?
Approx. 16,000 customers used the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake train this season just ended, which is a slight increase over last year, and yet we started one month later this year on our “North End” because of logistic delays. The Utica to Old Forge (Thendara) route typically has about 58,000 customers per season.
If the train is extended to Tupper, how many additional customers do you anticipate? What if it were extended all the way to Lake Placid?
We would love to garner 200,000 riders from Utica to Tupper Lake, as the state projects, but that figure is probably more accurate only if we had Lake Placid as a final destination. Whereas the state projects 70,000 bike/hike enthusiasts, the utopian answer is the win-win scenario of Rails with Trails, which should bring 270,000 additional users.
Do you have anything you’d like to add about the state’s proposal, the state’s presentation, or anything at all about the debate over the rail corridor?
As to what is not brought up by the current proposals is the folly that bike riders or hikers will utilize these long stretches of uninhabited corridor, with no services available to the users, including the absence of cell phone service. Who will monitor the trail daily for people who break down on a 70 mile ride, not to mention the return trip after exhausting yourself on the way out. As a long time tandem bike enthusiast, we only do Century rides on rare occasions. The typical recreational ride is a leisurely 2 hours covering 25 miles, including a break. The longer isolated stretches would be for Iron Man candidates only, and I can’t see them spending big bucks with any vendors. When is the last time you saw bikers carrying shopping bags filled with merchant goods back to their bikes, the way train riders do?. Why not combine the best of both worlds?