Thursday, February 16, 2017

Judge Seeks More Info In Rail-Trail Lawsuit

A state judge says he needs more information before deciding whether the state should be blocked from removing thirty-four miles of railroad track between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.

In a February 7 order, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. requested more information on the ownership of the rail corridor and on the state’s plans to comply with historic-preservation law.

Until the judge issues a ruling, the state is barred from removing the tracks. The state hopes to begin the work this year.

The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society is suing the state over its plan to convert the thirty-four-mile corridor into a recreational path for biking, snowmobiling, hiking, and other activities.

The society runs the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which operates a seasonal tourist train between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. This operation will cease if the tracks are removed.

In a hearing on January 30, the railroad’s lawyer, Jonathan Fellows, argued that the decision to remove the tracks violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and the state historic-preservation law. He also contended that the state relied on faulty economic data.

Assistant State Attorney General Marie Chery-Seckhobo rebutted these arguments, but at the end of the forty-five-minute hearing, the judge zeroed in on another issue: ownership of the corridor.

When they developed the plan, state officials thought New York State owned the entire 120-mile corridor, which extends from Remsen to Lake Placid. Last year, they learned that two parcels—one in Saranac Lake, the other in Lake Placid—are not in state ownership. This discovery led to delays in the court proceedings.

At the hearing, Chery-Seckhobo said the owners of the two parcels do not object to the state’s plan and have signed letters to that effect. The Saranac Lake parcel is owned by Essex County, Franklin County, and North Country Community College. The one in Lake Placid is owned by the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.

Nevertheless, Main expressed concern that the state’s existing right of way on the parcels may not allow for uses other than a railroad. If the right of way does not allow a recreational trail, he asked, “isn’t the proposal doomed to failure?” After oral arguments ended, he asked lawyers from both sides to discuss the issue further in his chambers.

In his February 7 order, Main described the unanswered property-rights questions as “significant.” He told the state to provide “a full and complete report to this Court respecting the title and/or interest possessed by the State of New York” along the corridor. He gave the state until March 8 to submit the report and the railroad until March 22 to respond.

The judge also ordered the state to provide a report by March 8 explaining how it plans to comply with historic-preservation law. The railroad will again have until March 22 to reply.

The entire 120-mile corridor, including tracks and buildings, is on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The state concedes that removing the tracks will diminish historical resources, but it says the loss can be mitigated by rehabilitating railroad buildings, erecting educational signs, and other actions.

At the hearing, Fellows argued that the state should have prepared a mitigation plan before approving the track removal. Chery-Seckhobo then produced a document that she received the previous week and that outlines mitigation measures. After looking at it, Fellows remained unimpressed. “It’s not a mitigation plan,” he said. “They didn’t have a mitigation plan in place.”

The railway society, which is based in Utica, is suing the Adirondack Park Agency, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the state Department of Transportation. After numerous public meetings, DEC and DOT developed a controversial plan to divide the 120-mile corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment. Last year, the APA board ruled that the plan complied with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

Under the agencies’ plan, the state would rehabilitate forty-five miles of largely unused tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake and remove the thirty-four miles of tracks east of Tupper.

The plan is often described as a compromise. Adirondack Scenic Railroad also runs tourist trains in the Old Forge area. Although it would have to give up its Lake Placid operation, it would be able to expand its operation on the southern end of the corridor, running trains all the way from Utica to Tupper Lake. Once the tracks are fixed up, however, the state will solicit bids from potential operators. There is no guarantee Adirondack Scenic Railroad will win the bidding.

One of the main legal issues is whether removing the tracks will violate the State Land Master Plan. The master plan designates the rail corridor as a Travel Corridor. Last year, the APA concluded that it would remain a Travel Corridor even if the tracks were removed, but at the court hearing, Fellows argued that a Travel Corridor is meant for transportation, not recreation.

It’s about moving people from place to place,” he said. “It’s not about enhancing recreational opportunities.”

Chery-Seckhobo countered that the definition of the Travel Corridor says nothing about tracks. Rather, it refers only to the “Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right-of-way” and state lands “immediately adjacent” to the corridor. In any event, she said the recreational trail will enable snowmobilers, bicyclists, and others to travel from one part of the Park to another. The state also says that the corridor will remain under the jurisdiction of DOT and that tracks could be restored if needed.

Fellows also argued that the agencies relied on a biased study in concluding that dividing the corridor into two would provide a greater economic benefit than restoring rail service throughout the entire corridor. The study was done by Camoin Associates, which had prepared a similar study for Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a supporter of the rail trail. Chery-Seckhobo, however, said the agencies reviewed other studies as well. In court papers, the state says it also interviewed experts and took into account two thousand public comments.

It’s uncertain when Justice Main will issue a ruling. His office said that will depend, in part, on the responses he gets from the parties.

Click the link below to read the judge’s order.

Judge Main order

Note: The above article will appear in the March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine. Dick Beamish, the founder of the Explorer, is one of the founders of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.

 Photo by Susan Bibeau: Adirondack Scenic Railroad train outside Saranac Lake.


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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56 Responses

  1. M.P. Heller says:

    This is obviously no slam dunk for either side. Trail advocates should take note that this is getting dragged out in the courts and judge doesn’t seem impressed. Rail advocates should note that if they prevail they still have a massive uphill battle if they want service restored. No matter the outcome, this story still has years of life left in it. It won’t end with this court decision.

    • James Falcsik says:

      I agree there is no slam dunk. But as long as the rails are barred from being removed, ARPS should be allowed to continue operating on the north end; why would that be a problem? To this point NYS has not complied with historical preservation law. According to the written order by Judge Main; “it also became clear that a plan to avoid or mitigate adverse impacts in compliance with the Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation Law has not been developed or considered.” ARTA had assured everyone historical preservation issues were a “red herring”, along with repeated statements of how the entire corridor was owned “in fee simple”. I guess NYS trusted ARTA’s opinion on that matter rather than doing their own homework.

    • Boreas says:

      MP,

      I agree. Once a decision is made on this case, then the appeals and possibly more injunctions will begin.

      I don’t see NYS upgrading the S end of the line if the N end is in limbo. Upgrading the S end was only part of a compromise plan – not a done deal. If there ultimately is no compromise, why favor the litigant trying to stop the compromise? I would assume NYS would do nothing until the litigation is over. This may include not renewing or entering into new leases until the legal issues are ironed out.

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        Boreas, sadly, you are probably correct. As it is, downtown Saranac Lake will take a huge financial hit this coming summer with the lost of both the ASR and Rail Explorers. It’s hard to imagine the economic impact of the Railroad not operating on the southern end, but to politicians and bureaucrats behind desks in Albany, I doubt that’s much of a concern or factor. Both the ASR and Rail Explorers lost considerable operating time in what is a relatively short business season over the past couple years due to delays in permits.

      • Larry Roth says:

        The reason to do the track work is because it makes sense, not to reward or punish anyone. The compromise does not add up.

        • Boreas says:

          It makes sense to spend tax dollars only if taxpayers say it does.

          • Paul says:

            They already decided that they wanted to do that work. They want to build the trail AND fix up the RR to Tupper. It is only the trail part that has ran into the legal snag. Why not at least do that part that doesn’t have an issue and the state has already said it would pay for?

  2. Scott says:

    They should avoid the area between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake where the entire corridor is not owned by NYS and leave the tracks in that section and rewrite the plan to remove the tracks from Saranac Lake to Remsen..

  3. Bruce says:

    At least the judge is likely to look at facts and case law and not be swayed by opinion and interpretation of laws already in effect by the different groups involved.

    I believe the plan so far is to not remove, but rejuvenate the rail line between Tupper Lake and Remsen, regardless of what happens between Tupper and Lake Placid. It’s a good plan, and would allow the ASR to offer longer, more interesting train rides which will attract a larger ridership.

    My understanding of that part of the plan is to upgrade the tracks to class II passenger service, which means the trains can go 60mph, although it’s unlikely they would go more than 40mph for scenic reasons. As it stands right now, the ASR can only run non-passenger service units on the tracks between Big Moose and Saranac.

    It doesn’t matter to me if service only goes to Tupper Lake or all the way to Lake Placid. Either would be far better than what there is now.

    • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

      Class II track only permits speeds of 30 mph. Renovation of the tracks from Big Moose to Tupper is estimated to cost $13 million – a reasonable estimate based on the cost of rehabilitating other section. Class III track, which is 60 mph, would cost a great deal more.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Numbers please Mr. Goodwin, or you are only engaging in scare tactics.

      • Bruce says:

        Tony,

        Thanks for the correction. I looked it up once, I must have been referring to Class III track. Somewhere in all the available articles, it seemed there was a reference to 60mph for the upgrade.

  4. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    Class II track only permits speeds of 30 mph. Renovation of the tracks from Big Moose to Tupper is estimated to cost $13 million – a reasonable estimate based on the cost of rehabilitating other section. Class III track, which is 60 mph, would cost a great deal more.

    • Larry Roth says:

      But how much more? Twice as much? Ten times as much? It’s not just about speed – it’s also about doing work that will last longer. Going to Class II would be a better investment for the long term, saving money, and it would not add significantly to the time needed to do the upgrade.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Make that Class III

      • Boreas says:

        How much more? You guys don’t know? If you are asking for Class III I would think you would be aware of the upcharge to the taxpayers. Or isn’t that an issue?

        • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

          In 2009 the DOT website had a list of needed rail capital improvements statewide. The Adirondack Scenic needed $42 million in capital improvements. The website didn’t say specifically that was the figure to achieve Class III track, but it seems about right given the rehab costs to date.

          And it’s worth noting that the 1995 study by Freight Services Inc. said that just $11 million would be needed to rehab to Class III. More than that has been spent to date with no Class III track and still over 70 miles of “excepted” track suitable only for slow speed equipment moves. So the DOT figure is probably the best we have at the moment.

  5. Keith Gorgas says:

    Since both the writer of this article and ARTA’s propagandist at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, young Justin Levine keep focusing on the small section of the trail that passes through North Country Community College (and really is probably no huge deal breaker) I’m just going to call a spade a spade.
    The judge’s question and subsequent order go much further… all the way to Remsen. Throughout the public comment period, the NY DEC maintained on their website that the owned the underlying land over the entire length of the right of way. Back in 1996, when the “Option 6” UMP was being developed, the APA, DOT, and DEC were convinced otherwise. They were clear that if the tracks were to be removed, the land would revert to the unlying land owners, or in the case of State land, would revert to the surrounding land classification. DEC’s more recent claims are that NY State took the land via “Eminent Domain”, which requires formal condemnation and settlement for “just compensation.” If that process didn’t occur, the DEC’s claim has been false, whether made in ignorance or as a deliberate deception.
    What the State is being asked is to produce proof of legally taking the land and perfecting the deeds all along the ROW. The section of track from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake is through mostly State land. From Saranac Lake through Saranac Inn, and over many miles further south, the ROW passes through many private properties. If the underlying land was not properly and legally acquired, the State would have either purchase the land or negotiate easements through every lot for a trail if the rails are removed. This process will have a significant impact on the time and cost of the process of destroying the historic railroad.

    I wouldn’t dare to predict how this procedure will play out.

    • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

      Keith, look at the language of the order. On Page 3, the judge specifically refers only to the Tupper-to-Placid stretch of tracks.

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        Phil, I stand corrected, and can see that I interpolated two statements. Thank you for the correction.
        Now, could you also be so kind as to explain why your article diverts attention to the little stretch through the college, and ignores the possibility that many more parcels of land between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake may be in question? If I owned land along the RR ROW I would want to know that, wouldn’t you?

        • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

          I’m not trying to divert attention from other parcels. In court, the only parcels that were discussed were the two mentioned. If problems arise with other parcels, I expect we’ll hear about it.

          • Boreas says:

            Ah yes, the rumored “other parcels” that still haven’t materialized over the last 6 months. The “rail” lawyers haven’t been looking into that?

  6. Paul says:

    “Chery-Seckhobo countered that the definition of the Travel Corridor says nothing about tracks. Rather, it refers only to the “Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right-of-way” and state lands “immediately adjacent” to the corridor.”

    Rail road right-of-way – sounds like a thing for RR tracks.

  7. george says:

    I wouldn’t let the ASR operate on either end until ALL the court issues are resolved. Why allow one of the parties in this court case the opportunity to profit from business while they continue to sue the state, for the right to expand that business.

  8. Rick Packard says:

    Leave the trains. Hikers carry all their stuff in. Not gonna by buyin or spending at loacl shops. Will be a bunch of nothing.

    • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

      Rick, hikers do spend money. Ask EMS, High Peaks Cyclery, The Mountaineer, Mountainman, Noonmark Diner, etc., etc. But the main users of the rail trail are likely to be bicyclists and snowmobilers, not hikers.

      • terry V says:

        This about hikers 100%. plus many stay at local hotels and not in the woods.
        Also I think many people who are not up just for biking would rent a bike at TL SL or LP.

  9. […] Judge Seeks More Info In Adirondack Rail-Trail Lawsuit […]

  10. David P. Lubic says:

    One of the things that stands out is that the court has granted something like five continuances on this, and in effect has granted a sixth. This has been going on for months now.

    What I would like to know is why the state STILL DOES NOT have the information needed! I think it’s because there is no case!

    There were people claiming the old easements had been erased by the purchase of the railroad by an act of eminent domain. The problem is that an eminent domain taking requires a legal publication of a condemnation procedure, and there’s no record anywhere of that, so that means the easements are legally intact. The fact that the state is negotiating with a few that have been identified actually confirms that.

    And how many easements are really out there? Nobody really knows or has stated an actual number publicly. Based on a lot of typical history, .there may be dozens. Each one will require individual negotiation and payment–and you can bet the owners all like money.

    There is also the question of the mitigation plan–or more specifically, the lack of one. Again, this requirement has been known for months. Why isn’t it ready now?

    I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. . .the state has no case. It has not properly prepared its case, it has not properly prepared anything (including the mitigation plan), and the easement issue is likely a not-so-hidden bomb just waiting for the wrong action to create an expensive explosion.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the state knows all this and is delaying things to try to figure a way out. . .and is frustrated that there isn’t one, at least one that doesn’t have considerable risk (i.e., property owners who wouldn’t want a trail on their property) and huge additional dollar signs attached.

    The safest and best course is to leave the railroad alone.

  11. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    The 1996 UMP (approved by DEC, DOT, and the APA) makes it very clear on page 53 that the intent is to have it remain a travel corridor. Under the heading “SLMP Technical Amendments”, the UMP states, “DOT, DEC, and APA currently support the retention of the travel corridor classification.” The next paragraph notes that a reversion to adjacent state land would result in a “wilderness” classification and that, “…The Corridor’s unique value as a snowmobile and bicycle trail would thereby be destroyed.”

    The final paragraph recommends that: “The travel corridor description [in the SLMP] should be amended to more clearly reflect the recreational theme of the management that would be pursued is rail operations fail to materialize.” The APA did just that in conjunction with their approval of Option 7.

    • Paul says:

      But the underlying legal issues tied to what can or cannot be done with the ROW is what really matters. It doesn’t really matter what the state was interested in using it for later. It may be gone with the tracks. If it is a RR only ROW you have a huge challenge trying to amend that after the fact. That part is not just a question of a few small parcels. From this case it sounds like the owners are not even sure what they own yet.

  12. terry V says:

    Nobody rides this train.
    I think it is all volunteer so it creates no jobs.
    I think it is diesel so there’s that also.
    Nobody wants to do the 2 hour train ride so the last thing they need is more track.
    The trains would be better in a covered museum where people could pay $2 each and walk inside the engine part and the caboose. Do it down at the thing they want to build off exit 29
    This is basically a civil war reenactment on wheels that is for train buffs, these are not even old trains

    • David P. Lubic says:

      The ridership numbers would disagree with everything you say.

      Volunteers are enthusiastic and bring that with them. Otherwise, from your commentary, volunteers do nothing. Say that to the firefighting volunteers, say that to the various civic volunteers, say that to the historical society volunteers, and see what they have to say.

      Oh, and let’s not forget the trail volunteers, too.

      Snowmobiles aren’t exactly fragrant.

      What’s wrong with reenactments if they do bring in people and money from outside, helping to grow the economy?

      • terry V says:

        Did I say that the volunteers for the train do nothing? NO
        I said they create no jobs.
        You want to insult volunteers go ahead, but don’t imply that I did.
        Nobody is traveling up here in a car to ride the train for a day trip.
        They come up here to enjoy nature
        People go to Thomas the tank engine land in Hershey Pa if they want trains.
        They come here for outdoor recreation.
        I get it you are a “train guy”
        In a few years after the train is gone you and the other “Train Guys” can talk about how you held up the bike trail for a few years.

    • Scott says:

      You forgot to mention all the herbicide they spray every year to keep any vegetation from growing.

    • Bruce says:

      Terry,

      So you’re calling the 75,000 people who paid to ride the trains in 2015 “nobody?”

      I’m sure the track work will involve well paid railroad tracklaying crews, because it’s especially dangerous work and has to meet federal standards when completed. Doesn’t that represent “jobs?”

      Oh, and it’s not a Civil War reenactment because the Adirondack RR was built in the 1890’s.

      • terry V says:

        No way 75000 people rode the train from LP to SL

      • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

        The 75,000 counts all riders, including Tommy the Tank engine, whether or not the trains they ride ever actually reach the Adirondack Rail Corridor – let alone get beyond Thendara. Furthermore, round trips are now counted as two passengers – consistent with current counting of Amtrak passengers. This is somewhat misleading in showing the actual number of unique riders, and quite misleading when using those figures to show a ridership growth since 2010 when the practice of double-counting came into use.

        Also worth noting is that in 1993 the Adirondack Centennial Railroad attracted over 73,000 passengers (not double-counted) for a five mile out and back ride from Thendara. Now, with operations out of both Utica and Lake Placid plus the original Thendara operation, and with double-counted round-trip passengers the number of riders is the same as in 1993. This is growth?

        • James Falcsik says:

          Tony, the counting you describe for the railroad, mandated by the FRA, is very similar to the counting method used by the trail advocacy to describe the difference between a person trip and a visit. From one of the VA Creeper studies:

          “For locals, a visit and a trip
          are equivalent. For nonlocals, a trip may
          contain more than one visit. For
          example, an overnight visitor to the area
          could ride one part of the trail on
          Saturday and another part on Sunday.
          Hence, one trip would equate to two
          visits.”

          Hmmm; so it seems here in this example a singe person on an overnight stay can be counted as two visitors. This methodology seems to indicate the “visitors” claimed by trail advocates are not always 1:1 as you would have communities believe. If this is the case, then using the Beamish example for the VA Creeper Trail, instead of the exaggerated 100,000 overnight visitors, which was revealed to be just under 6000, might have been just 3000 actual visitors.

          When you really drill down on the key visitor numbers claimed by the trail advocates, those that impact economic results region wide are really much smaller than trail supporters push, as part of the activist campaign to win favor, and funding, for trail development.

          I believe this is why the objective, non-advocacy economic data sources reveal trail economies rarely perform as promised.

          • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

            But the ASR is still carrying fewer riders than in 1993, and that’s with a greatly expanded operation. You didn’t deal with that. And yes, the Appalachian Trail does go through Damascus, but AT hikers don’t ride bicycles. Please explain the seven bike shops in a town of 800.

            • James Falcsik says:

              I will leave my friends at the ASR to deal with your concern with their ridership numbers, but I will add, I notice sled registrations have a similar rise and fall with economic conditions and or course weather conditions, so what is your point? The last rime I looked over the combined economic contribution of the railroad corridor from both the ASR and Rail Explorers, probably in 2015, it was over $8 million. No speculaton, no outlandish or exaggerated promises, just solid economic results and a boost to the region. ARTA has no such product.

              Concerning bike shops in Damascus, did I miss the charts on bike shop economics? It is good for the couple dozen people that either own them or work in them. But what is the average wage or annual salary for the bike shop techs? How many are employed? Out of 813 residents what is the employment percentage in these shops? I think every job counts in Damascus, but why don’t you seem to care about 38 people who worked for Rail Explorers and have lost their jobs as a direct result of your efforts and ARTA?

              As for the trail economy, hiking or biking regardless, still only 6% of the employment community is food or lodging based. The EIS clearly concludes that 91% of the users of the VA Creeper Trail is local or non primary purpose. They admit they chose to include local user contributions, something that is taboo when seeking the true economic contribution of a recreational venue. ARTA and the RTC also did this for the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor because without the local users being included, the numbers are not at all impressive. Unfortunately, this practice intentionally misleads people who don’t completely understand recreation economics and that is what you and ARTA hope for.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Terry you make broad statements with no factual basis.

      Recreational trails are sold to the public and built on the basis they will create jobs and stimulate economic growth. A trail is a linear park; when is the last time a community park created economic growth?

      The model for trail usage just about everywhere is most users are clearly local residents. There is a small percentage of bikers, hikers, etc. that travel to experience different trails, nature, or whatever. The problem is the local users do not inject new funds into the regional economy. The railroad operation faces the same problem with respect to attracting new visitors. The few economic impact statements that were not created by the trail advocacy show the railroad and the trail having about the same potential to attract new visitors that create economic growth.

      Throw out the ARTA sponsored Rail Trail Conservancy studies; they are seriously in error and are intentionally created to support the trail agenda. Don’t take my word for that; there is plenty of data available about how EIS are created and how they are manipulated to guarantee the outcomes match the agenda of who pays for them. ARTA’s entire campaign pitched to NYS and the communities of the rail corridor employed these tactics and they fudged the numbers.

      Jobs are created by each tourism venue that brings in new visitors, but the term visitor is often misused to include all users, which again are mostly local. As for the rail corridor use, Rail Explorers is absolutely out in front in the race to attract new visitors, and considering the social media posts and news reports I read, the community lead by the Mayor of Saranac Lake couldn’t do enough to make them unwelcome.

      As for the diesel, are you looking the other way when considering the emissions left behind by snow machines? In addition to the airborne particulates, the liquid pollution from the snowmobile exhausts end up in the snow pack, the ground and the water. Not many discuss this because the sledding industry is very big in NYS; however, even considering the economy generated by snowmobiles, NYS only receives true economic contributions from the 15K or so out of state registrations. All the rest of the sled money from NYS registered machines is simply redistributed around the regions where there is enough snow to support the sport at any given time.

      All the rail trails I have experienced are nice, but there is no region wide growth that is new or creating a new economy. Look into the population trends, housing values, tax revenues, and median income growth to figure out if a recreational trail is creating jobs. Rail trails are great for the hike and bike manufacturers, and that is why they are big supporters of the RTC. The only new industry they have created is the one that generates economic impact statements.

      A restored rail corridor would preserve the historical components and provide the best opportunity for the rail corridor communities to experience as many true visitors as possible from each venue to impact economic fortunes. It also would bring about the possibility of catering to the rail vacation traveler and where this is done well the upscale customer they attract could make a significant contribution the bottom line of the region.

      • terry V says:

        Did you just say
        “Terry you make broad statements with no factual basis. ”
        Welcome to the internet

        • David P. Lubic says:

          I am old school. It was not good and still is not good to be ignorant, and it’s not so good to brag about being ignorant, either.

          • terry v says:

            You guys are “train guys” so you make up stuff to support your side. The problem is you start to believe it.
            Go to Zillow and look at the houses for sale in SL. Several close to the proposed rail trial mention that in the listing.
            None mention that it is close to the tourist train.
            I bet repeat ridership for the Rail Explorers is very low compared to people who ride bikes or snow mobiles.
            Exactly how many people, not counting the staff, rode that train from LP to SL last year?

            • James Falcsik says:

              Terry, as a train guy, I am not making up statistics; I am simply offering information that is not sourced from the trail advocacy machine. Conversely, consider ARTA director Dick Beamish and his claim that the Virginia Creeper Trail creates 100,000 primary purpose overnight visitor stays, when in fact the actual total for that type of trail visitor was under 6000. He had to admit the data was BS and the Adirondack Daily Enterprise was forced to print a correction. So who is making up “stuff”?

              Here is economic data for Damascus, VA, from City-data.com. You can see for yourself:
              http://www.city-data.com/city/Damascus-Virginia.html

              Damascus compared to Virginia state average:
              Median household income significantly below state average; Median house value significantly below state average; Unemployed percentage significantly below state average; Median age significantly above state average; Number of rooms per house below state average; House age above state average; Number of college students significantly below state average; Percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree or higher below state average. Population loss since 2000 is 18.2%.

              So if a 34 year old trail like the Virginia Creeper has existed, and it creates all this tremendous economic activity, why is Damascus well behind the economic markers compared to the rest of VA? I can surely tell you most of the small towns on the Great Allegheny Passage are in the same situation. Could it be that the nearest population center, Johnson City, TN (38 miles) is only a half hour away and a lot of the users are local? Perhaps.

              If we are making this up, where are your non-trail-advocacy stats to prove otherwise?

              • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

                About a year ago, the Vice-Mayor of Damascus was quoted in the Enterprise about how much the town had been hoped by the Virginia Creeper Trail. 15% of the town’s entire budget comes from rooms and meals taxes. The town of 813 supports seven bike shuttle/rental shops. Before the trail, almost half the town’s buildings were empty, now they have been fixed up and are in use. He concluded, “Simply put, the Creeper Trail filled a void that was here when the textile plants left.”
                Granted, the median income in Damascus is lower than in Alexandria or Richmond, but it is a whole lot better than it would be without the trail.

                • James Falcsik says:

                  There is no question the VA Creeper contributes, but how much? Surely not the kind of numbers Beamish quoted as a spokesman for ARTA, wouldn’t you agree? And the Mayor in the article you reference is surely in the category of trail advocacy, so it is more than slanted a little.

                  Damascus is also the junction of the Appalachian Trail, and five other named trails are accessed nearby, as well as being the gateway to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. What kind of number is 15%, and what portion do the other trails and recreation attractions contribute?

                  Accommodation and food services account for just 6% of the economic base in Damascus. Spin it however you want Tony, there is little economic growth happening anywhere but very close to the trail.

                  • terry V says:

                    So I may “make broad statements with no factual basis.” as you put it. Fair enough
                    Tony Goodwin(from now on my go to fact checker)
                    Just dumped a bucket of facts on you and you still want to tell us about the train.
                    The biggest problem that I can see LP or SL having with the trail once its built is parking

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Terry V. Others have responded to what you’ve written, but I would like to add a few facts you may not be aware of.
      Besides volunteers, the Railroad has quite a few paid employees. On the Northern end there were a number of full and part time employees.
      Rail Explorers provide a peak number of 38 paid employees. Min. pay was $12 per hour, some were paid up to $18 per hour plus time and a half for OT. Far better than average for the Saranac Lake area. Several of the salaried managers were paid in the $50,000 per year range.
      33 local businesses (that’s the vast majority left in Saranac Lake) have writtern letters of support for keeping the rails. They are very aware of the economic impact.
      The railroad had to send up a fourth car because the three running couldn[t meet the demand.
      I’ve been in the group tour business since Jimmy Carter was President..Your statement that no one will ride a 2 hour train ride is absolutely incorrect. I’ve taken groups to ride tourist trains all over the US and Canada. Rail tourism is huge and growing. Rail passenger service around the US has gone up 80% in the past 20 years.It’s at it all time high since the Fed Govt. started heavily subsidizing the auto and fossil fuel industries at the end of WW2.
      Here’s a couple of other things you probably won;t read in the local news sources, and is contrary to the false information ARTA has been so successful in propagating: The ASR is self sufficient for operating expenses. Taxpayer do contribute to the cost of maintaining the ROW, which will have to happen even if there is only a trail. Taxpayers now subsidize the snowmobile sport at a rate of about 45% of the cost of trail maintenance. … about $5 million a year. In years gone by the RR had gotten substantially in debt, but with proper management over the past few years they now are in the black. That’s remarkable, considering the obstacles they’ve had to contend with.

      • terry V says:

        Keith
        I don’t have any info on the rail explorers, but 38 employees in SL sounds like a lot. were the managers paid $50,000 or is that what they would have made for a full year based on what they made for the summer?
        Yes train ridership is up, but I bet that is commuter traffic and takes into account the light rail in LA and Miami as well as subways in major cities.
        I have not read any of the “false information” from the ARTA except what I read on this site.
        I do have a house that the train runs by and I bet that when I see it there are never anymore than 10 people on it and probably less.
        I live down state during the week and when they converted some old track that was used for a Christmas train and an Easter train(with rabbit) to a bike trail the parking lots are always full.
        I even know some people who live in NYC that take the metro north commuter train out to ride the rail trail.
        I myself enjoy non-motorized outdoor activities but am not a biker.

  13. Bruce says:

    All this back and forth speculation about which will be better for the local economy is just that, speculation, because except for documented train ridership, there’s no data for this route. Since there’s no data, comparisons with other routes is guesswork.

  14. terry V says:

    You are correct!
    I’m gonna go read the thread where all the people argue about how far you should have to walk to get to Boreas ponds.

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