Tuesday, May 6, 2008

John Warren: Adirondack Railroads’ Time Has Come

The Adirondack Journal reported this week that Warren County supervisors “derailed” (pun apparently intended) a local tourist railroad development project by voting to pay a consultant for the design of two of the railroads train stations at Hadley and Thurman. Looking around the net, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is going on, but it seems as though the county may be dragging its feet on the plan to improve the long neglected Delaware and Hudson RR tracks between Corinth in Saratoga County and North Creek, near the Gore Mountain Ski Area.

NY State Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn definitely is, when he announced $20 million in rail funding last week to go toward 15 projects statewide, extending the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake was not on the list. In December 2006, former George Pataki had promised $5 million to make the 26 miles of track between the two villages passable.

Also last week, the North Creek News Enterprise (also owned by Adirondack Journal publisher Denton Publications) ran a story – “Depot Museum Faces Uncertain Future” – pointing out that the North Creek Depot Museum (rebuilt in 1993) is, in the words of museum President Helen Miner, in “a crisis situation.” Apparently, the Depot Museum is not a part of the Upper Hudson River Railroad and does not receive a share of its ticket sales. The Depot survives on the proceeds of a contract with the Railroad to provide station services. They brought 13,000 people through the station last year, but may now close at the end of this season.

That’s probably good news for Glens Falls Fifth Ward Supervisor William Kenny. Kenny was the only Warren County supervisor to vote against funding the new rail stations in Hadley and Thurman. Kenny has been a virulent opponent of the tourist line – a man who still lives in the 1960s when our political leaders allowed the nation’s railroads to be abandoned in favor of superhighways and bypasses like I-87 (the Northway) and Route 28 which bypasses North Creek.

The damage to local Adirondack economies has been dramatic and tragic – just look at any of the small towns, places like Warrensburg, Chestertown, Pottersville, Schroon Lake, and North Hudson, that have been driven to the economic brink when all the Route 9 traffic was routed out of town.

Scenic railroads like the Upper Hudson Railroad and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad need the support of our political leaders, yes – but they also need to be conceived of in a new economic light. Once a trolley ran from Glens Falls to Warrensbug and connected local residents with cheap public transportation. By 1906, the Hudson Valley Railway which began operations between Glens Falls and Fort Edward, had 130 miles of track, 100 cars, 500 employees, and ran once an hour in winter and every half-hour to a quarter-hour in the summer.

Now is the time to revive the old rail beds like the Lake George-Warrensburg rail bed, which is still largely in tact, though the rails have been torn up for scrap. We need to stop turning them into bike and snowmobile trails and return them to their proper use. We need to move beyond the scenic railroad to a real light rail system that can serve us all, locals and tourists alike, and provide local employment.

When gas reaches 6, 8, and then 10 dollars a gallon, the tourists we depend on will have significant reason to take public transportation to reach their summer vacations. As gas prices rise, locals should be asking themselves why we can’t hope the train to shop in Queensbury, Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, North Creek, Saratoga, or any of the other spots on the lines. Once, not that long ago, we could.

If politicians like William Kenny have their way, we never will.


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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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