Monday, June 21, 2010

Should Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s Tracks Be Torn Up?

We’re in a fiscal mess. State officials have talked about closing parks and campgrounds, Forest Preserve roads, and the Visitor Interpretive Centers in Paul Smiths and Newcomb.

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.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of 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.

24 Responses

  1. Solidago says:
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  14. DanGo says:

    I’m someone who likes railroads, so I don’t want to see this track removed. Its the only one that goes into the heart of the Adirondaks. With all the talk of practical alternatives to auto travel, both now and especially in the future, rail does have a place.

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