Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Battle Over Historic Railroad Corridor

Adirondack Scenic Railroad -Nancie BattagliaThe battle over use of a historic railroad corridor through the heart of the Adirondacks escalated this fall, with a growing number of local government leaders questioning the value of an excursion train that would operate from Old Forge to Lake Placid.

Regional development officials, meanwhile, affirmed their support for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, describing it as an important tourism attraction and suggesting that the entire line could be back in regular use within two years, carrying visitors from as far away as New York City.

As of press time, six towns and villages along the line—along with St. Lawrence County’s legislature—have passed resolutions raising doubts about that vision. Some have urged state officials to reopen a unit management plan, written in 1992, that governs use of the state-owned corridor. Others have simply urged the Department of Transportation to tear up the tracks. “To keep the snowmobilers, that’s a key thing for Tupper Lake,” said Supervisor Roger Amell after the town board voted in October to ask the state to revisit the plan.

Amell argued that the railroad tracks are limiting winter recreation, making it difficult for remote communities along the corridor to connect to the booming snowmobile industry in Inlet and Old Forge. “Unless you have plenty of snow, you can’t use the tracks,” he complained. His views contrast sharply with other locals in Tupper Lake, who say the tourism train would bring new visitors to the community.

But Amell isn’t alone in expressing skepticism about the project. In September and October, officials in Harrietstown and Saranac Lake also voted to urge a review of the state plan, while elected officials in Lake Placid, North Elba, Piercefield, and St. Lawrence County went further, passing resolutions “respectfully requesting” that tracks be removed immediately.

In an e-mail, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post said state officials are aware of the local resolutions that have been passed. “We encourage these communities to work together to form a consensus about the future of the corridor and to partner with the North Country Economic Development Council to put together a plan,” she wrote in response to an inquiry from the Explorer.

Doubts about the tourism train have simmered for years. In 2010, North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that the effort was “a financial boondoggle.” In August 2011, a coalition of activists calling themselves the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates launched a campaign calling for the rail bed to be converted into a multi-use trail.

The group is an unlikely mix of environmentalists, snowmobile boosters, and opponents of government spending. “The train is a boondoggle,” agreed ARTA co-founder Jim McCulley, from Lake Placid, a longtime snowmobile activist who noted that as of December, more than ten thousand people had signed a petition calling for the tracks to be torn up.

“We need something that is going to be a private-sector-oriented project without endless taxpayer subsidies. Their entire business model is based on needing grants, getting grants. The trail is something that once it is up and running will take care of itself and draw hundreds of thousands of people to the region,” McCulley asserted.

Supporters of the tourism railroad reject those arguments and have dismissed ARTA as a fringe group. “I think it’s not unfair to say that ARTA is a negative organization. They want to do something that’s basically destructive,” said Bill Branson, president of the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, which runs the tourist train.

“I think [the debate] is a bit of a distraction,” agreed Kate Fish, head of the Adirondack North Country Association, an influential nonprofit development group headquartered in Saranac Lake. Fish suggested that ARTA had provided misleading information to elected officials, prompting the resolutions. “We looked really carefully at the numbers that ARTA presented in terms of the number of people [who would use a multi-purpose trail], and they are so over-inflated,” Fish said.

mapThe state Department of Transportation’s twenty-year-old management plan calls for gradually restoring regular train service on the line. Even though the plan is supposed to be re-evaluated every five years, DOT has shown little interest in doing so. Train advocates predict that rising gas prices and concerns about the carbon pollution from cars will spark a renaissance in railroad usage. “The revival of rail as an engine of tourism is evident across Europe and now all over America,” argued Garry Douglas, head of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, a leading advocate for the rail line, in a statement issued in October.

But advocates for Adirondack Scenic Railroad have clearly been rattled by organized opposition to their project. In June of this year, Douglas sparked controversy when he wrote a private letter to train supporters in Tupper Lake urging them to “come out in force to drown out recreational trail supporters” at a public meeting. He later apologized, in an interview with the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, after his letter was made public.

Douglas also co-chairs the state-sponsored North Country Regional Economic Development Council, which wields broad influence in Albany, shaping state funding for projects. In September, even as local governments were raising questions about the train, the council submitted its latest list of priorities to Governor Andrew Cuomo. The document included a call for the state to “preserve and rehabilitate all surviving rail infrastructure” in the Park, including “the Adirondack Railroad from Remsen to Lake Placid.”

Train supporters had more good news in late October, when Branson announced a new agreement with Iowa Pacific Holdings, a rail operator based in Chicago. Iowa Pacific plans to develop Pullman sleeping-car excursions that would run between New York City and Lake Placid. In a news release, Branson argued that it was validation of the idea that train service is economically viable in the Park, noting that “Iowa Pacific fully assessed the potential of the Adirondack Railroad.”

Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis echoed those arguments, promising that “a first-class overnight experience” would “bring a dramatic rail-service improvement to the Adirondacks.” ANCA’s Kate Fish praised the new effort, predicting that Pullman cars could begin rolling through the Park within two years. “Train ridership is skyrocketing,” she argued. “AMTRAK is skyrocketing. Rail transportation is a much cheaper way in terms of energy dollars than individual cars.”

Bill Branson was more cautious in his estimate of the timeline, but he said that an investment of state dollars might make it possible. “Two years is not out of the question, but we recognize like everybody else does that there are a lot of hurdles. This is not such a remote possibility,” he added, declining to say how much state funding the project would need.

ARTA’s leaders discounted the new proposal as another empty promise, noting that train buffs have been promising a renewal of train service since the late 1970s, when a different company revived the railroad in advance of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. That project went bankrupt. The railroad was revived again in 1992, with train boosters promising that the route could be restored quickly at little cost to the public.

“This [Pullman car proposal] may be the silliest idea that’s come out in a long time. I just don’t see it as a viable option,” said ARTA’s McCulley, who noted that Iowa Pacific declined to say how much money it would invest to help restore the track.

Complicating the debate is the fact that advocates on both sides are passionate about their competing visions for a revitalized corridor. Train buffs are proud of the long history of railroading in the region and committed to the idea of bringing rail travel back. Trail supporters, meanwhile, are convinced that a multi-use trail would bring an influx of bikers, hikers, and snowmobilers to sections of the Park that currently see limited tourism.

ray-brook-rail“I can understand why [train enthusiasts] are so up in arms against what we’re trying to do,” acknowledged ARTA co-founder Tony Goodwin, whose opposition to maintaining the tracks dates back to the early 1990s. “The rail supporters have this dream of their own little railroad that they’re going to re-create. I’m the first one to admit that we’re taking away a dream that they’ve been pursuing for twenty years. But they’re a relatively small group that’s trying to get the state to throw even more taxpayer dollars at this project.”

Goodwin pointed to state documents suggesting that New York has already invested roughly $30 million in the line since 1992, with ongoing maintenance costs of roughly $300,000 each year. In 2009, the DOT estimated that refurbishing badly dilapidated sections of the track from Old Forge to Lake Placid would cost another $43 million. Branson insisted that number is wildly inflated, but he declined to say how much he thought the project would cost, saying that a business plan is still in development.

It’s a sign of just how fractious the debate has become that no one can agree on basic facts, including how much refurbishing the railroad might cost, what the price tag for a multi-purpose trail would be, or how many visitors the two options might attract to the region. Trail supporters have accused railroad operators of inflating their ridership estimates in recent years, a claim the railroad denies.

Some groups and individuals have suggested that some kind of middle ground might be possible, with the railroad operating parallel to a new multi-use trail. But that option presents technical and financial challenges. Significant stretches of the rail bed cross wetlands or open water, much of it in remote areas classified as Wilderness, with strict regulations that prohibit new structures beyond the DOT right-of-way. Other sections border private property.  “The problem is that given the physical terrain, there is no room for compromise,” Goodwin concluded.

With battle lines drawn, it’s unclear where this debate might go next. Rail supporters hope that the conversation—and the controversy—will fade away, leaving them to develop the corridor as new funding becomes available. “To us it makes no sense to remove existing infrastructure, so ripping up the tracks seems shortsighted,” said ANCA’s Fish, who predicted that local officials will eventually rally behind the train. If the management plan is reopened “there’s a risk of years and years of legal debates and discussion, in which case everything stops,” Fish warned.

But ARTA backers say they’re heartened by recent meetings with senior Department of Environmental Conservation officials, and by an invitation to make their case to members of Governor Cuomo’s staff—a session that was delayed by Hurricane Sandy.  “Once we present our side to the governor, the DOT will have to take notice,” Goodwin predicted.

“There will be a change in policy at some point relatively soon. There are people in Albany who recognize that this has not worked.”

With state officials still on the sidelines, however, the standoff has deepened, dividing old allies and uniting one-time foes. The debate has spilled over onto the editorial pages of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and other news publications in the Park, with partisans on both sides accusing each other of dishonesty, naivete, and shortsightedness.“

In my eight years as editor of the Enterprise, I’ve definitely never seen anything to rival the rail-trail debate for filling our opinion page,” said Peter Crowley. “People say it seems like we publish a letter or op-ed every day on the topic, and while that’s not true, still, there have been a ton of them—more than two hundred in less than two years.”

The Saranac Lake newspaper’s outdoors columnist, Joe Hackett, has derided the train’s “lack of any significant economic impact” and portrayed the railroad as “an annoyance” that should be converted into a trail. Yet local businesswoman Carla Sternberg, owner of the Two Horse Trading Company, a gift shop, told the paper that the railroad “has brought me a considerable amount of business during the tourism season.”

Photos: Above, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive prepares to leave Saranac Lake for Lake Placid (Photo by Nancie Battaglia); middle, a map of the line being used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad (provided); and below, the tracks near Ray Brook (Photo by Susan Bibeau).

More stories about the Adirondacks can be found in each issue of Adirondack Explorer, the non-profit news magazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.


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Originally from Alaska, Brian Mann moved to the Adirondacks in 1999 and helped launch the news bureau at North Country Public Radio.

In addition to his work at NCPR, Brian is also a frequent contributor to NPR and writes regularly for regional magazines, including Adirondack Life and the Adirondack Explorer.

54 Responses

  1. Gary Broderick says:

    I see claims of soaring ridership numbers from Ms. Fish, but no numbers. No number of actual paying riders, no average numbers per trip. The Pullman car overnight trip? Who has to fix the rails and bridges and the like? How much will a ticket cost per person?

    New York State has enough problems making ends meet-so many, that the taxatioin in New York virtuallt strangles all of us-do we need a boutique railroad that is funded by the taxpayers and will require significantly more funding to make it safe to use?

    The railroad may help businesses where it stops-it does nothing for the communitites and businesses it passes right by and it will never be practical for it to stop at every town and village. A Multi-use trail will allow businesses up and down the corridor to benefit from trail users-and won’t require massive taxpayer funded financing.

    As a citizen of New York State, property owner outside the park and a property owner in the Adirondacks, I woudl make the argument, that if the railroad group wants to keep this, that they find their own or provide their own private financing for it instead of saddling NYS taxpayers even further for something that does nothing to benefit the vast majoirty of New Yorkers. If not, allow it to be a multi-use trail which is far more financially sound and benefits many more people.

  2. Paul says:

    Both the “Pullman” idea, and the idea that the trail defined in the ARTA plan would draw 240,000 users a year seems pretty far fetched.

    Brian M. I am curious do you know if a rail-to-trail plan has ever tried to displace a running railroad?

  3. Tim says:

    Pullman service? Nonsense. The round trip fare from Chicago to New Orleans at ranges from $2,000 to $5,700 for two people. Granted, that’s a much longer journey but, still, it’s only 2 days each way. As for me, I’d rather be awake as I biked along one of the potentially greatest bike trails on earth.

  4. charles wood says:

    to tear up the tracks at a time when we are trying to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels would be the wrong thing to do. could these same tracks also bring needed goods to the north country instead of dozens of large and heavy trucks damaging the roads and polluting the air? If we, as a nation, realize the importance of rail, and decide to return to those days the cost today of putting in rail is cost prohibitive. leave them in and use it as best you can. on the other hand I also believe sno machines are an economic boon to the north country and the state should allow for corridors/trails to be built specifically for them.

  5. John and Sue Gregoire says:

    What a wonderful hiking trail this would be. Rip up the tracks and it becomes a year-round asset. Don’t see the sense in introducing more noise into the ADK. The forever wild park should trump this development attempt.

    • Paul says:

      Don’t you think this is kind of a boring hiking trail? It is pretty flat and parts of it are not very scenic. Do you think folks will hike on this instead of some of the much more scenic trails we have in places like the High Peaks and other areas? Maybe? Plus I don’t think that you want to hike with the thousands of bikers and snowmobiles that are supposed to be using this trail daily based on the estimates. My guess is it will be far more noisy with lots of snowmobiles than with a few trains a day.

  6. AdkBuddy says:

    The economic prospects of the train are slim at best. ARTA’s numbers are suspect too. Snowmobiling is the only proven economic driver of them all. Pull the tracks now!

  7. matt says:

    Who elected Kate Fish? Who does ANCA speak for besides themselves? Who elected Gary Douglas? Democratically elected officials are on one side or the debate, self appointed “officials” are on the other.

    • Matt says:

      It would appear that way, lower-case m matt. I might suggest that Mr. Douglas has shown that he is at his best when he is helping get more trains built in Plattsburgh, and not necessarily running them on a dead-end line in the ADK park.

  8. a says:

    Why not take up the tracks and make it a snowmobile trail in the winter, and an ATV trail in the summer. It could provide much needed access to the back country, and on an ATV or snowmobile, the long, straight, and boring sections wouldn’t seem so long, straight, or boring.

    The state could enhance it by building lean-tos, and campsites along wilderness and wild forest sections. Hunters could set up camps along it in season at designated campsites, with a TRP or camping permit. It would greatly expand access to backcountry, especially the Black River Wild Forest.

  9. Matt says:

    My feeling is that the operations that ASR manages on either end of the corridor should remain, and the rest should be a multi-use trail. The real question is how can ASR manage some of their rolling stock with it remaining on the Northern end of the line, isolated from Utica after the rails are removed. For as much protest as we’ve had over that idea, the challenge of isolated rolling stock for the railroad operation is entirely surmountable, unlike the suggestion that a side by side trail could continue past SL, which is not even remotely possible, and suggests ignorance of the practical reality of the corridor, and what would need to be done to accomplish such a suggestion. That particular idea needs to be put to bed once and for all, so let’s be completely clear: The shared rail and trail isn’t going past SL. Tony is 100% correct on that point.

    There has never been a more appropriate time to re-visit the corridor management plan and decide what the best use of the corridor is in the context of our own unique Adirondack communities. Suggesting that the corridor management plan not be reviewed in an open forum is akin to suggesting that a public planning process, as difficult as they can be at times, should not be used in the first place, which is unquestionably wrongheaded. When we have individuals involved with our own REDC suggesting as much, it should give us pause. Sadly, it makes me question whether some of the folks involved with the REDC are always working in the best interest of our communities. We should be taking a hard look at what would trully serve the best interests of our communities first before we chase grant money. The train debacle makes me fear it’s been happening the other way around.

    Perhaps the greatest irony of this whole debate is that the side by side trail, once completed, will likely help prop up the ASR’s Northern scenic rail operation to a certain degree simply by putting many more potential customers in close proximity to it, which is fine. Interestingly enough, it’s quite likely that the majority of the new customers will have come for the trail experience first, if the studys provided by both sides of this debate are any indication.

  10. Barb Ordell says:

    For the sake of argument, let’s say the tourist impact of train and trail are the same (they are not). Clearly, the ongoing costs to upgrade and maintain the tracks is more money than the taxpayers should be asked to pay. The trail wins. Rip up the tracks.

    • gblatham says:


      Why is it that “the ongoing costs to upgrade and maintain the tracks” is “clearly…more money then the taxpayers should be asked to pay”?!

      How much money is too much money when we’re discussing a irreplaceable asset?

      Garl B. Latham

  11. Phillyrocks says:

    If NYS can spend millions to buy land from The Nature Conservacy during supposedly difficult economic times, wouldn’t an investment into rail development make more sense to stimulate the north country economy?

  12. Peter Collinge says:

    Why not compromise? Keep the tracks from Utica to Tupper Lake, then remove the tracks from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid and create a trail in that stretch.

    Folks could still take the train into the Adirondacks, if there’s truly a demand for that. I’m sure some kind of bus shuttle from Tupper to Placid could be worked out for train riders, or maybe some would stay in Tupper and boost its ailing economy.

    Tupper, Saranac, and Placid would all benefit from the additional snowmobile and bicycle ridership on the scenic rail-removed corridor. Meanwhile, there’d be no need to waste millions creating a dual corridor from Saranac Lake to Placid, as is currently planned. Everyone wins!

    • Paul says:

      Peter, not a bad idea but aren’t you talking about tearing up a section that has already been refurbished and is actually being used? This goes back to my question above. Is there precedent for a rail-to-trail where the rail was being used when they wanted to make it into a trail? Not impossible but maybe a little different than other projects.

      • Matt says:

        No precedent for it. You’ve identified the real challenge of ARTA’s proposal that likely makes some folks at DOT uncomfortable with ARTA’s idea; the precedent is problematic for them. The daks are a totally different place from the rest of NY, and really must be evaluated differently as such. There is no more freight potential for the corridor and there never will be. There is really no debate on that matter. That leaves passanger service, and the recreational value it might provide(eye of the beholder) which is somewhat dubious in it’s viability, and the cost-benefit. In the big world of recreational pursuits, scenic train lovers and the “Pullman” crowd are a small niche. I’m not knockin’ it- just acknowledging a fact. Bikers, Walkers, Skiers, Snowmobilers, etc. are not a niche; these are some of the most popular recreational pursuits in the USA, along with our neighbors to the North.
        Regarding track upgrades, if the Northern scenic railroad operation between LP and SL remains in service, the track improvements there won’t be a total loss.

        • gblatham says:


          The ultimate debate cannot simply be reduced to one recreational activity versus another unless the value of that railroad corridor for transportation purposes has effectively been dismissed.

          The route’s future viability for railroad operations (primarily intercity passenger) is the overriding question. The apparent presumption by many here is that the line is basically worthless; however, this has not been proven. Moreover, the burden of that proof should rest with the gainsayers.

          Before any infrastructure is abandoned, we need to honestly try and see more than 5 or 10 years into the future.

          Garl B. Latham

  13. Alfred Runte says:

    Before you tear out these tracks, you ought to read my book, ALLIES OF THE EARTH: RAILROADS AND THE SOUL OF PRESERVATION (Truman State University Press, 2006). I wrote it to provide perspective on debates exactly like the one you’re having. Years ago, I was a consultant on the restoration of the Grand Canyon Railway, which, at 200,000 riders a year, has become a major environmental benefit and tourist attraction. True, the final destination is Grand Canyon, but remember, the Adirondacks are enormously popular, too. People can hike and snowmobile anywhere. Once gone, these tracks are not likely to be replaced. Think about it, and good reading!

    • gblatham says:

      Mr. Runte,

      I not only read your wonderful book (twice!), but purchased a copy for my library.

      I, too, wish those who find themselves involved in this debate would do some research, attempting to envision a future where the presence of rail-based intercity transportation could literally save their region’s tourist trade.

      You’re also right when you say that the trackage, once removed, will likely be gone forever.

      Garl B. Latham

  14. Curt Austin says:

    You know, I think many folks just naturally think of a train as a serious thing, and a trail as something frivolous. After all, a train makes the earth shake! Obviously, a train can be an important tool of commerce. A bicycle is just a toy.

    But the focus is properly on people, not machinery. The train passenger is experiencing something more typical of urban areas. He’s inside, surrounded by other people, sitting down, eating nachos, on a schedule. The trail user is outdoors, experiencing nature directly, getting some exercise, feeling peace, moving (or stopping) at her own pace.

    I’m only addressing the tourist train experience here, since that is all this corridor can ever be as a railroad. Real passenger trains make sense only in congested areas. Freight trains make sense only for bulk materials and the products of heavy industry. Those things have never existed here, and never will. Rail advocates know this, Iowa-Pacific knows this, and also know that a tourist train cannot justify public money. So they conjure up a vision that this corridor can become a vital transportation system. Nope, it’s for entertainment. That’s the proper basis for comparison with a trail.

    The trail wins, easily! Trails are not just entertainment. They are good for people.

    • gblatham says:

      Mr. Austin,

      Your contention that the existing railroad could only serve the “tourist train” market is patently false, as is your statement that “real passenger trains make sense only in congested areas.”

      Furthermore, the fact that most railway riders tend to travel within and through urban areas does not eliminate a passenger train’s viability in rural locales, any more than the presence of high-density freeways in metropolitan regions indicates a lack of need for country highways.

      I presume your concern for “people” is a serious matter; therefore, why not weigh the strength of railroad technology against alternative modes when regarding future transportation needs? What of potential energy constraints, environmental issues and the more esoteric (but quite real) issue of a citizen’s overall “quality of life”?

      Garl B. Latham

  15. Tim says:

    Peter’s comment in the first reasonable compromise I’ve heard. I would suggest, however, removing the tracks from Tupper Lake to Saranac Lake only. Last I heard, a path alongside the tracks between Placid and Saranac has already been approved and the money is there for half of it. What is the status of that?
    “Thousands of bikers…daily”? I don’t think so.

    • Matt says:

      Money is there for all of the side by side project, it looks like it will go forward now finally. Nice work Chuck Damp in North Elba. “Funded only half way” was misinformation, spread primarily by ARTA supporters who were unaware of the details of that project and wanted to torpedo it, thinking that would help their cause somehow. Spreading misinformation did not help their cause. They’ve come out in support of the project now, hopefully recognizing they have more to gain from it than to loose.

  16. Larry says:

    DOT has already affirmed that property will revert to adjacent property owners. So what happens to the trail if a property owner decides he doesn’t want a trail through his land?


    Those areas running through “The Bob” will be no motorized vehicles allowed – and I believe that includes snowmobiles.

    The track structure may be a pain for the sledders, but at least while the tracks are there, they get to ride.

  17. Mightymike says:

    Larry. Who at the DOT affirmed that? That is total BS. The state owns the land under the trail. There is a management plan that allows for a rail to trail conversion,

    So Larry, where did you get your information?

  18. techinical says:

    It’s not a DOT ROW, it’s a railroad ROW owned by the DOT. There is a difference.

  19. Mike says:

    Hopefully once the trail freaks rip out this asset the State comes along and sells the property off to a power company or builds a highway on the land.
    Be careful what you wish for people. Those rails are holding together more than you realize!

    • Matt says:

      more misinformation here.

      • Mike says:

        Provide legal proof that the land the ROW was built upon will not return to the ownership of the Original land owners. I am sure a good majority of the land falls within this status. Keep in mind that the laws governing the Adirondack park are not full applicable in this case since the RR deed written well prior the park establishment. I state again, go ahead and rip out those rails and watch what happens. Those along the line who regain portions of their property would love this! NO TRAIL will exist!

        • Matt says:

          Re-visiting the Corridor management plan would set forth a plan to address the legal ownership and management of the corridor going forward, whether it be for rail or trail use. The DOT had indicated that they are not interested in a rail banking arrangement at this time, but that may change as the interest in a trail corridor has been clearly exhibited by ARTA and several of the local municipalities. Learn about rail banking if you happen to be unaware of it. Your contention that some unforseen legal loopholes that are kept a secret will magically eliminate the legally existing corridor is unfounded. No one is advocating for the elimination of the corridor as a continuous public ROW, nor is anyone suggesting that it revert to the adjacent owners as you suggest- that’s misinformation, and I won’t speculate on why you are spreading it. The municipalities clearly understand the value of this corridor, and the state does too- enough to throw just enough money at it to keep it patched together at least. Once again, we need to re-visit the plan now to put this issue to rest, and when we do, you can come to the meetings, make your case, and see for yourself if your theory holds any water.

          • techinical says:

            It is not now, nor ever has it ever been a “continuous public ROW”

            It’s a railroad right of way. As the name implies, it’s meant for trains. What happens after the trains stop is a legal question that has not been answered.

            A few parties, familiar to people who read this blog, who will probably litigate this point are the brandreth lake and lake lila associations. The ROW crosses them.

            Revisiting the corridor management plans changes none of this.

            • Matt says:

              OK, so it’s a publicly “managed” ROW. The planning process would set forth a strategy for addressing the legal question of how to go forward without rails in the corridor and maintain future access for recreational purposes. We need to daylight and discuss the legal issues surrounding this, and the planning process will help do that, even though it’s obviously not a court of law. From your comment, it sounds like the associations you’ve listed expect to take legal action to try and claim rights over the railroad ROW if the current use of the corridor ever changed. Is the threat of litigation over that matter an attempt to keep the planning process from happening? If it is, it’s not a good enough reason, and since when did anything worthwhile ever happen in the Adirondacks without a legal dispute? I’d call this par for the course. Contrary to your assertion, what happens after the trains stop has been answered in many other instances not unlike this one. Railbanking is one of the answers. Removing the rails does not always constitute abandonment, as Chuck had indicated below.

              • Mike says:

                Matt, do you have any clue about the railbanking process? If a operating RR decides to stop using a section of their line they file for abandonment which is the total removal of rail and some other structures. Railbanking is a less aggressive way to remove liability from the railroad on that stretch of rail but involves KEEPING all structures and rail in place. You need to contact the STB and learn about what is involved in removing the rails from an active RR. NYS doesn’t even have permission to do this if they so decided! Again, stop with the speculation and provide legal proof to everyone that this ROW will be owned in full by the tax payers of the state if you force the removal of rail from an actively operating railroad.

                • Mike says:

                  Matt, do you have any clue about the railbanking process? If a operating RR decides to stop using a section of their line they file for abandonment which is the total removal of rail and some other structures. Railbanking is a less aggressive way to remove liability from the railroad on that stretch of rail but involves KEEPING all structures and rail in place. You need to contact the STB and learn about what is involved in removing the rails from an active RR. NYS doesn’t even have permission to do this if they so decided! Again, stop with the speculation and provide legal proof to everyone that this ROW will be owned in full by the tax payers of the state if you force the removal of rail from an actively operating railroad.

                  • Matt says:

                    Mike, please see my response to Paul above. Your statement that the rails must remain in a Railbanking arangement is incorrect. That’s more misinformation.

                  • Matt says:

                    and it’s not ASR’s line; it’s up to the state whether they get to use it, and they should continue to allow them to on either end of the corridor. Railbanking does not require keeping rails in place; that’s misinformation. I admit that I haven’t personally conducted a full deed history for the corridor(have you?), but my understanding is that we do in fact own it in full(that is if you happen to be a NY taxpayer like myself), and a railbanking arrangement would allow the state(the owner in this case) to retain the right to return the corridor to active rail service at any point in the future, even if the rails are removed to accomodate an alternate interim use, like a recreational path.

                    • technical says:

                      Yes, the state own the railroad ROW, free and clear. Just like a utility company can own a ROW across your property. In that case, the utility can access and run UTILITIES across the ROW. They cannot decide to turn it into a road. The same is true with a rail ROW, the ROW agreement says that trains may use the ROW.

                      If this were still a privately owned ROW, would the private owner be able to turn it into a private road? No. The state can’t do that either.

                      It’s an ROW, not ‘title’ to the land.

                      And as far as sectioning off the upper and lower parts, that just strands a locomotive in Lake Placid permanently if they remove the rails in between. Therefore, no RR between SL and LP, no owner of a locomotive is going to let that happen. You cannot move them on anything but rails.

  20. Lakeman says:


    I believe you are mistaken on what would happen if the rails were removed. This has been debated and corrected several times in the last year. It is time for the DOT/DEC to reopen the corridor management plan for a “refresh”. I personally think we should keep the RR open south of Big Moose and north of Lake Clear. Rip the rest up for an awesome 4 season trail.

    • Mike says:

      What needs to be done prior to any corridor management plan is to work with a realty attorney who specializes in RR row acquisition. They would then work with the STB and determine exactly what would need to occur to remove rails from beneath an operating rr. If you doubt what I am saying then please humor me and do just this to find closure in this argument!

      • Mightymike says:

        The DOT Attorney General have attorneys that can figure this out. The UMP process can clear up any doubt or misinformation.

        The land was purchased by the state in 1974. The existing ump determined that removing rails and creating a trail is doable.

  21. chuck says:

    i spent 3 years writing line sale agreements and submitting abandonments for conrail (1995-1998). i confess that i have not kept up with the courts since around 2000, but if the Llewelyn decision (indiana) is still the precedent, i think an abandonment triggers reversion to the adjacent property owners even if they were never part of the chain of title. if the rails to trails legislation is still active that might be the way to advance the cause of the recreational trail while preserving future rail activation if it becomes a compelling need.

  22. Dave W says:

    Interesting debate.

    If the DOT thinks a dual purpose (side by side) corridor is practical between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, then theoretically it should be possible between Old Forge and Saranac. I’ve been coming to the ADKs for over 40 years. We have had property here for the past 25 years. I love this place!

    Financially, this area needs all the help it can get. Let the RRs bring the people who like trains, and want to experience the ADK wilderness from that perspective. Their money is as good as anyone else’s. For those of us that like to experience the world without a steel and glass filter, let us have a multi-use trail for that. We spend money as well. Truth be known, I like an occasional train ride.

    The rail corridor is a unique, State owned asset. We should not allow it to pass back into private ownership. The travel corridor must be maintained under State ownership. We should be doing everything we can to develop it as a broad based tourism attraction. Yes, put snowmobiles and ATVs on it. Make room for the walkers and bikers as well. If the ADK Scenic RR can make a go of it, let them have at it. The DEC seems to love moving tourist foot traffic from the overused High Peaks to other areas of the Park. A “come one, come all” tourist corridor that is not accessible by cars would be an intriguing way for tourists and natives to enjoy an underutilized part of the Park. It would be a great jumping off point for non-motorized endeavors.

    Just before the 1980 Winter Olympics we loaded our scout troop, gear and canoes onboard the train in Utica. We rode it to Lake Lila where we unloaded and spent a weekend in the shadow of the old great camp, before it was razed. It was one of our best Scout trips ever. Fifty to a hundred years from now (who really knows how long) when the oil and gas have become commodities worth more than gold, my grand kids will all be biking or riding solar powered trains down this corridor. It may be one of the few ways to get to Lake Placid. Preserve the corridor!

  23. Hope says:

    The rail corridor is owned in Fee Title, in it’s entirety, by the State of New York. The corridor is leased to to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for 6 months in the warm weather and to NYS Snowmobile Assoc. for 6 months in the cold season. It is not a ROW, but State Land with its own designation and Unit Management Plan. It is part of the State Land Master Plan. the operation from Utica to Old Forge is not expected to change. The operation from Lake Placid to Saranac is not expected to change. The conversion from railroad to rec trail is for the unused section from Saranac Lake to Old Forge. This section is in such disrepair that the train in Lake Placid could not be transferred to Utica for the winter and is currently housed in Lake Placid. There is no continuous operating railroad from Old Forge to Saranac Lake and there hasn’t been one since 1980 Olympics. Facts Folks, just Facts.

    • Molly says:

      The same facts were always stated about the North creek line. Now it is moving both passenger and freight plus paying taxes, NYS sees this is working right next store to this line. I doubt they will step in until they see what IP has to offer.

  24. Lakeman says:

    Hope – Thanks you for the facts! (which we need much more of…..)
    The speculation and opinion; many times offered as facts, really clouds the debate and future for this beautiful recreational corridor. Hopefully, both sides can eventually work out a compromise that would keep the North and South end RR operations intact, while allowing a multi-use trail between Saranac(or Tupper?) and Old Forge.

  25. Paul Everett says:

    Thank you all who have been posting here regarding this issue.

    I feel that those individuals who think that the train is the answer to fossil fuels dependency are wrong. If we have ten dollar gas there will be nobody living in the ADK’s to deliver goods to. The entire Adirondack culture relies on cheap(er) fuel. If gas goes beyond a certain amount, neither the service industry jobs, or the small town infrastructure will allow a mass migration into the hamlets needed for the populace to continue to work without dependency on gas. The ADK’s will revert back to large tracts of land owned by the state and the wealthy with an incredibly small or seasonal population to serve their needs. The train will not save the locals, it will run to ghost towns.

    Historically there were solid economical reasons that train service was halted. Basically it did not make money then, and it will now make money now.

    PLEASE do not be persuaded by individuals who say that the ROW will be lost if it does not function as a railroad. Some simple homework will show that if the tracks are removed the corridor will remain a state owned ROW.

    As someone who lives on, and owns several pieces of property which border the rail corridor I think it is imperative that the the rails be removed and a graded trail created for year round use by hikers, bikers, snowmobiles, and other allowed uses.

    At various times I have been able to walk almost the entire tracks between Lake Placid and Old Forge. The idea of a side by side multi-use trail would not work. The many rock cuts which the tracks go through would not allow enough room for safe operation of the train near other users. The many wetland areas would need incredible amounts of fill and would go beyond the ROW of the corridor.

    Please support the removal of the rails and the creation of a trail. Thank you.

    • gblatham says:

      Mr. Everett,

      The “solid economic reasons” which led to the discontinuance of passenger train service by the New York Central all boiled down to one thing: that once private, tax paying, employee supporting, dividend generating railroad found itself unable to effectively compete against the folks who printed the money.


      I do have a bit of unsolicited advice: if you honestly believe “the entire Adirondack culture relies on cheap(er) fuel,” then I suggest planning for a new life away from the Adirondacks! Auto-centrism is ultimately unsustainable. If we’re seriously convinced alternative modes of transportation are all useless wastes of time and effort, we may as well give up now!

      So, I ask you: is that REALLY the legacy we hope to leave our children?!


      Garl B. Latham

  26. Longtime Railroader says:

    When Hope says “Facts Folks, just Facts” one would assume that Hope would do as Hope advocates …as it turns out some of the “Facts” that Hope puts forth are not indeed factual.

    “The rail corridor is owned in Fee Title, in it’s entirety, by the State of New York” I believe is factual, “State Land with its own designation and Unit Management Plan. It is part of the State Land Master Plan” is also factual. When Hope states “There is no continuous operating railroad from Old Forge to Saranac Lake and there hasn’t been one since 1980 Olympics”, Hope is not being at all factual and is sadly misinformed about the operation of a rail road. The fact is that every foot of the whole line from Remson to Lake Placid is in use and has been since ARPS first signed an agreement with New York State DOT.

  27. Tom V says:

    My view is that the rail-AND-trail option has been abandoned to easily. Yes, there probably are places where major improvements of rerouting might have to be do to accommodate both a foot/bike trail and a railroad, but such major modifications of trail routes in the Adirondacks occur all the time. The on-going development of new snowmobile trails in the Moose River Plains is an example. Out-and-out purchase, easements or reclassification of use in some areas may be necessary.

    If joint use of the right-of-way cannot be achieved, my vote would go to maintaining and upgrading the railroad. It is a unique Adirondack attribute, it already exists, and, once lost, could not be replaced.

  28. Robert Donner says:

    Wow even more more ATV, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles vs. a train that only goes by a few times a day. You want to talk environmental damage. Also consider the litter, and how will this trail generate money will people have to pay to use it?

  29. Curt Austin says:

    Just generally, some rail corridors are only rights of way for RR purposes (but the rail banking statute usually applies), while some are owned in fee, for which reversion does not occur. This one is among the latter, I am told by folks who have investigated the matter. Elsewhere, the corridor that goes through North Creek is owned in fee to Saratoga, but is only a ROW, legally, to Tahawus. Warren County figured this out just a few years ago when they considered abandoning their railroad venture.

    (To be complete, there is a third case in which the corridor is so old, poorly documented, or acquired by various means, that only a court can settle the status.)

    The term “ROW” is often used for any railway. It is better to say “corridor”.

  30. Richard Fischpera says:

    Let’s just rip all the tracks up so people can hike and snowmobiles can use it a for 6 months a year.

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