Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Public Meetings Planned On Future Of Historic RR Line

NYCRR-Adk-Div-MapThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) have announced that they will hold four public meetings in September about the management of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, a 119-mile nineteenth-century rail line in the western Adirondacks.

A bitter debate has raged in the Adirondacks over the past several years after rail-trail advocates began pushing to have the historic railroad tracks torn-up. In 2011, an organization calling themselves Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates began calling for the outser of the tourist railroad operation and for conversion of the rail bed to a multi-use trail. More than 10,000 people have signed-on to a petition calling for the removal of the tracks. The trail advocates’ call for a reassessment of the corridor’s management plan has resulted in this round of public hearings.

The state acquired the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor in 1975 from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad. The rail line was constructed in 1892 and was operated by New York Central Railroad and, later, Penn Central Railroad until freight service ended in 1972. The railroad is now operated as a scenic excursion train by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

NYSDOT manages the line in keeping with a Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan developed in conjunction with DEC. Approximately 100 miles of the corridor is located within the Adirondack Park. An additional 19 miles is located outside of the Park in the Tug Hill

Information and comments gathered from the public and stakeholder groups is expected to help the commissioners of the two state agencies determine whether to amend the Remsen-Lake Placid Corridor Unit Management Plan. The plan, adopted by DEC and NYSDOT in March 1996, assesses the natural and physical resources along the 100-foot-wide corridor and identifies opportunities for public use. It guides how the corridor is used and managed.

The public meetings are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

  • Monday, September 9, 6-9 p.m. at the Town of Webb Park Avenue Office Building, 183 Park Avenue in Old Forge
  • Tuesday, September 10, 1-4 p.m. at the DEC Region 5 Headquarters, 1115 State Route 86, in Ray Brook
  • Monday, September 16, 1-4 p.m. at the State Office Building, 207 Genesee Street, In Utica
  • Tuesday, September 17, 6-9 the Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, in Tupper Lake

The sessions will include a presentation by the state agencies and informational stations where the public can give state agency staff their comments and ideas verbally or in writing.

All of the meeting facilities are wheelchair accessible. Requests for directions or specific accommodations for any of the meetings may be directed to 518-897-1200 or 315-793-2327.

Written comments also may be submitted by Sept. 25 to, faxed to 518-457-3183, or mailed to Raymond F. Hessinger, Director, Freight & Passenger Rail Bureau, NYS Department of Transportation, 50 Wolf Road, POD 54, Albany, NY 12232.


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16 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    So John does the “Director of Freight and Passenger Rail” head up these meetings? That doesn’t sound too good for the trail side of things?

    Are there any legal constraints on changing the plan for this corridor?

    Given the fact that the rail trail people have managed to get support from people who would normally never support a concept that will welcome (what are estimated to be) hundreds of thousands of loud (and some would argue dirty) snowmobiles and bikes right through some of the most beautiful Wilderness areas in the park you gotta figure that is some kind of a sign!

    Personally I still like the idea of a full-blown hiker and paddler train but it probably isn’t feasible so I give.

  2. Big Burly says:

    IMHO, it is a positive sign that the UMP review is being scheduled this quickly. The petition sheets should be made public so that the number of supporters might be verified.
    The hearings scheduled offer the opportunity for interveners along the length of the ROW to make their views known. Interesting tho’ is no venue in Saranac Lake. Lucky that two of the hearings are scheduled during normal workday hours – hopefully not too many from the public will be inconvenienced.
    Specific plans and action steps, equally from the adherents of rail removal, as well as the rails and trails folks, will enhance the outcome of the review. It will also be a useful effort if the review identifies the significant lapses by both NYS DOT and DEC in fulfillment of the responsibilities identified in the adopted option 6 of the UMP. Those lapses, combined with the 30-day operating lease that constrained the Scenic Railroad’s ability to attract necessary capital to invest in roadbed maintenance contributed in a significant way to the condition of the ROW today.
    Hopefully the review will examine too the process by which this operating railroad is abandoned, thus legally providing for rail removal. A true cost assessment of rail removal, removal and disposal of the several hundred thousand sleepers might best be compared with the cost and benefits of upgrades to the existing infrastructure to allow 3 season rail operations. Does any rail operator have a solution that could alleviate / mitigate the inconveniences encountered by snowmobilers? How about a higher infill of ballast between the rails?
    Rail removal advocates might benefit from listening to alternatives that achieve some of their trail objectives while retaining the rails that expand options for recreation all along the corridor.
    It will be a win – win if all interested parties look for options for the future that meet the recreation aspirations and rail transportation needs for the largest number of visitors to our region.

  3. Charlie says:

    What does imho mean? Is it related to lol.
    I like trains but I like solitude and foot travel better as the latter keeps moss from growing between my toes. There’s romance in trains,the way their engines chug down railroad tracks,the might and sight of them,the way they are able to pull so much freight.I am always fascinated when I see a long line of freight cars rolling along tracks and there is much enchantment to the sounds of their whistles miles away deep in the night.
    I’d rather ride on a train than fly in a plane,but….
    there’s a place for them.A train running along the old Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor would benefit some,maybe many,but surely a trail for bikes and walking (or running,or roller-blading…)along that same corridor would benefit more.I’m all for any thing that reduces the amount of noise and fumes and pollution from motorized travel in the Adirondacks.There is certainly a bias in me regards this matter,but my concerns are long term and what I see in the future will be more of a need for a simpler way of life for those of our progeny whose souls will be seeking serene,wild places away from the clamorous automation which is ever-increasing on our watch.

    Paul says “there will be hundreds of thousands of loud (and some would argue dirty) snowmobiles and bikes right through some of the most beautiful Wilderness areas in the park.”

    I haven’t been following this particular issue that close but if this is what would come of this corridor were it opened for hikers i’d rather see trains have use of it.I despise snowmobiles….they are so darned offensive to the ears!And how can anybody with a clear head find enjoyment in them?

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, the idea here (one of them) is to make it easier for snow machines to use the corridor. there is also expected to be around 140,000 bikers using the trail each season. these are the hopes anyway. you could hike it but it may be pretty crowded with bikes at times, and it could be busy with snow machines in the winter so maybe snowshoeing or skiing would be ill advised

    • Hope says:

      This is already a designated snowmobile trail so keeping the train will not stop snowmobiles from using it but losing the tracks will make it a better and safer community connector trail, for snowmobiling and bicycling, without the need to cut additional trails. The primary use of this trail will be for bicycling and snowmobiling but other uses such as hiking, skiing or snowshoeing will be welcome. This is going to be a wide, flat (2% grade), hard packed trail, not a “hiking trail” that climbs mountains or is narrow and rough snaking thru the woods. This type of trail will not appeal to the bushwacker, peak bagger or hardcore hiker but it will appeal to the average person who would like to bike on a trail that is relatively easy and away from motor vehicle traffic. It will also connect towns and villages from the southwest corner of the ADKs to northeast creating a true ADK regional attraction.

      If you want more people to be concerned about the environment then you should be encouraging low impact use such as a trail that will be maintained and give the average folks an opportunity to access and enjoy the area on easier terms. No one is cutting a new trail for this or filling in wetlands to build another trail alongside it. This would be a true educational opportunity for environmental and historical information to promoted to the public.

      Snowmobiling is an allowed activity in the ADKs on designated trails. The entire ADKs is available to ski or snowshoe in. You do not even need trails for that type of activity. If you do not like snowmobiles you have plenty of places to go that do not allow them. Other than some noise, snowmobiling is a relatively low impact activity in the park. Time to share the park with others.

    • Big Burly says:

      IMHO = in my humble opinion

    • Nathanael says:

      You’re not going to walk 90 miles. This route is far too long for a trail; a trail would be very unpopular.

      It’s just right for a train, though.

  4. Curt Austin says:

    What’s really left to do, after all the discussion, is to distill it down to each argument, and judge their importance and validity.

    An argument in favor of maintaining the railroad line is that it will become valuable transportation infrastructure once again. Certainly, it was once quite important, but it is obviously not very important right now. The validity of the argument rests upon the prediction that driving will become prohibitively expensive. It’s fair to ask for some details about this prediction. For example, it should be recognized that there will be intermediate changes first, such as electric cars and propane-powered buses and trucks. What’s the timeframe of the prediction?

    There is the argument that the current use – seasonal excursion trains – provides a greater value to the community than would a trail. This argument can be evaluated on a more factual basis – there are plenty of “comparables” to study – although there are two complications. One is the prediction that the tourist line will be extended. The other is that a trail provides a direct community benefit above and beyond economic affects; i.e, it’s not just about money, it’s about quality of life.

    There is the argument that the right thing to do is both – build the trail alongside the tracks. To be a real argument, however, it must include the qualifier “if the engineering requirements can be satisfied at a reasonable cost.” This is easily determined by engineers in the field, plus an evaluation of the permitting process.

    It’s not often stated explicitly, but there is an argument based on equity. The railroad folks were there first, have worked hard, and have been competent stewards of the railroad line. They should win unless the other side’s arguments are overwhelming.

    These really seem like the points that should be considered – meaning the the best facts and analysis should be brought to bear upon them, not just loudly asserted.

  5. Paul K says:

    There are how many hiking trails within the park? chooo.chooo, let it be a steam locamotive

    • Salmonslayer says:

      First, noone is preventing them from having a steam engine. Secondly, what do hiking trails in the park have to do with this potential bike path?

  6. brian m says:

    Rip out the tracks; RR people had their turn and the support just isn’t there.

    • Paul says:

      a RR running on the most scenic portions of the line has not been tried. the more extensive run at the southern end is more popular. the northern end was never well done really.

      once you “try” a rail to trail by removing the tracks there is little chance of turning back. so this has to be considered.

      • Salmonslayer says:

        I don’t ride the train because its expensive. $60 from SL to LP for a family of 4. How much would it cost to ride these more scenic, remote parts. If its like most rail prices, which go up as you travel further, it’s going to be several hundred dollars to go the whole length. Besides, these remote scenic sections aren’t that scenic. It’s not like scenic rails out west or even the high peaks. Lots of trees and some wetlands. Most locals I know don’t have that kind of disposable income, but we do have bikes.

  7. Carl Fowler says:

    I sent the following letter today to NYDOT as testimony on the fate of the Adirondack Railway Corridor. As my company will no longer bring groups to Lake Placid if the railway is lost I thought you might find this interesting as a Letter to the Editor and/or as an Op-Ed.

    Carl Fowler

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Comments on the Adirondack Rail Corridor Review
    Date: Fri, 30 Aug 2013 14:36:48 -0400
    From: Carl Fowler
    Organization: Rail Travel Center

    This letter is to strongly support the retention of the Adirondack Rail Corridor to Lake Placid for rail use, with shared trail usage permitted where safety permits. I will be out of the country over the dates of the hearings on this issue in September, so I submit this in lieu of in-person testimony.

    My company, Rail Travel Adventures (earlier doing business as Rail Travel Center), has been bringing groups to the Lake Placid and Thendara regions to ride the railway for over 20 years. We typically stay two to three nights in each area, bringing 40-45 passengers and buying 25-30 hotel rooms each night, plus meals, sightseeing admissions and bus charters from New York state operators. In the absence of the railway none of these tours would operate.

    As an example, our October 2012 tour stayed two nights in Lake Placid, and three nights in the Blue Mountain Lake-Thendara area. We utilized 25 rooms at the Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort in Lake Placid and at the Minnowbrook “great camp” in Blue Mountain Lake, visiting the Olympics attractions, High Falls Gorge, the Wild Center, Sagamore, and the Adirondack Museum, cruising on Racquette Lake and buying meals from restaurants in Lake Placid, Tupper Lake, Thendara, North Creek and Blue Mountain Lake. We rode the Adirondack Scenic RR at both Lake Placid (to Saranac Lake) and at Thendara (to Otter Lake) and rode the new Saratoga and North Creek RR. We used the state-supported ADIRONDACK Amtrak service from Albany to Plattsburgh enroute to the Park.

    Revenue from just this one tour specifically directed to Adirondack businesses was over $71,000. This does not include client spending for drinks, souvenirs and some meals not otherwise included in the package. 44 passengers were on this tour departure. This is an example of just one tour from one company, tours that are offered because of the rail travel option. My company is not unique in offering such products, but there are countless other destinations we could visit if New York made the Adirondacks inaccessible for railway tourism. To repeat, in the absence of the railway none of this would have occurred.

    The advocates for trail use only of the corridor present a hypocritical and grossly selfish proposal. Claims that hundreds of thousands of potential hikers/snowmobilers would be drawn to a rail trail on the corridor verge on the ludicrous. The railway corridor is already open to snowmobilers each winter. The state already offers over a thousand miles of wonderful hiking trails in the Adirondacks. By comparison the railway corridor will be for hikers a long, flat, and generally uninteresting walk through the woods. And of course it can absolutely be jointly used. The roadbed is wide enough in most places to accommodate trail use. Given the infrequency of any future scheduled trains (2-3 per day represents a rational guess) bridges could be shared (as they already are during snowmobile/ski season). There are many examples of shared rail/trails in both the USA and the U.K. A good example is the Cumberland, MD “Western Maryland Scenic Railway/Trail”. It is critical to emphasize that the corridor already permits joint use, as a railway in warm months and a snowmobile trail in the winter.

    And the claim that reuse of the in-place rails would pay for the trail is completely false. The rails are very old, are mostly made to a design unique to routes of the former New York Central Railroad that was not used elsewhere in the USA and would be valuable only to be melted down as scrap steel (or donated to some other preservation railway on former New York Central lines). In any event it is certain that no serious market exists for anything above minimum scrap value for such elderly rail. But most of the rails can continue to be used for light/moderate density train traffic on the line. What the track most needs is the immediate renewal/replacement of ties and the leveling/surfacing of the roadbed, plus repairs to bridges that would also be required for trail use. And this work has already been done from Utica to Big Moose and from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid. It is ridiculous to squander this work when the line is in active use, serving thousands of visitors each season.

    The removal of the track ends forever any possible use of the corridor for real and expanded public transport. The railway heroically served the 1980 Winter Games, when the roads were virtually paralyzed. Already tens of thousands ride every year on the Utica to Thendara segment (and between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid) and connections/thru service onto Amtrak at Utica are possible. The repair of the track from Big Moose to Saranac Lake would restore a remarkably useful line into the heart of the high peaks. Direct service from New York City to Lake Placid could resume from the first day track repairs were completed. Pullman Rail has active plans for just such a service, and the Amtrak/Adirondack Scenic RR connection at Utica is already active. There will be no walkers doing any such trek!

    Further, as the efforts of the Saratoga and North Creek RR to revive freight service northwest of North Creek have shown, there could be freight use of the corridor again as well. Immediately fuel-oil, road salt and timber could/should be moved by train if the tracks were open through to Lake Placid. But if the rails are removed these possibilities will clearly never happen. With the certainty of global warming it is madness to remove an intact railway (needing only quite easy repairs) in favor of more auto usage to bring walkers and snowmobilers to a “trail” when they have countless already available options for hikes and when snowmobilers who can already use the line for half the year.

    The Adirondack Rail Corridor must remain what it was built to be, a railway. Within reason it can be shared with walkers and responsible snowmobilers, but it must be retained as a transportation asset.

    Carl H. Fowler President CHF Rail Consulting LLC dba: Rail Travel Adventures
    PO Box 608
    Williston, VT 05495
    (413) 218-4388

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