Thursday, November 21, 2013

State Nears Decision In Railroad Debate

MAPUPDATEState officials are nearing a decision on whether to open the management plan for a railroad corridor that runs through Adirondack wilderness.

The future of the corridor has been the subject of public debate for a few years. At issue is whether the rails should be removed to create a multi-use recreational trail.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation held meetings in September to gather input from the public. On Wednesday, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said staff at both agencies have been reviewing and evaluating hundreds of comments.

Martens said a decision is not too far off.  “It’s weeks, not months away, I’m hoping,” he told Adirondack Almanack.

The commissioner was in Lake Placid to attend a news conference at which Governor Andrew Cuomo announced two economic initiatives.

Afterward, Cuomo was asked about the railroad controversy. “I have taken no position in the debate,” he said.

A few weeks ago, Martens and DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald traveled the entire corridor. From the south, they took a tourist train as far as Big Moose. From there, they rode in a “hi-rail” pickup—adapted for the tracks—to the corridor’s end in Lake Placid.

Martens said the trip opened his eyes to the beauty of the corridor. “You recognize just how much of an asset it is,” he said. “It brings people to parts of the Park that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to.”

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates seasonal tourist trains near Old Forge and Lake Placid, but some seventy miles of tracks in between are not used. The railroad wants to refurbish the tracks, which could cost tens of millions of dollars.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates contends that the rails should be removed between the Old Forge area and Lake Placid so the corridor could be used for bicycling, jogging, and hiking in spring, summer, and fall. It would continue to be used by snowmobilers and skiers in winter. The group says the ninety-mile trail would attract tens of thousands of tourists a year and boost the local economy.

ARTA has called on the state to reevaluate the corridor’s management plan, which was adopted in the 1990s. Most towns along the corridor have asked the state to remove the tracks or at least revisit the plan. Many local businesses also side with ARTA.

If the plan is reopened, DEC and DOT would then decide what’s the best use of the corridor, which is owned by the state.

Map from Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s  website.


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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.

62 Responses

  1. M.P. Heller says:

    I think Commissioner Martens’ comments tells us all we need to know about how NYS wants to move forward on this topic.

  2. John Henry says:

    I really have concerns on why we want to invest money in something has not and will ever break even? Why do something that has no real chance of running in the black? The recreational trails are much more in the line with what the area needs and has use for.

    We have trains for tourism in other places none are real stand alone profit or break even centers NONE.

    • David Lubic says:

      John, you are wrong. A number of heritage railroads are full-fledged, for-profit enterprises that do well. The list includes the Durango & Silverton in Colorado (narrow gauge and steam-powered, too), the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania (standard gauge, steam, and handles freight with those steam engines), the Grand Canyon in Arizona (standard gauge, diesel, and fairly long), the White Pass & Yukon in Alaska (narrow gauge, steam and diesel combined), and the New Hope & Ivyland in Pennsylvania (diesel freight operation and a nice steam passenger operation).

      In addition to those, there are other private “non-profit” operations and some government operations that, despite the legal nature of the organizations, have to pay their own way. These include the Cumbres & Toltec in Colorado and New Mexico (operating on state-owned trackage, much like Adirondack Scenic), and the Western Maryland Scenic in Maryland. The latter, running on a former double-track line, shares its right of way with the Great Allegheny Trail, and even gives bikers an uphill ride on the line’s long grade between Cumberland and Frostburg, even running a baggage car to handle the bicycles. Ironically, there have been trail advocates who, despite the availability of the former second track location, want to see that railroad and its trains go away.

      Some things just can’t be explained.

      • mary c randall says:

        I do not understand why everything has to be removed, for example: fire towers or shacks in the woods or now the tracks…can’t they stay there as a reminent of our past. My opinion is let them stay and try to use them to connect into a direction that can bring profit during the seasons that the tracks can be used. I believe I read that 2 towers are going to be built again in the ADK. Politics….

    • Charlie says:

      Care to explain where you are getting your info that it will never break even……..or how you know they haven’t broke even?

      I’ll wait.

  3. Paul says:

    How do you get to take a ride on one of those “trucks”? Is the rail in sufficient shape to use some type of smaller transport that could be used to transport hikers and paddlers? Not so fast pulling up those tracks. I think we need to consider plan C!

    • Matt says:

      Check out rail bikes some time Paul. Those are really cool.

    • David Lubic says:

      Paul, that railroad is open for its entire length, and can handle full sized trains. In fact, it is used to move equipment from Lake Placid to Utica for maintenance work. It’s not quite up to snuff for passenger trains, but that could be fixed for a relatively small $16 million or so, if one limits the work to some washout repair, new ties, and a line-and-surface job.

      Here are some photos of what the railroad does look like:

      Maintenance of the railroad, based on Adirondack Trail Association’s own study, has come to $1,324.00 per mile over the last 89 years for the entire 119 mile corridor. Most of that seems to be for work that would be required for repairs to a secondary road or trail–some washout repair, keeping ditches clear, bridge repair, maintaining grade crossing signals, and so on. The ARTA’s own cost estimates for a trail are even a bit higher, at $1,500 per mile; that may be an attempt to be a little conservative, but it does illustrate how similar the work and the cost is between a railroad and a trail.

      Which brings up an interesting concept. . .if the cost of maintaining a railroad is about the same (and most of it is not railroad specific), and the cost of maintaining a trail is the same (and most of that is common to a railroad, a secondary road, or a trail), maybe the cost of maintaining a combined facility wouldn’t be that much more.

      Example–a bridge can carry a trail, a railroad, or both. Painting and repairing it will cost the same for a railroad, a trail, or both.

      Another example–along the route, one will have to deal with washouts, weeds, trees growing into the right-of-way, beavers, and other things. A combined railroad and trail will be a bit wider, but it would likely share ditches, tree lines, culverts, and the like–and the cost of clearing tree falls, cutting weeds, and repairing washouts will be about the same in spite of the increased width. About the only increase in cost will be the cost of maintaining a trail surface–and how much of that is there compared to the basic structure under the trail surface? Does it cost appreciably more to maintain a three-lane highway vs. a two-lane highway for a given level of traffic?

      Does the railroad require a subsidy? Not for operations; your tax dollars do not pay for the operation of the trains. The railroad does cover all its costs, makes a bit of an operating profit, and has no long-term debt. The money the state pays for maintenance is considered to be a “reimbursement” for money the railroad spends, and can be considered, at least in my view, as work comparable to road maintenance.

      If this is the case, then the choice of rail and trail is the best. It may have some up-front costs, but the possibility of shared maintenance makes this most attractive, and it keeps the rail option open. That’s something I think we will need for the day when gasoline becomes unaffordable, unavailable, or both.

      • David Lubic says:

        To put things in perspective, I’ll quote one Chris Webster, a rail enthusiast who has been following this and posted this comment at Railway Preservation News (, and commented on the news about the reconstruction of the toll road on Whiteface Mountain:

        “The [Whiteface Mountain Veterans’ Memorial] highway is an 8-mile long, 25 mph toll road to the top of the 4,867-foot high Whiteface Mountain, New York State’s fifth-highest peak. At the end of the road, there is a castle built from native stone, a restaurant and gift shop, and an elevator carved deep inside the mountain up to the top itself.

        “According to the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway website, the toll road’s 2013 Summer Rates were:

        “Vehicle and Driver: $10
        “Each Additional Passenger: $7
        “Bicycles $6
        “Groups of 20 or more – $6 per person plus one free entry per 20 purchased tickets

        “The website also says they offer Castle Dinners, which cost $69 for a family style dinner including one glass of wine. A cash bar is also available.

        “I’m glad to see that the memorial highway is being attended to; it is a wonderful place to visit. However, the $12 million for 5 miles of roadway makes the $16 million for 70 miles of track seem like quite a bargain!”

      • David Lubic says:

        !!@#$%^&$#@!!!! Blooming fumbling fingers and no edit function!!! The original comment was that the state spent $1,324.00 per mile on the railroad for the last 9 years, not the last 89 years!!

        While on this subject, here’s a link to the ARTA’s study, with its cost estimates. Relevant section starts at Page 15:

      • Dave says:

        Trains have not run the entire length of the tracks since around 2010 or 2011. The tracks in between Saranac Lake & Big Moose Station are in such a sad shape, that the state would NOT let the ASR move the trains from Lake Placid back to Utica 2 years ago for winter maintenance or storage. They stayed up north.
        Why is it ok for a SMALL utility truck to run the rails, JUST THAT: it is a small utility truck modified for use on the rails.

      • Dave says:

        Great, the link to the pictures show what the rails look like on the portion of the tracks used between Saranac lake & Lake Placid, why not go out & take pictures of the rails/tracks between Big Moose Station & Saranac Lake. I’m sure they look like CRAP, because I’ve seen pictures of that area. But hey, just keep your one side pics going!

        • Nathanael says:

          DP Lubic presented photos from *Tupper Lake* to Saranac Lake and also Lake Placid. They look good, don’t they?

          The tracks also look great — again, they just need tie replacements — from Big Moose to Beaver River, and a bit beyond.

          I haven’t seen photos from Beaver River to Tupper Lake, because NOBODY WANTS TO HIKE THAT FAR.

          Which is a good reason NOT to build a hiking trail, and to rebuild the railroad instead….

  4. Keith Gorgas says:

    In the beginning of October of 2013, I drove a 7 day bus tour for America By Rail around Vermont and New Hampshire. I picked them up at Amtrak in Albany. Very few of them were strictly “train nuts”. A total of somewhere near $160,000.00 went into the local economy from just that tour. There were 7 other buses on the same approximate tour, and new ones starting it each day. Hotel, meals, shopping, fuel.
    Tearing up the trails would be so foolish our grandchildren will wonder what kind of Kool Aid we were drinking. In a sense, highways certainly don’t pay for them selves. Should we abandon them too?

  5. Kevin says:

    Moving goods via train is more economical than by truck. That being said the rail corridor should be conserved for the future. Right now trains will run for tourism, and offer a way for people to visit the adirondacks without having to drive, but these same trains could be used to bring products to the adirondack communities cheaper and safer than large trucks. Once the tracks are removed they cannot be replaced.

    • Dave says:


      Why do you think the rail idea collapsed after the 1980 Olympics. THERE WAS NO USE FOR THEM. They wasn’t a tourist influx nor was there a exomnomical influx for large scale commerical use. Look at history before you post stupid comments!

      • David Lubic says:

        Then was then, but what’s the future going to look like? Will we still be using roads and cars the way we do now? Will we still want to use cars and roads the way we do now? Will we even be able to use them as we do now, if fuel becomes unaffordable or unavailable or both?

        And here’s a fun point to ponder–how do we pay for roads in the future with cars that either use less gasoline or even no gasoline, like a straight electric car? Recall that the money for the road system, at least the part that the motorist pays, comes from fuel taxes–and those taxes are usually on a fixed rate per gallon, not a percentage. Use less gasoline, even as the price goes up, and road revenue goes down.

        At some point we are going to have to come up with a new road finance system, one that is divorced from fuel consumption.

        • Dave says:

          you’ve had 30 + years to amke the rails work & NO ONE has suceeded. ASR barely turns a profit al all & that small profit is only after state money or grants is funneled into the mix.
          If it is such a barn burnner of a activity why did ASR loose it’s maintenance building in Utica; why does it have a college grad with NO Business degree as it’s manager & why after 30 years can it barely turn a profit to survive?

          • David Lubic says:

            Define success.

            The railroad operates with no operating subsidy, and generates a small profit. Its track maintenance “subsidy” is quite modest as government programs go, and if I’m reading this summary of its business plan right, it pays for the rehabilitation of track either out of its own pocket or by pursuing grants–which is another way of saying the road is expanding itself with money that is at least not a direct subsidy from the taxpayer, and indeed some of the grants have been from private sources. In return it provides a way for any person with the price of a ticket to ride this corridor, regardless of physical condition, and perhaps most importantly, provides a placeholder for a possible time when motoring may not be as affordable as it is today (and indeed, it’s not as affordable as it was even a few years ago).


            In exchange for this, you would have the state spend at least as much money as it would cost to rehabilitate the railroad if not more, you would have the state continue to spend at least as much money as it does now to maintain the trail, you would in the process of doing this essentially eliminate the railroad from the future, and in doing that you would leave this part of the country vulnerable to a day when motor transport may be drastically curtailed.

            Put it another way–could the trail people, working with the resources the railroad has, under the conditions it has, have made better progress than the railroad? Could the trail people have done as much as has been done with volunteers, which is another way of asking if they have the level of volunteers for this job?

            Now, where did I see that comment about there being 14,000 fewer snowmobiles in New York than a few years back? More importantly, is it true? And if it’s true, then is this something we want to spend money on for business that may be in decline?

            Looks like there’s something; the question is, is it a short term thing, or is it a trend? No way to really know from what I can find.




            Darn, I wish that last link had sales stats for several years. . .grrrrr. . .

          • Nathanael says:

            ASR’s lost maintenance facility was in Rome, not Utica. It was inconveniently located, it was *leased*, and the landlord wanted it for something else. This sort of thing happens. ASR is trying to arrange for a maintenance facility which is actually in Utica, but the land deals are long and complicated and take a long time to set up.

            “Business degrees” aren’t worth a dime and ASR’s manager seems more competent than the MBAs who ran Enron (for one of many examples).

      • Nathanael says:

        Not even correct, Dave. For the Olympics, the rails had been patched up to the bare minimum level: after some derailments, they were shut down, and nobody bothered to pay to reopen them until the Adirondack Scenic got involved. Nobody ever examined whether they attracted tourists.

  6. Matt says:

    Personally, I would never pay for a train ticket from Old Forge to LP, Saranac Lake to LP, Tupper Lake to Saranac Lake, etc.

    But I would use that rail trail all the time. Long bikepacking trips, day tours, and as a way to access remote mountain biking and backcountry skiing areas.

    In this economy, you have to go for the most cost effective option. Riding a train costs money. Fixing the tracks costs (a ton of) money. Operating a train service costs money. Why not do the thing that costs the least and gives access to even financially strapped people like me?

    • David Lubic says:

      Matt, I have a couple of responses above you may be interested in–or maybe not!

      • Matt says:

        I wouldn’t pay for the Veterans Memorial Highway either. In fact, the only time I ever use that is after it closes for the season and I ski it.

        I don’t understand what your statements above have to do with my concerns. Nothing you said convinces me to buy a train ticket, and I still believe refurbishment of the lines is a waste of money.

        • David Lubic says:

          Well, I’m not about to try to convince you to buy a ticket, although riding trains is fun, at least for me, but I’m a train nut, so I have to admit to being prejudiced.

          Having said that, though, I think trains are mighty useful, too, and not just for hauling freight. Truthfully, driving costs too much, and isn’t fun anymore (the carefree days of “American Graffiti” are as much a part of history as, well, steam locomotives), and not only that, but our transportation system, as it is, also drives our oil addition. You could get rid of all the oil consumption that isn’t transportation, and we would still be importing oil. I regard this as a security issue, and we should have faced this back in the 1970s.

          I’ve been following this since then. I’m old enough to remember gasoline at 35 cents per gallon, and being told we would never see it at $1 per gallon. This was even after the Arab-OPEC oil embargo doubled the price to 70 cents per gallon. How many of us wish it was that cheap again? We’ll never see it, though.

          That’s why I think we need to rethink a lot of stuff. One of the neat things about a railroad is that its friction level is so low it approaches what you can get out of maglev, and here it’s this ancient technology with passive steering and great comfort levels. Not only that, but conversion to other power sources, such as electricity, isn’t too expensive compared to some other things, and would have no unpleasant surprises (in other words, it’s proven technology). Heck, in a real emergency, you could even bring back steam locomotives! A rail line in Japan actually did that following the earthquake and tsunami a couple of years ago, with a locomotive they had and some others borrowed from museums, and kept trains moving when no electric power was available.

          Anyway, I’m convinced the day is coming when we won’t be able to drive cars to the extent we do now, and we’re going to need this railroad and others in that time–and it may be closer than any of us thinks.

          Let’s say I would want to keep the option open, just in case. . .

    • Paul says:

      Matt, I hear you. but if the line could carry hikers and paddlers to remote flag stops along the line it would be a different thing.

      • Matt says:

        But I still can’t afford it! And I know I’m not the only one.

        You say you hear me, but you don’t seem to be responding to my specific problems. Why aren’t you listening to my concerns?

        • David Lubic says:

          Not affording a ticket sounds kind of extreme. A ride for me to a major city on a commuter train is a bit over $20, round trip, for a total distance in and back of about 150 miles. Gasoline is nearly that much, and there’s the hassle of driving in that traffic, too. I know, it’s not the same as this scenic road in the Adirondacks, but it’s simply to comment that the claim of a train ride being too costly sounds, well, a bit exagerated.

          • Matt says:

            I don’t really have $20 to spend on a train that goes 30 miles an hour. Sorry, I have better things to do with my time and money. With that $20 I can get enough gas to travel 200 miles on my own schedule to wherever I want, listening to my own music, at 60 miles an hour. It might be a hassle for you to drive, but for me, it’s freedom. And that doesn’t even get into the biking and hiking I do when I reach my destination.

            And now your argument above is hinging on friction? Why not just build a monorail? My father has a Prius that gets 60 mpg. Car technology is getting better. And, if you want to go retro, bike technology is getting a lot better, too… I if only there was some sort of trail to connect towns in the Adirondacks …

            • Jesse says:

              First off nothing is free. As stated before it will cost the state approximately the same amount to rip out the rails and put in a trial as it would for them to refurbish the rails.
              The second comment I have relates to your comments about money. The rail/trail people are saying that hikers and bikers such as yourself are going to bring tons of money to local businesses. From the sounds of your comments they better hope that most hikers and bikers are not like you because you will be traveling in to use the trail in your car, using the trail and then leaving. You don’t have any money to spend, so you will not be stimulating the local economy.
              Side note, one of the things that bothers me is the way the rail/trail group does not tell the full story. Case in point, they never tell you that in the current situation snowmobilers are allowed to us the railroad right of way in the winter. They just don’t like it because if there is not a decent amount of base snow they can feel the bumps from the railroad ties as they ride.

              • David Lubic says:

                As to Matt, the truth comes out–it’s not that he can’t afford a ticket, it’s that he chooses not to pay. That’s OK, I’m cool with that, but by the same token, that railroad has the potential for more speed (needs more ties and a line-and-surface job), it does make an operating profit now, and perhaps most importantly, it serves as a placeholder when driving may become restricted in the future.

                As to his comments about speed, I wonder what he would think of the tourist and heritage roads that do make money at 20 mph and less, some with equipment that’s on the high side of 100 years old!

                • Matt says:

                  You don’t seem to understand that a lot of people don’t have as much money as you do (or apparently as much free time as you do to post on this comment board all day). I know $20 isn’t much money to you, but it’s a fair amount of money to me, and an even greater amount of money to people in worse financial straits than I.

                  I can ride my bike to the trailhead and my bike down the trail, and I eventually get hungry and thirsty. At that point, I pull off the trail and get something to eat or drink. I can use that $20 at a business to fuel my body for the ride home. Seems to be a better use of the money than sitting on a train staring out the window at a place I could be riding my bike.

                  I also don’t understand why you’re getting angry. If the train is such a great idea, you shouldn’t have to defend it this hard (38 comments here and over half are yours). If the points you make are so great, shouldn’t you just relax and let the facts speak for themselves?

                  • David Lubic says:

                    I probably have less money than you. I’m in state civil service, in a job that doesn’t pay well, and am paying for a house that was supposed to have two people paying for it–quite a crimp when your wife loses her job, and combined you lose 40% of your income.

                    As to leisure train rides, I haven’t had the chance for that for some years for money reasons; the train ticket was for a business trip.

                    I didn’t think I was getting angry, but some of the claims by the trail people are pretty ridiculous. That all those people will come, that the railroad costs so much, etc., etc.

                    I will admit to being passionate on the subject. Part of that comes from discovering how the rail system disappeared. It wasn’t a total market decision–and I’m not talking about the National City Lines case, either. I’m talking about discovering how much the road system cost. You may not know it, but your gas taxes only pay about 50% of the cost of the road system. The rest comes from property taxes and sales taxes. Tell me, how would you like it if you found out a business you were in, or one you admired, had to go against competition that was actively supported to such an extent that you could not compete? Wouldn’t you think that grossly unfair?

                    The worst part is the oil situation. Never mind climate change, although that may be a handful, too. Think about how our transportation system, dominated by cars and airplanes, fuels our oil addiction.

                    I get steamed when people say, “Oh, windmills and solar power will help cut our oil consumption.” That’s a load of horsefeathers. It’s not to say solar and wind are bad ideas, but that they do very little if anything about oil consumption. Think of how few houses today have oil heat; think of how only 3% of our electricity comes from oil, and in turn accounts for only 3% of oil consumption. Think of how we have had to fight multiple oil wars over the last 40 years because we didn’t have the sense to face the idea that maybe we have too many cars, we overuse them, that maybe what we’ve had has been too much of a good thing.

                    Come to think of it, I have gotten mad at times–and about just that sort of thing! Hope you do understand.

                    Hmmm. . .Just saw this today on the NARP (National Association of Railroad Passengers) site. It’s a political cartoon by Tom Toles, who is now at the Washington Post. Not as good as the late Herbert Block, but a bit on target–the subject is a missed opportunity during the first Bush administration.


                    Feel the whole country has been that way for years. . .

                    • David Lubic says:

                      Forgot to mention, I’ve had other reasons to be angry, although so far, not yet here. Those came from promoting a light rail line–a modern interurban–as an alternative to a four-lane highway in the semi-rural, small town area where I live. Actually put up a cost study, showing how the thing should cost less than the road (didn’t have to move so much dirt and rock), had numbers no one argued with–but the reaction! Whooee!! I was told I was trying to take away cars, I was told I was trying to bring back the horse and buggy, and I was told I was a Communist!

                      How would you have liked that bath?

              • Dave says:


                I guess you don’t ride a snowmobile. Without a adequate amount of snow on the tracks to cover the rails IT IS DANGEROUS to ride them. TO MANY snowmobilers have had their snowmobile ski’s caught in frog switches causing thousands of daoolars in damage to their sleds as well as personal injuries from either getting throw over &/or off their sleds.
                Why don’t you go ask the communities along the tracks how many snowmobilers they see going up/down the tracks in the winter. It’s not many!

            • David Lubic says:

              Jesse, it can be worse than you think. A full ADA compliant (paved) trail can run up to $1 million per mile. That would be about $60 million or so for this one, and there is still the maintenance, which is about the same as for a secondary road–somewhere between $1,300 and $1,500 per mile, for 60 miles or so. Where will the money for that come from? Toll booths? A special gas tax on snowmobiles? Pixies?

  7. Bill Hutchison says:

    John Henry: To show the double standard of your argument I have substituted “Trail” for “Trains”, thus:

    “We have trails for tourism in other places none are real stand alone profit or break even centers NONE.”

    So…how many trails are profitable? How many are run as for-profit, private businesses? NONE I’d bet.

    John Henry trots out that old threadbare argument that trains should forever be “profitable” while ignoring the reality that trails will dine at the public trough, just as every other more of transportation does.

  8. ARTA is more an idea than an entity, an idea shared by every local government on the Corridor beyond Old Forge. For the State NOT to review the UMP would fly in the faces of those we have elected and selected to steer our lives and hard earned tax dollars. While it is easy for the ASR to sell themselves with free hi-rail rides that the riders can control; stop here, slow there, go back now and so on. ARTA would have you look at the snowmobile contribution to the tourist trade and research the popularity and demographics of destination bike trails. The Adirondacks have to remake their popularity, not try to return to a past past.

    • Nathanael says:

      ” The Adirondacks have to remake their popularity, not try to return to a past past.”

      Uh, Scott, exactly. I’ve done the research. You haven’t.
      This is the sort of corridor where very few people will ride bikes, and even fewer will hike. This is the sort of corridor which people want to ride trains on.

      People do take snowmobiles on corridors like this, but with less snow each year, that’s a very limited opportunity, and the railroad has been happy to share with the snowmobilers.

  9. Werner says:

    Go ahead,remove the tracks. Then you count the Joggers and bicycles in the summer for me. Nice in the winter for the snowmobile booze cruise parties.

  10. Matt Giardino says:

    I think the big misconception in this whole debate is that the trail will be cheap to build and maintain. A trail this size will be anything but and will probably never even be finished. There is simply not nearly enough salvage value in the rails to pay for the job and the project will end up costing just as much as fixing the tracks. Tearing out the existing railroad infrastructure is an incredibly near-sighted and poorly thought out idea. The idea that another trail is the answer in the Adirondacks is like saying that $1000 wasn’t enough to fix your broken car, but $1001 will be. There are plenty of trails already. Adding another will simply dilute potential users of the others, not add to it. Fix the tracks or don’t, but leave them in place to be fixed in the future.

    • David Lubic says:

      I concur. A trail, if built to full ADA compliance (which is a paved trail), can run about $1 million per mile. That sort of money has been spent on a number of trails.

      At the same time, maintenance is about the same for a railroad, a trail, or a secondary road. See my other comments above for some thoughts on that–sorry, I’m a bit lazy to type all that again! But it is handy, and with links to check numbers, too.

      • dwgsp says:

        Who said anything about building a full ADA complaint trail? A paved trail? I have been following this debate from the beginning, and I have *never* heard anyone seriously propose doing that.

        False comparisons such as this (by folks on both sides) simply serves to confuse and distract.

        • Nathanael says:

          An unpaved trail would attract essentially nobody at all.

          Nobody would bike on it (bicycling on unpaved routes is awful, even with a dirt bike).

          Very few would hike on it (the route is too long and would attract only the rare hardcore hikers, who are already ignoring the other trails in the region).

          Basically, an unpaved trail would be unpopular. The railroad gets lots of riders.

  11. Pete Nelson says:

    There are multiple comments piling up about how expensive it will be to create and maintain a recreational trail. These are fictions and grossly misrepresent the real situation.

    The reasons rail trails are so successful across the country is that they are not that expensive to do and thus provide a large cost/benefit. In Wisconsin where I live and which pioneered rail trails, the economic wins for towns are legendary and repeated over and over as new trails get converted. This is what we risk giving up if we don’t build this great trail.

    Here is a link to data compiled by a Milwaukee County – thus not an advocacy group – as they studied costs to build more trails. Note that they were comparing to asphalt, something not contemplated for the Adirondack Rail Trail. Crushed stone is much cheaper to build with, a little more to maintain.

    As you can see, the numbers are nowhere near as some are representing above. And this is just one example of data. There are hundreds more. Don’t trust me: go look for yourselves.

    • David Lubic says:

      Thank you for the information on trail construction cost and maintenance. The numbers in that study are close to the ones I’ve been using.

      For the record, the minimum trail maintenance cost is about $1,200 per year, which is just under what the state has been spending on the railroad over the last 9 years. ARTA’s $1,500 per mile estimate is in there, too. Others cost more, up to around $2,000 per mile, and a railroad can run more than that, but this one hasn’t, and some, notably the Catskill Mountain line in Ulster County, does it for a good deal less.

      Construction cost on asphalt trails have run from just under $150,000 per mile to a little over $300,000 per mile. Using a realistic railroad reopening cost of $16 million for 60 miles of line comes to $266,666 per mile, higher than some trails but not as high as some others.

      Costwise, all this looks like a wash. The questions revolve then around economic benefit. The trail people are making claims that all these people will come to ride and bike and spend money, but real experience in some other places suggests this is a mixed bag. The railroad does have a current and measurable impact, and in my opinion, will be needed in the future.

      An interesting point, and one I’m going to have to try to find somewhere, is to find how the railroad has been expanding its operation over the years. It started out with only about 4 miles of open line at the south end, and now has a total of nearly 60 miles open, with some track authorized for 40 mph (maximum currently allowed on a “dark” railroad without a block signal system). The available photos suggest an alignment that could be good for speeds considerably higher than this. The question is, how did they expand their line? ARTA’s list of what the reimbursements paid for doesn’t seem to include full rehabilitation costs, only maintenance of what is there. Has the railroad been paying for its expansion and reopening of more track on its own? If so, it’s a bargain for the taxpayer, although obviously the progress is slow.

      Something to check up on. . .

    • Nathanael says:

      Crushed stone trail == no bike riders at all. For reference.

  12. Justin says:

    Why is everyone acting like this is a zero sum game?

    It isn’t as though anyone’s talking about tearing up the entire corridor and putting the scenic railroad out of business.

    If the Old Forge to Lake Placid section is converted to a trail, the railroad could then focus its resources on maintaining and marketing the corridor from Utica to Old Forge.

    It’s conceivable that the railroad could get a lot of new business from bicyclists coming for the trail. In addition to purely scenic tours, NYC has a huge number of bicyclists who don’t have cars.

    Rental cars in NYC are insanely expensive, so Amtrak and Adirondack RR tickets would be competitive for bicyclists looking to get out the city.

    • David Lubic says:

      This is also an argument for rail and trail combined, full length.

      Why give up anything, why compromise on anything, when you can get better by not compromising–which is another way of saying, “Shoot for the best!”

      • Justin says:

        Because resources are limited, the environmental impact of widening the rail bed would probably be unacceptable, and some of us would like to see something happen with that corridor within our lifetimes.

  13. Luke says:

    If the rail is removed, it will never be replaced. You’re not looking at a region that has a lot of railroad options left. The railroad should be left in place and the funds allocated for refurbishment both through the state and with revenue from the railroad. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs an extremely professional operation and boasts huge ridership numbers. With some subsidizing this entire railroad corridor could be open for passenger trains and freight within a few years.

    There are more than enough abandoned railroad right of ways in this region with no tracks on them that could be the subject of a productive ARTA project to create a new trail in the region. In my opinion, the ARTA is more concerned with “beating the Adirondack Scenic” than actually creating a trailhead somewhere in the region. I understand that there is some value in this piece of railroad to the ARTA because of the scrap value of whatever is removed. Whatever happened to the old Delaware and Hudson right of way from the Lake Clear Junction area? Why can’t that be turned into a trailhead?

    Even if a suitable abandoned right of way could not be found for this project, it would be just as easy to build a new trail system if not easier than going through the trouble of ripping up rail and ties to create this trail.

    The Adirondack Scenic has made a profitable venture in their other operations and if they were able to tie into their operations on the North End, this railroad could be the “Alaska Railroad of the Adirondack State Park.”

    Salvaging the railroad and building a trail is extremely short sighted. I love snowmobiling and I love hiking, but I’m also a career railroad employee and I know first hand the economic benefits of maintaining a railroad right of way with active service on it.

    I understand both sides of the argument and understand that my input here is opinionated, however, if the rails are removed this will be a terrible mistake that could not ever be reversed.

  14. Running George says:

    So when do we finally have enough snowmobile trails? We’ve one railroad. Keep the railroad as is. We’re never going to have enough trails to suit the snowmobile clubs anyway.

  15. George says:

    How many bicyclists will pedal from Lake Placid past Tupper Lake, with gear for camping on their bikes?

    And where will they camp?

    You mean that thousands will pedal to camp when you already can drive, paddle, or hike into these same areas?

    Regular use of a trail will be limited to families who take a short ride out of Lake Placid or Saranac Lake. Build a trail between these two places and the bike trail needs will be addressed.

    Hard core bicyclists want hills in their ride. They will not ride on the trail, they will continue to ride on the roads. Want to improve riding? Close the roads from time to time, for part of the day. At no cost!

    A bike trail beyond the Lake Placid/Saranac Lake corridor will be unused. The idea that by itself a bike trail through the wilderness, where you have to be prepared to spend the night, will become a major tourist attraction, is delusional.

    Turn the rail line into a light-rail commuter line for the local Adk communities. Have the State locate industry along its route and voila, you have sound economic planning. Something the Adks needs badly.

  16. George says:

    Careful! If the tracks are torn up, the right of way might revert to FOREVER WILD– which means no one gets to use it. That would be my choice. There are enough trails already.

    The ATVers will make short work of any non-paved trail that might result from tearing up the tracks. They can’t be stopped without miles of heavy-duty fencing. “No ATV” signs are for the other guy.

    Then there’s just your basic trash problem. Some of those ‘tourist dollars’ will come from pigs who don’t know what a garbage can is. So much for pristine beauty.

  17. mark says:

    the rail corridor right now is a gold mine waiting to happen…but it needs to be all 3 , rail, trail and snowmobile…
    this is one of the only lines you can take an amtrak to utica from anywhere in the country and hop right on a tourist railroad…thinks about that for a minute, you dont have to even drive to use this railroad…
    I can envision kayakers, hikers bicyclers all using the train to get to somewhere in the corridor, multiple stops along the way…marketing goldmine, in the winter find some sort of covering for the tracks to smooth out the bumps for the snowmobilers…..

    instead of separating everyone, we should be trying to unite everyone and have our tax dollars rebuild to make it one of the best corridors in the nation…everyone is being short sighted here, unite and build this thing into a glorious corridor and stand back and watch it take off, it could be one of the go to sightseeing ventures of the east, like the grand canyon in the west, and that’s just a big hole in the ground…

    the answer is , make it accessible to everyone not just one group, the railroad is willing to share, the snowmobilers are already using it in the winter, just make it accessible to hikers and bikers…then stand back and watch the money start rolling in…

    the towns along the way will see an INSTANT economic impact from the rail being fixed in the rest of the corridor…its already there , just needs some work….
    how much to cover the rail centers with fine crushed stone? and now you have a trail with no additional land needed on the other side…someone needs a marketing guru here, no ones got their head on straight…for a small amount, 16 million, wtf, most municipalities have that in general funds and waste it yearly…and for a few dollars more, you can do wonderful things there…

    the only thing the adirondack park area is surviving on right now is tourism, not industry, so why not build things geared for that…

    only the hard core hikers will use the entire length of the corridor, and one the snowmobilers get bored with their new conquest, they will go on other trails, last I knew there were 10, 000 miles of snow trails in ny, and you guys need an EXCLUSIVE 60 mile section? it will be nice for the park police collecting revenue from tickets for speeding and DWI’s thats about it…save the speed for the lakes guys…

    an entire rail corridor , with a trail running right in the center ( im sure the engineers are diligent in their jobs, so no run overs will occur).seems to be the only viable answer here, everything is already in place , but we have to build some things and repair some things to really make it happen….its a beautiful area, please make it accessible to all, not just one special interest group, WE will all lose if that happens, remember what this country was founded on, united we stand divided we fall …..

  18. David Lubic says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! You’ve just said something that really needed saying–that the trail people (snowmobile, bikers, and hikers) and the railroad people need to be friends.

    Which reminds me–I wish everyone–everyone–here would read “Allies of the Earth; Railroads and the Soul of Preservation” to get an idea of what can be with a bit of thought and maybe not too much money. I do recommend it, not only for the vision in it, but because it’s a good read.

  19. mark says:

    thanks David,
    its just that I see soo much division on this subject…not unity, I can imagine trailheads linked to the corridor, and a whistlestop with a drop off that the trail head…
    kayakers and conoes usually hate to paddle upstream, but there are probably a few bridges along the way that could drop them off to a nice section of downstream water..and walla a new destination, bicyclists also can have several whistle stops along the way…most people just day travel, on the train by 7 am, out to the trail by 9 am, do their thing, then back for a hot meal and a shower at 5 pm….when camping is not an option…shoot, even the snowmobilers might have a flatbed or something to cary sleds, put them on amtrak , then the ADSRR then off to riding, with no trailering the sled to the mountains…people are not thinking, the train can be the centerpiece, not a hindrance to this great adventure area…
    even the fishing guys like me would love it, train drop off near a creek, fish for a while, then back to the hotel room for a hot meal and a shower and a NICE place to sleep, no bugs no tents, and no outside bathrooms, lol..gettin older sucks, lol….

    for me, I envision the train to be like a huge bus, not a one city to another city transport, this is the way they used to be used, connecting towns and farms to one another, not mass transport….very economical, for supplies that dont need to be crossed over a frozen lake like beaver river, just train them in, lol, run out of crab dip for your big party? dont have to wait till next winter for it, just have the engineer bring it in on the train….EVERYONE will win with this scenario,not just one group….then the Adirondack Scenic can get better equipment , maybe like a doodle bug or something for small transports, utilizing the same rail….
    for any of this, the rail has to remain….if the rail comes out, will the preserve people even let snowmobiles on the trail….

    observe….read the line about ” hereafter acquired ”
    then read between the lines on that one…


    • David Lubic says:

      Mark, you are on the mark! (Yeah, I know, bad joke!)

      And you might be interested to know there are places where trains still do what you’ve suggested. Examples include the White Pass & Yukon in Alaska, the Alaska Railroad, the famous Polar Bear Express in Canada, and the Durango & Silverton in Colorado.

      Of particular interest is the fact that the Durango & Silverton and the White Pass line are narrow gauge roads, with the White Pass running occasional steam trips, and the Durango & Silverton being 100% steam!. The latter not only hauls hikers, campers, and fishermen into its territory, but it also helps to maintain a hydroelectric plant on the line that has no road access. That included heavy freight operations about 35 years ago, when the plant had to replace its big main water pipes. The railroad, which had helped build the plant almost a century earlier, hauled in the new pipes (which were almost as big around as its locomotives), and hauled the old pipes out.

      Who says a railroad that goes only 25 mph for most of its length, and has a strict speed restriction of 6 mph on the “High Line,” where its cars literally overhang over a 400-foot drop into a river, can’t be economically viable?

  20. philly jones says:

    There’s only one correct answer to this: Rails and Trails.

    Rails, trails, and dreams, jogging by a mountain stream, picking up steam, for rails, trails, and dreams.

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