Monday, September 14, 2015

900 Rail-Trail Comments, Few Endorse Compromise

Adirondack Scenic RailroadIt comes as no surprise that the state has received hundreds of comments on its two-part proposal to (i) replace 34 miles of railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake with a recreational trail and (ii) rehabilitate 45 miles of tracks south of Tupper Lake to Big Moose.

The future of the state-owned rail corridor has been hotly debated for years, with supporters of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad pushing for the restoration of rail service along the entire line and supporters of a recreational trail calling for removal of all the tracks between Big Moose and Lake Placid.

The draft proposal released in June by the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation was widely viewed as a compromise. The departments solicited public comments on the plan with the aim of making a final decision late this fall.

The Adirondack Almanack’s review of those comments — nearly 900 of them, obtained via a freedom-of-information request — reveals that both sides are sticking to their guns. Only a handful of people praised the compromise unconditionally.

Many of the comments (perhaps most) on both sides were form letters that made the same points in the same or similar language.

Bog RiverFor years, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has run tourist trains in the Old Forge region at the southern end of the line and between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid at the northern end. The tracks in between are used only a few times a year to bring trains to and from Lake Placid.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates formed in 2012 to lobby the state to remove the tracks north of Big Moose and create a trail for cycling, hiking, snowmobiling, and other recreation. ARTA contends that the rail corridor is underutilized and that a trail would attract far more tourists than the Lake Placid train does.

The railroad — which relies in large part on volunteers — argues that it already is attracting tourists and would attract many more if the state were to fix up the tracks between Big Moose and Saranac Lake.

Under the state’s proposal, the railroad would have to shut down the Lake Placid train, but it could keep in operation the Old Forge train (which has been more successful) and eventually extend rail service to Tupper Lake.

Some rail supporters likened the proposal to truncate the rail line to Solomon’s decision to cut a baby in half when two women each claimed the baby was hers. They argue that it makes little economic sense to terminate the railroad at Tupper Lake instead of Lake Placid, which is one of the Adirondack Park’s major tourist destinations.

“What kind of business model is it that invests money in transportation infrastructure (the rails and ties north of Big Moose) and then cuts off the two largest markets from that very same infrastructure?” asked Phil Gallos, a Saranac Lake resident who favors restoring rail service all the way to Lake Placid.

In separate letters, Gallos and Stephen Erman, a former economic analyst with the Adirondack Park Agency, both recommended restoring rail service at least as far as Saranac Lake. This would allow tourists to arrive by train to the Park’s largest community, located just nine miles west of Lake Placid, and would allow cyclists and others to enjoy a recreational trail between the two villages.

Erman urged that the trail between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake be paved for road biking (by both tourists and commuters) and for roller-skiing by athletes training for the Olympics. He also advocated for establishment of an unpaved trail that would go in and out of the corridor between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.

Removing the rails between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, Erman warned, would “undermine the financial viability of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad or any successor operation.”

Lee Keet, one of the founders of ARTA, called the proposal to extend rail service to Saranac Lake “a hail-Mary pass” that will do little to the boost the economy of local communities. “There is no data supporting ANY demand for passenger service …,” Keet told the Almanack in an email. “A five-hour ride to Saranac Lake is just ludicrous for both transportation and ‘scenic railroading’ purposes.”

rail bikeA new argument for keeping the tracks is that they are being used by Rail Explorers, a business that started in early July. Operating out of the Saranac Lake depot, Rail Explorers rents pedal-powered carts that travel over the rails. Customers can ride as far as Lake Clear, six miles away. In its first 2½ months, Rail Explorers accommodated 10,000 riders.

The company urged its customers to write the state in favor of retaining the rails, and many did so, gushing about their experiences. “I recently spent a day on the rail and can honestly say it was the highlight of my trip to the Adirondacks,” wrote one customer. “I have been raving to my friends at home in South Carolina as well as those in NY. The rail explorers are a new and fun experience that should remain in the Adirondacks for a very long time.”

Keet told the Almanack that the popularity of the rail-bikes hints at the potential of a recreational trail, which would cost nothing to use. “The hundreds riding the rail bikes are only a ghost of the hundreds of thousands we expect to use foot, bike, wheelchair, skis, snowshoes, and various other mechanisms to visit this pristine country,” he said.

He also said Rail Explorers could move their operation to another part of the corridor such as Tupper Lake or Remsen.

But Alex Catchpoole, who runs Rail Explorers with his wife, described Saranac Lake as the ideal location for the business. “One of the reasons we chose Saranac Lake is its proximity to Lake Placid and the large tourism center that it represents,” he said in an email to the Almanack. “More importantly, though, it would be very difficult to find a stretch of railroad so perfectly suited to our operations as our current location between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear. This six-mile journey has beautiful scenery and a mix of gentle grades.”

Catchpoole said Rail Explorers is benefiting the local economy. “Our summer season was almost entirely sold out,” he said. “Many businesses in Saranac Lake, including retail, restaurants, and hotels, have reported a significant increase in foot traffic and customers due to visitors who have come from far and wide to ride with Rail Explorers. All of this would change if we relocated south of Tupper Lake. We now have 15 local employees who would be out of a job if we relocated. Rail Explorers in Saranac Lake is a hit for everyone except ARTA.”

A website called Save Mr. Webb’s Railroad generated support for the rails through an online petition. The petition asked people if the railroad should be restored, if they had ever ridden the railroad, and, if so, how often.

We counted 114 responses from the petitions, all in favor of Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Nearly a quarter of those weighing in, however, had never ridden the train. Of the 88 people who had, at least a quarter had done so only once (many people did not answer when asked how often they rode the train). In sum, at least 43 percent of the respondents had not ridden the train at all or had ridden it only once.

Likewise, ARTA and the New York State Snowmobile Association generated hundreds of form letters in favor of a recreational trail. Generally, these applauded the decision to remove the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, but most urged the state to remove the tracks between Tupper Lake and Big Moose as well. They also asked the state not to fix up the tracks until commissioning an independent study into the feasibility of operating a tourist train between Big Moose and Tupper.

Many of the trail supporters are snowmobilers who say the rails interfere with their riding and pose a danger. One woman wrote DEC in an email: “The railroad tracks from Big Moose Station to Tupper Lake should be removed ASAP!!! My son Andy almost broke his back after hitting a rail connecting bolt and flipped over the handlebars … causing much damage to our sled, not to mention his pain for many weeks.”

Altogether, roughly 450 people wrote in favor of the trail and 420 wrote in favor of the railroad. The numbers are imprecise as some letters were emailed as attachments that were not available to us. Also, the numbers likely include some duplication. Some people wrote more than once or sent the same comments to both agencies.

One of the few people to write in favor of the state’s compromise was a fourth-grader who lives in Saranac Lake. “I like your decision to rip up the tracks that run through here and keep the tracks that go from Remsen to Tupper Lake. I think you’ve made a good compromise,” he said. “I like the compromise because if you do not make a compromise, and only chose one, then the other side would be mad.”

If you do make a  compromise, though, you might make both sides mad.

Photos: Above, Adirondack Scenic Railroad train outside Saranac Lake (by Susan Bibeau); middle, tracks over Bog River south of Tupper Lake (by Phil Brown); and below, one of Rail Explorers’ rail bikes.

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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.

133 Responses

  1. Lakechamplain says:

    Oh boy, here we go again; and so be it. This site has been a good forum for people expressing their, ahem, different opinions about this project. Thank you Phil, for your work in accessing the letters, petitions, et. al. and offering your analysis.
    I’ve pretty much expressed these opinions here before but will do so again in hopefully abbreviated form. To sum it up as I start: accept the state’s compromise and build the recreational trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.
    First, there is no realistic possibility of a railroad and recreational trail co-existing between TL and LP. That has been hashed out here time and again. It won’t work.
    Secondly, anyone who thinks this railroad could ever generate a profit, whether carrying passengers or transporting freight, is barking at the moon. Railroads, especially in an environment like the Adks. are very expensive to operate and maintain, and to put it bluntly, there isn’t enough freight nor the number of passengers, nor a long enough season, to ever generate the income needed to cover expenses.
    The main ‘industry’ in this beautiful wilderness region is tourism. I do not suggest that constructing a recreational trail will cause an economic bonanza for the area on its own. But I do believe it will add to the economic well being of the Tri-Lakes region in particular by offering another set of activities(I include snowmobiling among those) that will enhance the attractiveness of the Adks. to the kind of people that make up a large percentage of visitors: active people and families. This recreational trail would be a great addition to a list of ‘things to do’ when deciding where to spend a vacation or weekend. I would venture that the majority of people who come here to hike, paddle, climb etc. also have biking on their list. No, the trail won’t appeal to Mt. bikers due to its ‘flatness’ and some road bikers might find the surface a bit hard to handle, but for families and for people who’d like a quiet ride away from traffic on a beautiful trail it would have immense appeal. Fact is, biking on many of the roads in the Tri Lakes region is downright risky; this offers an appealing alternative. The connectivity of the trail among the 3 main villages offers options that make it attractive as well, and likely would help add to these municipalities businesses.
    My hope is that this compromise will be accepted and that next year will see its construction and enhance the range of activities to help people enjoy this gorgeous place called the Adirondacks.

    • Hope says:

      its time to stop arguing. All sides have been heard. Let’s implement the plan and move forward. Time will tell which way will be the most beneficial. Let’s move forward.

  2. Curt Austin says:

    Devoting a major public asset to exclusive use by a single small business is a goofy concept. Here, it means that 90% of potential users are shut out. Furthermore, both tourist train and rail bike excursions are tightly structured so that their users have no freedom to visit businesses along the corridor. They are unlikely to do it more than once. They are strictly tourist attractions, of little direct use to residents. They do nothing to make a community more attractive or more healthy.

    Another red herring trail supporters must contend with, like the unworkable rail with trail idea. This one requires a sense of proportion to see through.

  3. Eric says:

    The people of Lake Placid and other communities, through their elected representatives, have voted to remove the rails. They are sick of the train monopoly, which can only survive because of volunteers (there will be no volunteers for a 5-hour run from Utica to Lake Placid). They want to walk on the trail when the whether is nice, they want to bike on the trail when the weather is nice, and they want to see thousands of tourists who will walk and bike the trail.

    The railroad people are selfish and delusional. There will NEVER be funding for a seasonal tourist train from Utica to LP. Every single dollar for rails should be spent on the much more important Albany to Buffalo corridor (which includes Utica, by the way).

  4. Tim says:

    Just look at the popularity of the bike trail between Burlington and the Hero Islands via the causeway over Lake Champlain. There’s a constant stream of bikers using that path and there is no doubt in my mind a bike trail on the old track bed from Placid to Tupper and beyond would be just as popular.
    I took the train from Placid to Saranac once. It was ok but I would never do it again. It amazes me, all the people who support the train but have never ridden it.

  5. Jim McCulley says:

    The rail bike operator does not understand if the tracks are saved and repaired he’s out of business. The FRA will never allow them to be used on a “working railroad” currently the section he uses is out of services. While the ASR is now claiming the rail bike use is now the newest reason to save the tracks. The day the tracks were repaired the ASR would be more than happy to throw the rail bikes off the corridor. The one thing the rail bikes did was prove ARTA to be correct, people want to use the corridor but not on a train. If they did 10,000 riders in 2 months charging $25.00 per rider 2 trips per day. Can you imagine the numbers of bicyclers that will use this over it’s 34 miles everyday? The state needs to pick up the pace and start removal early next spring.

    • David P. Lubic says:

      Balogny. Operation of such equipment in common with the railroad can be and is routine. That’s what track warrants are for. It’s how you keep trains apart, and it’s also how you allow small maintenance of way equipment to have use of the track for repair work. It’s how the motor car group got to used the line in the last year or so.

      And I call double balogny on the comment that the railbikes are a substitute for regular bicycles. Look at the Rail Explorers’ Facebook site, and note how many people commented that this was something different, and that some even said the trip wasn’t worth it with a regular bike, but that they enjoyed the rail cycles.

      Incidently, one advantage of the rail bikes is that you don’t have to watch where you’re going as much as on a regular bike; the rail bikes steer themselves, you know.

      Comments like these reveal both the ignorance of railroad operations and the hatred of railroads by trail supporters.

      • Jim McCulley says:

        Name a working railroad where they allow these rail bikes today.

        Oh please it was something different? So will riding a bicycle with nothing more than a 2 percent grade from Lake Placid to Old Forge with no cars. On your own schedule at you own pace. And if the big selling point is you don’t have to pay attention may be you should hire a clown to entertain as they peddle.

        • James Falcsik says:

          You are absolutely wrong Jim. Private speeder or railbike excursions are the same thing. Vehicle type is not the issue; railroad operating rules allow for all kinds of operators to possess a specific section of track. Here is a list of 2014 NARCOA excursions that occurred all over the country: Look carefully at July 19-21. This rail bike operator can and will be able to operate safely and in concert with ASR anywhere they choose with written instructions. Railroads do it all the time. I am amazed how you and ARTA attack this couple who invested in an innovative product and is providing an attraction and revenue for your communities. It is extremely successful and getting terrific press. It doesn’t fit your idea of corridor possession so you trash them. Who cares what you think about what is better a rail bike or a regular bike. Rail Explorers sold out customer list is all you need to know.

          • Jim McCulley says:

            No they’re not the same thing. One is powered by humans one is powered by a gas engine and has communication ability’s. No ones attacking them just pointing out that they knew the tracks were going to be removed (or at least they should have) and to complain now is silly. A regular bike is far superior come and go as you please and buy it once. Another silly point by a train fan.

  6. Bruce says:

    I wonder how many of the 900 comments were from people outside the Blue Line, or in other states who recreate in the Adirondack Park? The whole discussion was about revitalizing local communities. Why do Adirondack communities need revitalizing? Is it because local folks don’t seem to be doing much more than keeping the AP on life support in the off season? Stores are closing, some hamlets are finding life as political entities difficult. (Not a slam on locals, just an observation.) We and many others, come up just before the season starts, and it’s still a pretty quiet place.

    The trick is catering to those from outside the Blue Line, those who stay overnight, eat out, rent lodging for a weekend or a week, spending their money every step of the way, and not just during July and August. Although I would have liked to see a train from Big Moose to Lake Placid, the compromise is acceptable. I live some 900 miles outside the AP, but come up for a week or two every year and ride the train at least once each time.

    • David P. Lubic says:

      Bruce’s comments strongly suggest the reason for keeping the railroad. It’s another attraction in addition to all that’s here now.

      If you’re wanting to cater to outsiders, you need a variety of activities. This is the strongest argument for rails and trails. Why have just one type of activity?

      Of course, this will not make sense to the trail people, who apparently cannot or simply will not understand this. This in fact has been demonstrated in an online discussion (much of which was deleted) in which the trail people refused to understand the concept of diminishing if not negative returns on a trail for a snowmobile market has declined markedly in the last 20 years (registrations down 30%, sales down an amazing 66%).

      • snowman says:

        No, I read Bruce’s comment as being against the status quo. The railroad has not helped the Tri-Lakes area in the past 2 decades. Ridership there is free-falling. Time for a change, something new on this NYS taxpayer-owned corridor, and to shut off the financial spicket that the ASR has running directly from DOT that keeps them afloat annually!

        • Bruce says:


          The compromise gives something to everyone, and I’m realistic enough to know that’s probably the best we’re going to get, so I support it.

      • Jim McCulley says:

        The pro rail comments were mainly from outside the Blue line. According to the ASR’s own economic impact study people do not come to the Adirondacks to ride the train and it does not create an overnight stay. After stating that they did base their impact on overnight stays which is comical. But the people of the Adirondacks have spoken for what’s best for our economy. Every community from Lake Placid to Beaver River have asked for the track’s to be removed.
        After attending the corridor meeting in Utica where the average age of the pro rail contingent was 75 (I am old too) claiming that a 19th century form of transportation was the future. Tells me how out of touch the railfans are on this issue. There’s a reason there is no Bus Service between Lake placid and Utica. I might add it’s a far more scenic ride on a bus than the wall of trees on this corridor. But there is no demand for people coming from Utica to Lake Placid. And there never will be just because you say so.

        • Paul says:

          “The pro rail comments were mainly from outside the Blue line”

          Infrastructure like this is a state or even federal issue.

          • David P. Lubic says:

            If you are talking about economic development–and much of the discussion is about just that–then you want to consider the outsiders as well. After all, they are paying customers who bring in NEW money from the outside. Local uses? Might be great people, but they are already here, and so is their money. No growth from them, in other words.

  7. Stu Nichols says:

    My stance has always been what option will provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. If that is answered honestly I think the recreation trail wins hands down.

  8. Anita says:

    I live just inside the blue line and I would use the bike trail. I also would travel north and stay overnight for a night or two to do this. I have never ridden the train and have no plans to do so.

  9. Dave says:

    Well, I hope a decision is made soon. I would like to see the entire rail line pulled up from Old Forge to Lake Placid, but I know that is not a possibility right now. The decision was made a few months ago at a compromise & while I do not toally agree with it, I think it is what is best for everyone right now.
    The ASR has been running from Utica to Old Forge on a regular schedule (If you can call it that), but if you look at rider participation over this summer, it has been a failure. They do a good job on specific “theme” rides, but in general they are a “rider” failure. They have had 20 years to make it work & if it wasn’t for the state funding them grant money every year, they would have gone bust years ago. They’ll claim that they have never been given a long term contract to make the line work, but that is bull, you’ve had a 20 year opportunity & failed at it.
    They say it would be a 5 hr train ride to get from Utica to Lake Placid, I’m assuimg that means they don’t want to stop at any of the communities along the way. Plus their cars aren’t heated, so I really doubt people are going to want to freeze their asses off for a train ride.
    Will a trail solve all the woe’s of economics in the ADK. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but until you try, you’ll never know. Snowmobiling generates 240+ million a year in the ADK according to a 2013 study. But that money is limited in the areas it is spent, because most snowmobilers will either ride will NEVER venture north of Old Forge or south of Tupper Lake because of the tracks.
    Build the trail between Tupper Lake & Lake Placid; don’t spend a dime on fixing the rails between Big Moose & Tupper Lake until the state finds someone to take over running the rail line and they come up with a plan to manage it. Plus who will spend the money to fix up any historical viewing sites between Big Moose & Tupper Lake. I’ve ridden once between Big Moose & Tupper Lake on my snowmobile & after you leave Beaver River, it is a straight boring ride with nothing to look at. And what about Tupper Lake. No offense to that town, but the rail line is on one side of the town & everything else is on the other side. They have no internal shuttle service, so does the railroad community expect the town to now foot the cost of creating a town shuttle service.
    Compromise is the way to go right now, everyone won’t be happy, but then again isn’t that what politics & decisions are made to be these days. You do what is best for both sides & make neither side happy.

    • John Warren says:

      “Snowmobiling generates 240+ million a year in the ADK according to a 2013 study.”

      No it doesn’t.

      • Dave says:

        Fine we can be nit-picky. According to the study the total economic impact across the state was 868 million & a large chunk of that is spent in the Adirondacks. Make the little boy happy now!

        • John Warren says:

          The study says 28% of snowmobiling days were spent in the ENTIRE North Country, that’s a direct economic impact in the ENTIRE North Country region not counting Tug Hill of about $12.7 million.

          The actual North Country, the area outside the Adirondacks in the northern counties, has traditionally had some of the highest snowmobile usage in the state, so the actual snowmobiling days and money spent is considerably lower the 28% and $12.7 million, and no where near the $240 million you claim.

          • Dave says:

            you have your view/opinions/facts & I have mine. In the end even a little bit of snowmobiling brings in more economic impact in a short season than a rail line to no where does right now. But you just keeping blowing that rail line horn & maybe someday, someone, somewhere will here it & give a dam!

            • John Warren says:

              I haven’t said one word about the rail line. I’m simply pointing out that you are making false claims, which I demonstrated using the very study you are citing.

              It’s not $868, or $240 million as you claim – it’s probably less than $10 million, a tiny portion of recreational spending in the Adirondacks.

              You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not you own facts.

              • James Falcsik says:

                With respect to the debate of new revenue, or attracting new money from out of state, the data many gloss over is only 15% of sled registrations that are from out of state. Most of your revenue from snowmobiling is existing; it is already here regardless of rail vs. trail. Out of state revenue from rail patrons will be higher with a rebuilt rail corridor, something that has NOT existed as the development of the corridor with Alternate 6 never materialized. The target market for the longer distance rail traveler is not local people; it is rail vacation travelers. However, the study referenced for snowmobile revenue is also mostly local, and trail users are demonstrated over and over to be mostly local people. The best opportunity for something different (i.e. new revenue), and something that is not replaceable once removed, is to rebuild the rail line as proposed in Alternate 6. In addition, the Camoin study used by the DOT/DEC clearly stated 45% of ASR riders on the northern segment were out of state customers; they may not have been a primary purpose user, but the rail attraction is a popular activity with visitors to the area and they do spend creating revenue for the region. ASR has the zip codes of the paying customers to back this up– as opposed to wild and often exaggerated speculation of the trail organization.

                • dave says:

                  even at 10 million that’s more than the rail line can/could/hope/pray they could ever provide in economic input into the ADK any day of the week/month or year!

                  • James Falcsik says:

                    Are you so sure of yourself Dave W? If the railroad met is objective of roughly 800 passengers each week (including the rail vacation traveler), using demographic and spending metrics accepted by NYS local leisure travel bureaus, the visitor revenue from rail operations with full use of the corridor would be $5,637,209. Using accepted multipliers, this equates to an economic impact of $11,077,115, and also $3,301,200 from round trip sales for a total impact of $14,378,315. Then add the current Lake Placid-Saranac Lake excursions of $1,214,330 (2014) for a total impact over $15,500,000. This information was provided to and accepted by Camoin, Those who paid for the study apparently would prefer you did not see this because this information was ignored for the purpose of the UMP Amendment.

                    • dave says:

                      prove to me that they even come close to 800 riders a week.

                    • Dave says:

                      prove to me that they get 800 riders a week. Looking at pictures of the parking lots from the rail start/end points, I bet 100 or less at most some weekends.

              • dave says:

                I guess you just cannot read a report then. It states 868 million snowmobile economic input into the state.

                • John Warren says:

                  Here is the chart in question folks, take a look for yourself. This is statewide direct spending.

                  NYSSA Snowmobile Spending Statewide

                  • snowman says:

                    You know all to well the difference between “direct spending” and “total economic impact”, Mr. Warren! SUNY-Potsdam, who does these kinds of studies quite regularly and should be considered “experts” in that realm, used a multiplier of 2.0 to come to their final determination of what snowmobiling means to NYS. That 2.0 figure is a conservative multiplier, kept that way at NYSSA’s request. The State of NH did their EIS the following year, and used a multiplier of 2.88. Read more here, page 11:

                • James Falcsik says:

                  Read it again Dave; the 800 is not now, it is a projection when the corridor is fully restored.

          • snowman says:

            Mr. Warren,

            I’m not sure what you are trying to twist the words and figures in to? The SUNY-Potsdam study on the Economic Impact of NYS snowmobiling to NYS states quite clearly that 28.38% of respondent’s answers showed that all Days Spent Snowmobiling for the year of the study was in THE ADIRONDACKS REGION. The Tug Hill Region was separate and ended up at 19% while the CNY Region was at 18.8%, 2nd and 3rd respectively.

            If you feel the EIS of NYS snowmobiling that Potsdam did was inaccurate, please send your facts to them to ask for a retraction and correction. Until then, the facts of their study should remain whether YOU agree with them or not. Thank you.

            • John Warren says:

              Readers can see for themselves right here in the study:


              There are no page numbers, but it’s the chart entitled “Distribution of Days Snowmobiling in New York State”. There is no North Country, they’ve conveniently lumped the northern tier into the ‘Adirondacks’ numbers. You’ll also notice the earlier “Demographics” chart, which has no Adirondacks – there it’s all lumped into ‘North Country’. I suspect they did that to inflate the number of snowmobilers who live here in the Adirondacks, but I don’t know.

              Even if 28.3 percent of every dollar the study claims was spent on snowmobiling was spent in the Adirondacks (which is wasn’t according to the study) Dave is still wrong.

              28.3 percent of 428 million is 121 million, less than half what Dave claimed.

              Only 16 million was spent – in the entire state – on “Overnight trips in Hotels/Motels”.

              Readers can find my entire analysis of the New York Snowmobile Association’s claims here:

              Obviously, in some places, among some businesses, snowmobiling is an important economic factor. It’s just not even remotely as impactful as the New York State Snowmobile Association would like us to believe.

              • dave says:

                well, you are truely a bonehead. 28.3% of the total 868 million economic impact snowmobiling had in the entire state DOES BREAK out to 245 million. I guess math isn’t one of your strong suits!

                • John Warren says:

                  I’ve provided the links to the study, the basic critique of the numbers, and the direct spending the study shows.

                  Readers can decide for themselves.

                  • David P. Lubic says:

                    Something John doesn’t say is that this is from a snowmobile impact study released in 2013–with data from 2010. That’s typical (it takes time to tabulate and interpret the data, and write the report), but he also fails to tell us that snowmobile registrations went down something like 15% since 2010, which likely means the economic impact is down, too.

                    What’s most bothersome is that this decline has been going on for a long time, something like 16 years for registrations and almost 20 years for sales, though both have rebounded a bit in the last couple of seasons.

                    Still, I would be just a bit concerned over what is still a 30% decline in registrations and a catastrophic 66% decline in sales.

                    There is a reason Bombardier, which was a pioneer in snowmobiles, got out of the business over a decade ago.

                    • Paul says:

                      Dave, If you look at the study John has a link to there has been a very steady increase in economic impacts despite the declines you mention. I guess the one still doing it are spending more. Probably true. We use to be pretty stingy back when I was doing some snowmobiling as a kid. The one snowmobile my family bought was 800 bucks used from our neighbor. It looked like all the money in the world to me, that wouldn’t even buy a ski for one now.

                    • snowman says:

                      Mr. Lubic might want to use his own stats instead of using those of an anti-snowmobiler when looking to twist the facts. Like the claim that “Bombardier, which was a pioneer in snowmobiles, got out of the business over a decade ago.”. REALLY? Bombardier is the parent company of SKI-DOO…the sales leader in the North American snowmobile industry for the past decade PLUS! And they also make the LYNX models in Finland and Norway, making them the WORLDWIDE LEADER IN SNOWMOBILE SALES TODAY! The rest of his “claimed facts” here just went out the window to!

                      Wow…”a decade ago”…

                  • dave says:

                    Yes, they can decide for themselves. If they read the entire document they will read that the total direct & in-direct snowmobile spending according to the report is 868 million, of which 28.3% was spent in the ADK, or a figure of 245 million.

              • Paul says:

                There is direct and indirect economic impacts. They use a doubling factor to figure that in. It may not be accurate but with ID it would be 242 based on this “study”. Just like they double 428.

              • snowman says:

                Are you using the same EIS report that the rest of us are using? It’s page 13, as clearly printed on the bottom of that page, AND there’s the Adirondack Region separated out from the Tug Hill Region. No BSing there…yes, your readers should see for themselves since the facts are being twisted by you to showcase your obvious continued anti-snowmobile stance.

                • -B says:

                  I think what John’s trying to say (and it’s solid analysis) is that dividing the total by the 28% ADK share assumes that the individual costs making up the total are also divided evenly in the ADKs. There’s no way this is true. To give a concrete example, annual registration fees are part of the total. St. Lawrence, Franklin, Clinton, Herkimer, Hamilton, Essex, and Warren counties only made up 10% of total snowmobile registrations in 14-15. So there’s one number that’s already going to be lower. How many people do you think purchase sleds, trailers, and tow vehicles in the Adirondacks? Do you really think it’s 28% of total spending for those categories too?

                  The 28.3% ADK “share” is specifically pulled from a calculation of “Distribution of days spent snowmobiling in NY”. That’s it, only where the actual activity is. Slide 29 of the link that John posted shows you all of the categories the study broke out. Now, you can decide which of those you think are a typical expense during a day of riding, but it’s certainly not all of them, at least not at the 28% share. The last six, sure. They total $190m, let’s round up and say $400m including the multiplier, and 28% of that is $112m.

                  That’s pretty much your best case scenario. Not chump change! But not what a lobbying group wants you to believe either. Snowmobiling is important in NY and the Adirondacks, no doubt. But let’s be realistic when throwing numbers around.

                  Another thing about that survey. Look at the biggest category. $131m for trailers. Does that sound right? People spend more each year on trailers than on sleds, trucks, gas? The surveyors admitted that they goofed on that one because they didn’t specify yearly expense, so respondents listed the full value of their trailers instead of dividing by the service life. If they made that big of an error, how reliable do you think the rest of it is?

                  All that said, I don’t want to see sleds out of the park, I just don’t like bad data. Snowmobiliers, or rather their lobbying org, are famous for unwillingness to compromise, but if we get some of the facts straight I think we can find some middle ground.

                  • Dave says:

                    Care to back up your snowmobilers &/or their lobbying group don’t compromise? Any facts to that statement?

                    As far as the cost quotes, you’d have to take that up with the group that did the study. But, if you want to compare economics, snowmobiling in the ADK brings in more bang for the buck, than the rails folks do hands down!

                    • -B says:

                      You got me, that last bit was opinion. Take it or leave it.

                      As far as who contributes more, I don’t have a horse in the race, as I said, just don’t use bad data. I’m fully aware that snowmobiling is part of the current economic picture in the Adirondacks, I just don’t see the need to overstate the truth of it.

  10. Paul says:

    “Altogether, roughly 450 people wrote in favor of the trail and 420 wrote in favor of the railroad.”

    Seems like the other headline is that folks are split on this issue (at least those that write comment letters).

    In a case like this where you are talking about the removal of major infrastructure it seems like you still want to proceed with caution. Neither the RR nor a trail is any panacea. Once the rails are removed they will probably not be coming back.

    I agree with the majority who thing the compromise is a mistake. It should be all of one thing or all of the other. We had this sort of a problem with slavery and it lead to the civil war! Sometimes this debate sounds like a war.

    10,000 riders in 2 and 1/2 months. Those are real riders and quite impressive for one small new operation.

    • Dave says:

      I’d love to see the facts behind the 10,000 figure.

      • Paul says:

        They would probably show you their books if you would like. It is far better than speculation like what is behind much of the other assertions in this debate.

    • Stu Nichols says:

      What you have with the rail bikes is one small business monopolizing an asset that could be put to better use for many more people, all year round, if the rails were gone. I don’t think you can consider the rail bikes an economic driver on the scale of snowmobiling. Then add in the multiple uses of the trail the rest of the year. As for the rails, if they are not removed, I don’t think they will ever have any significant economic value to the region. I do not foresee any viable reason for a return to real railroad service ever. Except for short hauling coal to the power generators out west, it is my understanding railroads need long distance, high volume at high speed to be successful.

      • Paul says:

        No doubt. This would be a tourist train not a passenger or freight train. Some are quite viable if done right.

  11. Gary F. Heurich says:

    This writer could not be more adamantly in favor of retaining and restoring ALL of the Big Moose to Lake Placid rail network.

    It is short-sighted to remove an important transportation and recreational resource that could never be replaced.

    Further, there are trails galore in the park for the trail supporters to use, yet this railroad infrastructure is a rare resource. To argue for rail removal in favor of trails is akin to an “I want it all” attitude.

    The talk of compromise in this discrete instance is too narrow. The concept of compromise in this case should be viewed within the greater context of the Park. Meaning that trail supporters, who already have a tremendous amount of their chosen resource, should compromise and let another significant group have this unique Park resource to enjoy.

    To argue trail over rail because trail users outnumber rail users is specious. (“Superficially plausible, but actually wrong.”) This would be to argue that anytime, anyplace that there is a question, the larger user base should always prevail. What about all those folks who don’t want to hike or walk trails, but want to enjoy alternative activities in the Park?

    Talk of diversity of users in the park is a hot topic these days. Yet, what about diversity of experience? And, the diversity of users that would bring? You cannot have true diversity of users without true diversity of uses.

    Where is the question on the petition that reveals whether or not trail supporters are in favor of diversity in the Park? By definition, diversity requires accommodating groups smaller than the majority.

    Such a simplistic approach as “we’re greater in numbers” doesn’t always serve the public well, or in this case the Park. In some instances, such an argument can actually be damaging to the greater interests of the Park. As I believe it is in this case.

    Rail Explorers is demonstrating beautifully yet another valuable use of the rail network, with promise of more were the entire line restored. Let this develop. Let this diversity of use serve the diversity of users we say we want.

    Finally, the use of a statistic that almost half of rail proponents have never ridden the rails or ridden only once to intimate a weakness in the pro-rail argument, hides the reality that a large proportion of trail supporters have either never or rarely used a given trail resource. Or any trail resource.

    Fair is fair. It is the nature of the beast that many folks who support a given resource have either never or rarely used that resource. But, boy oh boy, are we glad that all those resources are there. One does not have to use something to legitimately appreciate its importance.

    Thank great goodness that the Adirondack Park is the unique, precious, and preserved natural resource it is because so many down- and out-of-staters who have never been to the Park support the Park simply on its merits.

    Preserving and building on the unique transportation and recreation resource that a full Big Moose to Lake Placid rail network would represent has more than enough merit to earn legitimate support from wherever it may come.

    The argument behind rail versus trail has not been framed well. Rail removal and trail prevail would be short-sighted.

    • snowman says:

      Mr. Heurich, You are suggesting that the pro-trail comments were submitted by people that never rode or walked a trail or only once? That’s a stretch right there. But I personally have only ridden the ASR once…and will never again. Can’t get those wasted hours back!

      Some rail fans are conveniently forgetting that the Big Moose Station to Lake Placid (actually, the entire Corridor from Remsen to LP) rail line was indeed a working, passenger & freight hauling railroad. It failed. And failed again. And some are suggesting that the State should pony up the funds for one private business to try and see if it fails one more time. Nope…my money needs to go to other needed infrastructure projects across the State rather than going to prop up an insolvable and financially defunct private venture that would have been bankrupt years ago if the State taxpayers didn’t unknowingly fund their operations year after year!

      Keeping the State-owned Travel Corridor open for the train to bring their engines and cars back and forth to Lake Placid twice per year also allowed for the entire corridor to be somewhat used by the snowmobile riders, only because the 1996 UMP mistakenly chose to go with Alt. #6. Safety was and is an issue there as is the shortened snowmobile season due to the rails being in place, but the money the State spent on keeping the corridor intact was well spent and advisable going forward, and when the sections of the corridor is finally converted to a trail (which should have been the choice north of Thendara in 1996).

      But no money from the State taxpayers should go to ANY business or industry, including snowmobiling, to prop them up to make money off from this corridor either. Snowmobiling isn’t looking for that handout, as the clubs only receive funding from their own registration money that each owner pays in to NYS as well as from gas sales tax money from the State in the form of a minuscule reimbursement based on an application to the Tax Dept. Also, on-road gas taxes paid by off-road enthusiasts help a couple NYS snowmobile clubs per year in the form of grants from the federal RTP grant program, but that program is most likely done forever.

      • -B says:

        RTP program is alive and well for the moment, and at least one NYS club successfully used it to fund a groomer purchase. I believe the NYSSA applies to RTP for a lot of their expenses too.

        Some counties pitch in on top of the state trail fund too. Not to mention that the fund payout is handled through the counties who put a lot of time and effort into the process, and all or most take nothing from the fund payment for that. And snowmobilers rely on local and state law enforcement, which of course is paid through taxpayers. There is a slice of the fund for law enforcement but very few jurisdictions take it and it’s a really small amount.

        Your main point is right, as far as the trails that’s almost entirely self-funded. But without contributions from other sectors, some of which are taxpayer supported, snowmobiling in NY wouldn’t look anything like it does today.

        • snowman says:

          No…the NYSSA has never applied for and received any RTP grant awards.

          And each Snowmobile LEO agency can and does apply for up to $12,500.00.year for their law enforcement services directly from the Snowmobile Trail Fund (paid for by snowmobilers only), and almost ALL municipalities that patrol trails apply for. NO local taxpayers! The fine money that comes in, all except 1/2 of the NO REGISTRATION fines and the State Surcharge fees, are kept by the local municipalities.

          • -B says:

            Sorry, you’re wrong re: the NYSSA and RTP grants. Just ask them. Maybe they haven’t received anything yet but they are certainly applying — which I think they’re entitled to, this is what the RTP program is for.

            You’re not quite correct abut the law enforcement portion of the snowmobile grant either. It awards $12,500 as you say but it’s 50/50 and there are minimum qualifications. There aren’t many municipalities that can drop $25,000 now just in hopes of getting $12,500 back later. There are 45 municipalities the grant serves, and $145k went out to law enforcement for 2014-2015. 15 municipalities applied, not “almost all”, not nearly. That is also only for LOCAL law enforcement, state agencies are not eligible, NYSP and DEC enforcement on the trails gets zero dollars from the snowmobile fund.

            As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not anti-snowmobile, I don’t want to see them out of the park or out of the state. But this “snowmobilers are 100% self-sufficient” thing is a lie. You should be skeptical of what a lobbying organization is feeding you.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Snowman seems to be out of the loop on the RTP grants:

            From the NSSA web page under the link “About Us”:

            >>Ensure that snowmobiling receives it fair share of federal RTP grants.

            An article with versions that appeared in several places concenring the groomer purchased with RTP grants:

  12. Bruce says:


    “Will a trail solve all the woe’s of economics in the ADK. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but until you try, you’ll never know.” This is true, but once the tracks are torn out, the AP is stuck with the results, good, bad, or indifferent. That’s why I believe the compromise is a reasonable solution, the state is in effect, hedging its bets. It would appear the state is willing to do its part in getting both ideas off the ground. Let them do it, because if they lay off spending the money between Big Moose and Tupper Lake to see what happens, that money will likely disappear forever.

    Not everyone who comes to the Adirondacks hikes, rides bikes or snowmobiles. Based on my own experience, the folks who come “off season” (excepting weekends) consist of many who are up in years and/or retired. Just like you can’t judge the impact of a new trail simply by the fact it is there, you can’t judge the impact of longer, potentially more interesting train rides by the current ADKRR operation. It is a fact that longer train rides with more going on, draw more people.

    I’d be willing to bet if the train starts going to Tupper Lake and other places, there will be someone who will be more than willing to help the passengers leave some of their money in those places whether its setting up shop or providing transportation. Like the restaurant at the Big Moose depot which services the Sunday Brunch train.

    • Dave says:

      And according to other post I’ve read the Big Moose Station has seen zero business this year from train riders!
      Plus, we’ve had a go at a upscale scenic train ride in the ADK. It’s called the Saratoga-North Creek service & it is costing Iowa Pacific to the tune of a net loss of over 1 million a year. Why do you think Iow Pacific want sot store all those oil cars on unused rail lines over on the estern side of the ADK. They need the money to prop up that scenic railroad disaster.
      If you think the ASR can survive then let’s take away all the state money they get every year & let just the revenue they take in provide for them.
      A train trip from Utica to Lake Placid is going to take 5 hrs & that assumes you aren’t going to be stopping anywhere in between at any of the towns alsong the way. So you jst screwed those towns to get train service no one rides now. I can drive from my house here in MD to Lake Placid in less than 7 hrs. And then I have my car handy to go where/when I want. I can drive to my camp in Old Forge, spend a day at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake & then another day at the Blue Mountain Lake Museum, neither of which the train will ever provide service to or for!
      It has not in the past, now or in the future ever going to be a cost effective way to move around in the ADK. I can see just as much of the park riding in my car up Rt 28 & Rt 30 as I can see from a train. Plus I hit places the rails never go, never have gone & never will go!
      If the rail folks don’t want to compromise & keep what they currently have that works, then I AM 100% certain, that in 5 years you’ll cease to exist! Because no company is ever going to come in and manage something as puny as the ASR & that railroad!

      • Larry Roth says:

        S&NC says their tourist trains pay for themselves – it’s the cost of maintaining the road bed that’s the sticking point. They have been trying to get freight traffic on the line for the additional revenue they seek.

        I’ve ridden the line several times and would like to again.

        • Dave says:

          Iowa Pacific who runs the raill line says, the scenic railroad is costing them over 1 million a year in losses to operate. So if you consider a million dollar a year in loss a sucess, I guess you have no clue what profitable really means!

          • Larry Roth says:

            Excuse me? I think I understand exactly what the situation is – and why you are responding in the fashion you are. Going through life with a closed mind and an open mouth is not a good way to be.

            • Dave says:

              I have no closed mind: I understand reality & you don’t The Saratoga- North Creek line is not profitable & never will be for Iowa Pacific to keep pourin money into it. Just like NYS taxpayers shouldn’t keep throwing money into the ASR. If both of thos scenic rail roads thenik they are such hot s””it, then let them stand on their own, with no taxpayer support!

              • Larry Roth says:

                Let me repeat my two points: 1) the S&NC passenger trains support themselves, but 2) don’t provide enough revenue to also support roadbed maintenance and repair. This isn’t a complete failure, as you claim, but a partial success.

                Iowa Pacific operates a number of short lines around the country – they’re not amateurs. The plan was always for passenger AND other operations to generate enough revenue to make their investment worthwhile. If they can’t make it work, they’ll pull out, and all of the investment they and other businesses in the community have made contingent on their success will be gone.

                And you’re cheering that?

                The comment about taxpayers gives your game away. You have the dog in the manger attitude that is ripping this country apart these days. Well, my taxes help support the roads you drive on, the schools you’ve apparently made so little use of, the fire, police and medical services you depend on and quite a bit more. Can I get a refund?

                Frankly, the temperature of your excrement approaches absolute zero.

  13. Bill says:

    The reason why I’m leaning towards the trail option is that I think for rail service to truly work and be worthwhile it would need to be a REAL working railroad that could accommodate not just tourist trains that go under 40 mph but also faster passenger trains and freight trains.

    A 5-hour journey from Utica is only tolerable for those who are primarily interested in the novelty of the journey itself as opposed to those who want an efficient, comfortable way to travel between points A and B. If there was a modern passenger train – with heat in the winter and A/C in the summer – that went 60 mph and traveled all the way to Lake Placid, I would ride it and I think others would, too. It would be a great way to take a ski vacation weekend to Whiteface (or even Big Tupper when it re-opens). Riding a modern train is much more pleasant and relaxing than driving, especially in the winter.

    However, it doesn’t seem that this scenario is a possibility due to the increased track rehabilitation costs that would be required. I’m fine with the compromise for now but in my opinion the railroad has no future if it’s solely a limited scenic service with slow speeds. If the capital doesn’t exist to fully restore the railroad then the state should rip up the tracks and build the trail instead of letting this unique resource continue to be scandalously under-utilized. The trail would be wonderful and it shouldn’t be withheld just for the sake of a handful of enthusiasts and seasonal tourists.

  14. snowman says:

    Mr. Warren pointing to his own biased articles, which then lead readers to link to more of his slanted articles against snowmobiling. Thanks!

  15. Tony Goodwin says:

    I guess i can’t resist being the 40th comment. To Mr. Falcsik I point out that “Option 6” in the Unit Management Plan was supposed to be implemented “mostly with private funds”. To date no private funds have paid for any of the track rehabilitation. After 20 years, it’s time to say that those private funds are never going to materialize.

    The ASR’s business plan for full corridor operations is truly a fantasy. “Cross-platform transfers” from Amtrak are mentioned frequently, but the proposed timetable does not allow for any such transfers. The proposed operating schedule triples the train-miles operated, but actual operating costs only increase by 45%. The amount of track to be maintained doubles, but maintenance-of-way costs only increase by 25%. And I would point out that the current MOW spending is inadequate since last year there were two derailments. The one near Lake Placid cost $70,000 in state taxpayer dollars to fix. The one north of Thendara cost, according to an ARPS board member, $900,000 to fix so that trains could again carry a mere handful of weekly passengers to Big Moose.

    Whether the trail serves 40,000 or 240,000 users per year, it will cost less and provide a greater benefit than expanded rail service ever will.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Option 6 of the 1996 UMP was never implemented, and in the document the chosen rail operator was not to be burdened by the short 30 day lease terms. The DOT/DEC acknowledged this would make full development with private investment difficult. Please note prior to the 1996 UMP being adopted, thousands of dollars of funds collected at the fare box was indeed used for track improvement and restoration projects. NYS gets a pass for not following through on the plan and ASR is unfairly blamed for the lack of corridor development.

      The proposed trail will serve mostly local users as do most rail-trails. Trail maintenance, improvement, and the constant need for promotion and publishing of studies to convince the public of its worth will still cost the taxpayer millions. This is not speculation but proven fact. You have 10,444 miles of snowmobile trails and thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails in addition. The greater benefit you speak of exists all around now without the need to destroy an historic and useful railroad asset for yet another dirt road path.

  16. Lakechamplain says:

    Please gentlemen arguing and arguing and arguing over not so much the use of snowmobiles on this trail but snowmobiling in the Adirondacks, could you please get back on track, pun fully intended?

    Phil Brown set up this thread after a pretty intense effort on his part to access the public comments to the state, and he presented a cogent analysis. He barely mentions the use of snowmobiles on the trail, which is relevant but apparently NOT a major topic among the comments to the state. Can you respect that and not go off into an endless(it seems) back and forth over the economic impact of snowmobiling in the Adks.? You pretty much had the same arguments several months ago. I would suggest you try and get a separate thread going sole on the snowmobile issues that affect the Adirondacks.

    I respect that both sides feel strongly but I feel this thread was not meant to focus on that issue.

    • snowman says:

      I concur, but also would like to Point out that an editor of the Almanack is who started the debate about he snowmobile economic impact that he disagrees with, hi-jacking these comments. My apologies for getting sucked into that debate.

      Back on track (PUN intended)…I’m surprised that only 900 comments were submitted on the UMP. Will more be forwarded under this FOIL?

      In 5 years, once the 4-season, multi-use trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake is built and proves the trail supporters correct, we will be back here debating the removal of the rails south of TL to Big Moose Station once again. With facts and stats on how successful the trail has been!

      • Lakechamplain says:

        Thanks snowman for mentioning that John Warren edits this site. He seems to go berserk whenever the snowmobile issue comes up and I like your phrase about hijacking this otherwise healthy debate. I would bet that Phil Brown, who after all did the work on this thread, is shaking his head and saying there goes John again, off the handle. And as I noted this is like a replay of the same heated debate this group had a couple of months ago, again diverting most of the attention away from the main topic.

    • -B says:

      The snowmobile lobby is one of, if not the, strongest voice proposing to tear out the tracks. They want this to add a week or so on each end of the riding season — they already have use of the line as a snowmobile trail. Look into the ties between ARTA and the NYSSA. You just can’t talk about removing the rails without talking about sleds.

      • Dave says:

        And you couldn’t be farther from the truth on anything you wrote. The snowmobile community doesn’t really care one way or the other; as you said we ride on the corridor now & will do so in the future as long as the tracks stay a strictly summertime/early fall use for the rail folks! Would it be better if the rails were gone, you bet! I wouldn’t have to wait until there is sufficient snow (i.e. 1- 2 feet or more) to cover the rails to make it safe for me to run my sled on the tracks. There have been tooooooo many instances of sleds getting wrecked on the “frog”switchs, or catching a loose rail bolt & people getting injured to make riding the tracks dangerous. Would removing the rails help the communites along the way with wintertime snowmobile business, you bet. More sleds can go north & more can come south & spread that money around.
        But either way snowmobiles have used & will continue to use the corridor regardless of rails or no rails! We just happen to provide the most bang for the buck to the ADK region on corridor use.
        And it doesn’t cost the NYS taxpayer a dime for snowmobiles to ride the corridor either! Cann’t say the same for for rails folks!

  17. Woody says:

    I’ve never really weighed in on this topic before, and frankly this argument about rails and trails is getting tiresome. But here are a few points:

    (1) Estimates of forecasted recreational trail usage are highly optimistic. ARTA board members have always been quick on the draw with examples of extraordinary bike usage on trails in other states, and they expect that more people will be drawn to this trail than are drawn to the High Peaks every year. However, the precedent set by other rail trails already in existence here in the Adirondacks is conveniently forgotten. The one I’m most familiar with is the TOBIE Trail between Thendara and Inlet, part of which is parallel to route 28 and easily observed. By far, most of the usage I’ve seen has been by snowmobiles. NO ONE skis it in the winter. In the summer it is used by modest numbers of joggers, walkers, and bikers, but these people seem to be mostly who own property nearby. In other words, the TOBIE Trail (which follows the bed of the old Raquette RR) is a quality of life asset for local residents, but by no means a year-round tourist magnet.

    (2) To be fair, the ASR has never really been given a fair chance. All of the comments I can recall reading over the life of this debate (and I’ve lost the patience to read them all) seem to imply that it’s the ASR’s responsibility to rehab the entire line from Utica to LP, and the failure to do this point’s to ASR’s failure as a tourist enterprise. Well the RR is actually a state property, the same as any state highway, so expecting ASR to raise the funds to fix the RR is like expecting the Adirondack Museum to singlehandedly maintain route 30. If the DOT sees a viable future for rail service along this line, then DOT should keep up on its maintenance. In my opinion, the fact this never occurred is the state’s failure, not ASR’s.

    (3) The ASR, for its part, could do a better job justifying its existence. I live in Oneida County, just a few miles from one of the traditional stops. I travel to the Adirondacks. A lot. So theoretically I fall within its target audience of outdoorsy people who might prefer to take the train up north and be dropped off at some remote spot. Say for example, Lake Lila if the line were restored that far. But as I recall, DOT was only planning to fix the rails just enough to accommodate a slow moving train. So what would my motivation be to take the train to Lila for a weekend camping adventure, opposed to driving up in my car? With my car, I can get there faster and come and go on my own schedule. The train ride would probably take longer, and I would be tied to its schedule. It would only be attractive if it offered a service or convenience that I couldn’t find elsewhere. One of the things that would get my attention would be the ability to have a restaurant quality meal while I traveled. After a weekend of camping, that would be an interesting feature–eating while I ride back home!

    (4) Neither ASR nor ARTA are true stakeholders. The first is merely a tenant of the RR, and the latter is just an interested party with lots of maps and colorful photos of happy people on bicycles. DOT is the only real authority in this debate, and it should not in any way feel constrained by the black-or-white alternatives presented by either the rail or the trail people. I’m more curious to know what the state’s transportation experts have to say about the corridor’s potential uses. Oddly, DOT’s position on the RR has been ambivalent at best, as if its something they prefer not to be bothered about. Does DOT think there is a viable market for a dead end RR, regardless of whether it ends in Tupper or Placid, and regardless that market involves trains and/or rail bikes? Is there funding to fully rehab the line from end to end? If converting the corridor into a trail would be better than maintaining the rails, then wouldn’t converting the corridor into an automobile road be even better yet? Why just restrict our thinking to only the options presented by ARTA and ASR?

    • dave says:

      Well said Woody!

    • David P. Lubic says:

      Woody, I have an answer to another Dave (and for some reason this goofy comment system cut off part of my name in the response!), but the other Dave had a bunch of questions about why he thought the railroad wasn’t “successful,” and I have what I think is at least par of the answer. Your comments look like that might be of interest to you.

    • Curt Austin says:

      As a matter of fact, DOT’s policy is to preserve tracks, wherever they may be. I know this from speaking to a railroad division official about the Saratoga-to-Tahawus corridor years ago. He said the Tahawus section was an exception, never being more than a mine railroad. But he said DOT would automatically oppose a trail conversion to the south.

      This is what’s behind DOT’s determination to upgrade tracks into Newton Falls – blind devotion to mission.

      The compromise being discussed is between DOT and DEC, who jointly control the corridor. DOT’s mission to support genuine rail infrastructure is mostly satisfied with potential service to Tupper Lake. It’s a fantasy to anyone with a sense of historical trends, but to their credit, they don’t care about tourist trains and and do not indulge in nostalgia.

      DEC, of course, knows the Blue Line came about due to water quality issues, which were exacerbated by forest fires caused by locomotives hauling logs. This is irrelevant, of course, but must I unilaterally disarm myself from specious arguments?

  18. Chris P. Bacon says:

    Why are they so bent on destroying the railroad, (HISTORY)? Anyone can find a trail to ride their bikes on, NOT everyone has historic railroad in their area that the can visit ant take a trip on ant would be able to visit the lakes, The trail would only benefit a FEW, Those with bikes, or able to walk that far, unlike the train, that anyone con ride.

  19. Larry Roth says:

    I wrote to strongly support saving the rails; I’ve ridden the train just this past Labor Day. So did people in wheel chairs, people with young children – and a number of people doing the combined boat trip down the Moose River with return by train.

    My public comment was submitted as an attachment. (Available on request.) I went through both the original unit management plan and the proposed amendment, and found a number of points that just don’t add up. Neither do ARTA’s wildly inflated promises. (Hundreds of thousands of new visitors? For just one new trail? Really?)

    The rail line is unique and irreplaceable. It would be a huge mistake to remove it. It makes the local economy stronger by expanding the recreational opportunities in the region – and a fully operational line would connect Lake Placid and points in between to the national rail system.

    The conclusion is simple: save the rails.

  20. john says:

    Well said Woody!

  21. dave says:

    If the rails are such a great idea:

    Why were they abandoned in the 80’s?
    Why hasn’t the state put the money into fixing up the entire rail line?
    Why hasn’t the ASR been able to survive without state money each year? The only high volume use the ASR gets is on their “theme” trains.
    Why hasn’t a viable rail management company come in & taken over management of the line?
    Why have all the towns pretty much along the corridor north of Remsen & south of Lake Placid called for the rails to be removed?
    Why is a much better funded, much better run, much better equipment scenic rail service over between Saratoga & North Creek operating at a loss of over 1 million a year?

    I’ll tell you why, NO ONE wants it! I can see just as much scenery driving my car up Rt 28 & Rt 30, plus I get to stop at places the rail WILL NEVER touch: Raquette Lake, Long Lake, Great Camp Sagamore, Blue Mountain Lake Museum, &/or The Wild Center. Plus I have the freedom with my car to come/go as I please. I’m not tied to a train. Plus it’s already a 2:45 minute ride to just get from Utica to Old Forge. I can drive from my house in MD to my camp in Old Forge in only 7 hrs. Plus I can do the drive up & the drive back (over 750 miles) & spend less money on gas than what the cost of a round-trip ticket is from Utica to Old Forge & back.
    So keep that thought alive that a rail line will somehow become a reality north of Big Moose station. Even if the state made the decision to keep the rail line all the way to Lake Placid, they still need to find a company willing to spend their money to manage & maintain a rail line/service between Utica & Lake Placid. It’ll never happen. Iowa Pacific is loosing money on their hair brain idea on the eastern side of the Adirondacks & their scenic service is much better than anything ASR can do. Don’t build a trail now & we’ll be right back here in 5 years & we can debate the whole thing again & you still won’t have rail service to Lake Placid either!

    • David says:

      “If the rails are such a great idea:

      “Why were they abandoned in the 80’s?
      “Why hasn’t the state put the money into fixing up the entire rail line?
      “Why hasn’t the ASR been able to survive without state money each year? The only high volume use the ASR gets is on their “theme” trains.
      “Why hasn’t a viable rail management company come in & taken over management of the line?
      “Why have all the towns pretty much along the corridor north of Remsen & south of Lake Placid called for the rails to be removed?
      “Why is a much better funded, much better run, much better equipment scenic rail service over between Saratoga & North Creek operating at a loss of over 1 million a year?

      Excellent questions, and they deserve answering.

      In my opinion, a key answer to many of them is that the rail market was sabotaged by government intervention. Specifically, we subsidized highways and airports and even waterways (and trails, too), but we expect a railroad to pay all its operating costs, pay all its infrastructure costs, and pay taxes on its property, too.

      For comparison, your gas taxes at best only cover about 64% of the cost of the road system. Now, if you had a competitor who only paid 64% of the cost of his building–say a hotel or restaurant or something, the difference made up by the government–and on top of that you had to pay taxes on your building and your competitor didn’t–well, how well do you think you would do?

      In 2012 (last year in which Highway Statistics Table HF-10 is available), this country collected, through all highway agencies, about $142.5 billion in highway user fees (fuel taxes and tolls–and this includes the diversions for non-highway uses, such as public transit subsidies and other things, or about 12% of highway revenue)–but spent $221.3 billion. The difference works out to about 50 cents per gallon in an exercise in what amounts to cash flow accounting. The picture would actually look worse with full-cost accounting, which would add in things like deferred maintenance. There is also the question of externalities, such as congestion costs, unrecovered accident costs, air pollution costs, and, let’s admit it, the cost of an oil war or two.

      Again, I ask, how well would you do in such a rigged market? Alternately, what sort of changes would come if you unrigged the market–in other words, what would happen if you had people pay the real cost of driving, as we expect the railroad to charge its customers?

      This is not new. See this film from the railroad industry, in particular starting around 13:40:

      I would add that this is an important point to consider in a world in which the highway system is suffering from deferred maintenance. Let’s face it, we have not been paying the real costs of the road system–and it’s starting to show. Whatever your position on this subject is, we have to admit we need to raise more money for the road system if we expect to keep it around.

      Among the challenges–high-mileage vehicles, such as hybrids, that don’t consume as much fuel as something like a big SUV (and which don’t “pay their share” in road revenue), and even vehicles like straight-electric cars (which don’t pay fuel taxes at all)–which suggests we need a road revenue model that is not pegged to fuel consumption.

  22. Bruce says:

    I wish someone would explain to me why if snowmobiling, hiking and biking are such huge economic impacts, why towns and hamlets near and on already existing trails are struggling except during the summer season?

  23. Tony Goodwin says:

    Mr. Falcsik, at the APA meeting when the current compromise was presented by DOT and DEC, the DOT representative, Ray Hessinger, said that the ASR/ARPS HAD been offered a long-term lease. However, ASR/ARPS couldn’t come to terms with DOT – hence the 30-day permit under which they now operate. When the 5-mile out and back ride from Thendara was new and attracting as many as 70,000 riders annually, the railroad may have spent “thousands” on track improvement, but not the tens of millions required to rehabilitate the rails to Lake Placid. Now the Thendara service attracts only about 20,000 riders, and FOILed documents show that the state is paying for most, if not all, of the diesel fuel.

    Even though I am a founding member of ARTA, I will admit that I can’t see 250,000 annual trail users. But even if it is a more realistic 50,000 summer users, that will be more than ride the railroad (absent the double-counting of round-trip riders) at a much lower cost. Yes, ARTA’s figures on users, construction costs, and annual maintenance costs are indeed projections based on similar rail trail conversions. Twenty years from now we will know how close those projections actually were.

    With the railroad, however, we do have 20 years of experience and we know that the projections have been way, way off. The projections used in preparing the UMP came from a study done by Freight Services Inc. This study proposed a phased rehabilitation. The phase that would start the current service between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was projected to cost $1.3 million. The actual cost was over $7 million. After five years, ridership between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was projected to produce a NET INCOME of $274,000 while also creating 70 new jobs. $11 million was the projected cost to rehabilitate the track to Class III (60 mph operation) all 140 miles to Lake Placid. More than that has already been spent with only a tiny bit of Class III, 70 miles of Class II (prone to derailments), and 70 miles of “excepted” track.

    How can anyone think that the state should continue to pour money into an operation that has clearly failed to live up to its expectations?

    • Dave says:

      Because the rail community thinks they are entitled to it!

    • Woody says:

      Since the existing rail trails in the Adirondack Park also don’t live up to ARTA’s expectations, I’d say you have no standing to criticize the RR’s performance, Mr. Goodwin.

      Look, this isn’t all about the numbers. Look at all the resources that have gone into the rehab of Great Camp Santanoni, which is an empty building way out in the middle of nowhere, generating no revenue whatsoever, employing mostly volunteers. So why don’t we raze and put in a water park with an RV campground? THAT would draw tourism and put a dent in Newcomb’s economic woes!

      But we wouldn’t think of doing any such thing because Great Camp Santanoni has an intrinsic value just the way it is. Call it pure sentimentality, but people love going back there. If the camp were lost, a distinctive asset would be lost.

      Ditto the RR. The Adirondack’s were once cris-crossed with RRs — passenger lines, lumber RR’s, freight lines. Most have since been abandoned, making the RR’s to Lake Placid and North Creek unique artifacts from a bygone era. So the desire to preserve them even for perfectly sentimental reasons is valid.

      I have only ever ridden the ASR once. It was pleasant but I’m not in a rush to do it again. Nor would I be in a rush to plan my weekends around a recreational trail to Saranac Lake, unless I happened to be staying in the area and was looking for something to do.

      So in short I am neither a fan of ASR or ARTA. But my sympathies tend toward the RR, because all I see with ARTA is a bunch of grown adults acting like spoiled kids, all of them coveting something that currently belongs to someone else. ARTA should put its money where its mouth is by identifying an ABANDONED RR bed somewhere in the ADKs, converting it into their ideal trail, and DEMONSTRATING they have the chops to do what they say ASR can’t do.

      Then let’s all gather back here and have this discussion again.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Did Ray Hessinger explain why the ASR/DOT were not able to agree on the terms for a longer lease period? Was it five years, ten or longer? Was it financial? Did he say when it was offered? I am just curious of what the facts were surrounding the issue.

      Sure, the money spent for all these years without reaching the goal is frustrating, but still, the determination of success or not is being measured against a plan that has not been consummated. You call it failure and blame ASR, but perhaps the development plan required more participation than the railroad. The railroad is one component to be used as a tool for development.

      The DOT and the APA wanted to preserve a railroad; that costs money regardless of the who the operator is. If NYS is going to spend the minimum yearly to simply keep the ROW from being recovered by nature, then that is what you have. If anyone expected ASR or any other entity to invest private money into something they do not own then I will agree to calling it a fantasy.

      You don’t need to wait 20 years to see what trail costs will be and what local users will create as far as revenue goes. Our trails here with a minimum population of 45 persons-per-sq. mile and 28 years of experience have communities that are economically depressed and funding that exceeds $16 million over five years; the ADKs have areas with just 3 persons-per-sq.mile. The ARTA campaign for the trail has been long centered on an economic boom coming to the Adirondacks with misleading information to promote support.

      Sure Tony, the results so far have been disappointing from a plan that has not been implemented. But this last central rail corridor is too valuable to dismantle and be lost forever for yet another trail, that will likely cost the same amount for upkeep, when 10,000 miles of existing trails do not create the economic boom ARTA promises from 120 miles. Rather than destroy the rail corridor, perhaps more innovative investors similar to Rail Explorers can add to what ASR offers moving forward.

  24. Paul says:

    How is the trail going to work on the tressels it crosses? The one across the Saranac River for example. In Saranac Lake alone the trail would cross the road (route 86) as you come in from placid. Second as you cross brandy brook. A third crossing – Pine street, and then again across pine street. Then it crosses the river. Then it crosses woodruff street. Then it crosses Bloomingdale Avenue. Then it crosses Margret street. Then it crosses Cedar street. Then it finally would cross Broadway on its way out of town. This does not strike me as a very family friendly bike trail. Seems like they are making a trail on the part of the RR where it is least suited for a trail. Not to mention the working RR you gotta displace.

    This seems like a bungled plan before it even starts.

  25. John says:

    As Hope said above the decision was made way back earlier this year, why the DEC/DOT went thru this BS process of again going out for debate is beyond me. Unless the rail folks came up with some brilliant idea that they didn’t present back earlier this year, I don’t expect to see any changes in the already presented plan. Although I’m sure the tree huggers (aka Protect) and the rail folks will be running straight to their high paid lobbyist lawyers to get the court arguements going.
    I can accept the compromise, because THATS” HOW GOVERNMENT is suppose to work. Neither side gets everything & NO one is totally happy in the end. The rail line had 20 years to make it work; they’ve suceeded from Utica to Old Forge & you get to keep that, the rest has sat unused for 20 years or been a bust for service. Time for a change. If the rails folks are so hell bent on wanting a scenic train ride, go over to Saratoga & ride their little train. It needs your help, because it is going broke too.
    The trail community can accept the decision, it’s the rail folks who cannot!

    • Paul says:

      This compromise is really strange when you think about it. The decision is to build a trail on a section of the RR with a train, and restore a section of the RR w/o a train? This plan has the RR running from the southern end with a terminus in Tupper Lake where it would run into a bike/snowmobile trail. The train would not go to the parks largest town or one of its main destinations (Lake Placid).

      The best part of the corridor as far as where it would be a cool bike trail is supposed to have a train.

      This doesn’t sound like a true compromise it sounds like a place holder till the rest of the RR can be removed for more snowmobile/bike trail. That is fine but they should at least be honest about it.

      • Bruce says:


        “restore a section of the RR w/o a train?” So are you saying the train which goes from Utica to the south end of those currently unused tracks at Big Moose is not really a train at all? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but that train is not only there, it has been there all along, just waiting for more trackage. I’ve ridden that train every year for the last 10, so most assuredly, it is there. The only reason it’s not running on up to Tupper Lake now is because the powers that be deemed that part of the route unsafe for passenger use, thus the need for restoration.

        • Paul says:

          It just seems odd that they have decided to build a trail on one of the sections of RR that has a train running on it. I know there is a train on the other section I acknowledged that.

        • snowman says:

          So you are either a volunteer for ASR or work for them? Because that would be the only way you could ride on any train between Big Moose Station and Saranac Lake.
          BTW- how fast can the train go in areas like around Sabattis when the engines and cars have to “be walked’ due to the deteriorated condition of the ties? Obviously, the “powers that be (who) deemed that part of the route unsafe for passenger use” used their heads and could see that the rails aren’t even connected to the rotted ties in many places along that section, not AT ALL being safe for passenger use.

  26. Dave says:

    Why be honest about it? It’s government making a decision, what is honest about that. If we want honest, then we should have listened to what the majority of folks & towns along the cooridor want & remove the tracks from Old Forge to Lake Placid. That’s a honest choice!

    • Paul says:

      Is it true that towns in the southern section want to get rid of the RR. It looks like it is pretty successful down there. Why would Old Forge want it’s snowmobile business to have a straight shot out of town and up north? But if they want another snowmobile trail I guess they want a trail.

      I can’t wait to her the back lash when there is lots of noise and snowmobile activity (including the so called illegal groomers) ripping through places like the Whitney Wilderness.

      • snowman says:


        How many snowmobilers that live to the north of the ADKs that can’t ride down to the OF area due to the condition of the snow on the tracks each winter now will be able to, causing OF to actually sell MORE snowmobile permits. That travel corridor goes both ways!

  27. Hope says:

    ehat illegal groomers? Snowmobile trail grooming is already permitted in the corridor from OF all the way to LP. Has been for years. Nothing new. Snowmobilers have been utilizing the corridor for years. They are tired of wrecking their sleds and bodies on the tracks. There is no controversy over sleds or groomers in the corridor. They are permitted.

  28. Scott says:

    Trains do not belong in the heart of the Adk backcountry, they ruin the wilderness experience. The tons of herbicide used on the entire length of the rail line do not belong in the Adk backcountry either.

    • James Falcsik says:

      The snowmobile report referenced above by John Warren noted 86% of registered sleds in 2012 were 2-cycle machines with a median model year of 2004. So how can these very dirty, large carbon-footprint machines be a normal part of the wilderness experience?

      • Scott says:

        Ban sleds too. Different topic, different argument. Since banning sleds is often argued, why then is a train acceptable ? Why does nobody care about all the herbicide they spray on the entire width for the whole length of the cooridor ?

        • James Falcsik says:

          I am not too thrilled about the herbicides but that is certainly not unique the railroad. Power companies and road departments in many areas use these products for weed control; ban their use for all parties if you choose.

          The railroad is part of the history of the region, as it is in many areas of the country. Were not most of the wilderness designations built around the railroads? Railroads were well established 150 years ago and several generations only know of the AP with the image of trains running through the wilderness. The snowmobile, however, does not have the same historic place in the region. In addition, the pollution generated by the 2-cycle machines far exceed that of the locomotive, and the projection of even more sleds should be concerning to those true environmentalist. Look at the blue haze that enveloped Yellowstone National Park and the photos of park rangers wearing gas masks in the 2010 season from excessive snowmobile use.

          • snowman says:

            Really? To be clear, “the blue haze that enveloped yellow Stone National Parks” and the famous “gas masks” were set-up shots to try to remove snowmobiles from all National Parks at that time. You believe every staged “climate change blaming snowmobiles” now?
            Its been discussed and proven at YNP that the Supervisor at the time of those staged photos (1980’s) was an anti-snowmobile enviro-nazi who threatened the Park employees that when the cameramen showed up, they had to wear those gas masks or risk being fired!
            The day those photos were taken was well below zero. Take a look at your own vehicle this winter on a day below zero…especially at the condensation that is burning off as the warm exhaust hits the cold air, and carefully compare it to what you recall from those pictures of the sleds running on a similar day. Same thing!
            BTW- all snowmobiles made after 2006 had to meet very tight EPA restrictions, that systematically got more and more strict until what we see today in the way of clean-burning 2 strokes as well as the new 4 stroke motors is sleds actually are as clean emissions-wise as our current on-road vehicles (minus the Hybric or electric cars, of course). Yes, as the anti-snowmobile editor here points out over and over, the sleds of the 1970’s were indeed loud and emitted much carbon dioxide. The 4 sled OEMs today have been working to lower the exhaust noise and the emissions since the early 1980’s.
            Fear-mongering here… WOW!

    • troutstalker says:

      Neither does bicycles and atv”s.Just paddlers,hikers,skiers,snowshoes,fishermen and hunters allowed! All this hoopla over the almighty dollar. I go to the mountains to get away from people,electronics,and spending money. I buy my gas in Farmington before my trip and when I return.Like most backpackers and back country paddlers,we pack our own food and camp at free primitive sites.I really cannot believe that the trail will generate that much income.The first year maybe because of it”s novelty.When the novelty wears off,it”s done. People want to ruin the mystique of the quaint Adirondack towns and villages because they want more money than they have now.What”s next, a Dunkin Donuts in the back country.STOP RUINING MY PLAYGROUND!

  29. Larry Roth says:

    I’m going to make an observation here. It has been suggested that support for the trails is centered within the rail corridor north end, while support for the rails is coming from the southern end and outside. IF the idea is to come up with a plan that will bring in people (and their money) from outside the area, doesn’t it make sense to go with what the outsiders want?

    How much of this argument is really about “us versus those darn outsiders telling us what to do”?

    • Bruce says:

      Good point Larry, about outsiders I mean.

      Readers of the Almanack know that stores which have been in existence for years are closing, and at least one hamlet is ceasing to exist as a political entity. Why when there are already thousands of miles of snowmobile, hiking and biking trails, do people think less than 100 miles more will make a significant difference?

      You know, when I was a snowmobiler in Oswego County, we were always looking for new places to ride. When we found one, we would ride it a few times and then ask, “okay, what’s next.” Anything new is pounded at first, then the newness wears off. In the early 70’s we didn’t have thousands of miles of designated and groomed trails, either.

      Projections of benefit are just that, projections. We all know projections seldom live up to their glowing claims. Think of this as an investment in the Adirondack economy…do investors dump all their money in just one basket? The compromise allows for a little diversification in the economy portfolio.

      And speaking of outsiders, how many local businesses depend on July and August for the bulk of their cash flow? Do outsiders have a right to have input on what happens inside the Blue Line? Of course they do, perhaps more than we think.

  30. Tony Goodwin says:

    Responding to Woody, the conversion to a trail does more than anything else to preserve the history of the rail corridor. Many more people can use that corridor at any time of the day, night, or year. As is the case on many other rail trails, interpretive panels can document that history.

    I believe that the volunteer staff on the tourist trains try to include the history of the corridor, but I would suspect that few, if any, disembarking from the train could identify either when it was built or who William Seward Webb was.

    Yes, Camp Santanoni is an attraction at the end of a 4.5 mile trail. That trail/road and the destination are a big draw for the Town of Newcomb – especially when no other area has skiable snow. Some state money has been spent, and more will be spent to continue maintenance; but the figures are in the low thousands compared to the tens of millions that will be required to rehabilitate the railroad.

    • Woody says:

      You’re not even making sense anymore. You don’t preserve something by destroying. The unique asset worth protecting in this case is the RR, not the pile of gravel underneath it.

      The cost to fix the RR is no different than the cost to fix any state highway in the ADKs.

      If RR service really is dead, then why not convert the corridor into an automobile road? If maximizing the economic potential of the corridor is going to be the main goal, then forget the trail. Turn it into a paved highway. Everybody in Beaver River would see their property values double overnight.

      • Boreal says:

        Now THERE’S the best idea!! There could be solar powered radio transmitters along the way to tell the history of the corridor. A couple of RR spurs near each village displaying a range of locomotive types could tell the tale of RR development. Stagecoach rides. Sleigh rides. Logging exhibits. Interpretive centers. It could be called The Rail Road.

        When we build it, can we make it wide enough for a safe bike lane?

  31. Keith Gorgas says:

    There are thousands of miles that can be traveled by bike and snowmobile.. only one place for a train to run.

    Do you honestly believe in Global Warming/ Climate Change? If so, betting in snowmobiles, cross country skiers, and bikers for the economic future of the Northern Adks is stupid.

    Rail Explorers is indeed drawing the numbers that it claims, and most from outside the Adks. 150 a day, and I speak with most of them. Every day. They come by plane from Boston, from DC, from Syracuse and Long Island. They stay in hotels, they buy fuel and food. The economic impact goes way beyond the 15 local employees. Many also ride the train, and visit the carousel. My wife manages a retail store in down town SL. The RR is the only thing keeping the few stores left in downtown SL alive. They wait for the train to come to get a few sales. A completed RR would bring many, many more shoppers.

    Mr, Keet boasts that he’s bought enough officials in order to assure the removal of the tracks… maybe he has. He will forever be known as that man who drove the last nail in the coffin of down town Saranac Lake. …

    • Dave says:

      This is a moot point to argue anymore. The decision has been made & was made months ago. We need to get the UMP signed & begin implementation of it! To continue to drag this discussion out accomplishes NOTHING! Either the trail community will be proven right in the end or the rail folks will. I’m betting on the trail folks!

  32. Dave says:

    For those that say a bike/hiking trail isn’t economical, here’s facts on another biking/hiking trail in NYS: a recent study conducted by Parks and Trails New York, the Erie Canalway Trail gets more than 1.58 million visits per year. Spending by those visitors generates $253 million annually in economic impact and $28.5 million in sales and income taxes. Trail traffic also supports 3,440 jobs in the local economies within the trail corridor.
    So, just maybe a biking/hiking trail can provide a economic influx of cash/people into the ADK, more than a train ever will!

    • James Falcsik says:

      There is nothing close in similarities between the Erie Canal trail and the proposed ARTA trail. The population base for the ECT is way higher with three major cities and there are many specific details that are still much different than what ARTA’s claims are. For instance, the average user lives within about 5 miles of the trail and use it less than an hour per week. These demographics will not provide the same result for a trail in the AP. Still, the most important stat is the primary purpose overnight user is only 2.5 to 3% of all users. That is the most important economic driver and it is very small. That study only returned 500 or so hard responses and they extrapolate 1.5 million visits. The purpose of the study, paid for by PTNY, was to promote further spending on trail development. Is there any surprise of the study outcome? The trail and bike lobby constantly produce EIS like this to keep the money from the feds flowing.

  33. Bruce says:

    The Erie Canalway is not just a hiking/biking trail, there is also boating, either on your own or trips with concessionaires. The financial benefit is spread all the way from Troy to Buffalo, so the benefit to individual areas is much smaller than overall figures would indicate.

    Visitors to the Canalway have major cities they can easily home base out of, cities with all the amenities; amenities generally within just a handful of miles. Not just the cities, but many of the in-between towns are also fully equipped to handle any needs visitors may want, hotels, restaurants, access to airports. car rentals. These amenities weren’t necessarily brought in by the Canalways attraction, they were already there.

    Comparing a new hiking/biking trail primarily through the woods in the Adirondacks to the Erie Canalway is the same as comparing apples to oranges.

  34. Scott says:

    The closest and most similar I have seen to Remsen-Placid trail corridor debate is the Mickelson Trail in heart of the Black Hills of South Dakota. Excepting that the Black Hills is national forest and state park and not state forest preserve like here, everything else about the Black Hills is very similar to the Adirondacks. They had the same rail-trail debate about a decade ago and ended up with the 109 miles of railroad converted to a trail. The Mickelson Trail is very popular and is a major attraction.

  35. Pete Nelson says:

    Well, Phil, I guess at this point you can re-title the column “120 Rail-Trail Comments and None Endorse Compromise.” Self-fulfilling journalism with this crowd.

    Hey Tupper Lake! In a few years you’ll be able to weigh on on the benefits of a trail versus rail. I’ll wait for that – with little worry – to see what you say about how it turns out.

    • Bruce says:


      Perhaps I wasn’t very clear in my comments this go around, but I supported the compromise in several comments since it was first proposed, and as pointed out many times it allows a choice between an apple and an orange instead of, “this is what we have, take it or leave it.” People like choices.

      I agree that Tupper Lake will serve as a barometer for the success or failure of the project.

      I think it’s time for the bad mouthing to end, and for everyone to get behind it and make it work.

  36. Dave says:

    I agreed with the compromise a long time ago. It is the best solution for either side. No, but then again compromise never is. Both sides get a bit & give a bit. I haven’t heard the trails folks complain about the compromise, it’s only been the rail folks on here, who want it all. Well guess what you didn’t get it. Try to figure out how to make what you got to keep better, because in 5 years or so, we can be right back here again, except then you’ll be fighting to keep what you still have. The rail folks need to work with the state to find a rail operator, who is willing to put up SOME money along with the state to make the rail line from Utica to Big Moose better, & begin rehabbing north of Big Moose to Tupper Lake. Until you find that rail operator/manager you’ll never have to worry about what the Big Moose to Tupper Lake rail line can be because IT WON’t be anything, but a snowmobile trail in the winter. And that’ll be a snowmobile trail with NO TAXPAYER money!

  37. Tony Goodwin says:

    O.K. Pete Nelson, I guess we’re going to go beyond 120 comments, but this is my last. The compromise should be that the ASR continues to operate the longest tourist train in the East at just over 120 miles roundtrip to Big Moose from Utica. Both DOT and DEC have apparently recognized that a majority of ASR’s revenue comes from “theme” trains out of Utica that never even reach the Adirondack Rail Corridor. Given that recognition, I seriously question why the proposal to expand to Tupper Lake. Neither a four-1/2 hour ride to Tupper Lake nor a six hour ride from Utica to Lake Placid will absolutely, positively never attract enough riders to be self-sustaining. The NYC Railroad recognized this 65 years ago, and the roads, the winter maintenance, and the cars have only become significantly better since then.

    And to respond to another comment, removing the rails does not “destroy” the corridor. The corridor remains and becomes subject to interpretation to the many, many non-rail users who will use that corridor.

    • Pete Nelson says:


      122 comments, what the heck. I too see no point in rail service to Tupper Lake. But I’m confident in the rec trail’s benefits to Tupper as measured down the road. Of course you already know that’s my position.

      I’m surprised I haven’t run into you since my move to the Keene Valley, but I look forward to it. I would like to make you dinner at lost Brook Tract some time soon.


  38. David P. Lubic says:

    Man, I go to work for one day, and then there’s 120 comments!

    Earlier, a poster just using the name “Dave” said he thought the railroad people felt “entitled” to the corridor.

    Maybe they have good reason to feel that way:

    Where were the trail people then?

    Some people at ARTA have accused the railroaders of being overgrown kids who want to “play with trains.” Looks like more than “play” to me:

    Keep in mind that while much of the line is not up to standard for passenger service, it is now passable by trains for its entire length. It wasn’t that way when the railroaders started:

    These images are just a sample of what the railroaders did and continue to do–remember, beavers still build dams that need breaking, trees still fall, drainage ditches need clearing, bridges need painting. . .and all that will still need doing if the railroad goes away

    Others would say, have said, that the ARTA wants to steal the work of these people.

    i would say I agree with that view.

  39. Dave says:

    Well, you asked where the trail people are & I will tell you. Between 1 April – 1 Dec it is a rail corridor & trail people AREN’T allowed on the corridor. So you put up pictures from 20 + years ago & want to use those as justification as to why the railroad should stay a railroad & the best you can do is 20 year old pictures. hmmm, if it’s so important to you that it remain a railroad why not put some pictures up showing full parking lots in Thendara or Saranac Lake or Lake Placid; why not show some pics of full trains. You cann’t. We can go all over the state & show run-done infrastructures & a few people trying to fix it up. The Erie Canal Village outside Rome comes to mind. And it’s not stealing the work of those pictures, you’ve guys have proven the last 20 years of stealing the NY taxpayer of money to keep you afloat! That’s the stealing!

    • David P. Lubic says:

      If the situation were reversed, you’d fight tooth and nail to keep a trail if it was proposed to turn it back to a railroad.

      This is exactly what is happening now as a railroad is proposed to be rebuilt in Ohio, and a trail is proposed to become a light rail line in Minneapolis. It’s understandable for me–and telling that you apparently don’t understant this from the view of the railroaders.

      If you did understand, you wouldn’t have written what you just did in the style you used. .

  40. David P. Lubic says:

    There have also been some comments about whether either railroad or trail would be of greater economic impact, but a most telling comment came from Bruce, who said:

    Readers of the Almanack know that stores which have been in existence for years are closing, and at least one hamlet is ceasing to exist as a political entity. Why when there are already thousands of miles of snowmobile, hiking and biking trails, do people think less than 100 miles more will make a significant difference?

    In my opinion, he’s talking about the limitations of a tourist oriented economy.

    Much of the debate on the effectiveness of railroad or trail revolves around projections of future potential.

    I have to admit, predicting the future is something of a dark art to me. This is strongest when attempting to estimate what the future performance of something might be when that something doesn’t exist yet.

    Still, we have some ways of knowing things, and that includes taking a look at the performance of similar facilities, projects and so on.

    Speaking for myself, the real measure of economic performance of a project or enterprise is whether it promotes job growth, which in turn might be measured by population growth.

    Based on some research, I have to say tourist railroads don’t seem to do very well. And truthfully, neither do trails. Some examples that will help illustrate the point:

    Cass, W.Va., the main terminal of the Cass Scenic Railroad, had a population of 52 people in the census of 2010. Pocahontas County, where Cass is located, has a population of 8,692 (2012 estimate, down from 8,876 in 1970); its peak population of 15,002 was back in 1920!

    Other towns in Pocahontas County include Marlinton (county seat, population 1,051), and Durbin (population 290). There are no incorporated towns along the Greenbriar Trail proper in its namesake county.

    Pocahontas County is one of two counties connected by the Greenbriar Trail. Greenbrier County has a 2012 estimated population of 35,820 (up from 32,090 in 1970). Its peak population of 39,295 was in 1950. It is one county that has had its population run up and down in that time. There are no incorporated towns along the trail in Greenbrier County.

    The Virginia Creeper Rail Trail runs from Abingdon, Va., in Washington County, through Grayson County, Va., to West Jefferson in Ashe County, N.C. The populations of the three counties and principle towns in 1970 (unless noted otherwise), 2012 (estimated, or unless otherwise noted), and peak years, were:

    Washington—40,835 to 51,995, peak 51,995 in 2012
    …..Abington—4,376 to 8,191 (2010), peak 8,191 in 2010
    …..Damascus—918 (1990) to 814 (2010, peak 981 (2000)
    Grayson—15,439 to 15,183, peak 21,916 in 1940
    …..Independence—947 (2010)
    Ashe—19,571 to 27,097, peak 21,097 in 2012
    …..West Jefferson—1,299 (2010)

    While it might look like the trail is helping, the story isn’t quite so clear when you look a little closer. Abingdon, Va., has a population of 8,191, but West Jefferson, at the other end of the trail, has only 1,299. Both are metropolises when compared to Damascus, which has 814—and Damascus is at the junction of FOUR trails. These are the Virginia Creeper, the Iron Mountain (also a rail trail) U.S. Bicycle Route 26, and the grand-daddy of them all, the Appalachian Trail. As to Grayson County, it has no towns of any significance along the Virginia Creeper; its largest town, Independence (county seat), has a population of 947.

    What about some other places that are well known as tourist spots, even legendary? Well, the locations I’m thinking of aren’t trail destinations as such (they are too far away to walk to), but they do have railroads in connection with them.

    The spectacular Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad runs for 64 miles between Antonito, Conejos County, Co. and Chama, N.M. It has been owned by the states of Colorado and New Mexico since 1970, and operates with a third party under contract, an arrangement similar to that of several railroads in New York and elsewhere.

    There aren’t too many people on this line—again, for 1970, 2012(estimated or unless otherwise noted), and peak:

    Conejos County, Co.—7,846 to 8,277; 11,648 (1940)
    …..Antonito—873 (2010)
    Rio Arriba County, N.M.—25,170; 40,318; 40,318 (2012)
    …..Chama,—1,199 (2000)

    The privately owned and profitable Durango & Silverton runs between its namesake towns in La Plata and San Juan Counties, Co. San Juan County is particularly interesting for having only 692 residents, of whom 638 live in Silverton (1970, 2012 estimated unless otherwise noted, and peak):

    La Plata County—19,199 to 53,284, 53,284 (2012 Estimated)
    …..Durango—10,333 to 17,216, 17,216 (2012 Estimated)
    San Juan County—831 to 692, 3,063 (1910)
    …..Silverton—638 (2010)

    The privately owned and profitable Grand Canyon Scenic runs between Williams, Az. and Grand Canyon Village in Coconino County, Az. Again, it can be said this railroad, although profitable may not be helping out in terms of population growth and attendant opportunities—and neither is the Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon Village has a population of only 2,004, and it’s on the edge of the famous gorge cut by the Colorado River! (again, 1970, 2012 estimated or otherwise noted, peak)

    Coconino County—48,326 to 136,539; 136,539 (2012 Estimated)
    …..Williams—2,386 to 3,023 (2010); 3,559 (1960)
    …..Grand Canyon Village—2,004 (2010)

    All right, let’s come a little closer to home—the counties the Adirondack Scenic runs through or is otherwise associated with. We’ll keep the same format we’ve been using for the county and town data (1970, 2012 estimated or otherwise noted, and peak).

    Franklin County—43,931 to 51,795, 51,599 (2010)
    …..Saranac Lake—5,041 (2000)
    …..Tupper Lake (Town)—5,971 (2010)
    Essex County—34,631 to 38,961, 38,961 (2012 Estimated)
    …..Lake Placid—2,521 (2010)
    Hamilton County—4,714 to 3,778, 5,379 (2000)
    St. Lawrence County—111,991 to 112,232, 119,254 (1980)
    Herkimer County—67,663 to 64,508, 67,663 (1970)
    Oneida County—273,037 to 233,556, 273,037 (1970)
    …..Utica—91,611 to 61,822 (101,740, in 1930)

    What stands out about all of this is not that a railroad or a trail is a better tourist attraction, but rather that tourism is a rather limited market to build an economy on, and is not a “substitute” for a “real” economy, such as agriculture and manufacturing.

    Does this mean tourism is not something worth pursuing? The answer is a resounding “No!” If that were the case, there would be no B&B’s, no parks, no preserved houses, no cruise ships, no pleasure boat marinas, no miniature golf courses, no trails, and no tourist trains.

    Tourism still has a number of advantages to contribute to an economy. It’s normally “sustainable,” in the sense that it doesn’t depend on extraction of a resource that can run out, like oil or coal. It brings in money from outside the locality (Keep the Adirondacks green, leave your money here—bad joke, I know). It can be a most interesting and enjoyable field to be in, particularly if you are very much into people interaction (such as a tour guide might be, or the owners of a bed-and-breakfast would be). And, if you’re good at running such an enterprise, and are lucky, you can even make a bit of money at it.

    It may also in some cases be the only game available, in which case it can keep a place alive that might otherwise die–take note of Cass, W.Va., Damascus, Va., Chama, N.M., and Silverton and Antonito, Co., in the examples cited above, and for that matter, a number of towns in your locality.

    However, one must be honest about what you can actually do, and what results you might actually see, in looking at the potential for a tourism economy, or perhaps a tourism economy component. An important part of that honesty includes casting aside prejudices, or at least being aware of them.

  41. Bruce says:


    You make some excellent points. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s primarily locals who are for a trail, and outsiders who support the train. With the exception of significant new jobs or businesses materializing, it’s not local money which will “revitalize” the Adirondack economy. It’s little more than “life support.”

    I don’t believe the Adirondacks needs help during July and August, there’s plenty of money to go around. It’s the other 10 months which ought to prompt communities to more widely advertise the benefits of spending time (and money) in a quieter, less crowded Adirondacks. They do push snowmobiling in winter and have the fall color season, but little else except local festivals, art shows, historical events, etc., which are advertised locally, including in the Almanack.

    We come up for one or two weeks in the last few weeks before July, or after Labor Day, because it is quiet, and a few things are still going on. I believe the off season could have more to offer those visitors who don’t have children in school and can come whenever it suits them.

    While not the Adirondacks, there is a small local restaurant/motel in Marathon, NY (near Cortland) which has at least one billboard in Pennsylvania. We eat there whenever we are going up or down I-81. By all accounts, they do well but would easily be passed by if not for the outside advertising.

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