Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Green Groups Differ On Rail-Trail Proposal

Adirondack Tourist Train (Susan Bibeau)Two environmental groups disagree on whether a state proposal to remove 34 miles of train tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid complies with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.

In a news release last week, the Adirondack Council praised the proposal, calling it “a good compromise” that protects natural resources and addresses the economic and cultural needs of the region.

Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, however, contends that the proposal violates the State Land Master Plan. The proposal would amend the corridor’s unit management plan (UMP) from 1996.

“We disagree with the Final Draft’s conclusion that you have the legal authority to tear up the tracks and create an all-recreational corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake,” Adirondack Wild wrote in a letter to the Adirondack Park Agency.

The APA must determine whether the proposal conforms to the master plan. It is now weighing public comments on that question and could take up the matter at its next meeting, in February.

After several years of public debate, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation this fall finalized a plan for dividing the state-owned railroad corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment.

It calls for rehabilitating 45 miles of tracks – now in disuse – between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. This would enable tourist trains to travel 107 miles from Utica to Tupper. This would be one of the longest tourist-train excursions in the nation, and some question whether such a train would be economically viable.

The more controversial part of the proposal calls for replacing the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a recreational trail that would be used by skiers and snowmobilers in winter and by bicyclists and hikers in other seasons.

Pulling up the tracks would force Adirondack Scenic Railroad to cease running a tourist train between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. It also would force Rail Explorers USA – which runs pedal-powered excursions on six miles of track – to relocate to another part of the corridor or to a different rail line. Rail Explorers opened this summer in Saranac Lake and says it served almost 15,000 customers before shutting for the season in October.

Train boosters and trail advocates disagree on whether replacing the tracks with a recreational trail would help or hurt the regional economy.

Adirondack Wild’s objections to the plan are legal, not economic.

The state-owned corridor runs 119 miles from Remsen (north of Utica) to Lake Placid. In the State Land Master Plan, it is designated a Travel Corridor. The master plan defines a Travel Corridor as “that strip of land constituting the roadbed and right-of-way for state and interstate highways in the Adirondack Park, the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right-of-way, and those state lands immediately adjacent to and visible from these facilities.”

Adirondack Wild contends that the definition of the corridor as a railroad right-of-way means that if the tracks are pulled up, the corridor will cease to be a Travel Corridor. The group’s letter, written by David Gibson and Dan Plumley, includes the following quote from the 1996 unit management plan: “the description of the travel corridor classification in the APSLMP refers to the railroad right-of-way in terms of a mass transit situation similar to roads and highways rather than a recreational facility.”

If the tracks are pulled up, Gibson and Plumley argue, the corridor would revert to other Forest Preserve classifications – namely, Wilderness, Wild Forest, or Canoe, depending on the specific location. Two of the primary recreational activities envisioned for the corridor, snowmobiling and bicycling, are not permitted in Wilderness and Canoe Areas.

Thus, Adirondack Wild says the proposal cannot be implemented unless the State Land Master Plan is amended.

The Adirondack Council, however, says the proposal does conform to the master plan. Willie Janeway, the council’s executive director, said the proposal “protects the integrity of the Travel Corridor classification and provides positive outcomes for both the rail and recreational trail proponents, and local communities.”

In an article in the January-February issue of the Adirondack Explorer, Robert Davies, DEC’s director of the Division of Lands and Forests, said the Travel Corridor will remain under the jurisdiction of DOT and its classification will not change under the proposal – though DEC will manage the trail segment.

Davies also said tracks could be laid down again if a need for rail service between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid ever materializes.

Adirondack Wild raised several other objections to the state proposal, among them that DEC and DOT failed to adequately study the environmental impacts of replacing the tracks with a recreational trail that will “invite faster snowmobiling and other mechanized sports which could degrade natural resources.” Adirondack Wild also questions plans to establish new snowmobile trails that would weave in and out of the corridor between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.

“In the [proposal’s] efforts to bend over backwards to facilitate wider, faster snowmobiling … it contributes unnecessarily to erosion of the integrity and wild character immediately adjoining several key wilderness or primitive area locations,” Adirondack Wild says in the letter.

Adirondack Wild also contends that the state agencies failed to investigate all the alternatives to pulling up tracks and creating a trail. “One that was not explored,” Gibson and Plumley wrote, “is the feasibility of a new narrow gauge, electric rail line side by side with a recreational trail, making dual use between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake possible.”

In an email to the Almanack, Gibson said such a train could be used for tourist excursions and for mass transit.

Asked if Adirondack Wild would support the removal of tracks if all the proper legal steps were taken, Gibson replied: “Adirondack Wild does not oppose an all-recreational corridor from Tupper to Placid, per se, assuming the following actions were taken: the 1996 UMP and 2015 UMP amendment are harmonized with respect to the SLMP’s definitions and descriptions; a new EIS [environmental impact statement] is prepared; public hearings are held inside and outside of the Park; and public comment analyzed and addressed as required by the SLMP amendment process.”

The Park’s other two major environmental groups – Protect the Adirondacks and the Adirondack Mountain Club – have not taken a stance in the rail-trail debate.

ADK Executive Director Neil Woodworth said the club’s conservation and trails committees deadlocked on the issue. “We are in the unusual position of not having a position,” he remarked.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: Adirondack Scenic Railroad train enters Saranac Lake.


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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.

115 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    Here we go. The view that this reverts w/o the tracks is not w/o merit. Surprised they said this before the tracks were pulled.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Just when everyone thought it was over, it turns out that the party has just started. Hold on to your hindside Paul. I think it’s about to become a bumpy ride.

      • David P. Lubic says:

        A number of other people have been making just this argument, that the corridor could disappear without the railroad. Of course they’ve been railroad people, and the opinions of railroad people haven’t meant much to the trail crowd that apparently hates trains, at least that’s how it looks to me.

  2. James Falcsik says:

    The sled boosters helped put the screws to the railroad, and here is the position ARTA said would not happen; no rails, no travel corridor: no travel corridor, no sleds. The railroad plant is significant historically and the reason for the corridor designation. In the SLMP there are no trails designated as a travel corridor. The DEC has adopted the corrupt ARTA position that you can maintain the travel corridor as though it were protected like the railbanking statute. There is no legal standing for it.

  3. Larry Roth says:

    Some points right up front.

    1) The 45 miles of track in the middle is NOT disused. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad can and does use it to move equipment back and forth. It needs to be upgraded to meet passenger standards, but it IS in use – as is the rest of the line.

    2) It’s not just green groups that are weighing in here. Both Historic Saranac Lake and AARCH have pointed out that the way the rail-trail proposal was drawn up does not comply with state and federal law regarding National Register historic sites, such as the railroad. The State Historic Preservation Office isn’t happy either.

    3) Community opinion remains divided, but is shifting. Harrietstown has reconsidered its decision of several years ago, and has now voted to keep the rails. They’ve realized they would lose far more than they would gain from a rail-trail.

    The greater the scrutiny applied to the rail-trail proposal, the more the case for it falls apart. On economic, environmental, and historic grounds, the 1996 decision to keep the rails and develop trails alongside them is still the best use of the travel corridor. The APA should reject the proposed changes and save the rail line; the legal issues of rail-trail compliance with the SLMP are one more piece of evidence that the rail-trail proposal just won’t work.

    • David P. Lubic says:

      Two other things stand out.

      One is that apparently someone didn’t do their homework:

      “The APA seems concerned enough about this problem of SLMP conformance of a purely recreational facility to seek an amendment to the SLMP within the current SLMP amendment package recently sent out for public hearing. That apparently minor amendment crosses out the word “railroad” within the Designation of Travel Corridors section on page 49, and replaces it with “right‐of‐way.” Yet, the other SLMP locations mentioned here where “railroad” modifies “ROW” are not proposed for amendment, so this one amendment proposal seems oddly inconsistent”

      You can bet the APA won’t make that mistake again–but if they were consistent, then they would, in effect, open up the entire corridor to conversion. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t –should have had the sense to leave things alone!

      But that’s the opinion of rail people, so we get discounted.

      The other thing that stands out is the administration at Adirondack Wild. The people there look like they would have some impressive resumes. I’m not sure I can say the same for some of the members of ARTA (though I have to admit my own wouldn’t look so good compared to those of these people).


  4. Tim (another one) says:

    Are these organizations still relevant? What has any of these groups done lately? The Adirondack council might have helped pass the constitutional amendment for the mine thing, but what other State land issue have they fought about and won lately?

  5. Keith Gorgas says:

    There are many issues at work here. If the State proceeds with Option 7, not only will it effect the SLMP, but in places where the ROW goes through private land, a whole new legal can of worms will be opened up. The 1996 UMP was pretty clear about that. The DEC now claims that it took in fee ownership of the land, but I can find no record of the condemnation proceedings. That only becomes an issue if the rails are torn up, but the potential is there for the costs to become mega bucks,and a very long time in courts. Then you’ve got the ADE issue. I know of several parties that are just waiting for the next step to launch lawsuits.. lots of time and taxpayer money. Those two issues alone should make it cheaper to build trail along side rail. People forget, it’s not just the cost of a project that has to be considered, but the ratio of cost to return. On that ground, Option 6 is the only one that makes economic sense, and that’s why all parties, after long and careful study, came to that conclusion in 1996. It’s only more true today, time to build rail and trail.

    • Tim (another one) says:

      Isn’t the spur through the village of tupper lake, which is now a trail, technically part of this rail corridor. Some involved with the ASR tried to prevent the rails from being removed on this spur but eventually they were removed and the trail is built. Has the legality of this spurs ROW become an issue?

  6. Keith Gorgas says:

    I meant ADA, not ADE.

  7. Scott says:

    Reading these article and comments makes my head spin. Allowing public vehicle use on existing roads in wild forest is bad, having a train run people through wild forest on unused railroad is good. Motorized public access on existing roads might bring bad litter but all the chemicals used to maintain the train tracks is okay. Having roads in wilderness areas is okay as long as you walk but if you bike the same road it is bad. When all else fails, postage stamp zoning to get your way.

    • David P. Lubic says:

      What stands out is a double standard that is applied against the railroad. It’s OK to have cars, cars, cars, and snowmobiles, too, but bad to have a railroad that runs relatively intermittently (compare how even a pretty busy railroad, say with 40 trains per day, is quiet much of that time, while a highway roars almost continuously). It’s OK to have cars burning gasoline all day long, but wrong to run a railroad which, even with old locomotives, gets between three and five times the efficiency of motor vehicles, thanks to those steel wheels on steel rails that have a friction coefficient that approaches maglev technology.

      And it’s OK to subsidize highways (at about 50%), while a railroad has to pay all its own bills and make a profit and pay taxes of one sort or another as well.

      Require that both are held to the same standard, and see how that changes things. . .

  8. Boreas says:

    With all of the unresolved legal issues regarding the corridor, it is becoming apparent the only winners in the near term will be lawyers. Rail rehab will likely be put on hold as well as any possible new rail ventures because of uncertainty. Trail options will be put on hold leaving Tupper Lake waiting for a decision, discouraging investment there. Increasing polarization within and outside of the Park will make any decision volatile. With corridor status being tied up in courts, it looks like it could result in a unique resource through the preserve being wasted, with certain sections falling further into disrepair for yet another generation.

    • Paul says:

      I think there is only legal issues that come up if the rails are removed. I don’t think there are any legal issues with the corridor’s designation as a “travel corridor” if there is a rail line on it. But you are correct this will be a legal quagmire since neither side is going to give up w/o a fight.

    • Larry Roth says:

      If nothing else, this alone is a pretty good reason for staying with the 1996 decision on the corridor. However imperfectly, it has been working.

  9. Curt Austin says:

    It is quite common for old railroad corridors to have uncertain legal status. Even the fundamental question of ownership is often in some doubt, whether an easement or fee ownership.

    When regional railroad corridors were being abandoned left and right starting about 50 years ago, railroad advocates became alarmed. It would be difficult or impossible to re-establish most of these corridors. At the same time, the rail-to-trails movement was finding it difficult to establish trails in many corridors due to the legal uncertainties. (Apparently, there is no doubt that the Remsen-Placid corridor is owned in fee by the state.)

    In an act of cooperation that is difficult to imagine today, these two groups pushed for the adoption of the Rail Banking Act of 1983. All the uncertainty is swept away by this law, which states that no state or local law can interfere with the interim designation of a railroad corridor as a trail.

    The law has been fully settled in numerous federal court cases. It is not so well-settled in state courts for the rare corridors not under federal jurisdiction, though it still applies. The Remsen-Placid certainly was under federal jurisdiction for most of its history, but I’m not sure about now.

    Reference: http://www.railstotrails.org/resource-library/resources/rails-to-trails-conversions-a-review-of-legal-issues/?author=Andrea+Ferster

    Rail advocates should think twice about resisting the use of the Rail Banking statute – the present status of the line is rather fragile, relying on a volunteer organization with modest finances. A rails-or-nothing posture might easily lead to nothing, forever.

    • Bruce says:


      Like you, I don’t know how much federal jurisdiction applies to the corridor, but one thing seems clear…for any passenger operation, federal safety requirements must be met.

      This also applies to a trail alongside active tracks. Certain federal spacing or barrier requirements will be in force. This, combined with the legality of constructing trail bridges and widening the ROW in the various SLMP designated areas to achieve these requirements makes trail with rail unlikely, in my mind.

      • Larry Roth says:

        Which is not the same as saying it’s impossible. There are sections where placing a trail right next to the tracks would be a challenge – but there are also places where it wouldn’t.

        And there is plenty of locations that would be great for non-parallel trail development supported by rail access.

        • Phil Brown says:

          DEC has said repeatedly that rails with trails is not workable. Setting aside the environmental and legal obstacles and the costs, the type of non-parallel trails envisioned by TRAC would not be suitable for road bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, etc. They’d be foot trails connected to a rail corridor. This would defeat the purpose of the rail trail DEC has in mind.

          • Larry Roth says:

            Phil –

            This would defeat the STATED purpose of the rail trail DEC has in mind. You left out snowmobiles. For some reason DEC seems to have no trouble finding ways to engineer and legally justify snowmobile trails even in places where some say they are breaking the letter and spirit of the law.

            And why exactly do you have a problem with foot trails connected to a rail corridor? Seems like DEC is excited about that idea in the Thendara – Tupper Lake stretch.

            The primary ‘market’ for the rail trail according to DEC is snowmobilers and road bicycles – wheelchairs, strollers, etc. are treated as secondary. The justification for ripping up the tracks is that a rail trail will bring in sufficient outside visitors to make up for the loss of rail visitors. There is serious reason to doubt that.

            The unstated DEC purpose behind the rail trail is to get rid of the trains. That’s a constituency DEC refuses to openly acknowledge. That includes those whose stated intent is to see the rails gone all the way back to Thendara, if not further. Taking Lake Placid off the line is just their first step – they’ve gotten tired of waiting for the railroad to disappear as they fully expected would happen. Its success is driving them nuts.

      • James Falcsik says:

        The Surface Transportation Board (STB) does not concern itself with a tourist railroad. The STB is engaged primarily with freight or “common carriers”. If ASR obtained a few freight customers, or even one, STB would have jurisdiction. AS it is, there is no jurisdiction for the STB, NYS owns the corridor and purchased it before the 1976 act that created Conrail from Penn Central and five other bankrupt northeast railroads. The railbaning act created in 1983 does not apply to the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor.

        • Curt Austin says:

          The Rail Banking statute applies to all rail corridors, whether under STB jurisdiction or not. You can call the information line at STB and hear this yourself, as I have done. You can talk to Andrea Ferster – an attorney who specializes in these matters – who will go on at length about the subject.

          The distinction is that if under federal jurisdiction, you follow the STB’s established procedure to invoke it, and it is easy to get a lawsuit dismissed in federal court. Otherwise, you’re on your own in state court, with much less case law to guide the process. That is, you’ll need more money for attorneys.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Has the DEC specifically stated they will invoke railbanking? It seems the DEC wants to stay away from federal involvement to try and avoid the historical Section 106 review process.

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Curt, I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants the Rail without a Trail. There might be some, but Ive gotten to know a lot of the people fighting to refurbish the railroad, and all that I’ve met, including the highest up people in the RR want a rail and trail as per Option 6, the 1996 UMP. I certainly want to see the trail built, and in fact I rather believe that between LP and SL, the rails should be removed. That would give a 20 mile round trip paved trail out of either village. I think it would be wide enough for multi uses, and during big events in Lake Placid, it could be used as a shuttle bus HOV lane from the train in SL to LP.

  10. Curt Austin says:

    If intent matters, I’ve personally spoken to a retired DEC exective who was on the team that wrote the original UMP in question. He and his team wrote it thinking its days as a railroad were numbered, and should be numbered. They produced a time-lapse movie showing both sides of the corridor, which he said clearly showed that a trail could not be built alongside the tracks. They were thinking the corridor would likely become a trail.

    • Larry Roth says:

      That would explain a lot about DEC’s attitude over the years. I have a sneaking suspicion there are more than a few within DEC who see the corridor as a perfect trail with a serious railroad infestation. I suspect if DOT had been made the lead agency on the corridor, things would be a lot further forward with the 1996 plan. If you look at the proposed developments in the compromise plan in the section where DOT would be in control, it’s amazing how much DEC can suddenly find possible.

  11. Tony Goodwin says:

    First of all, the 1996 UMP only said that the rails would remain in place during a “rail marketing period” during which, “Private enterprise will be provided the opportunity to develop tourist excursion, passenger, and freight services…. Rail Development will largely depend on privately secured funding sources….” The reality, of course, is that all rail rehabilitation funds have come from taxpayers, and even with a long-term lease I challenge rail supporters to honestly say that they can raise the $15 million that will be required to produce even a 30 mph railroad into Tupper Lake. Time for the “privately secured funding sources” to finally become a reality.

    The 1996 UMP goes on to deal with the contingency that, if no suitable rail operator (i.e. one that can fund the rehabilitation and operation) is found, then Option #4 (Full Recreational Use) becomes the preferred option for the Corridor. The UMP then makes it clear that, even with the tracks removed, the Travel Corridor status should remain. The UMP further states that there should be a minor amendment to the SLMP to make it clear that a Travel Corridor can exist without rail or highway transportation. The APA had to approve this UMP in 1996, so their proposed minor amendment to the SLMP, now in 2015, is totally consistent with what they approved in 1996.

    As for Adirondack Wild’s demand for “more study” of the impacts of recreational snowmobile use, there has been over 40 years of snowmobile use on the Corridor. In many years there was sufficient snow to fully cover the rails and therefore permit higher speeds, so these will not be a new phenomenon as Adirondack Wild implies. When there was a major washout near Lake Lila, there was some snowmobile trespass to get around that washout. That washout has now been repaired; and two years ago when I skied to Lake Lila, I saw no evidence of any snowmobile tracks on the lake. Given a good place to ride, snowmobilers will stick to legal terrain.

    The suggestion that a “narrow gauge electric railroad” would allow a parallel is so preposterous as to pretty much discredit the entire six pages of comments. Shrinking to three feet would in no way permit a parallel trail, and the cost of electrification could not possibly be justified for the amount of traffic this line would carry.

    Neither the SLMP nor the Corridor UMP are expected to deal with external threats such as climate change. There have been suggestions that rail travel is “greener” and produces fewer greenhouse gases. The chart on this website, however, shows that such improvement is largely theoretical. http://truecostblog.com/2010/05/27/fuel-efficiency-modes-of-transportation-ranked-by-mpg/. Rail passenger transport averages only 71.2 passenger miles per gallon (PMPG) of fossil fuel. Put three people in a vehicle that gets 25 mpg, and the PMPG is 75. Rail travel does have the theoretical possibility of 189 PMPG, but that requires filling up a multiple car train. This past summer in Lake Placid, several times I witnessed fewer than 20 passengers debark from a train consisting of a 120-ton engine and three 30-ton cars. A Youtube video showed a six-car train pulled by two diesel engines heading for Big Moose. An otherwise favorable Trip Advisor report on the train ride the day the video was shot noted that there were only 25 passengers in those six cars. Are these examples of fuel efficiency?

    • Paul says:

      Tony, on your first two paragraphs… If all that is covered in the current UMP why are they proposing a new amendment? Why don’t they just do what they have planned?

    • Larry Roth says:

      Tony, you make a good point about private funding for restoring the rails – but you don’t take it far enough. So long as operating permits are only issued for 30 days, no one is going to gamble on making a long term investment in the rails; that’s conceded in the proposed changes to the UMP.

      Rail rehab funds coming from taxpayers isn’t a bad thing, either, considering what the taxpayers get in return. Have you priced how much the taxpayers have to come up with every year just to keep the highways open in the Adirondacks? Rehabbing the rail line is a bargain.

      You cite individual train ridership numbers as low – but that A) is pretty selective – there are also trains with a lot more ridership. You have to look at the overall numbers to really judge fairly. B) You also leave out the added economic impact of those riders, both from the money they contribute to the upkeep of the corridor and from the money they spend elsewhere in the area. C) You also need to factor in the importance of those riders – they are bringing money into the community. You going cross country skiing to Lake Lila doesn’t do squat in that regard.

      I will admit it’s nice to see you concede that the snowmobilers don’t have a problem with the rails in place.

      There’s also the problem of attracting that funding if Lake Placid is no longer the terminus of the line. It’d be a lot easier to attract commercial interest with a prime travel destination with international fame.

      • Peter says:

        we do have a problem riding snowmobiles with the rails in place. It takes a large amount of snow to cover up the rails to make them safe to ride on. That limits the riding season, hence that limits the amount of dollars snowmobilers can spend going to businesses up/down the rail line. I spent 14K on my sled, I’m NOT going to attempt to try & ride the rails until they are adequately covered in snow, so I don’t catch my skis on those dam pesky frog switches. That means I cannot go from Beaver River up to Tupper Lake until very late in the season which means Tupper Lake business miss out on my business. No RAILS, means I can go that way sooner & more often!

        • Larry Roth says:

          So in other words, you are a local snowmobiler, not one of the thousands of visitors DEC claims will come pouring into the state to ride the trail. Your money will still be spent locally, whether in Beaver River or Tupper Lake. Which Tupper Lake would like, but but Beaver River stands to lose.

          The rail line brings in thousands of outside visitors – and their money. Tupper Lake stands to gain – and so could the rest of the Tri-Lakes IF the rails are rehabbed all the way.

          BTW, how does it feel to spend 14K on a sled in a year when the snow is taking its time showing up? Does it really seem like a good idea to bet that there is going to be enough snow every year to make up for ripping out the rails and losing those visitors to the region?

          • Peter says:

            How I choose to spend my money is up to me, not you! And yes I am a local snowmobiler who has a cmap in Old Forge, but I live/work out of state. And weather it’s local money or outside money being able to ride the rails for a longer period is what matters. Just look at it this way. If we get any snow now, it’ll still be way later in the season before the rails are covered to the point that people can ride them, but if there were no rails, once their is enough snow to cover the trail it is open for use! More money get spent going north & more money is spent going south. You want to spend taxpayer money to rehab a line that gets limited use during the year, when a trail is open 365 days a year!

            • Larry Roth says:

              Peter –

              If you are coming in from out of the state where you live and work to come to the Adirondacks, bless you and your money – bring your friends! That’s what the region needs, more people coming in from outside and leaving their money behind.

              Speaking of which, what you do with your money is your own business. However, what you do with mine is my business. If you want me to spend my tax dollars so you can have a snowmobile superhighway to Tupper Lake, that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Especially since Mother Nature seems to be a bigger problem this year than rails that have been there for over 100 years, rails I can enjoy without having to spend 14K first.

              Enjoy the snow we do get – and the 10,000 plus miles of trail you already have.

              • David P. Lubic says:

                Funny that Peter says the rails are an impediment. There’s video footage on YouTube of someone riding a sled on the Adirondack at a pretty good clip in deep twilight or early night. He didn’t seem to have too much trouble.

                The real trouble is what is outside now–no snow at all, and Christmas is just the day after tomorrow. Maybe there is something to that climate change business. . .

                • Dave says:

                  And maybe not. Climate does goes thru cycles. There are low snow years & there are high snow years This just seems to be one of those low years, so far!
                  And the rails aren’t a impediment as you say, WHEN THERE IS ENOUGH snow to cover the rails. But that is at least 2 -3 feet of snow to make it a safe trail.

              • Dave says:

                A; Your money is your business, but you cannot enjoy the rails now between Big Moose Station & Tupper Lake, so YOUR money will have to be spent to rehab that line. YOUR MONEY is spent evey year to keep the ASR afloat.
                B. The 10,000 miles of trail you claim we have already includes the rail corridor, because it is listed as a NYSSA approved corridor trail. So all I am getting is the rails removed. I’m NOT adding any new trail to my riding space!

                • David Naone says:

                  Dave, give us all the documentation that state taxpayer dollars are keeping the ASR “afloat” please…. I keep hearing this from trail advocates without producing documentation.

      • Peter says:

        What do taxpayers get in return. It’s not a freigth train that will carry any produce between 2 locations. all it is now/in the past & in the future is a tourist train. If you want to rehab the line, skip bilking the taxpayer to do it; & make the people that ride the train aborb the cost of rehabing/maintaining it!

    • Bruce says:


      “As for Adirondack Wild’s demand for “more study” of the impacts of recreational snowmobile use,”

      In this case, “more study” is a euphemism for let’s see how many years we can stall proceedings to give us time to find some tiny detail we can use as leverage to further our cause. And of course Adirondack Wild won’t accept the results of any study not supporting their view.

      I may be going out on a limb here, but I dare say that since the 60’s, snowmobiles have gotten cleaner, quieter and more environmentally friendly.

  12. Paul says:

    If you are opposed to what has been termed “postage stamped zoning” then you must be opposed to the rail or a trail. This “travel corridor” running through places like the Whitney Wilderness is just that. These other groups are probably afraid to say what they think since it will piss of many of their supporters. If this “trail” can get this loophole then other trails could get it in the future.

  13. Peter says:

    Let’s just play devils advocate here. Suppose the DEC/DOT/APA go forward with the updateed UMP & the rail folks go off to court to stop it (I’m betting that’s where this is all headed anyways, because the rails folks just don’t know when to quit). And let’s say the courts agree with the rails folks & the updated UMP gets stopped. What have we got,then, Well, we’ve got a 1996 UMP still in place, a rail line with the middle section not being used! You have a state that said they won’t put anymore money into rehabing the line until a rail operator is found! You still operate on short term leases. If it was me & I was a state in has much of a deficit as NY is, I would begin to look at CUTTING COST & the ASR lease is a good start. I WOULDN’T RENEW it the next time it comes up. I’d put ya right out of business! Same would go for that little bike business in Saranac Lake. Wouldn’t renew your lease either!

    • Paul says:

      Peter this isn’t the rail folks here that appear to be interested in mounting a challenge to the legality of the changes to the UMP.

    • Larry Roth says:

      Actually Peter, if you look at current numbers, New York State’s budget is in pretty good shape. The economy is growing, and investment in upstate can only improve things for the region.

      You can’t cut your way to prosperity – you have to invest.

      • Peter says:

        NY is investing, in a mulit-use trail over a little used railroad!

        • Paul says:

          No, the plan is to rehab the RR from Tupper to where it is running at the southern end. Not over, both.

          • Peter says:

            If this updated UMP goes forward the State will be investing in a multi-use trail & will only invest in fixing up the rails, if/when they find a rail operator.
            If the UMP updated doesn’t go forward, you still have a short term lease railroad that the state WON’t invest in!

            • Paul says:

              There is no state money for the trail or the rail rehab at this point. The state has not come up with a true compromise if they just finance one thing. Any state money would need to be spent equally on both parts of the project. They can’t just say hey this first money is for the trail and you guys figure out how you want to pay for rail rehab part of the project. I don’t think they will just jump on your preferred side of the project. This is why the correct decision is all trail or all rail – not both.

              • Peter says:

                And you haven’t been paying attention to the decision then. It’s a rail/trail compromise. The northern end gets 1 more year to operate, then the rails can start being torn up. The state needs to put out a RFP to find a rial operator to take over the rest. If no one bids on that, then I guess you just keep getting that short term lease, because the UMP says no state money will be spent fixing up the rail without a rail operator in place. Any money spent on the trail IS TOTALLY separate from rail work.

                • Larry Roth says:

                  My understanding of the proposed UMP is that the state was going to rehab the line as well as offering it on a long term lease basis – acknowledging that a commercial operator would not be interested without that. It remains to be seen if taking Lake Placid off the table would make the line unmarketable.

                • Paul says:

                  Peter, I am paying attention. What we have now gets one more year than the “compromise” kicks in. Like I said, otherwise no compromise. “I” don’t get anything.

  14. Peter says:

    All the same in the end.

  15. Wayno says:

    If there is any hope that Lake Placid could host some or all of a third Olympics the train would seem to be integral to moving people around. Tearing up the tracks would also probably mean throwing in the towel on that ever happening again.

    • Boreas says:


      That would certainly be an advantage, especially if it were connected to Utica. But a LP bid for Winter Olympics would require a lot more infrastructure investment than rail service. It is questionable whether the region and taxpayers would vigorously pursue another winter games there. I am skeptical that rail service would be the deciding factor.

      • Peter says:

        Lake Placid infrastructure cannot support a Winter Olympics of today’s standard!

        • Paul says:

          Spot on. Plus no place is getting a 3rd Olympics even if they partner with Montreal. Athletes and spectators prefer to fly on planes that get you around very quickly. No major airport – no Olympics. The RR has no bearing on an Olympic bid.

          • Wayno says:

            Never say never… the 1980 games seemed unlikely at one time also. There is a big backlash against the spectacles that these latest games have become. I would not be surprised to see them scaling back after Sochi (and Rio). Lake Placid has cred as an Olympic venue and there has been talk of spreading out a Winter Olympics over a couple sites of close proximity. Between Plattsburgh, Glens Falls, Saratoga, Utica even Albany and Syracuse something could be brought together. Even if just the skiing (Nordic and Alpine) was in Lake Placid it would be awesome! They are due back in the USA and nobody else is bidding. Its a bit of a long shot but I would not consider it a definite no way. If Cuomo was into it, it could happen.

        • Larry Roth says:

          For that matter, the International Olympics Committee can’t seem to support the extravaganza the games have mutated into. It’s as much about creating some kind of huge entertainment spectacle and over the top unsustainable sports complex as it seems to be about the athletes.

          But the train was never about the athletes – it was about the crowds coming to the games. I had a co-worker who was in the National Guard. He was one of the people in Lake Placid for the last winter games, and he said it was a traffic nightmare.

  16. Tony Goodwin says:

    Larry Roth, according to Ray Hesseltine, the DOT’s point man on the UMP revision, the ASR was offered a long-term contract in 1996, but the two sides could not come to terms. Ray did not elaborate on what the sticking point was, but the DOT did initially try to follow through on that provision in the 1996 plan. Even with a long-term commitment from the State, my question is, How does one “invest” in a not-for-profit corporation? One can donate to or one can loan funds to, but there can be no shareholders expecting a return on their investment.

    Yes, the state spends a lot of money maintaining highways in the Adirondacks, but that maintenance expense will continue even if the railroad is rehabbed. You say that there will be a good return for the investment, but experience to date does not bear this out. The study upon which the 1996 plan was largely based predicted: a) $2.2 million to rehab to what the ASR is now operating; b) NET annual income for Saranac-Lake Placid of $274,000; and c) 74 jobs created. The reality after 15 years is: a) Over $12 million in rehab costs; b) At most $220,000 in gross receipts; and c) Show me even one half-time job created. (Receipts this year are estimated at a $20 ticket for each of the 11,000 unique riders – round trip riders being double-counted to get the ASR figure of 22,000; and of course there were many tickets sold at less than $20.

    Finally, to respond to Wayno the railroad did not have any significant impact on transportation for the 1980 Olympics. One train per day carried maybe a total of 5,000 during the two weeks. To make a significant difference, there would have to be daily multiple long trains carrying 800-1,000 passengers. Since those trains can’t all just pile up in Lake Placid, there would have to be many new long sidings, extensive signaling, remotely operated switches, and centralized dispatching to keep this railroad “fluid” with that amount of traffic. And all these improvement for a two week event. Furthermore, a review of old timetables reveals that at best the time from Utica to Lake Placid was never less than five hours. Add over an hour to Utica from Albany and it will take three times as long to get to Lake Placid by train as it would by bus. Another Lake Placid Olympics is clearly a very long shot proposition and no need to keep the rails rusting away just in case…

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Tony Goodwin, please take a trip to a make believe world with me for a couple of minutes. This is a purely hypothetical question, but I’d really like an answer. Suppose that our good Governor just came out and said ” NY State will spend about $135 billion a year for the next few years, and the Adirondacks take up 1/5 of NY, so I’m going to allocate $20 million a year for the next 3 years in building a side by side, in and out trail and rail through the Adirondacks.” that works out to a one time investment, over 3 years of 1/6750th of NY’s budget to building a one of a kind multi use trail, rail, with connectors to many other trails.. it can be used for snow mobilers, skiers, bikers, trains, tourist trains, joggers. and around towns paved for wheel chairs, and baby strollers. It would then require the RR to pay for maintenance. Would you fight it or embrace it? It would provide many jobs during construction, quite a few for perpetual maintenance, and in the long term bring far more revenue to every whistle stop along the way than it could ever cost even with overruns that would always happen. It would be a model for other environmentally sensitive areas around the world, a living workshop in multi modal transportation and recreation, would cater to young, old, handicapped, world class athletes, be a virtual class room for history, science, and adventure. Drop off and pick up points would lessen the human impact. Specialized emergency rescue and firefighting equipment could be stored at strategic spots along the route..Evening train travel could be restricted to Friday and Sunday nights. The section from LP to SL could be paved and for special events in LP could become a shuttle bus route from the SL station… at other times, a shuttle bus could meet the train and just follow the road. I believe it would be create one of the hottest tour destinations in the world. Weekend skiers could do various sections of the trail, take the train back to their cars, and come back another weekend to do another segment. 35 in group tours convinces me that most of the year, Saranac Lake hotels would be full, bike shops would be renting bikes, same with canoe rentals, It would also open up a connection to the Bloomingdale Bog Trail from Saranac Lake ( I envision a bridge over Rt. 86.) which would connect us with our neighbors north of the border.

      • Tony Goodwin says:

        Although Arto Monaco’s Land of Make Believe washed away 25 years ago, I can make a trip to a “make believe world”. Here in this make believe world everyone can fantasize how a 1/6750th of the budget could be spent on their pet project. The reality, of course, is that much of the state budget is in one way or another “mandated” and true “discretionary” spending is surprisingly little. Still, 1/5th of the discretionary budget would still provide a significant amount to the Adirondacks for the kind of project you outline.

        The big question would be, how many would be served by that expenditure compared to the same expenditure on other projects. Funding for a state-of-the-art regional slaughterhouse would provide many local farmers with a way to process and sell their beef/pork/lamb/chicken locally. This would surely create jobs and reduce the energy cost of transporting meat in from other regions.

        One could also take a similar sum and build a regional warehouse for vegetable farmers so that their produce could be stored and that together all local farmers would be able to provide a steady supply of produce to restaurants and schools. The school children would learn the benefits of eating local, the farmers would hire local workers, the birds would sing, and everyone would be better off.

        New York State promotes hiking in many of its tourism ads, but provides very little funding for hiking trail maintenance. A small portion of the budget could go to better maintain hiking trails.

        Finally, if this 1/6750th of the budget were to be spent strictly on rail improvements, the AMTRAK route along Lake Champlain would be the best place to use those dollars. If that line could be upgraded so that trains to Westport from Rensselaer could travel as fast as they for from NYC to Rensselaer, then rail travel time plus a shuttle from Westport to Lake Placid would be competitive time wise with driving. That improvement would serve many more people than improving a total rail route to Lake Placid that is 100 miles longer than the direct route. Yes, there is a great history associated with the Adirondack Rail Corridor, but passengers looking for actual transportation want to know that they can leave later and arrive in time for a good night’s sleep.

        • Keith Gorgas says:

          I obviously wasn’t making myself clear… the amount of money I suggested, which would come out to about 3 dollars a head for New Yorkers over a three year period includes much more than the cost of bringing the whole rail line up Class 3. It would include many millions towards building the accompanying trail…which I believe would be far cheaper to do with the RR in place. You never did answer my basic question though.

          • Bruce says:


            I believe that in this particular rail corridor the financial cost of a trail alongside the rails is not the primary sticking point. It has been pointed out many times that the legal issues of building new bridges, widening existing or building new causeways, or widening the ROW in wilderness areas is the real problem. If federal safety mandates concerning separation of trail and rail were not in force, it may be possible to build a trail right next to the tie ends, but it wouldn’t be wide enough for two-way traffic or bicycles and pedestrians.

            I think it was Mr. Lubic who linked to many fine examples of trails and rails running beside each other in another post, but those were in areas not having the unique land use requirements found in the Adirondacks.

            • Keith Gorgas says:

              Bruce, correct me if I;m wrong, but I believe the Right of Way is 100 ft wide all the way up… that’s 1/3 of a football field… the tracks are only, 4 ft 8 inches apart?

              • Keith Gorgas says:

                4 ft, 8 and a half inches.. If you gave the train 16 ft, you’d still have 84 ft of right of way.

              • Bruce says:


                Here’s one of the reasons that just because the ROW is nominally 100′, it is impractical, and in some places illegal under SLMP regulations to add what is necessary for a trail.

                This is the CAMOIN Environmental Impact study.

                I quote:

                “The existing rail bed is not currently wide enough
                to accommodate a rail line and a bike trail.
                Much of the 100 foot wide right-of-way is steeply sloped to create rock cuts and embankments
                needed to level the rail bed. To accommodate both amenities in accordance with safety standards and allowing for adequate separation between rail and trail, the rail bed would need to be widened by around 20 feet. As a result, the additional grading to increase the width of embankments and rock cuts would have a much greater impact on the natural, cultural and visual environment than either a stand-alone rail or stand-alone recreational trail project utilizing the existing rail bed.”

            • James Falcsik says:

              Rail with trail exists in many places with the ties right next to the trail, and yes, many of these were on lines with multiple tracks.

              The Five-Star Trail between Greensburg and Youngwood, PA (mentioned in one of the trail-advocacy purchased EIS) is right along side the tracks for most of its 5 mile length with no barrier. Train frequency is between 2 and 4 moves per day.

              One section of the Five-Star, a bit more than a mile, is on the shoulder of a public road, marked as a bike lane on each side of the roadway. The ownership of an industrial park the railroad services would not have the trail cut through their property.

              The sticking points you mention are true, but why must the trail plan be about 34 miles, or 120 as first proposed, when the average local user is only on the trail less than an hour each week? Perhaps a couple of 6 or 7 mile trail segments, like the Five-Star Trail, would work. The only reason for a continuous 34 mile trail is for snowmobile use.

              By the way, the argument that putting part of the bike trail on a roadway is not possible is being debunked by the cycle advocates themselves. The Complete Streets plan adopted by many cities in the US puts bikes lanes right along side the bus lanes and travel lanes of the city streets. Businesses hate it because it takes away on-street parking and negatively affects their business, but that hasn’t stopped city planners.

        • Keith Gorgas says:

          By the way, I agree whole heartedly with you about a state of the art slaughter house and locally grown food for schools. I’d love to see BOCES provide an agricultural curriculum that would feed into a sustainable North Country Ag degree at Paul Smiths. It’s my understanding, but I could be proved wrong, that APA regs make a slaughter house in the ADKS harder to build than a side by side trail 🙂

        • David P. Lubic says:

          One thing that might be worth mentioning is the the Iowa Pacific proposal may incorporate sleeper service from New York City to Lake Placid. Get on the train in Grand Central in the late afternnon or early evening–let’s say on a Friday–enjoy a nice meal coming up the Hudson, go to sleep on the train as it rolls toward Lake Placid, and get up there for a full Saturday of whatever activity you’ll be engaged in. Check in to a hotel, spend the night that way, then spend Sunday at more activity. Sunday night, get on the train, snooze on the way to NYC, get up in the Big Apple in time to do more of whay you need to do then.

          Sounds like a nice way to get to Lake Placid without the hassle of driving up there, and you maximize your time over a weekend.

    • Larry Roth says:

      Tony – you raise some interesting points.

      Your comment that ASR was offered a long term lease in 1996 but couldn’t agree on terms is irrelevant unless you can spell out what those terms were. If those terms included “an offer they couldn’t accept”, it would not have been a negotiation in good faith in any case.

      Let’s address your “my question is, How does one “invest” in a not-for-profit corporation? One can donate to or one can loan funds to, but there can be no shareholders expecting a return on their investment.”

      You have a rather incomplete understanding of what investment means, if you think it only extends to for-profit corporations with shareholders.

      Quite a lot gets accomplished in this world by not-for-profit corporations. They employ people, sign contracts, provide goods and services, and are often in public-private partnerships because government finds them a useful tool in meeting its obligations to the public. Some of them have budgets in the millions of dollars – and more. They represent quite a chunk of the economy. Take a look at healthcare or social services for example, or consider something like the Boy Scouts of America. Don’t forget the number of faith-based organizations out there.

      I realize the concept of “the public good” may have fallen out of favor, but once upon a time we treated investing in it as quite reasonable. Profits are not only measured in money, and they don’t all have to run through private hands to count.

      Your accounting skills in this matter are questionable. Never mind the fact that you deny any job creation from the operation of the railroad, or refuse to accept the numbers they report for ridership. Never mind that you completely ignore what the Adirondack Rail Explorers have created in their first season in terms of jobs and secondary local spending by the visitors they have drawn to the region (which the railroad also does.) Never mind that the railroad and the rail bikes have brought tens of thousands of visitors to the Saranac Lake – Lake Placid area this year alone. Never mind that you completely miss the point of the comparison of highway costs to rail upkeep. Never mind that you don’t even consider the value of the architectural, cultural, and historic assets that stand to be lost. Never mind that it’s not only the railroad people who want to see progress on the line continue – there’s also community support that can’t be dismissed too easily.

      What it comes down to, is how do you justify eradicating a rail line where users pay directly for using it and their money in turn helps keep it in operation IF you propose to replace it with a trail built with government money which will be used by people who pay nothing for the privilege? Sounds like a rather strange business model – no shareholders at all, no profits. Why, it smacks of socialism! For that matter, without shareholders, why should we give any credence to ARTA or the Adirondack Council, since they seem to have no interest in operating for profit?

      If you’re going to argue against keeping the railroad based on dollars and cents, you’d better make a stronger case that what you propose to trade it away for is going to deliver something more profitable – in all senses of the word.

      If you can.

      • Larry Roth says:

        One more thing:

        “Neither the SLMP nor the Corridor UMP are expected to deal with external threats such as climate change.”

        If that statement is true, it – to borrow a phrase – “is so preposterous as to pretty much discredit the entire” SLMP and UMP. What part of Management allows willful disregard of science with direct impact on what is to be expected in the corridor or the Adirondack Park as a whole?

        The more closely one looks at the proposed amendment to the UMP, the clearer it becomes it is more a marketing campaign for a seriously flawed idea than an actual management plan.

    • James Falcsik says:

      The idea that anyone would invest in the state owned railroad corridor, without taking ownership of the real estate or having exclusive lease arrangements with the improvements made, is needing a reality check.

      Documents I have indicate ARPS offered to take ownership of the corridor; NYS did not accept this proposal and elected to retain ownership. This was probably what resulted in no long term operating contract. If NYS prefers to own the corridor, then they need to improve and maintain it by investing tax dollars in the infrastructure. Property developed by private enterprise using the corridor is the payback; it creates jobs (and income taxes), increased property tax collection, and revenue from corridor use (taxes on ticket sales).

      This is historically how the railroads were responsible for growth in the communities where they built their lines. Trolley companies did the same thing. Many amusement parks were called “trolley parks” because the trolley company purchased land and created a recreation venue which was served by their routes. Railroads did this as well; the Ligonier Valley Railroad was a lumber and coal hauling railroad in western PA. The LVRR built and maintained an amusement park, Idlewild Park, to create passenger ticket sales. The railroad is gone but the park survives.

      It is done a little differently in modern times, but the method is the same. Today many government authorities, typically an industrial or commercial development authority, own the railroad infrastructure and hire a private operator to run the trains. The authority also provides marketing and site development with roads and utilities to attract private commercial enterprise requiring rail service. The results are the same; increased regional jobs (and income taxes) increase property values (and property tax revenue) and revenue from the rail operation.

      Commercial development in the AP would seem to be the problem, either for the rail operator or NYS. Industry is not likely and resort development is not easy if possible at all. And a trail alone provides no value added service that will attract enough out of state people for regional growth. The existing tourist rail venue needs to be able to attract the rail vacation traveler and that will not happen with disconnected rail segments.

      • Curt Austin says:

        I grew up in Rome NY. It was an industrial town, and the home of an AF base. All long gone. The story is the same for most of upstate NY. Naturally, many people want policies pursued that would return their area to their former industrial glory. Some call for the restoration of infrastructure as a logical first step; railroads are important to this approach. Let’s all say it together in serious tones: “critical transportation infrastructure”.

        For some places – perhaps in Rome – re-industrialization is not a pipe dream. Good location, a decent labor pool, changing global marketplace – it could happen. If it happens, it will happen first in places like Rome: Syracuse, Utica, Schenectady, Buffalo and dozens of smaller places along the Hudson-Mohawk Valley. Not soon, even in those places. Tupper Lake? Keep a watch on Gloversville; when you see something happening there, you’ll have several more decades to prepare.

        So, don’t be distracted by a very distant future. Instead, cater to non-industrial businesses. They don’t care about railroads. Their families do not care about tourist trains. They’ll have concerns about moving to the middle of nowhere – listing a bike trail in the brochure will help; they’ve become a standard community feature.

        • Larry Roth says:

          “…They don’t care about railroads. Their families do not care about tourist trains. They’ll have concerns about moving to the middle of nowhere – listing a bike trail in the brochure will help; they’ve become a standard community feature.”

          I kind of suspect they DO care about jobs if they are “moving to the middle of nowhere.” They may not care about the railroad, but they do care if the local economy is working or not, something the railroad contributes to. They also like things like good schools, good government, access to healthcare (physical and financial) and affordable housing. Decent shopping is in there too.

          That is, if they are regular people trying to make a living in a tough region.

          If their prime concern is whether or not there’s a bike trail, I kind of suspect we’re not talking about most people.

          • David P. Lubic says:

            This string of comments suggests the real problem with attempting to live in the Adirondacks is a lack of a “real” economy, such as manufacturing, farming, logging, or mining.

            Not all of this is necessarily desirable (I can’t imagine anyone wanting to revive clear-cut logging), but the lack of these other activities certainly puts a crimp on opportunity and employment.

            I’ve had this up before, but let’s look at it again–the concept of population as a stand in for employment opportunity (more people–more jobs):

            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.

            Pocahontas and Greenbriar counties look in many ways comparable to the Adirondacks in terms of history, employment opportunity, and terrain, though both may have an advantage in that you don’t have an APA and other agencies attempting to make them “forever wild.”

            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.

            James Falscik has also had other material about Damascus, pointing out how its per capita income and housing prices are both far lower than average in Virginia, suggesting all those trails don’t do too much for the economy, though some have suggested the heavy activity of Northern Virginia (which is very much influenced by the activity of Washington, DC) may be strong enough to skew the state as a whole.

            Some other places that are heavy on tourism:

            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)

            Again, all this shows that a tourism economy is pretty limited.

            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.

            Toursim does have a lot of advantages 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, which is what you do need for some sort of economic growth. In some places it may be the only game in town–take note of Cass, W.Va., Damascus, Va., Chama, N.M., and Silverton and Antonito, Co.

            But there is still only so much you can do with it, and most people would consider a wider range of activities would be more desirable than a more limited set.

            And that’s the basic argument for rail with trail.

            • David P. Lubic says:

              And one other thing, something some of us may have seen personally–a lot of younger people, Millennials perhaps most strongly, aren’t into driving as much as a lot of their predecessors were at their age. Supposedly the licensing rate for when potential drivers turn 16 is down to about 30%, in contrast to 50% not too many years ago. In places where there is transit service, a great many have taken to using that instead of driving, partially because they can still work or write whlle on a train, and partially because we’ve got too many damn cars with too many lousy drivers.

              This same bunch is a big part of what’s been driving the increases in Amtrak ridership over the last dozen years or so.

              Considering how young people do represent the future, is it a good idea to get rid of something they seem to be starting to embrace?

              • Boreas says:

                Keep in mind many of these people are simply working from home via high speed internet and have less need to commute. If you want to attract people to the area, this is now a necessity.

                • David P. Lubic says:

                  If you are speaking of rail and trail, or perhaps more specifically rail and bicycles, then yes, I strongly agree! Bike riding for commuting and even for running errands has also been on the increase, along with rail ridership.

                  One thing I should mention–Amtrak ridership and commuter ridership are two different markets. Most people who are commuting are not on Amtrak trains–and the people on Amtrak trains are typically not commuters.

                  I think the service in the Adirondacks, if it were to come into a transportation function, would be something like Amtrak’s Regional services, which includes things like the trains to Lynchburg and Newport News in Virginia (two different routes). There is work going on now to extend the Lynchburg service to Roanoke.

                  • Boreas says:

                    Actually the point I was trying to make was that many feel high-speed internet throughout the Park would perhaps be more of a benefit to new & old residents alike, and therefore, more conducive to regional growth. At least it wouldn’t be the negative factor it is now.

                    • David P. Lubic says:

                      Thanks for the clarification–yes, better internet service is important, as important as telephone service!

                      (And rail and trail, too. . . 🙂 )

      • Tony Goodwin says:

        Yes, ARPS stated in a 1992 letter that they wanted ownership of the rails as a condition for rehabilitating the track to Class III standard “at no expense to the state”. Ownership implies a purchase from the existing owner, the State, which had paid about $15 million for the Corridor. Did ARPS have both that kind of money PLUS what the rehab would cost?

        Although it would have been somewhat cheaper in 1992, in 2009 the DOT said the $43 million would be needed for a complete rehab of the Corridor, and rehabilitation efforts to date indicate this $43 million figure is realistic. I therefore seriously doubt that ARPS could have raised even a small fraction of the $50 million+ required to both own and rehabilitate the railroad. Continued State ownership thus became the only option with, unfortunately, the State not following their own plan that said rehabilitation would come “mostly from private sources.”

        • Larry Roth says:

          Thanks for the (selective) history lesson. (What kind of counter-offer did the state make?)

          The state had paid $15 million for the line – and was doing nothing with. In fact they were dithering around on whether or not to spend even more money to turn it into a trail – so the cost would have been even higher. When they finally got around to it.

          In effect, ARPS was saying “Look, give us the line so we can go after the funding and investment which you haven’t and won’t, and you’ll get a working Class III railroad with all the economic benefits for the region that go with it. It won’t be your problem any more – it’ll be ours.”

          It’s like going to a guy with a building falling down on his property and saying “Give me title, and I’ll fix the place up with no cost to you. It’ll boost the value of the rest of your property, and bring you more business. All you’re giving up is something you’re losing money on already, you won’t invest in it, and you’re never going to get that money back you’ve already put into it. I’m taking all the risk and effort to make it work.”

          Now maybe this would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t. We don’t know.

          What we do know is that the current arrangement has still seen the line being brought back into service, has seen ridership grow, has seen the local economy benefit, has saved irreplaceable regional history, and has become a tourism draw in its own right.

          It’s like the building owner said “Go ahead and do what you can, and we’ll see what happens.” And so the guy goes ahead, starts fixing the place up, is making real progress despite the possibility of getting kicked out any minute, and is starting to really make things happen, to the point where other people are ready to move in as well. (Not including the squatters who take advantage of the building when he’s not around.)

          And then the guy says. “Nope changed my mind. These nice people want a parking space instead, so we’re just going to flatten the best part of the place – but we’ll fix up a corner for you. Until we find somebody who wants to rent part of a building. If they want to rent it all.”

          And while you’re talking about how much it will cost to rehab the line, you still believe it will never be worth it, despite the evidence that it is proving a net benefit to the region and could be even more of one.

          And what do you have to offer in exchange? Spending millions on one more trail in a region filled with trails, with no direct revenue stream of any kind to fund it, and justifying it with a lot of economic projections that don’t bear close examination.

          Your numbers are for restoration to Class III standards – and I’ve heard from others who don’t put them anywhere near that high. In any case, the Alternative 7 plan calls for Class II restoration of the middle segment of the line. The costs per mile are close to the costs per mile of removing the track and building the trail – and actually might be less than the costs of building the trail depending on some of the other requirements it’d have to meet.

          You can play games with numbers all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that a working passenger rail comes with a built in revenue stream, creates jobs directly, and has a lot of secondary economic benefits. A trail has no revenue stream, creates no direct jobs, and its secondary benefits have to be a lot higher to beat out the rails.

          • Boreas says:

            “…a working passenger rail comes with a built in revenue stream, creates jobs directly, and has a lot of secondary economic benefits.”

            Why was passenger and freight service to LP discontinued decades ago? I am curious.

            • David P. Lubic says:

              That was then.

              And a big part of then that still holds now is that the economic playing field is heavily tilted in favor of cars. Your gas taxes only pay about half the cost of the road system, while a railroad, especially when it was (or is) privately owned is expected to be completely self supporting, pay a profit, and pay property taxes. That’s a huge handicap to work against.

            • James Falcsik says:

              Passenger service had been in serious decline since the end of WWII. Americans are in love with their automobiles, and public policy favored highway development, like the interstate highway system.

              In the mid 1970’s the northeast rail network was bankrupt, both from mismanagement and the collapse of manufacturing industries. Penn Central, the company serving the Adirondack Division, was suffering from the ill-fated merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad, and service was largely unreliable for shippers and consignees. Service cut-backs to reduce cost essentially chased rail customers to trucking companies. Railroads also had high operating costs, partly attributed to labor rules and government regulations.

              The creation of Conrail in 1976 and the Staggers Rail Act of 1980 made changes that has improved conditions for the rail industry and today railroads are doing well.

              Today many smaller spin-off short-lines provide excellent service on branch lines sold by the larger Class 1 rail companies. Our local 43 mile branch line was nearly abandoned when the county stepped in and purchased the line and then hired a private operator. Rail car counts increased 500% in the first year of service provided by the short line operator. The county provides commercial marketing, rehabilitation funds, (mostly through government grant programs), and the railroad contributes labor and project management, sometimes hiring contractors to do the work. It is a partnership that has worked for our area.

              • David P. Lubic says:

                Here’s another angle to consider–what if the business just “went away?”

                A Facebook friend and I were discussing this, and he mentioned the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, a regional railroad that was “associated” with the New York Central but not owned by it. In the debacle that became Penn Centrail, P&LE went its own way and stayed nice and profitable. The reason–its right of way ran basically from Pittsburg, Pa. to Youngstown, Oh., and was lined with all manner of blast furnaces, steel mills, and other heavy and essential (if dirty) industries, all of which needed and used rail service. Indeed, this railroad had some of the heaviest traffic density in the country because of this.

                But when the steel industry died, the P&LE died with it. Its successor has challenges on the route the P&LE didn’t have.

                And add in the subsidy angle I’ve been mentioning. Tell me this isn’t a country that stacks the deck against a railroad of any kind.

                The Adirondacks had a lot of local industry, as was typical in places like that. Local sawmills, lumbering, wooden products manufacturing–and the Pullman service to Lake Placid and other places. Well, how much of that local industry and agriculture is left today? How much of a “real” economy survives today?

                This is your real problem.

                • Boreas says:

                  I think another necessity the P&LE hauled was oil from Tistusville, PA to refineries to the west to support the kerosene market. When pipelines were feasible and the refineries moved east, rail lost that resource as well. Then Edison put the nail in the kerosene coffin until the gasoline industry exploded.

                  But yes, I agree, having no real economy base is the essence of the problem.

                  • Boreas says:

                    Make that Titusville. BTW, Oil Creek State Park has an excursion train on one side of the creek and a nicely paved bike trail on the opposite side. I have ridden both. Good trout fishing as well. I grew up about 30 miles from there.

        • James Falcsik says:

          “Ownership implies a purchase”; and an agreed upon price. ARPS could have negotiated a lower price for the rail corridor with an agreement for rehabilitation. Westmoreland County bought the entire 43-mile Southwest Branch from Conrail for $400,000 in 1995. Rail-trail conversions start with many reduced value prices, some even as low as $1.00 for property transfer. Tony, you are purely speculating from your mission perspective.

          In retrospect, NYS should have taken the offer of low dollar transfer from ARPS. In the hands of private enterprise NYS would likely have been better off.

          • Hope says:

            NYS is not in the business of selling Forest Preserve land, especially a strip through designated Wilderness. They are more interested in acquiring it.

  17. Boreas says:

    A separate issue I would like to understand WRT a proposed dual train/trail corridor is the question of access and trespassing. I don’t really understand the different corridor legal “ownership” scenarios within the park. Most active RR lines consider the tracks and ROW private property and do not allow even pedestrian access. Case in point – the Upper Works controversy. Assuming the rail corridor is rehabbed fully and becomes functional, how would access within the ROW be handled? I wouldn’t think an operating RR would be too keen on snowmobiles, pedestrians, cyclists, etc., sharing the ROW, especially if the trail would involve crossing the tracks from time to time. Would pedestrian carcasses decorate the tracks as other mammals do on most RR lines? Just wonderin’…

  18. Peter says:

    If the rails every became a ACTUAL working year round railroad, snowmobiles would be prohibited from riding on it. The current lease agreement that the DOT/SEC has with NYSSA regarding use of the tracks between 1 Dec & 30 March would come to a end & a major connecting trail between Old Forge & points south to those up north would be closed off to snowmobile use.
    Just go ask the folk over in the Thurman Snowmobile Club, what happended to their club when Iowa Pacific decided they wanted to run trails year round up/down those tracks!

    • Larry Roth says:

      Ask them what would happen if the Adirondack Council succeeded in getting the rail line removed. No motorized access of any kind if it were up to them. The rail line is just the first item on their agenda.

    • Bruce says:

      I think there is a big difference between “crossing the tracks” and actually using the rail line as a trail. If an authorized snowmobile trail crossed the tracks, it would be treated by the railroad as any other grade crossing, by sounding horn and bell on the approach. If or when the line has year round trains, riding the tracks would be prohibited, not necessarily because it’s private property, but because of obvious safety concerns.

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