Friday, February 5, 2016

APA Staff Finds Rail-Trail Proposal Conforms To Law

Train-300x241 Nancie BattagliaThe Adirondack Park Agency staff has concluded that a controversial proposal to replace the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake with a recreational trail conforms to the Park’s State Land Master Plan.

The APA board is scheduled to vote next week on a resolution approving a plan to bifurcate the state-owned rail corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation adopted the plan last year over the objections of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and its supporters.

The departments intend to remove 34 miles of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, in favor of a trail for bicycling, snowmobiling, and other activities, and refurbish 45 miles of track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.

The APA’s role is to determine whether the proposal conforms to the State Land Master Plan, which governs management of state lands in the Park.

Last fall, the agency solicited public input on that question. It received 217 comments, but only a third related to conformance to the master plan. “The remaining comments were directed to management of the Corridor as proposed by DEC and DOT,” Kathy Regan, the APA’s deputy director of planning, wrote in a memo to Terry Martino, the agency’s executive director.

Regan said one relevant issue raised by the public pertained to the classification of the rail corridor. Under the master plan, the rail corridor is designated a Travel Corridor. Some argued that if rails are removed, the corridor will no longer qualify as a Travel Corridor. If that were the case, the corridor would revert to more restrictive land classifications, such as Wild Forest or Wilderness. Snowmobiling is not allowed in Wilderness Areas.

DEC says the corridor will remain a Travel Corridor as long as DOT retains jurisdiction and that tracks can be laid down again if a demand for rail service ever materializes.

Critics also noted that the corridor is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places and said removing tracks will destroy a piece of living history. DEC says the State Historic Preservation Office has raised no objections to the plan. The department also says the corridor will have signs educating users about the history of the railroad.

A draft resolution prepared for the APA board states that the proposal to bifurcate the corridor is “intended to protect the travel corridor’s natural resources, character, and recreational use according to the provisions of the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.” It also says the proposal “is one which minimizes or avoids adverse environmental effects to the maximum extent practicable.”

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs seasonal tourist trains between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and between Utica and Old Forge. If the state’s plan is implemented, it will have to shut down its Lake Placid operation. Eventually, however, it will be able to run trains all the way from Utica to Tupper Lake.

Rail Bikes USA, which opened last summer in Saranac Lake, will have to relocate. The business offers rides in pedal-driven rail carts.

The state’s proposal is an amendment to the rail corridor’s unit management plan, first written in the 1990s.

Click the links below to read the APA memo and draft resolution.



 Photo: Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive at 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.

109 Responses

  1. Lakechamplain says:

    Okay AA readers, brace yourselves, here we go again with another round of heated arguments. I’ll save my ammo for once the debate gets going.

    For now, about the DEC decision, I’d just like to say Yay!
    Let’s get started this year building what I call the Tri-Lakes Trail and raise the quality of this tourist mecca another notch.

    • Paul says:

      If there are state funds available for this project I assume that the trail will not get precedence over restoration of the rail sections. The plan is to do both not just the trail. Nothing heated about that. State can’t pick favorites.

      • charle Frenette says:

        But if economics and usefulness and enjoyment are in consideration set,
        .. Trail will have primacy

      • Steve says:

        The DEC said they will look for funding but nothing has been earmarked for either. I assume federal money is available for rail trails and for rails, maybe not scenic rails. Plus DEC will be doing the trail and DOT will be doing rail. Maybe snowmobile funds will be used for the trail since it’s already an existing snowmobile trail. So it’s not a matter of favorites but what funds they can get first

      • John says:

        If you go look at the proposal, the rail folks need to go out & find a rail operator to come in & bid to run/manage the rail line between Utica & Tupper Lake. The trail IS NOT tied to that endeavor, hence the trail can begin ASAP, while you rails folks just continue to wither away!

  2. Paul says:

    For an APA permit I got one time to do some road work the agency required me to get a letter from the Historic Preservation saying that the work (just adding some gravel) would not disturb any historic structures. They told me that culverts in the road (which were just galvanized pipes) could possibly be historic stone structures that might need to be preserved. Once they did their analysis they said that they were just galvanized pipes (just being cleaned out anyway!). Why is there this ridiculous bar for a guy fixing his road and a low one for an entire RR dating back a hundred years or more? Weird.

  3. charle Frenette says:

    The compromise being debated is in fact a compromise. Tearing up the tracks from Tupper to Placid to make a world class trail is just pragmatic and will be very useful and valuable. Running trains to Tupper from Utica is a total waste of resource, but that will be found out. So the best way forward seems to be a compromise. And then over time the best utility for this asset will be better understood and action will be taken.

    I encourage all to shut down the vitriol and move forward.


    • Keith Gorgas says:

      I agree with you Charle Frenette, running the trains only to Tupper Lake is designed to kill the RR. Why would anyone go there? The only viable way for the RR to survive is to have either Saranac Lake or Lake Placid as the destination. At least that’s my personal opinion, based on almost 40 years in the group tour industry. Maybe the trail will prove so popular that hordes of people from all over the world will ride the train to Tupper Lake to ride a bike to Lake Placid. Saranac Lake is the Big Loser in this deal.

      • Hope says:

        Far more people will be riding their bikes to Saranac Lake from either end. Don’t delude yourself. Saranac Lake will be the core community. People usually stop in the core to take a break, eat and shop. Some will only ride one way and be shuttled to the start LP or LC or TL and return to the destination where they stayed. It is up to each community to take this opportunity and run with it. You will get what you put into it.

  4. Tom Payne says:

    I fully expect this issue will end in the courts. Come on it is NYS. At least 10 more years if not longer being tied up in the legal system.

  5. John says:

    Re: “The APA board is scheduled to vote next week on a resolution approving a plan to bifurcate the state-owned rail corridor into a rail segment and a trail segment”: the word “bifurcate” means to divide into two branches or forks. Doubt that that is an appropriate description in this case.

    • Boreas says:

      I was wondering if anyone else noticed that. But it is a cool word.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Some dictionaries define “bifurcate” as dividing into branches or parts. But I take your point that the original meaning (and best, given the etymology) is to divide into forks or branches. Next time I’ll choose a different word.

      • Boreas says:

        It’s a good word unless you have nerds in your readership!

      • Avon says:

        In the law, “bifurcated” means two segments more often than two branches. For example, a trial is bifurcated when it’s divided into two parts, one at a time and each with its own verdict, as with a guilt phase and a penalty phase.
        The plan to split the railroad at Tupper is a perfectly good use of the word.

        • Boreas says:

          Interesting. I guess that’s why I’m not a lawyer. In medical training a bifurcation is where a vessel or nerve forks into 2 parts. I suppose the usage is essentially the same – one trial into two – one vessel into two. I suppose the word ‘split’ is the same. One can split on object into 2 pieces, or form a fork as in a split in the road.

  6. Marco says:

    Yes, I am in favour of the classification. Bog River/Low’s Lake, St. Regis and other areas around there will certainly benefit from the plan. Many are Wilderness areas.

    However, I remember the extreme trash problems associated with snowmobiles in some areas (Bug Lake, 8th Lake, Raquette Lake, Forked Lake, etc.) I used to plan on cleaning up the camp sites at Bug Lake every spring, for example. But, the last 20 years has seen major improvements. Not so much from any one particular group, but everyone now goes out of their way to clean up after themselves. I was against more snowmobile trails. I have changed my mind. As long as the visitors (not specifically snow mobile people, everyone) maintains this attitude towards the environment and park, this looks to be a good plan. Perhaps a long distance ski-route could also be set up in this corridor. (Ha, for as long as we have snow!) Also, I am generally against increased use of the Wilderness areas by people.

    But, I have to withdraw my objection. The “trail” portion of the plan is fairly flat, unlike other trails. It was designed as a rail road, after all. It is gradded with existing bridges and embakments across the wet lands. It will allow easier access for wheel chairs and other handicapped access to the wilderness areas. It should be touted as such. Such promotion would only boost tourism for the disabled and provide new income opportunities for the local guides. I have not checked recently, but this potential would make it one of the premier trail systems for handicapped/disabled people nationwide. A perfect opportunity for another life for the historic area and to bolster the economy. Federal and state land grants should be made available to do this work.

  7. troutstalker says:

    My question is,will the bike riders adhere to staying on the main trail?They might see a hiking trail and “see if they can go biking on it”!How much garbage will they bring in and not bring out?Who’s doing to patrol and enforce the laws on said trail?The DEC doesn’t have the manpower.I do a lot of paddle trips and find so many downed live trees and trash at designated sites it’s discusting!I really don’t want to be in a wilderness setting and see a bicycle going down a trail.I’m all for sharing but they should stay on the main trail or dirt roads.They can park their bikes and hike the trail!

    • Boreas says:

      Some people are pigs. Doesn’t matter how they recreate. The only way to keep garbage out of the park is to keep people out of the park. Much of the scattered garbage appeared with the disappearance of trash cans. But many people, especially from larger cities, expect trash cans for their garbage and the city workers they pay to clean up after them. They need to be informed of the ‘bring it in, bring it out’ policies of rural areas.

      But you are correct about the poor manpower funding of the DEC. They can get the $$ for projects, but not for maintenance and patrolling. But it isn’t absolutely necessary that the DEC do everything. There is no reason that communities can’t monitor certain sections of trail – just as groups can adopt sections of roadway to clean.

      • Boreas says:

        BTW, anyone who feels the DEC needs more manpower/staffing, feel free to write the governor. He seems to feel current staffing levels are fine, since his proposed budget is flat in manpower funding.

        • Scott says:

          Whenever people recreating see the problems like littering or tree cutting or illegal trail use, we need to call it in so DEC can try to address it. If nobody complains the problems will likely continue.

  8. Dave Gibson says:

    The lack of attention to and analysis of the 200+ public comment letters and the failure to include in the staff memo to the members any substantive response to the issues raised by the public’s letters, comments and questions is mind boggling and disrespectful and wrong, regardless of what camp or point of view the comments originate from.

    • Bruce says:

      Dave Gibson,

      I’m curious, and I’m not just referring to the APA, but agencies of many governments. How many times have you known any form of public comments short of an actual voting referendum to have significant effect? 200 letters is hardly representative of the folks who both live in the AP and use it from elsewhere.

      I have a feeling the APA might have been looking for more comments from outside the Park, because one purpose of the exercise seemed to have been about revitalizing the economy by attracting more outside money. Without the daily Almanack feed I possibly wouldn’t have known anything about it down here in North Carolina. I doubt it was publicly publicized outside of NY, and I’ve encountered many North Carolinian’s vacationing there as we do.

      • Boreas says:

        IMO, they are requesting public opinion just to say they did so. Same with public meetings. If the views of the majority opinions are diametrically opposed to their intention, it goes down as “noted”. If the views support what they want to do, they can then say they had substantial public support for the project. If it is a vehement majority, then they may want to take another look at their approach.

        But these opinions are useful in determining their next step. Perhaps a campaign to get people to change their opinions – something like what allegedly happened with the NYCO amendment. Regardless, it is far from a true democratic process. That is just too unwieldy. If they put it to a state referendum vote, only 10% of the population would vote anyway….

        • Boreas says:

          I failed to mention that many projects may require this type of input by law.

          • Bruce says:


            You’re probably right about public input being required by law for some things. Unlike a voting referendum, I don’t believe the purpose of public hearings is to see how many folks are for, and how many are against a proposal. I believe they are for discovering if members of the public have additional information which may help in the decision making process.

            When public hearings are held, the agency responsible knows that these things can be “packed.” Meaning organized groups making an effort to dominate the proceedings by “packing” them with people supporting their view. Letter writing is used for the same informational purpose, but even this form of communication can be “packed,” it’s just less blatant appearing.

            I have been involved in these kinds of activities years ago when I was more idealistic, so I know what goes on.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Mr. Gibson, are you the David Gibson of the Adirondack Wild that was quoted in this publication earlier concerning the land classifications if the rails are removed?

  9. Big Burly says:

    Your article seems written as though the staff recommendation will perforce be accepted by Commissioners. That may end up being presumptuous.

    There is precedent — the recent Essex Chain ruling comes to mind — where serious points were minimized by the DEC or seemed not to have been taken into account.

    DEC and the APA have since the creation of the Agency had a tenuous relationship.

    The outright dismissal of process, and incomplete, even misinformed, reasoning used in Alternative 7, particularly misleading in the economic impact portion of the proposal, and the presumptions about land classifications post rail removal, lack of a proper SEQR required of other similar initiatives, as a few examples, seem like bullying of the APA by DEC. Incongruous and IMO not in the best long term interests of all NYS residents OR the necessary long-term strategic thinking about what’s best for the Park.

    This Alt 7 proposal is an effort, if implemented, that will amend the SLMP IMO. It is my hope that Commissioners will probe why DEC thinks this is appropriate, or legal, notwithstanding the staff recommendation.

    It is unfortunate that the media coverage of the to and fro for the past almost four years has never seen fit to probe these aspects. I hope you will consider doing so sometime this week before the APA monthly meeting.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Burly, I am not presuming anything. I’m merely reporting what the APA staff has concluded. Based on their findings, the staff has drafted a resolution approving the UMP amendment for the rail trail. Unless it’s tabled or modified, the resolution will be voted on by the APA board next week. The story doesn’t say anything about how the board is likely to vote.

  10. Larry Roth says:

    Just because the APA staff has ruled the plans to amend the UMP for the travel corridor are legal does not mean they are the right thing or the best thing to do.

    The tri-lakes are experiencing one of the warmest winters on record, with minimal snow – and the future looks like more of the same. Snowmobile trails are bare in spots; grooming is not possible with the lack of snow. Taking out the rails would not make up for the lack of snow. Ice fishing, skiing – everything based on winter as usual is not happening. This may be the new normal.

    DEC has its head somewhere where it can’t see what’s going on, as do many in the local business community. They all expect winter tourism to provide them with money to help tide them through the rest of the year and the short summer tourism season. They are all acting as though nothing has changed and they can keep going on as they have for the last 40 years.

    The railroad and the rail bikes both bring in thousands of visitors to the region and generate millions of dollars of economic activity every year. They could do even more with the planned upgrades to the line and restoration of full passenger service to Lake Placid.

    Trail advocates are betting that A) the snow will return and everything will be like it was, and B) the trail will somehow make up for the millions of lost dollars if the rails are removed. They are also betting that cutting off Lake Placid and Saranac Lake from a railroad that reaches all the way down to Utica to not just Amtrak but the NYS Thruway as well is not going to leave them an isolated backwater.

    The movers and shakers who met recently to discuss how to boost the event driven economy of the region all complained that a serious problem is the limited transportation options in the area. It seems to me that the minimal investment needed to run passenger service the whole length of the line could be a big part of the answer to that problem. Adding 34 miles of trail in an area that already has thousands of miles of trails while taking out the only remaining rail line into the area makes no sense at all.

    But then sense is not what’s driving this headlong rush to embrace folly.

    • mike says:

      If you want to get to Lake Placid by Amtrak, you can buy a ticket today on their site that includes a van from Westport to Lake Placid. No one will take a long slow detour via utica. Sorry, but not a chance that dream will ever be real.

    • Boreas says:

      Frankly, I don’t see that there would be a lot of demand for rail service either during a cold, muddy winter without snow. I think the no-snow argument is a no-starter.

    • John says:

      What trains runs between Utica & Saranac Lake or Lake Placid right now? I cannot think of a SINGLE train that carries PAYING passengers right now.

  11. James Falcsik says:

    Mike: Trail boosters assert hundreds of thousands of bike visitors will descend on the Tri-Lakes as the primary reason to come is ride the trail. You and others also quote simplistic views of rail travel to the region, only equating the travel experience to what you see and know now. Neither is realistic. If you want a cheap, fast trip to LP then your scenario is fine. But there is a rail vacation market that exists and this is the market that would be sought for the improved and enhanced rail corridor. The rail journey will be the attraction. The accommodations at the destination will be part of the package.About the only thing I agree with from trail-advocate Hope Frenette is her statement that with tourism “you get out of it what you put into it.”. For goodness sake we have a Ground Hog in PA that predicts the weather every Feb. 2nd. The following is a link to a rail vacation site that operates exactly the type of accommodations I describe. Look carefully at the prices. 1.5 million people have booked travel with this company in the last decade.

    • Bruce says:


      Exactly what I’ve been saying. Far too many people assume that what was the past, will also be the future. I wonder how many actually believe that about their own individual futures? My local tourist train, the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad had over 200,000 well paying visitors last year alone. I’ve ridden the GSMR several times and fully expect to continue riding the ADKRR as long as I’m able to come to the Adirondacks, as we have done every year for the last 10.

      I firmly believe that with the extended track to Tupper Lake, and good management such as provided by American Heritage Railways, the train will become a bang up attraction which can still operate at times when weather has reduced trail use to a minimum.

    • Hope says:

      Herein lies the problem with railfans. The ASR has had 20 years to produce all these excursions yet they have not managed to even come up with any of these plans until ARTA came forward with an alternate idea for the corridor. ASR was just happy to go along with their minor tourist operation. They weren’t too fired up to come up with these proposals that have flouted around lately until ARTA promoted the trail proposal and was able to build momentum. Now all they want to do is personally attack ARTA board members for having some sort of sinister, alternative motives rather than people who have a different idea and vision for the corridor. ASR should accept the compromise and show us all the the fantastic excursions they claim they can produce after NYS rebuilds the corridor for them.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        Perhaps a real good model railroad set (O gauge) will satisfy the railroids…

        … now let the grown-ups develop a trail!

      • James Falcsik says:

        There is no problem with railfans. ASR has not been the problem. NYS has been the problem letting a transportation asset decay for 20 years and providing only band-aids. Alternate 6 was never implemented in the manner it was intended for.

        ASR has been made a villain by ARTA board members, quite unfairly, in order to generate an unfavorable perception by the public; this has been by design as described on page 12 of the Beamish publication. Much more commentary by ARTA directors has been aimed at ARPS rather than producing honest attributes of a rail-trail, just as Hopes comments here have been. At the same time ARTA founders have purchased both economic impact statements used by NYDEC to craft the UMP Alternate 7. The method has been effective, but not by truth.

        By doing this ARTA has created divided communities and most likely lasting resentment that will ultimately hurt the reputation and cooperative business efforts of your region. ARPS and ASR today is not the same organization as it was 20 years ago. This professional organization will likely continue to serve the communities until the rails are pulled out from under them, and will continue to promote full restoration of the rail corridor to Lake Placid by truthfully educating citizens, business owners, regional community leadership, and government agencies in Albany. Recent choices by Harrietstown and Franklin County leadership to support ASR, Rail Explorers, and the tenants of Alternate 6 to provide the most economic diversity for their region of operation are examples of those efforts.

        • Todd Eastman says:

          Your effort is doomed!

          There is no flippin way a RR from Utica will deliver goods or people to destinations in the Blue Line without either losing $$$ or sucking off the public trough…

          … pleas stop wasting everybody’s time.

          • Bruce says:


            I would like to see the references upon which you base your assertions. Without references, it’s awfully hard to separate fact from unfounded opinion.

            There is one fact even you can’t deny…train riders (mostly from outside the blue line) pay money to engage in one of their favorite recreations, directly supporting a local business (the ASR). This is not counting what they may spend on hotels, restaurants, shopping, or gas.

            How much money are you willing to pay to use a trail?

            • John says:

              Let’s just use Old Forge as a example here. The train runs a few times each week from Utica to Old Forge. On average less than 50 people are on the train. Those 50 people get about 3 1/2 hrs to spend time in the town. They don’t spend the night, they may eat at a restaurant & maybe do a bit of shopping, but the ASR provides no large scale economic input into the town. Why park my car in Utica to get on a train for a few hours, when I can drive the additional 52 miles & be in Old Forge WITH my car to get around. Then if I want to stay I have my car. I can drive to the Adirondack Museum (cannot get there by train), I can go to the Sagamore Great Camp (cannot get there by train), I can go to Raquette Lake & ride the boat there (cannot get there by train), I can go to Long Lake (cannot get there by train), and the list just goes on and on. So please, get off your high horses that the train provides any economic input into either Old Forge or Saranac Lake or Lake Placid. It doesn’t!

              • James Falcsik says:

                John: The northern ASR operation provides $1.2 million each year in direct and indirect economic benefit to the communities of SL and LP. In 2015 Rail Explorers added to this separately for another $1.3 million. Here is the link to Rail Explorers and their paying customer locations by zip code:


                ASR has the same zip code data and hopefully soon the same display will be available. For you to say ASR and RE do not provide economic benefit to these communities is foolish, but you are entitled to your opinion. When the rails are gone from SL and LP, subtract $2.5M and 20-30K tourists off the sidewalks of these towns. I will get the specific impact numbers for Old Forge and the southern operation and post here.

                Keep in mind this is currently NOT the operation mode or plan envisioned by UMP Alternate 6; only a portion. The rail operation is only part of the tourism economy. Are there any hotels, B&B’s or resorts in Old Forge that offer overnight stay packages for rail patrons, or anyone else? You can drive and visit all of the venues you describe, but you are not the target rail vacation traveler envisioned with an improved and enhanced rail corridor.

                If you have alternate data to prove me incorrect, please post so we can discuss.

                • James Falcsik says:

                  As promised in the above post, here are the economic impact values for the existing southern operation of the ASR in 2015:

                  Utica operations: Non-Rail spending = $1,789,088.00; total economic impact = $3,515,558.90
                  Thendara operations: Non-rail spending = $248,731.25: total economic impact = $488,756.91.

                  Also, the northern numbers are corrected here at the total economic impact of $1,472,358.15 for 2015.

                  Trail boosters often state the railroad does not generate overnight stays and this is incorrect. The data also includes current combined (Utica + SL-LP) overnight stay economic impact at $1,125,927.00.

                  Again, these are EXISTING operation impacts, not those associated with full corridor restoration estimates.

                  • Boreas says:


                    Looking at those figures, I would expect the compromise plan to have a positive impact on everything from Utica to TL. I would simply expect much of the “lost” SL-LP impact to move to the Utica – TL segment after the proposed rail renovations are completed. The key is if TL rises to the challenge and promotes itself properly as the unique intersection of rail, trail, road (Rts 3 & 30), paddling, hiking, and Wild Center – becoming a regional hub for most everything. Many LP shops could either move to TL for lower rent or open second stores there.

                    • James Falcsik says:

                      You may be right on how the economic impact “moves”; only time will tell. What an established business owner does is not so easy to predict. Moving stock, suppliers, and many other logistics of business takes capital resources.

                      For certain, SL and TL will have tens of thousands of fewer tourists and their collective economic impact for several years after the rail excursions end and before trail conversion begins; who knows for how long if litigation efforts unfold.

              • Bruce says:

                John, I agree as the ASR stands now it’s not much and you can call me optimistic, but you’re not seeing the big picture. It’s not about what the train is now or has done in the recent past.

                It’s the special trains which claim the most ridership, kids trains at Halloween and Christmas, wine tasting and beer trains, dinner trains, mystery trains, fall color trains, etc. With a good line on to Tupper Lake, the ASR will have the opportunity to offer more and better specials, more often.

                More riders with money to spend attract businesses to take that money. More businesses entice the railroad to create special trains to take advantage of them, such as train/hotel restaurant packages. All of this requires starting somewhere, which is getting the trackage to run on. It won’t happen overnight.

                The ASR is not refurbishing two more passenger cars in Utica just for exercise, they fully expect to put the cars to good use. Oh and by the way, the food currently served on the lunch/brunch trains out of Thendara is provided by the hotel restaurant across the street from the station. One business already seeing a direct benefit.

        • Hope says:

          ASR has made itself a villain by repeatedly attacking individual board members personally. you don’t like ARTAs proposal then dispute the proposal but when you authorize your minions to attack the person rather than the idea it just shows desperation and cowardice. And you can stop blaming NYS for letting the tracks go. If there was such demand for train service and ASR was able to put together the proposal that NYS would consider then things might be different but that didn’t happen. The corridor belongs to NYS and NYS gets to decide what will happen to it.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Well, I am not aware of any memo from ASR authorizing “minions” to attack ARTA directors personally. When ARTA publishes fiction instead of fact, either in media like this or social media, they will be called out by name and counter points provided.

            If you have some “attack authorization” please produce it. I would be happy to discuss it with the source.

            • Todd Eastman says:

              Stop playing a victim…

              … your plan fails on common sense…

              • James Falcsik says:

                Todd, your posts are so complete with facts.

                The only victims here are the people of these communities where trail boosters have misled leadership and businesses with false economic data and inflated visitor expectation. The failure of common sense is where people believe a dirt path can create a value added service on which to build an economic base, and the destruction of an historic transportation asset that can be a useful part of economic development.

                • Phil Brown says:

                  The rail trail will be more than a dirt path. DEC is talking about surfacing it with stone dust (or crushed stone) and has not ruled out paving at least part of it. The idea is to make it suitable for most road bikes.

                  • James Falcsik says:

                    Phil; I have been on many trail surfaces. The paved ones are nice. The “crusher fines” that we call it are decent. Paving is unusual unless you are in warmer climates, but, there is one in Meadville PA (Ernst Trail) and that is surely snowbelt territory. I was using the term figuratively. I live in an area with plenty of rail-trails. I owned a business within yards of a trail, and have surveyed miles and miles of our trails for all this economic development that is forecast. Sorry, I don’t see it, and comparing trail-advocacy commissioned economic impact statements to wide-based demographic information on trail towns, I am convinced the purpose of the economic impact study is to create a purpose for the next economic impact study. But there is little or no regional economic growth from a recreational trail.

        • John says:

          Anybody can buy off a politician today, even ASR!

      • Paul says:

        Sounds like maybe they just needed a push. That isn’t a new concept. When you let people get complacent they often get complacent.

      • Paul says:

        There are not just rail-fans and trail-fans. There are also people who think that a trail may not be the best way to go. I think it could run into serious legal problems, Hope you and I have been around the Adirondacks for a bit of time. Someone challenging the legality of this (maybe from the environmental community) seems like an almost certainty.

        • Hope says:

          Paul, NYS, DEC, DOT and APA all have lawyers on staff who’s job is to vet any and all proposals. I’m sure that they have been all over this one with a fine tooth comb. That does not mean that someone or some organization may or may not challenge the decision but other than threats from ASR to suit if they don’t get their way there has not been anybody who has come forward to say that this can’t be done legally. It may very well end up in the courts but no one will know until the chips are in. Let’s let these people do their jobs and move forward.
          Personally I think the compromise is the best way forward. Those that espoused both rail and trail get rail and trail. It may not be exactly what either side wants but it is a way forward for everyone.

          • Paul says:

            I agree, there has been lots of legal analysis. But I think that Dave Gibson’s article on Monday may be a harbinger of things to come and that isn’t the ASR. It is complicated and there appears to be lots of legal wiggle room. Even if it isn’t realized until after groomers and fast sleds are cruising through the Whitney Wilderness and close to Lake Lila.

            • Hope says:

              Im not a snowmobiler or a NYSSA member but I’m pretty sure that any attempt to kick snowmobilers off the corridor, that they have been legally using for longer than ASR, will result in a lawsuit from NYSSA.

              • James Falcsik says:

                It is OK for NYSSA to file a lawsuit if they get kicked off the corridor, in fact you expect it; but not OK if ASR does the same or “doesn’t get their way”.

                It seems there is at least one group that is now publicly on record pointing out the flaws in Alternate 7 they have a problem with, and it is not the railroad. Part of their complaint is the agencies appeared to have rubber-stamped this through. Certainly not the “fine-tooth comb” you describe.

    • Boreas says:

      I looked at the prices, routes and schedules. The first random 4 trips I looked at were only available from May through September. They also are routes that travel for hundreds of miles through breathtaking scenery. It is also noteworthy that most of the routes travel where there are virtually no roads – through the Rockies and parts of the coast. Gilded age-style resorts and service with no practical way of getting between them other than rail or plane. Exactly what helped build the RR here over a century ago.

      But the difference now is public roads. Even a poor schmuck like me can access any town or village within the park (except maybe Beaver River) on the cheap, on my own schedule, year-round. Roads and cars are what helped spell the demise of rail service in more rural areas of the NE. The distances aren’t that great and the views are just as nice or nicer. There are certainly nice views along the corridor to LP, but they aren’t as spectacular as the Pacific coast or Rocky Mtns., nor are the destinations that exclusive. I think we are comparing apples and oranges here.

      • Boreas says:

        I’m sorry, this wasn’t posted where I thought it would go. The excursions I am looking at were mentioned above by James F. at the link he attached:

      • James Falcsik says:

        Surely the Rockies are not the Adirondacks. No attempt to compare apples and oranges. This is simply an example of a rail vacation travel experience. I am not suggesting this is necessary for travel to the AP because of lack of roadways or cost. The travel experience is the draw. There is a market and the link to the Rocky Mountaineer is just an illustration. How well it is adopted and marketed is up to the private enterprise to develop.

      • James Falcsik says:

        An article in the ADE on Saturday, The Road to Whiteface, had this illuminating quote:

        “Aside from direct air access from Boston to the Adirondack Regional Airport (in Lake Clear), we are a rubber tire destination,” ROOST Director of Communications Kim Rielly said in a statement this week. “The perception that access to the region is difficult is one of the biggest challenges we have. We know from the recent study conducted on behalf of the Wild Center in 2015 that the millennial generation is unwilling to travel more than four hours away for a regional trip. That is a significant disadvantage to our region, with millions of potential visitors just out of that range.

        The target is still visitors, not locals or nearby folks like yourself. I acknowledge this quote presents a challenge for the railroad as well, but it also creates caution to believe large numbers of people are going to travel to the AP just to ride bikes when transportation to the area is difficult. It still makes no sense to reduce the transportation options when the railroad could be remade to be part of the travel experience and solution to overcome the access difficulties. More travel diversity and economic diversity is better than less.

        • Boreas says:

          You are probably correct in assuming the trail alone may not be as big of a national draw as an excursion train. But is there such a serious problem with having a car/mud/rock-free trail for locals to use as well? Bicycling and walking and X-country skiing are low-impact exercises that many people can enjoy at many ages and any socioeconomic group can participate. Would that be such a bad thing if only locals used it? Many municipalities have greenways.

          The way I see it, New Yorkers getting any sort of exercise will pay big dividends both locally and state-wide in the future. The trail would likely not be as much of a draw to healthy, robust hikers and bikers as it would for average Joes with arthritis, flat feet, and bad hearts. Keep in mind Saranac Lake was a giant draw to people with TB. Why not promote the trail for its health benefits and not necessarily its potential to generate cash? Isn’t what we are striving for is a healthy, happy population? I don’t see that as a bad thing.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Boreas, I have a lot to agree with in your last post. I ride our trails for exercise and judging from recent weight gain, not nearly enough. However I fit the national average for trail use. an hour or so each week. The average length of all bike trips is just over 2 miles, and 89% of all trips in the US originate from a residence. I agree not everything should be related to economics, but that has been the overwhelming position of the group desiring rail removal. 38% of all bike trips do not even result in any spending by the local user.

            • Boreas says:


              One thing about those statistics is that they are likely illustrative of bikers and walkers in general. Most people don’t have access to a level, 35 mile car-free trail. If they did, the time and mileage would likely increase significantly for those that use it. When I lived near the Erie Canal towpath, I rode at least an order of magnitude more miles on the trail than the highway, After I moved away, I basically hung up the bike because of a lack of car-free trails in the area.

  12. Curt Austin says:

    People find riding bikes to be very satisfying on an emotional level. Other people find a passing train to be the same.

    The contention is resolved by asking about the numbers of each and the collateral affects. That’s if it is accepted that economical rail infrastructure is not currently viable and will not soon become viable.

    The first point is easily resolved in favor of the trail; the “encourage healthy lifestyle” argument is sufficient in my view, a collateral affect that outweighs all others. But there are many others, including various economic benefits. For example, no one has ever been enticed to move their family in order to be close to a tourist train.

    The viability question shouldn’t even be a question. A return to viability would require a reversal of the changes that put regional railroad spurs out of business 60-80 years ago: Replace modern roads with dirt roads, and don’t plow them in winter. Eliminate the electric starter in cars. Make trucks and buses illegal. Eventually, electric cars would have to be banned, too.

  13. Ken Youngblood says:

    If our beloved Tri-Lakes community only knew what this will bring…not just money but a lifestyle, and a nationally acclaimed destination.

    • Boreas says:

      Ken – to which are you referring – rail, trail, both, or the compromise proposal?

      • Paul says:

        Neither one is this sort of panacea in my opinion. This idea that a 30 mile stretch of dirt bike path is some sort of economic boon is just hard to imagine.

        • Phil Brown says:

          Paul, let’s not create misleading impressions. The rail trail would be more than a dirt path. DEC is talking about surfacing it with crushed stone but has not ruled out paving at least part of it.

          • Keith Gorgas says:

            Phil, I’ll assume we both heard the same thing today at the APA meeting. Based on the presentation, it was reiterated several times that the trail will be suitable for roller blades and carriages, and I assume wheel chairs. That means it will be paved, at least one side of the trail. ARTA and DEC have been evasive on this point for months. So that brings a sharper focus to the price tag for the project. The price tag mentioned by DEC and ARTA for the trail had been mentioned at around $220,000 a mile. Mentioned elsewhere is that the removal of the rails will be extra, and that paving would, of course, be extra. The type of trail confirmed today by the APA presenter, according to page 14 or the Camoin Ass. Report would be around $550,000 per mile. , roughly twice the cost of rehabbing the rails between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake. For that 34 mile section, it works out to be $18.7 million dollars. Add to that the waste of 8 million already spent on up grading 10 miles of track in that section. But then, another large cost pops up. The cost of safely conveying hundreds of people a day, in busy times, across State highways, which will either require the addition of 3 major traffic lights which will adversely alter the flow of traffic through Saranac Lake, or will require bridges with inclines that ADA slopes… huge inclines that extend almost a football field in length on each side…at considerable cost. That all has to be spent before one tourist dollar is spent.

            • Phil Brown says:

              Keith, I assume we heard the same thing. The plan is to surface the trail to accommodate road bikes, rollerblades, etc. The proposal mentions stone dust, permeable pavement, asphalt or some combination as possibilities. If they opt for some kind of pavement, it doesn’t necessarily mean the whole thing will be paved. Maybe just between LP and SL, for example. That remains to be seen. As far as costs, I am not in a position to judge. I have seen enough figures to make my head spin. One guy says he can pull up the rails and build a trail at no cost to the state. And the state estimates the same job will cost about $20M.

  14. Joe Smith says:

    An excellent discussion thus far. Myself, I have never ridden the local train (no desire to) though I did walk the tracks once from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid… a nice walk. I also rode the bike rail thingy last summer to Lake Clear with my wife. That was a one shot deal for me as I would not spend those dollars again for that activity. We do ride bikes though and would ride to Tupper Lake often as I am always concerned about car driver cell phone use and road bicycle interaction. What a perfect set-up this ride could be! A side note here, we had a nice lunch in Lake Clear after the bike rail ride and this would happen more often (and in Tupper) if we were riding our bikes on that trail.

  15. John says:

    Rail folks just continue to cry, cry, cry, & cry. Get over it. The tracks will be gone & a trail will soon be in place. Try to make the rail operation you have left a BETTER, MORE Profitable business. I doubt you can do that if the last 20 years are any bench mark!

  16. Boreas says:

    Another aspect that needs to be fleshed out before any final decision is this: If the rails are left and rejuvenated, What will the final usage be? Several uses are being tossed around, but are they all be compatible? The main uses I have heard are:

    1. Long-distance passenger service – high speed.

    2. Long-distance passenger service – low speed

    3. Long-distance excursion service.

    4. Multiple short-distance excursion services.

    5. Rail Riders – single and multiple locations.

    6. Seasonal vs. year-round use.

    All conceivably have merit on their own, but how much activity will realistically be possible without many side tracks to allow one conveyance to pass another? How many usable side tracks currently exist? What kind of communication and control systems will need to be implemented to allow multiple use on the same tracks? Who will pay for these improvements?

    I would think before DEC/APA/NYS scraps the idea of removing the rails, these details need to be sorted out or we are likely to be looking at another 20 years before the final rail usage will be finally sorted out and decided. I believe rail backers need to sort this out and have a more focused and detailed vision of what the final product will look like before the above agencies can make ANY decision. They shouldn’t just listen to pie-in-the-sky “options”. If the people of NYS don’t know exactly what they are deciding on, no decision should be made. They need to decide between the two BEST options – not a dozen ideas and hunches.

    • Paul says:

      I think you are making it sound more complicated than it is. This isn’t the LIRR. I would guess that it would be #3 and year round would be most likely successful. If you look at successful tourist trains that seems like the ticket. But you don’t have to pick between long, short, or multiple service. Look at the Durango and Silverton RR. Like with this you are the only train on the track so you can do whatever you want it allows things like flag stops etc.. Trains leave the station on a set schedule but coming back is in a window of time.

      The idea of passenger service and freight service can be put to rest. There is no demand. People ride trains like this for fun and as “passengers” in a sense to get to a spot where they could get to another way but want to take the train for the fun of it.

      • Boreas says:


        I agree with you, but most of these options are still being bounced around. I think NY citizens should be entitled to know exactly which rail option is going to be implemented if the trail idea doesn’t make it to fruition. It doesn’t seem to me that an argument FOR leaving the rails intact should include options the State would never allow.

        • Paul says:

          I though you were asking for the section of rails they have already said they want to leave in place. Yes, it was juts my take anyway based on what I have seen working in other places. To me rail trails seem a dime a dozen. Scenic RR’s not so much.

      • Bruce says:

        I’m with you Paul,

        And Boreas, how many of the “options” you mentioned are actually being considered by the state? I believe most are not options, but merely ideas being tossed around in the comments. Based on everything I’ve read, the plan if the compromise goes through, is for an excursion train between Utica, Remsen and Tupper Lake, and a trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. I’ve not heard about any plans to operate any sort of regularly scheduled service (passenger or freight) on the line.

        Year-round excursions are possible if the ASR perceives a demand. I’m sure a track clearing locomotive is available somewhere in the region should the ASR decide to run winter trains.

        As an aside, the Camoin study suggested the trackage be brought up to class III level, legal for 60 mph with passengers, although it’s unlikely an excursion train will go faster than 45.

        • Bruce says:

          As far as rail riders go, they cannot operate on any line carrying a live train. The idea someone had of having a dispatching service coordinating trains and rail bikes is simply not practical, nor is it legal. All it would take for a disaster to happen is a single error.

          As they are now, they operate between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear Junction, which is in the opposite direction from the current Saranac to Lake Placid train. If Rail Explorers is to survive in the area after this year, they will have to find a section of line not having any trains.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Bruce; help me out here. Where do you find coordinating the rail-bike and train operation is not legal? I know how Class 1 railroads do it with maintenance vehicles and speeder groups. What do you have I can reference?

            • Bruce says:


              The maintenance vehicle use you speak of is railroad employees coordinating through their own dispatchers because they are required to be there. Perhaps illegal was not exactly the right word although it is illegal to walk on active rail lines.

              The biggest issue I see about rail bike use on an active RR is you have ordinary folks on self-powered vehicles. And as such they want to stop to take pictures along the way, there could be an emergency health issue holding things up, two-way radio communication between dispatch and the group leader or dispatch and the train, can be interrupted, lots of things. And since we’re talking about a single-track line, sidings are few and far between.

              Sure it’s possible, but not practical. Rail Explorers makes its money by maximizing their use of the tracks, and I don’t think either one of us believes they or their customers want the hassle of coordinating with a train. And as I said, all it would take is one error.

        • Boreas says:

          I honestly don’t know what options the state is considering. I would assume they looked at all of these options prior to issuing the compromise plan, but I wasn’t there. If the majority of these options are non-starters, then the State would be wise to make that public in order to clarify the public’s view of the decision process and reduce a lot of this ill will.

  17. Phil Brown says:

    As many of you know, the Franklin County Legislature recently passed a resolution in favor of keeping the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. It seems that many Tupper Lake businesses disagree with that vote. Today the Tupper Lake Free Press published a letter from more than 80 businesses who argue that a rail trail will help the local economy. The link was provided by ARTA.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Thanks Phil.

      Can you also confirm the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency voted last evening, 7 to 0, to support rail corridor retention and full restoration?

      • Phil Brown says:

        Sorry, I know nothing about that.

        • Phil Brown says:

          I have since seen that news release. I found it curious that the Franklin County IDA would urge that the train be allowed to continue to Lake Placid because Franklin County–i.e., Tupper Lake–is not as attractive a terminus.

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      If I lived in Tupper Lake, I would be in favor of Alt 7. For Saranac Lake, it’s a disaster. At least I would be in favor of it if I thought it had a snowballs chance of ever being fulfilled. My guest is that if the rails are removed, there will be a multi use trail from LP to SL, a snowmobile highway to Tupper Lake, and a walking trail down to Utica. I see no way that the RR can prosper if it doesn’t extend to SL. Perhaps 10 or 15 years from now, Tupper Lake will become a real draw for tourists.

      • Boreas says:


        The money the RR is making now is not based on passenger/commuter service. They are simply short-distance excursion trains. The way I look at it, the compromise will allow longer distance excursions from either Utica or Old Forge to Tupper. If that scenario is the final decision, perhaps there are smaller sections of newly defunct rails between Tupper and LP that could be retained and used side-by-side with the new trail. This could possibly allow the Trail Riders to continue in business without any trains on the line. Of course this would depend on finding a section(s) that would allow a dual purpose without building bridges and interfering with wetlands, which the DEC deems expensive and impractical.

        So basically going from two short to one long excursion train to TL, Rail Riders on a short section somewhere between TL & LP, and a 34 mile multi-use trail. Just thinking out loud…

        • Bruce says:

          I have no doubt both long and short excursions will be on the menu, even at the same time. One idea I thought of is a long excursion to Tupper Lake, leaving in the morning and staying in TL long enough for lunch and maybe some shopping, or for folks to visit the Wild Center. After that train leaves Thendara, a second train can go on up to Big Moose for brunch, something they already do (been there, done that). The brunch train will be back at Thendara well before the long run excursion gets anywhere near it on the way back, but two trains can pass at Big Moose anyway.

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