Thursday, October 18, 2018

RR Board President Responds To Rail-Trail Issues

It is certainly unfortunate that the debate concerning the Adirondack Railroad has continued for as long as it has. One would surely think that adults, objective in their analyses and wishing for the greatest good as an outcome, could have solved this long ago but, no. There is even a renewed attack from the trail advocates.

We had hoped that after the resounding success in the courts and the unambiguous decision of State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main, that we could begin talks to successfully implement the 1996 Unit Management Plan and not continue the bickering. So let’s take another look. Several economic studies have been undertaken over the past years using data from Essex County and NYS publications. Assessed by outside, independent consultancies, the conclusions are clear.

Improving and completing the line and allowing rail access to the north would create as much as a $30-35 million impact along the corridor, largely at the north end. In contrast, converting the line to a trail, and quoting the Camoin study commissioned by the predecessor to Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) and used by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as well, there would likely be no economic gain from THIS trail. In addition, NYS Parks and Recreation, in an earlier study of a diverse number of similar New York trails, concluded that such trails generally provide little if any economic gain to the communities in which they reside (review exhibits A pg. 20 and J pg. 53, Adirondack Railway Preservation Society vs. NYS APA, DEC, DOT etc., April 2016).

The corridor, located as it is, passes through a number of counties, mostly depressed and languishing with few opportunities and a questionable future excepting those at the highest levels of economic and social position. The Stone Consulting report states, among other things, that rehabilitation of the railroad would create 563 jobs, 225 of which would remain permanent as a result of increased tourism demand. Merchants in Saranac Lake have been quick to support reintroduction of the rail bike business but also to ask when the train would be coming back. This from the local Chamber as well! What part of this is hard to understand?

The notion of historic preservation is important to this as well, and although it is a long and philosophical discussion, it is no doubt worth remembering that numerous regional and state organizations have loudly supported the continued rail service anticipated by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society. Similarly, rail transportation is accepted as environmentally friendly. We routinely carry 1500-2000 passengers each week from Utica to Old Forge/Thendara to shop, dine, and otherwise vacation. And guess what? No cars, trucks, pollution, noise, or parking!

The recent commentaries in local media by Tony Goodwin and Jim McCulley beg correction. Of particular note are the postings that have been sent to me regarding payments from NYS for vehicles which we operate. It seems that somewhere along the line our critics failed to notice that most if not all of the vehicles used to maintain and clean the corridor are owned by NYS.  So, of course we submit for reimbursement whatever we spend. Likewise for the workers who perform the work. They are employed by us, but in any instance where the work is done to state-owned property, their hours are submitted under a contractual agreement with DOT. Stated any other way would be very misleading to an uninformed reader who would probably draw the wrong conclusions.

Additionally, I am not really sure why NYS grants, from which we have benefited from time to time, are an ugly topic. Didn’t Saranac Lake just receive $10,000,000 to tidy up the village? That really doesn’t cause additional tourism, unlike the Railroad which actively brings people to the streets. It had been pointed out that the Adirondack couldn’t possibly run an actual passenger service and coordinate with AMTRAK. That is simply untrue. We have many passengers now who arrive by train to Utica’s Union Station who are thrilled with what our critics contend is a boring and too lengthy ride. Oh really?

It would seem to me that all of us have better things to do than continue this tortuous back and forth. There are answers to all of this of course, but a recent article concerning the APA and the Governor’s vice-like grip is more than telling. That grip extends to every agency in the state and suffocates the initiative and common sense of the many good, honest state employees at all levels from making sound business decisions. There is no mistake about this and it is reflected in the successful legal action against the state agencies whose leaders and employees were compromised by a dictate that only makes sense in a political context. Read the Judge’s decision, or better yet, if you have time to kill, read the entire legal submission. Judge Main got it right. The state could not defend its actions or appeal the ruling. The Governor’s position is now and was then specious. The consequence is that the punishment being meted out to the North Country and its residents and visitors is startling at a time when economic re-invigoration must be the order of the day. Witness the recent developments near Lake George. The railroad already exists. It has a 25-year record of success and would be a model for the nation if only politics and egos would get out of the way.

And then there is Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and its wrongheaded attempt to redefine a travel corridor. When the first lawsuit was brought, it was thought to be a success because the state was clearly attempting something that was in fact found to be unlawful. Now, whether it was following orders or in fact a product of unclear, bureaucratic thinking at DEC, a new run at the law might materialize to yet again test the concepts of arbitrary, capricious, and abuse of discretion. Calling a red car blue because I want only blue cars really doesn’t work by pronouncing that henceforth red will be known as blue. Similarly, as the saying goes, teaching pigs to fly is doomed to fail and will only result in aggravated pigs. Of significance was the APA comment period when sixty percent of the written comments favored the railroad proposal and the 1996 UMP. In spite of that, reference continues to be made to the 2016 UMP which was annulled and vacated by the courts. There is no such thing as a 2016 UMP.

The Adirondack Railroad is operated largely by volunteers and is a not-for-profit organization. We don’t have the time, money, personnel, or interest in being a punching bag for a few well-funded self-interests. Ignoring the potential good that can come from building it to its potential is not only short-sighted, but wrong. The ingredients for success are clearly staring squarely in the face of anyone who cares to look. Isn’t it time to move on and execute on the 1996 Management Plan?

Speaking directly to this topic, and after a meeting with a high level DEC official a few months ago, I believed that progress was near. Both sides explained what it would take to create a viable product and plans were made for a soon-to-follow meeting. And then silence! Perhaps the state has good intentions, but if so, they aren’t apparent. And as a reminder, the Governor promised to rehabilitate the track and fund that project in April of 2016. What happened?

Photo provided by Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

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Bill Branson is Board President of the not-for-profit Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, Inc., which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. In 2013 he retired from a Fortune 500 investment company where he had been a director.

90 Responses

  1. adkDreamer says:

    Thank you for this article. I read this article with great interest. Could you provide a link to the brief of the case you reference in: “Read the Judge’s decision, or better yet, if you have time to kill, read the entire legal submission”. Thank you.

      • adkDreamer says:

        @L Harrison. Thank you for that. A very fun read indeed, or should I say – misdeed:

        “The Mysterious Adventures of the DEC, John Doe, Jane Doe, et. al. The Demise of 2016 UMP”

        We New Yorkers collectively paid for all that work on the 2016 UMP, a work submission for ratification by the New York State Government, that used the resources of Agencies, Departments, Attorneys, Managers, Division Heads, NYS personnel, ancillary services, state paper work and processing, legal briefs and such “Letters of Writ” and “Letters Patent” all flying back and forth waiting to be signed, emails, tweets, phone calls,sticky notes, journals and notebooks – all require a management system, IT issues & support, lunch progress meetings, and meetings that included all of them at the same time or a subset thereof – this labor cost money, last I checked – that money comes from you and I and others – but not them. Uh-Oh…

        “That’s a lot of money for nothing” – colloquial speech. In the justice courts it may be construed as: Notice of Lis Pendens: Breech of Contract, Gross Dereliction of Duty, Felony: FRAUD, WIRE FRAUD”, Collusion & Conspiracy to Commit a Crime, and host of other torts, violations and corrections and orders and judgements.

        To pursue a legal challenge thru the justice system, courts of equity and at the bench – requires a swimming pool filled with stacks of $100 bills – right to the top of the pool. Oh and you’ll have to build another swimming pool soon because New York State is obligated by law to defend itself and, you guessed it, we pay for their legal defense. Don’t forget the penalty phase – we pay for all the good justice the Supreme Court generates via the mandamus processes of the Star Chamber.

        It is twisted justice.
        It is just twisted ice.
        I see just twice.
        Because the mirror reflects

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    “The Adirondack Railroad is operated largely by volunteers and is a not-for-profit organization. We don’t have the time, money, personnel, or interest in being a punching bag for a few well-funded self-interests.”

    Yea, playing the victim card…

  3. Keith R Gorgas says:

    Very informative article.

  4. Tony Goodwin says:

    I have read the above article by Bill Branson. I will not debate it point by point because I already did that in my article that Mr. Branson references. I stand by my story and will not add to any further comments so that maybe there are fewer than the 200 comments registered to my views.

    • Big Burly says:

      @ Mr, Goodwin …

      Your commentary that attracted so many comments asked that the RR provide a business case to counter your insistent refrain about sustainability. Clearly to do so, RR staff and members of the BoD would have to reveal the business plan that is in place to provide upgraded passenger, scenic, and excursion services all along the corridor. Commercially valuable to a lot of other operators who would be interested in running on an upgraded rail transportation corridor to Lake Placid — not surprising at all that such sensitive info is not being shared publicly. NOT ONE of the folks who so loudly espouse ripping up the rails have yet to demonstrate an understanding of the essential economics and support for other economic development that RRs provide. Trail economics and impacts have been presented in a manner that are frankly misleading. The combination of rails AND trails is a more powerful boost to the economies of the communities in and along the Remsen-Lake Placid rail transportation corridor and a boon to the residents and visitors to the region of all ages and abilities. Time that the hatchet is buried and all of us who care about our communities in the DAKs that will benefit work together to git ‘er done — implement the ’96 UMP.

  5. James Bullard says:

    To me, this says it all.
    “Improving and completing the line and allowing rail access to the north would create as much as a $30-35 million impact along the corridor, largely at the north end. In contrast, converting the line to a trail, and quoting the Camoin study commissioned by the predecessor to Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA) and used by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as well, there would likely be no economic gain from THIS trail. In addition, NYS Parks and Recreation, in an earlier study of a diverse number of similar New York trails, concluded that such trails generally provide little if any economic gain to the communities in which they reside…”
    The court has ruled. Let’s get on with completing the railway. If a benefit to a multi-use trail in the Tupper to Lake Placid area can be shown (the studies didn’t support that conclusion) build it somewhere else. BTW there is a multi-use trail in the Old Forge/Inlet/Eagle Bay area, sections of which are visible from the highway, but in my travels down that way, I have rarely seen anyone using it. Are there any studies showing usage and economic benefit from that?

    • Boreas says:

      “BTW there is a multi-use trail in the Old Forge/Inlet/Eagle Bay area, sections of which are visible from the highway, but in my travels down that way, I have rarely seen anyone using it.”

      I drive over those rails a lot and have never remember seeing a train using them. What does either observation prove?

  6. Doug Vensel says:

    Thank You Bill!
    This was well stated and exquisitely authored on your part. Let’s hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
    As a former volunteer with 10 years or so experience and able and willing to do anything and everything to make the railroad work, I can attest personally to the dedication and reliability of the volunteers. The dollar value of the work they performed is priceless in terms of salary. Not only did they run trains, they also kept the corridor clean and in shape for all users – something I would have loved to have help with many times from alternate users. Safety, efficiency, and reliability were paramount to our success of the operation overall. It showed in the work forces who worked on their days off, holidays, evening, in horrible weather, under less than ideal conditions, but did so to assure the well-being of the operation. A trail would never be maintained to the degree that the volunteers maintained the railroad because the dedication is lacking.
    I applaud your letter and factual information and will likely refer to it in the future when addressing this with a non supporter.
    Thank You once again Bill. You just made my day, as well as many others day’s.

  7. Brian Joseph says:

    Rip out the tracks.

  8. Todd Eastman says:

    ” Clearly to do so, RR staff and members of the BoD would have to reveal the business plan that is in place to provide upgraded passenger, scenic, and excursion services all along the corridor. Commercially valuable to a lot of other operators who would be interested in running on an upgraded rail transportation corridor to Lake Placid — not surprising at all that such sensitive info is not being shared publicly.”

    Bull Shit!

    • Smitty says:

      That rail enthusiasts love trains and the nostalgia for rail travel so much that that they’re willing to volunteer their time is commendable. I get that. But to expect a big economic boom and long distance rail travel is pure fantasy. The compromise of rail upgrade to Tupper Lake and rail trail from Tupper to Lake Placid makes perfect sense and would be a huge boon to Tupper. Anyone who thinks rail trails aren’t good for local economies should visit the Pine Creek rail trail in north central PA. Last week, almost all of the many parking lots were filled with bikers. Property values have skyrocketed and restaurants and rentals are busy. Before trail, the area was dead. The trail has been utterly transformative and at minimal cost to the public. By rejecting the compromise, the rail enthusiasts are being very selfish and denying everyone the benefits that would result. The idea of rails with trails, however well intentioned, is impractical to anyone who sees how much of the rail line travels through protected wetlands and over water crossings. Even if it could be done, it would cost a fortune. As long as the rail enthusiasts insist on obstruction and reject compromise, not one more penny of public money should be spent on the railroad.

      • James Bullard says:

        I did look at the Pine Creek Trail and have commented on it in the previous thread. It is within a 1-3 hour drive of major cities like Allentown, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilkes-Barrie, and Philadelphia. NYC is only 3.5 hours away. Saranac Lake and Lake Placid do not have similarly sized cities in such proximity. Even the rural areas around the Pine Creek Trail are more densely populated than the Adirondacks. Not a good comparison IMO. Did you not read the part where studies showed a benefit of the RR but none from a trail?

        • Jim S. says:

          The railroad failed there with all that population so they converted it to trail. What a great idea. Congratulations to the forward thinkers of Pennsylvania!

          • Chip Ordway says:

            Zero comparison between the ADK Division and a freight line that lasted almost until just shy of 1990 that was for almost all of its life a coal hauler.

            “The RR failed so they built a trail”. Yeah. Not exactly. Those pesky facts again….

            • Smitty says:

              Actually it’s a very sparsely populated area. Closest population centers, Harrisburg and Scranton/Wilkes Barre, are 3 hours away. Philly and Pittsburgh are 4 hours. So it’s very comparable. Huge success.

              • James Falcsik says:

                The population centers you refer to have a combined metropolitan statistical area population well in excess of 657,000, within a 2.5 hour drive. The population density of Tioga County, PA, is ten times that of most of the areas of the Adirondack Park. Williamsport alone is less than an hour drive and has an MSA population of over 117K. The comparison is not even close.

    • Big Burly says:

      @ Todd Eastman … so elegant a comment. Unfortunate

  9. Bryan A. Blas says:

    I live in the sad state of affairs called Ulster County, which has a similar situation with pro trail nuts trying to jeopardize a viable and currently operating railroad. Your article with your deeply researched and well presented facts would have been exactly what is needed to be said here as well. I can only ask, but I wish you would help us out down here to get it out to the public of Ulster County. Working together, I think we can win as well.

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Now imagine a place 5 times the size of Ulster County with nearly zero population…

      • Larry Roth says:

        So if trains are viable there, the case should be even stronger for Trains in Ulster County.

      • David P Lubic says:

        Now imagine a railroad with one end in a town of about 18,000 people, and the other end in a town with a population of 650–the latter in a county with a population of 680.

        Can’t imagine it?

        You don’t have to. It’s real.

        And there are others.

        • David P Lubic says:

          One of the other railroads runs from a town of 998 people to another town of about 780.

          Yeah, it’s real, too.

          • David P Lubic says:

            “Now imagine a place 5 times the size of Ulster County with nearly zero population.

            Gee, does that mean the populations of the towns and counties along the Adirondack is mostly ghosts?

            I think those people would disagree with you.

            Franklin County—51,795
            …..Saranac Lake—5,041 (2000)
            …..Tupper Lake (Town)—5,971 (2010)
            Essex County—38,961 (2012 Estimated)
            …..Lake Placid—2,521 (2010)
            Hamilton County—3,778, 5,379 (2000)
            St. Lawrence County—112,232
            Herkimer County—64,508
            Oneida County—233,556

            • David P Lubic says:

              That brings up something else. . .considering the horrible population figures for the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec and others, how do you account for their ridership?

              Answer–TOURISTS. People who come from outside and visit and spend a bit of money.

              Must work pretty good for towns with only 18,000, 650, 998, and 780 people.

              Seems like your area could use some tourist money, too.

        • Smitty says:

          OK then. If the vision is an enhanced tourist railroad, accept the compromise deal and run trains from Utica to Tupper Lake. That goes through some of the best wilderness in the Adirondacks. Could be great tourist draws for Tupper and Old Forge. Lake Placid sure doesn’t need to be any busier than it already is. Everybody wins. Incidentally, the comparison to Durango/Silverton and Cumbres/Toltec, both of which I’ve ridden, is quite a stretch as they both go through incredible high mountain scenery with vintage steam trains. But nevertheless, a tourist train to Tupper would be a good way to show that this would work and the state has offered to fund it. Good deal for everyone. Let’s do it.

          • David P Lubic says:

            I like the steam part. Imagine steam power, with appropriate cars (most with openable windows) going all the way to Lake Placid!!


            Steam engines can seem alive. They’re graceful. They don’t roll, they stride.

            And sometimes their whistles can just about sing.

            Unfortunately, I think the trail crowd and others would complain about “obsolete, industrial, ugly, antiquated, smoking, polluting, clanking, hissing, mechanical monstrosities.”

            I strongly think differently.

            Listen to the whistle.


  10. Timothy Rudzinski,Sr. says:

    We have to get rid of Cuomo if the railroad will ever be completed.

  11. Chip Ordway says:

    “It would seem to me that all of us have better things to do than continue this tortuous back and forth.”

    Sadly, I think the fact that certain people constantly stalk the parking lots of the ASRR openly proves that no, they clearly *don’t* have better things to do.

  12. Scott says:

    Money is not all that matters. Trains and train tracks and the herbicides used do not belong in the adk back country.

    • James Bullard says:

      The rails are already there. They have been there for a long time. History matters too. As for herbicides, a trail would be maintained with tractors equipped with bush-hogs I presume. As long as we are thinking creatively why can’t a rail service vehicle be similarly equipped?

  13. Emory Rounds says:

    The trail is a disgusting attempt to fleece the public of an irreplacable resource, which will benefit a select few entitled yuppies.

    • Smitty says:

      No so much. Again I point to PA’s pine creek trail. Heavily used by working class folks, even lots of Mennonites. You dont see many expensive cars in the lots. And the public cost of maintaining the trail is way less than a state funded rail line would be.

  14. ben says:

    This just another slanted Railroad article. But let’s look at a few real facts:

    (1) The railroad couldn’t pay it’s Polar Express License fee for last year.
    (2) The railroad failed to pay it’s 1/3 of the cost for the Old Forge Shuttle service for this year, hence the shuttle service was shut down after labor day weekend.
    (3) The railroad just went to the Town Of Webb & wants them to foo the bill to pay for bus service of ASR choosing to haul ASR passengers around.

    If you couldn’t afford the bill for your part of the shuttle service & you want the town to bail you out for fall bus service & you failed to pay last years Polar Express License fee on time, I bet you WON’T make this years payment either.

    You can tout all you want about the railroad, but it hasn’t moved north of Big Moose in what 3 years now, & I doubt it’ll move anywhere north ever again. Figure out how to improve what ya got, because IT SUCKS RIGHT NOW!

    • Chip Ordway says:

      Seems to me that your real facts were debunked when you posted the same things in Goodwin’s posting a week or so ago, but hey, I guess if they help your argument you’ll still spread the inaccurate info, right?

      • ben says:

        which fact is incorrect in your opinion? At the end of 2017, you hadn’t paid the polar express license fee. You didn’t pay your 1/3 ($10,000) for the Town of Webb Shuttle service this year, hence it was stopped after labor day (as reported in the Adirondack Express newspaper). You’ve gone back to the Town of Webb Board asking for them to pay for your fall shuttle service (@$4000 a week) with a bus service of your choosing (again reported in the Adirondack Express newspaper). SO which of these 3 things do you claim aren’t true?

        • Chip Ordway says:

          It wasn’t me that responded to you the first time. Go back and re-read it. I’m not going to do your research for you. Thanks.

        • James Falcsik says:

          All of them. Big Burly answered your claims directly in the Goodwin piece. Give it up “ben”.

          • ben says:

            so everyone one of my claims is incorrect. I guess the Adirondack Express & the Town Of Webb Board will love to hear that.

          • ben says:

            So I guess the article in the 9/4/2018 Adirondack Express newspaper by M. Lisa Monroe detailing the FACT that the Town of Webb Shuttle service stopped in Labor Day weekend because the ASR DIDNOT pay it’s 1/3 of the cost ($10000) is a lie then. Or the article in the same newspaper by the same author on 9/18/2018, stating that the ASR came before the Town of Webb board asking for money to help pay for their shuttle service to the tune of @$4000 a week is also a lie. Hmm, I guess I need to go talk to this lying reporter & get the facts straight from her, because I guess you nitwits don’t tell the truth!

            • James Falcsik says:

              That’s good Ben, start with the name calling. That’s why you can’t use your real name to post. But you won’t acknowledge Big Burly already accounted for your false accusations.

              • ben says:

                So you claim my FACTS are false. Guess I’ll just have to go talk to the author then & let her know the ASR says she post false facts. And such you seem to want to claim these facts/articles are false, what about them is false. Do you know, can you post why you think they are false or is the best you can do, is say they’ve already been proven false somewhere else. Which is itself FALSE!

                • ben says:

                  as an added thought, if you claim the FACTS in both of those articles are false, why don’t you go post an op-ed in the next Adirondack Express & tell everyone that reads that newspaper why those 2 articles by M. Lis Monroe are false & incorrect in your opinion. Because we all know you opinion is the one that matters. NOT!

                  • James Falcsik says:

                    Yes, Ben, go talk to the author. It seems you however, skew the facts to fit your desire to see the railroad close down. From what I am told the Old Forge Shuttle/bus service shuts down after every Labor Day, every year. So why do you write the service stopped because of ASR?

                    Here is Big Burly’s previous comments to your false claims that you refuse to acknowledge:

                    “Big Burly says:
                    October 5, 2018 at 12:07 pm
                    @ ben says … the information you posted about ASR is TOTALLY false. The license fees for the 2017 season have been paid in full — there would be no ability to purchase materials and prepare for the 2018 season if that was not the case; the license for the Polar Express experience is quite strict about this. ASR is offering this special event again this year.”

                    “The issues with the Old Forge shuttle have been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and arose from apparent misunderstandings. ASR is contributing an equal share to the operating costs that benefit rail passengers and the community of Old Forge and its merchants alike.”

                    • ben says:

                      go complain about the articles in the Adirondack Express then. I can only write about what they say. 9/4/2018 newspaper STATED that the town shuttle was ceasing operations after labor day, because the ASR DIDNOT pay their 1/3 of the contract (@$10000). That’s what the article says! 9/18/article STATES that the ASR went to the Town of Webb Board & asked for help paying for their shuttle buses for the fall seasons to the tune of $4000 a week. AGAIN, that is what the article states. Now you may have paid the polar express people what you owed them for last year; you may have caught the town up on your contractual obligation and you may have hood winked the town out of $4k a week to pay for your shuttle service, but the point still remains: AFTER 30 years, you still cannot pay bills on time; you fail to keep up with contractual obligations, & you flat out suck as a business!

  15. Boreas says:

    “One would surely think that adults, objective in their analyses and wishing for the greatest good as an outcome, could have solved this long ago but, no.”

    Well, yes – the state is working on addressing the issues Judge Main put up as reasons to halt work on the trail. The bickering is simply between opposing interest groups, not the state equivocating on its decision. It seems the state made up its mind a long time ago.

    • Larry Roth says:

      Yes, it did.

      In 1996.

      On the basis of the facts, the law, the history – and the future.

      • Hope says:

        UMP’s and SLMP May be changed. They were designed to be reviewed and updated. They were never permanent plans. In fact the 1996 UMP was to be reviewed after 5 yrs. so in fact it is 17 yrs overdue.

        • Keith R Gorgas says:

          Hope, something you continually ignore, for what ever reason. ARTA has help the DEC perpetuate the myth that the State owns the underlying land through the whole right of. To the best of my knowledge, and I’ve only seen 5 of the deeds from Lake Clear and Ray Brook, the State only has “an easement for Railroad and associated purposes.” Re-writing the State Land Master Plan may allow for other uses of the right of way through State land, but it does nothing, nor can it do anything, about the re-visionary rights of land owners. The US Supreme Court has rules several times, and by a very wide majority, in favor of the Fifth Amendment. To condemn and secure an easement, or to take via eminent domain the underlying land will cost the State many years and millions and millions of taxpayer dollars.

        • Larry Roth says:

          Hope, in addition to alternative facts, you are trying to rewrite history – or what was the whole deal with the ‘new’ plan that got thrown out in court? What were all those hearings about? What were all those public comment periods about? What was Aternative 6 – or is it 7 now?

          Of course UMP’s and SLMP’s can be changed – but it helps if the process is driven by facts and not a political agenda. It helps if the review process isn’t tilted towards one side or the other.

          The 1996 UMP looked at the interests of the entire corridor. It was the product of many people working together to identify the best use of the corridor. It represented input from all sides. You can find their names on it.

          Compare that with the ARTA-endorsed UMP that arbitrarily cut the Tri-Lakes off of the rest of the corridor. The hearing process left the southern end of the corridor out of the loop – until public outcry forced a hearing. Consider the deliberate choice to discount the thousands of post cards calling for support of the rails. Consider that the names you find on it are largely political functionaries.

          Look at what was missing from the UMP environmental impact statement. The Rail Explorers were barely mentioned. Zero mention of Climate Change – despite what that means for the Adirondacks. There were vague promises about a paved trail with things like roller-blading, and use as an Olympic Training Facility. Dismissal of the possibilities that a restored rail line would bring. It was a process designed to deliver a pre-determined outcome.

          Look at the closed-door trail planning process that followed, where ARTA and the State completely shut out anyone from the rail community and its supporters. This was despite the fact that the so-called compromise plan was supposed to have the trail meet the rails in Tupper Lake. There was zero interest in ensuring that connection would maximize what the rails could do. Consider that ARTA only embraced the ‘compromise’ as a first step in getting the rest of the line removed.

          Bad-faith bargaining, disinformation, deliberately excluded facts – this serves no one.

          In the time that has been otherwise wasted, we’ve learned this much. The Tri-Lakes have found what it means to have neither the limited rail service nor the Rail Explorers boosting the economy. Traffic problems continue to get worse. A NY State trail-users survey of comparable trails has found users are mostly local – not tourists – and the economic gains are minimal. Climate change is going to make the winter economy increasingly unstable.

          The rest of the world is investing in rail, leaving the US behind. They’re doing it to reduce carbon emissions, give people choices for travel, grow their economies while making them more efficient, and provide for a better quality of life.

          Restore the rail line and invest in it. Build the trails around it. Everyone wins – except the train haters. It’s time to leave them behind so the rest of us can move forward.

  16. Chip Ordway says:

    The word “real” was highly sarcastic, btw.

  17. Hana says:

    GREAT article!! How can regular citizens help?

  18. James Falcsik says:

    Well written and factual piece Bill. A much needed response to the trail/sled boosters constant barrage of “hit pieces” against the railroad and preservation efforts.

    To your point about grant funding, several other eastern states contribute grant money directly to support tourist railroad operations because they know the economic return is considerable.

    West Virginia operates the Cass Scenic Railroad as a state park, with support exceeding $1M every year. The State of Maryland, and separately Alleghany County, MD, provide direct funding to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad annually. In 2018 MD provided $200K for tie replacement, and another $400K for operations. Alleghany County provided $140K in 2018 and each year the state commits at least $250K as a line item in the budget.

    So far Maryland has contributed over $1.8 million to restore C&O locomotive 1309 to operating condition because they know the kind of economic return they will see when thousands come to visit when it is placed in service. Alleghany County regards the WMSR as the single largest economic tourism venue; and although the GAP trail shares the right of way with the railroad for 14 miles, the trail is absent in that description.

  19. scott Thompson says:

    Nor is there a 1996 ASR contract as the 5 year review was never done.
    Moving a train ( hundreds of tons) with less than 100 passengers is less efficient than cars and IF they are going anywhere on the train, there are buses with only a few full seats running around to get anywhere. Where was the popular train all summer to Big Moose? How many actual tourist hospitality businesses support Train over Trail?

    • Big Burly says:

      @ Mr. Thompson … the survey done with hospitality businesses and presented by the rip ’em up cabal a few years ago asked misleading questions. Most of those were contacted after the release of the slanted results — almost unanimously the response when presented with the facts about the ’96 UMP having both a trail and rail services with appropriate investment by NYS — we did not know. Since then the support for rails AND trails has been increasing. Yours is a situation that you have never fully explained — getting to your property is only accessible by the RR ROW — and for years you have had what might be described as a contentious relationship with the NYS DoT. The terminus at Big Moose has a limited appeal for travelers — access to Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid has definitely more appeal for residents and visitors of all ages and abilities — surveys prove that. Work with the RR and maybe a stop at your location might be arranged, year round.

      • Larry Roth says:

        The additional benefit of restoring service to the whole line is that it also helps the points in-between – like Big Moose. By itself it’s only an occasional destination – but as a stop on the line instead of a terminus, it would see more trains on their way through, and traffic coming from both directions.

      • Todd Eastman says:

        “Since then the support for rails AND trails has been increasing. ”

        From 10 to 15 RR fans…



  21. Larry Roth says:

    Just for a change of pace, here’s something from a different part of the world. It’s not all that relevant to the specifics of the ASR corridor, but it’s still about tourism, history – and railroads.

  22. Scott Thompson says:

    Mr Branson:
    How often would your proposed train run? If some one got off at Big Moose or Beaver River would they be there for 6-8 hours? Our occupancy is 80%+ for July, August, weekends Sept and most of October ; we need more restaurant and bar customers, but not so much rooms unless you plan extra trains during the off seasons. I’m sure the larger towns have the same story as they did for the train just before and after the Olympics. That’s a long time to stay for a burger! Would the train run in the winter? If the lake is bad, the tracks are the Only Trail; so low snow train, good snow trail who would decide?

  23. ben says:

    Two things are for certain in this ongoing rail/trail debate: The state is updating the State Land Master Plan (SLMP), and once that is done the ASR weenies will be right back in court, arguing against it. That is 100% certain. So, the corridor north of Big Moose will set unused for a few more years, except during the winter months when the snowmobile community, even in a bad winter does better & more with the corridor than the rails every could! But then again, rail folks please just keep taking the state to court, maybe the state will one day wake up & take your permit & tell you where to shove it, because they won’t renew it anymore.

  24. Keith R Gorgas says:

    Ben, you seem to assume that the State, or perhaps the DEC properly, feels no obligation to the communities or the taxpayers of NY. DEC is well aware that public comment, prior to adopting the now set aside Alt 7, ran roughly 70,000 to 15,000 in favor of restored rail service with accompanying trails. The APA is well aware that during the last round of public comment regarding re-writing the SLMP, public comment ran about two thirds in favor of leaving the master plan alone, letting Judge Main’s ruling to stand, and working within the 1996 UMP.

    I think most Adirondackers are aware that both the DEC and the APA;s actions are being dictated by Governor Andrew “Pay to Play” Cuomo, and are not free to act in the best interests of either the Adirondacks or NY taxpayers right now. There has been ample testimony to that even from people who support the destruction of the railroad. And no one is foolish enough to think that anything transpires in Cuomo’s Albany without money changing hands.

    But Mr. Cuomo will not be governor forever, and history will judge the leaders of the various agencies by what they did or did not do.

  25. ben says:

    DEC/State hasn’t done anything to totally implement Option 6 for all these years & you a’holes think they will now. Get over yourselves, you’re not that important. The state just can end your existence with the stroke or lack of a stroke with a pen. No permit, no train, remember that!

    • Keith R Gorgas says:

      Ben, there’s a mountain of truth there. You are correct. Do you really have to be so abusive towards people who see things differently from you?

      • ben says:

        with the rail fans, you bet! I’ll be riding my snowmobile up/down the tracks this winter & another year will have gone by & still NO TRAINS running north of Big Moose. And next year will be the same. STILL NO TRAIN RUNNING NORTH OF BIG MOOSE!

      • Chip Ordway says:

        Let “ben” or David or whatever name he is posting under keep doing what he’s doing. It’s clearly the best way to let the people outside of this conflict see how the snowsledding crowd paints itself out to be.

        • ben says:

          Don’t like the fact that I as a snowmobiler will be riding the tracks. The snowmobile community has a legal permit to use the corridor every winter season. We don’t bitch at the DEC/DoT & we DON’T take them to court unlike rail fans!

          • James Bullard says:

            We don’t really care that you “ride the tracks” as you put it. You are free to do that when there is snow and they are not being otherwise used. The debate here is over your instance on ripping up the tracks for the exclusive convenience of snowmobilers.

            • ben says:

              A trail would not be for just snowmobilers. I guess you are as dumb as you appear. It would be a multi-use trail, get it multi-use. That means many different types of activities & people can/will use the trail during any time of the year. I know you are probably slow to grasp, what multi-use means, but it doesn’t mean what you rail fans want: SOLE USE by the railroad!

              • Larry Roth says:

                Funny thing about that Ben. Rail people are fighting to make sure your interests and those of the other trail users are respected. That was the whole point of the 1996 plan – rails AND trails.

                It’s not the railroad people and the other rail supporters in the community who have been stopping that. It’s been the politics as usual that focus on special interests and cheap ‘solutions’ to real challenges, instead of making the kind of investment the Adirondacks need for everyone.

                If you want to talk about multiple use, how does eliminating all the people who want to use the rails, whether for trains or rail bikes, help with that? We’re talking about senior citizens, families with children, visitors from other lands, people who don’t own cars – as well as the hikers, cyclists, and canoeists who’d like to use the rails to get to places you can’t drive to.

                Thank you Ben for making it perfectly clear who is being selfish here.

              • James Bullard says:

                Gratuitous personal insults don’t become you Ben nor do they make your pronouncements any more persuasive. Until the state put a halt to the trains and rail bikes it *was* a multi-use resource in the summer and neither of those uses interfered with XC skiers and snowmobilers in winter. The only thing that inconvenienced, but not stopped, snowmobilers for that matter was those times when the snow was insufficient to bury the rails deeply enough that they could pass a snowmobiler coming from the other direction easily.

                You keep missing the point that no one is saying “RR only” any more than you are saying snowmobiles only. As I understand it the court ruled that the corridor is a RR corridor and neither the DEC or APA can arbitrarily change that. The corridor exists *because of* the RR and the easements that were granted *for* a RR corridor. No RR, no easements, no corridor. Keep the RR and we can also have other uses too. What’s so hard about that?

          • Chip Ordway says:

            A. I couldn’t care less whether you ride the tracks or not. You’ve got a winter permit, so you’re fine. What’s your point?

            B. Considering tgat you’re an online crony of Jim McCulley and his various little parking lot stalker pages, claiming that snow sledders don’t whine to the DEC/DOT/Whoever has got to be *the* most absurd thing you have posted here. You now have absolute zero in the credibility department, although you weren’t exactly overflowing with it before.

            (I see Keith beat me to it).

        • David P Lubic says:

          How you say something can say as much or more about you as about your subject.

          Or, as a saying goes, when you point a finger at someone, three more point back at you.

  26. Keith R Gorgas says:

    Is it really that you can’t find enough places to ride your snowmobile around the Adirondacks? Is your need to fulfill your own desires so strong that you can’t allow for other people to also have the opportunity to pursue their interests? The Right of Way is 100 ft wide. The Travel Corridor is substantially larger still, encompassing all the land that can be seen from the Right of Way. No room for rail and trail?

    If there really isn’t enough room for you to ride to your hearts content for the next 100 years, maybe your enemy isn’t the railroad, but perhaps the APA or the DEC.

  27. SCOTT S THOMPSON says:

    The biggest take away here may be the biting of the feeding hand.

    • Keith R Gorgas says:

      Scott, I’m sure you know that NY State purchased the RIght Of Way with a Railroad Bond? Now the DEC presents the false narrative that the ROW was taken in lieu of back taxes owed by the NY Central Railroad elsewhere, and I suppose that may have played into the equation, but my research has indicated that the ROW was purchased by an issue of RR bonds. That is, the people who put up the money to by the ROW did it believing that they were investing in future rail restoration.

      • SCOTT S THOMPSON says:

        I know the origional road was built with a bonding to fund Webbs Mohawk& Malone RR which had to be resolved when the State took th corridor, but I have not found a bond issue for the acquisition of the corridor from Penn Central and NYC bankruptcy. I will keep looking.

  28. Curt Austin says:

    This is an argument between two visions of the future. One side must strain to overcome history. The other side can reference much better results elsewhere, or at least satisfy the requirement that if you want a different result, you need to do something different.

    That’s the forest. Don’t be distracted by the trees of this article and many of the comments. Consider the major facts, observe that which can be observed, don’t stare at shiny objects placed before you. Form your own opinion about the future. Or – this is much easier – decide which vision would make you happier.

    Not happier as you sit in front of a computer screen, fighting some epic battle in cyberspace between good and evil. Happier when you get up and go outside to take advantage of one of the two visions. Right now, for example – which would you rather do? Over the past year, which would you have enjoyed the most?

    Which one would do you the most good? If you wish, you can think beyond yourself. Your children and grandchildren. Your neighbors. Your local business people. Ask them. That’s your forest.

  29. Paul says:

    “Didn’t Saranac Lake just receive $10,000,000 to tidy up the village?”

    You can read here what these funds are for. They are NOT to for simply “to tidy up” the village.

    I don’t have a dog in this ridiculous RR vs. trail fight but I cringe when I see people simply write false things like this, especially when doe with a agenda like that comment.

  30. Paul says:

    Done not doe. Having trouble with the N key!

  31. John Hart says:

    Very refreshing & accurate statement! KUDOS, Bill Branson! Now, if ALL adults can get back to all for one, and one for all…..!

  32. ben says:

    It is what-it-is at this point in time. Nothing is going to sway either side now. The state has a plan & they are going forward with implementing it. Rail fans can just continue to go back to court every time the state does something & the rails will just continue to fall to pot. At some point it will no longer be cost effective to fix/upgrade or repair the line. In some places that has already happened! Rail advocates should focus on what they have, instead of what is currently out of their reach, because you continue to bite the hand that feeds you & one day, you may wake up with no hand at all, and no railroad to run! No amount of arguing in court or in the press will save you if/when the state stops giving you that permit. You survive now because the state allows you too, remember that IF they take it all away.

    • JohnL says:

      Ben’s right. Nothing is going to sway either side now. Or 87 comments before his, or 87 comments after mine. This discussion just seems to go FOREVER. Doesn’t anyone just go out and enjoy themselves in this wonderful country of ours any more? We should.

      • David P Lubic says:

        John L. brings up an interesting point.

        One of the things that continues to surprise me is the passion of the comments here and elsewhere about railroads. I expect us “train nuts” to be so, but what explains the others? This is a pretty arcane subject that should be as boring as anything for most people.

        I will say I do appreciate the change, including the increased support for railroads (even if it annoys the anti-rail crowd). I can remember when railroads were abandoned and nobody cared. You would see a newspaper story about how “the iron horse was being turned out to pasture,” or “the end of an era,” and there would be memories and recollections, and rail enthusiasts would be getting their last photos, and that would be it. The tracks would go away, the weeds would take over, and maybe some people would build on the former right of way as the reversion rights kicked in.

        And that would be it.

        Any ideas or explanations on the change?

  33. Kevin Shelanskey says:

    I am a former employee of adirondack scenic railroad (up until the beginning of november) and I can actually confirm that a lot of what Ben has said is true, and there’s an awful lot more to add to that.

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