Friday, October 23, 2020

Adirondack Rail Trail, track rehab moves forward

Lee Keet - Adirondack Rail Trail (Susan Bibeau)The New York State Departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation, in cooperation with the State Office of General Services, today announced a major milestone in the development of the world-class Adirondack Rail Trail, a 34-mile multi-use recreational path for outdoor adventurers between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. The New York State Department of Transportation has broken ground on a $1.9 million project to remove the tracks from the former railroad right-of-way, clearing the way for its conversion into a shared-use path ideal for hikers, bikers, cross country skiers, and snowmobile enthusiasts.

A second project will commence in the coming weeks to rehabilitate the existing rails between Big Moose and Tupper Lake in order to create the longest scenic railway in the country.

The rail trail and scenic railway are key components of the recently completed 2020 Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan (UMP), which provides a blueprint for sustainably developing this picturesque 119-mile travel corridor to bolster tourism and further recreation opportunities. The corridor follows the path of a once-thriving rail line constructed in 1892 and operated continuously until 1972. The line and its right-of-way were purchased by New York State in 1974.

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Today is a critical step in the creation of the Adirondack Rail Trail. Providing a 34-mile accessible recreation trail in the northern corridor and the nation’s longest scenic railway in the southern corridor, this development will expand and enhance visitor experiences and help to drive Adirondack economies. Visitors and local residents alike will be able to experience the excitement of a trail ride through some of the Adirondacks’ most remote and spectacular areas. For those who prefer hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and more, the trail offers a year-round destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.”

Under the project administered by DOT, existing tracks will be removed from the northern portions of the line above Tupper Lake. The Adirondack Rail Trail will be constructed in their place to connect Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake, allowing trail users to enjoy the unique charm and amenities of each community while providing access to miles of breathtaking trails, numerous campsites, and abundant waterways in the Forest Preserve lands adjacent to the travel corridor. The corridor will also feature signage to help visitors interpret the history of the railway, the cultures of adjacent communities, and the natural resources of surrounding lands and waters to create a linear museum.

The New York State Office of General Services is leading the trail’s design and working to ensure it will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Upon completion of construction, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will assume day-to-day management of the trail and, working closely with stakeholders and municipalities, will ensure it remains a world-class accessible outdoor recreation destination.

Construction of the trail is scheduled to begin in 2022 and will be completed in phases. The multi-use recreation trail is expected to be complete by the end of 2024.

The $19.1 million project to rehabilitate the rails between Big Moose and Tupper Lake will allow the current scenic railway service – presently operated by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society under a use and occupancy permit from the State – to be extended 45 miles further into the Adirondacks. Rail rehabilitation is expected to be complete by the end of 2021. Plans also call for the Tupper Lake Station to be redeveloped to serve as a terminus for rail operations.

Additional details about the 2020 Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan Amendment/Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement are available at DEC’s website.

Photo: Lee Keet on the future Adirondack Rail Trail/Almanack archive

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39 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Never thought the trail would be completed in my lifetime—hopefully.

  2. Noel A. Sherry says:

    This news is music to my ears as I have a big collection of memories related to this RR Line north of Big Moose to Beaver River, from collecting trilobites from the stone spread under the RR ties, to blue berry picking along the tracks with brothers and mother, to taking my Yamaha 250 up those tracks to collect wire insulators in the woods alongside the track. Then during the Lake Placid Olympics, my family waited in Big Moose for the train to take us North and for some reason trips were canceled for the day. Then our Twitchell Lakers hiked annually to Beaver River for the Octoberfest celebrations sponsored by the hotels there, returning in a big truck fitted for the tracks through foliage to Big Moose Station. I closed my eyes as we went over the Twitchell Creek RR trestle at about the half-way point. Oh, and there is a watercolor painting I did of Big Moose Station for which I won an award at the Old Forge Art show one year. Great memories. And I do remember being awakened at night at our log cabin on Twitchell Lake by the engine whistle about 4-5 miles north as it came downgrade toward Big Moose from Wood’s Lake Station. One more great memory- an overnight hike I took my son Peter on from Twitchell to Beaver River, than back on the tracks to Razorback outlet, home. We lunched on the lawn of Wood’s Lake Station, as two of those National Guard Warthog jets were passing over. For some reason they decided to give us a personal Air Show, and circled 3 or 4 times, diving right at us, very close, with a final pass and wave from the cockpit. My son got nervous, it was that close, but treasures the memory today, of the hike and the Air Show. That RR Line is part of my childhood, teen, and now adult years. So glad this is going to happen!

  3. John McCormick says:

    I too thought I would never see these rails pulled out. but now I can dream that the rails someday in my lifetime will be removed from big moose station north and I can enjoy the north country so much better . When I can visit with Scott at Noridgwok in the Winter time

  4. Big Burly says:

    Notwithstanding the efforts by a very small interest group, in comparison to the overall population, to eliminate rail transportation into the heart of the Adirondacks, wiser and more reasonable people have prevailed to ensure a rehab of the rail corridor to class 3 standards to Tupper Lake. A standard that will encourage excursion and passenger usage for the many, many visitors and residents needing travel options beyond the constitution-constrained and congested highway system that exists. That is the good news take away. It remains to be seen if projected usage of a “rail trail” this far from major population centers will ever be attained.

    • Pete says:

      The travel corridor will never to be used for real rail “transportation” between Old Forge and Tupper Lake to any extent, only limited sight-seeing tourist excursions during peak tourist season. Just like the rails from Remsen to Old Forge and to a large extent the rails from Old Forge to Remsen.

    • Boreas says:

      “Notwithstanding the efforts by a very small interest group, in comparison to the overall population, to eliminate rail transportation into the heart of the Adirondacks…”

      Quite condescending to the people of the region who live around the rail line. I agree the “small interest group” created much of the impetus for the recreational trail in Albany, but it isn’t like the locals had no opinion. The entire corridor between Remson and Lake Placid had served no regional purpose for essentially 50 years. Rail enthusiasts kept TL to LP running for limited tourist use, but it was of limited value to the region. It was no longer practical for freight or typical passenger service into or out of the region. We can argue the reasons behind the decline of rail in the region and across the country ad infinitum, but the bottom line is, it eventually was discontinued.

      The re-purposing of the TL-LP section for a recreational trail could not have happened without support of the local communities. If the region and local communities had a strong case for bringing the entire corridor up to Class 3 standards, we didn’t hear it. The vocal supporters of restoring the entire line to modern standards were limited to niche RR enthusiasts, not the region or communities.

      So did a “very small interest group…eliminate rail transportation into the heart of the Adirondacks…”? If you believe this, I don’t believe you are viewing the subject objectively. Regionally useful rail “transportation” has been long dead. The DEC compromise plan is still the best regional option. But any compromise will have detractors on both sides. Let’s get past it.

  5. Pete says:

    Correction Utica and Remsen

  6. Big Burly says:

    how little you know

    • Howard nathan says:

      You must be the happiest man on earth- if the saying “ignorance is Bliss” holds any merit! There is no viable freight or passenger market for the rails from Remsen to Big moose station; and no one will be riding any train from Big Moose station to Tupper, or visa versa- there is just no market for it…. The traffic on the corridor last year from LP to Old forge on snowmobiles for the two weeks that there was enough snow to almost make it safe…. was incredible, thousands rode distances and went places they had never done before, and the boom to businesses along the railbed was amazing! answer honestly; BB- if you dare— how many times have YOU paid to rice the ASRR in the last 5 years????? and how many businesses along the tracks have you spent ANY money at? the Business owners of Tupper to Lake Placid WANT snowmobilers (a multi million dollar contributor to NYS tourism!) Pull the unused rails, grade the trails, watch the revenue pour in! & if the ASRR focuses on their short scenic rides, MAYBE they will survive a few more years! (and I am a historic rail fan! but even after I moved up here from Long Island; 15 years ago….I’ve never ridden the ASRR a second time!)

  7. Howard Nathan says:

    The ASRR has basically stopped operations…& did this BEFORE Covid shut them down, they are basically bankrupt, and have few volunteers laft. They get money from NYSDOT to maintain the corridor, but use their grant money to sustain operations! They have cancelled most runs to Big Moose for leaf peeping due to trees down on tracks. (snowmobile volunteers get it done though, so we can ride-when there’s enough snow cover to hide the unsafe, deteriorated and un maintained rails!)Many sleds are damaged every season due to the poor condition! NYS created a new exit on the Thruway to keep airport traffic out of local streets a few years ago (I believe the cost was about 20 million…) Spending 19.1 Million to restore the rails from Big Moose Station to Tupper lake is a ridiculous, foolish WASTE OF MONEY! If the state has so much to waste; instead put into fixing the stupid Route 12 arterial exit 31! dumping thruway trucks onto Genesee street, and AUERT Ave is crazy!!!! Every rail fan and expert knows and “testified” that once the rails are pulled up- they will never be replaced! so why build a generator powered rail maintenance facility and station in “Off the Grid” Beaver river??? Nobody there wants it, and nobody will ever use it!!!! STOP THIS INSANE WASTE OF TAXPAYER MONEY! Vote out (or fire!) the fools who pushed this Stupid rehabilitation through- it’s wasted money to line corrupt pockets!!!! ASRR should stick to running their “scenic” and Santa trains from Utica to Remsen, and try to survive with a manageable program!!!!. The RAIL BIKES are just another wasteful failed misuse of grant money.!!!!.

  8. Larry Roth says:

    The comment about the ASR shutting down is not because of the railroad. I believe it’s because state guidelines do not permit them to operate because of Covid restrictions. Catskill Mountain Railroad has been running trains for some weeks now, but that’s because they have open cars and are able to allow riders to social distance.

    Snowmobile season may be problematic this winter. If the pandemic continues to surge with the onset of the cold and flu season, bars, restaurants, and hotels may have to lock down or take other steps.

    There’s also a question of state priorities. With the state running a deficit in the billions because of the pandemic, and communities facing aid cutbacks and worse, why is the state spending millions to rip out the rails now when it’s something that could easily be postponed?

    • Howard Nathan says:

      The real question, Larry; is not why scrap the (Dangerous and unused) rails, but Why would they WASTE 20x as much to replace and build up a rail project that will never get any significant use, see very few (If Any) use, and eventually fall into disrepair and have to be scrapped too? It smells like another “Liberal Democratic” type of way to pad Pork into an unwanted deal in order to get a small worthwhile project done! The ARTA WILL Generate positive revenue- but 20 Million could finish the whole run from Remsen all the way up! What a waste to build a maintenance facility for trains that may never run, platforms for riders that will never fill them, and will NEVER Generate a positive dollar in revenue to the state or communities at an unwanted taxpayer expense!

      • Larry Roth says:

        There are a lot of questions about this that aren’t being asked, let alone answered. Your assertion that ARTA will generate positive revenue has yet to be proven. The economic benefits of one more trail in a region full of trails are questionable when weighed against the loss of a major piece of transportation infrastructure IF it had been allowed to be utilized to its full potential.

        There are a lot of problems with a regional economy based on tourism, and the consequences of climate change have been largely ignored.

    • Shane M Sloan says:

      This is incorrect. Covid is merely a convenient coincidence. They have been shut down for a while as the powers that be waited to see where the most wheel grease came from. Blame the tracks if they will, it doesn’t matter when they won’t allow ASR to repair them and use them.

    • Ben says:

      If you want to argue that the state shouldn’t be spending any money on making the trail, we can argue the same thing that the state SHOULDNOT spend a dime on a railroad that provides no economic benefit to anyone. Has Old Forge missed the train at all this year? I doubt it. The town has been hopping pretty much all summer even with the covid-19 mas requirement. You took money from folks this year for train rides THEY NEVER got & you refuse to refund it. Probably cannot refund something you’ve already spent. The rail bikes WILL NEVER make enough to keep you alive. How much money are you going to have to borrow for this winter & next spring to survive? We’ll have a trail from Tupper Lake north this winter! The state will waste a lot of money to rehab a rail line to Tupper, you’ll hardly ever use. How much money did the state spend to rehab the line from Thendara to Big Moose. How many millions? How many trains do you run to Big Moose, maybe 10 a year at most. You’ve done nothing for the Big Moose Station. The overall agruement isn’t over. We’ll give ya 5 years to prove a rail to Tupper Lake works. At that point WHEN you FAIL the state should just build a trail all the way to Thendara & put you out of your misery!

    • Scott s Thompson says:

      $1.9 million to remove the 34 miles of rail. $19.1 Million to BEGIN the rail repair
      Have not operated a schedule to Big Moose in three years. Rail Bikes full ( if and when) were 12-16 people. I did see a couple days when they said sold out that they did not operate. I assume no help. So you’re right on, why are we spending $19 million to start repairs on a RR that may never run? At least as a trail it will always be more or less successful as it has as a difficult Snowmobile trail since the 60’s.

  9. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I wonder what makes a rail trail “world class?”

    • Howard Nathan says:

      hmmm, perhaps the thousands of people, and probably hundreds of thousands of tourism dollars they will bring into these communities… year after year! oh, yeah, and definitely NO Diesel fumes!

      • Daniel Bogdan says:

        Except for all the 2 cycle snowmobile fumes and CO2 emissions from the big gas guzzling CO2 emitting SUV’s transporting the thousands of people to the trails. The trail will be a disaster with no net increase in tourism. It will just divert people from other venues in the Adirondacks.

        • Shane M Sloan says:

          How dare you mention reality?!?! I sure can see the allure of traveling to the Adirondacks so I can ride a bike on a sidewalk, just like I have at home. The truly fun part will be when a few of these “adventurists” have their bike stolen about halfway between Tupper and Saranac and then they have to decide the best way back to civilization before a bear or coyote gets them.

    • Steve B. says:

      One that is maintained, with either smooth pavement – meaning they keep after the frost heaves, or they re-surface the gravel when needed. One that was designed for minimal road crossings – the Duchess County (NY) RT, comes to mind where they invested a ton of money in bridges over major roads to reduce bike/auto conflicts. The Henry Hudson RT in Monmouth, NJ is an example of bad design with better than 3 at grade road crossings per mile for 10 miles or more. A very good example is the Petit Du Nord trail north of Montreal, or the Great Alleghany Passage in western PA, both of which are vacation destinations, with attending business being developed to support the use.

      A trail that has “attractions” every 10 miles or so, with parking and access. “Attractions” can be bike rental and repair shops, deli’s, food trucks (seasonal), scenic spots.

      Connections to alternative transportation infrastructure (in more urban area’s) that allow the path to serve as a commuter route.

      Not too remote a route. The LP-TL trail will go thru a 15 miles or so section from about Lake Clear to TL. That’s a long way in the woods and in my opinion, will not see the kind of usage that the Saranac – LP section will see, especially from families. In a perfect world there will be some business’s cropping up in TL to take advantage of the tourists starting at that end, I’m sure that’s the hope of the locals. Perhaps as well, the DEC will see the wisdom of installing a bridge on the stream between Rollins Pond and Floodwood Pond to connect the trail into the Fishcreek/Rollins campgrounds.

      Likewise, turning the Tahawus – North Creek rail line into a Multi-Use Path will see a trail that gets infrequent use as it’s near 30 miles thru wilderness. It’ll be beautiful, but there’s nothing there and where the trail crosses the Blue Ridge Rd. the closest town is Newcomb, 6 miles west.

      • Big Burly says:

        such clarity of analysis and common sense

      • Joe Hansen says:

        The distances of 30 miles are not that great for people who regularly ride bicycles. TL to LP or North Creek to Tahawus and back are fine for fit cyclists. For vacationers wanting just 30 mi./ day that sounds like a great opportunity for hotels and B&Bs.
        For family groups out and back for as far as the kids want sounds like excellent day tripping.

        • Steve B. says:

          30 miles RT for active cyclists will be wonderful. Might be a bit much for a family, especially as there’s no stops with bathrooms, water, etc….

          A North Creek – Blue Mt. Road trail would be even more remote as there’s nothing along this route and nothing at the north end. I’m good with that, but I ride 5 days a week. A family might have second thoughts.

  10. Eugene Kleis says:

    Leave the tracks alone there

  11. Shane M Sloan says:

    Sorry, but it’s only a matter of time before the snowmobiling community is shunned for the noise, the pollution, blah blah blah by the residents and officials of the region. That was one of their gripes with the railroad. And then you consider the ramifications of opportunistic criminals taking advantage of the entry level “hikers” who will choose to use these trails. The lawsuits and damaged reputation of the trails will make this all one huge waste of time, energy, and resources. The only thing that matters is that couple of million dollars of slush fund provided. Gonna place a bet on a few people driving some nice new cars in the near future.

    • Boreas says:

      Snowmobilers have used the corridor for decades. Removing rails just extends the season somewhat. How much of a problem have “opportunistic criminals” been throughout the country on backcountry trails?

  12. CraIg says:

    Let’s just be clear: in the winter if snowmobiles are on it, it won’t be something cross-country skiers will use very much. That’s like saying we’re building a new road which will be great for hikers and cars.

  13. Georgia says:

    Over the past 30 plus years, I’ve ridden the ASRR at least every four years, and have loved each ride. I’m no longer a snowmobile rider, although I know plenty who are. I also know many wheelchair-bound folks who can take a ride on a train, but CANNOT ride a snowmobile. Considering that global warming IS occurring, just how many more years is snowmobiling going to be an option? Trains will always be able to run on maintained rails, that even disabled folks, the elderly, families with young kids, people without snowmobiles, can all take advantage of. And one train engine can haul a LOT of people, snowmobiles can’t. So, to the comment by Howard Nathan about diesel fumes….what about the fumes and whining noise of hundreds, even thousands of snowmobiles with only one or two passengers aboard? Maybe someday the ASRR will switch to electric engines, and the problem of diesel fumes will be moot.

    Also consider the wildlife along the miles of rails… train every so often, as opposed to snowmobiles all day and night, every day. Just how many animal/human interactions or accidents will occur for each mode of transport? As I think about it, I’m guessing there will be MANY more problems with snowmobiles than with trains. And as far as tourism along the rails, why don’t those towns offer more for rail passengers, like they cater to snowmobilers? If the ASRR were smart, they would outfit engines with a plow up front and have railcars that could haul snowmobilers north to points along the way with access to areas too far to ride from home further south. I’ve seen many back woods campers, hikers and canoers, get on and off ASRR cars along the way over the years. Snowmobilers could do the same, without having to trailer their machines and drive to where they are allowed to ride. Fewer cars on the roads, causing more pollution, and possibly fewer car accidents on nasty winter roads too. So could cross country skiers.

    As you’ve figured by now, I’m all for saving, upgrading and expanding the ASRR. There are already enough snowmobile trails through NY, but once train tracks are pulled out, they rarely are replaced. This country once had millions of miles of train tracks connecting both big cities and small towns. At one time, you could travel by rail to just about every corner of this nation. Then came big trucks spewing their diesel stink everywhere, and wearing away our roads far too soon. As that happened, tracks were pulled up. As our nation grew, the needs of the people required MORE stinky, noisy trucks on the roads. If trains were still all over like they once were, we wouldn’t need all those trucks, as one train can haul more than a hundred trucks can. I’m getting too nostalgic here. Anyway, save the ASRR is my opinion.

    • Short line rail and the ancillary infrastructure that went with them disappeared because trucking is way more efficient than warehousing, loading and un loading multiple times and still having to deliver to the end user. Ask amazon, Walmart even Stewarts! Just sayin’

      • scott s Thompson says:

        Umm, not only that, sight seeing and services on the roads are much better and more comfortable than on the train, but its hard to bike and Snowmobile on the highway. Can you say…………bus? Oh wait, not enough riders to keep them operating either. Darn automobiles.

      • Georgia says:

        Railroads were very efficient in delivering goods right to many large companies when tracks ran all over thru cities and big towns. That was WAY before Amazon, Walmart and Stewarts. Trains picked up goods, parts, etc from the factories that produced them, then delivered right to loading docks at the places that needed them…I’m talking large scale deliveries, not to small individual businesses. It is a shame this country tore up so much rail infrastructure. Even today, I see very long trains carrying semi truck trailers onboard flatcars, so I guess trains STILL have their place delivering goods across the country !!!

  14. bob says:

    Huge mistake.

    How long til they admit no one, let alone snowmobiles, will be able to use the corridor anytime soon? No snowmobiles this winter. Way too much junk left behind by the fly-by-night contractor doing the rail removal.

  15. Niels W. Pemberton says:

    Terrible ! The railroad will one day Need to be re-extended to Lake Placid. This is a bone-headed idea that will cause needless expense when the time comes to re-establish service. This is also subsidizing a minority while creating needless difficulties for future rail service. One day the oil will run out !!

  16. Niels W. Pemberton says:

    I’m all for saving, upgrading and expanding the ASRR. There are already enough snowmobile trails through NY, but once train tracks are pulled out, they rarely are replaced. This country once had millions of miles of train tracks connecting both big cities and small towns. At one time, you could travel by rail to just about every corner of this nation. Then came big trucks spewing their diesel stink everywhere, and wearing away our roads far too soon. As that happened, tracks were pulled up. As our nation grew, the needs of the people required MORE stinky, noisy trucks on the roads. If trains were still all over like they once were, we wouldn’t need all those trucks, as one train can haul more than a hundred trucks can. I’m getting too nostalgic here. Anyway, save the ASRR is my opinion.

  17. Joan Grabe says:

    Niels, why do we need miles of unused railroad tracks lying around unused ? Just a few years ago some railroad company was storing old railroad cars on a stretch of unused track in our pristine forest. The last freight train on the Old Forge to Lake Placid line was in 1947 – 1947 ! It is over and that the state has decided that a failing tourist train needs new life is just a sop to some people who can’t seem to leave the post war ( World War 2 ) behind. I was here as a child in the 40s and 50s in Corinth on Lake Efner. Coming from the Bronx, Corinth was a backwoods dump – not even picturesque. But Lake Efner was gorgeous and it still is. The Hudson was a polluted mess thanks to the paper mill but we didn’t know because it ran free and clear and the sand beaches were pond weed free – we begged my Mom to let us go swimming when we went to town to use the laundromat. Late in life I find myself up here again albeit on a different lake and I can tell you that it is now so much better. Starting with the Northway ! We have a chance to build vibrant communities with economic prosperity not entirely dependent on tourism. These useless arguments based on unrealistic future projections and hazy past memories only impede the path forward and I do not mean the rail trail being constructed now. That will be a nice addition, but it is only one of many we can encourage. I am never here in the winter so I cannot speak for snow mobiles but the newer jet skis on the lake are so much less noisy than the old ones. I hardly notice them anymore. It may be impossible to reconcile the opposing schools of thought here but behind the rhetoric there are people of good will who are trying to make a positive difference for all of us here in the Adirondacks.

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