The Adirondack Scenic Railroad Decision and What It Means

 

The September 26th ruling from New York State Supreme Court Judge Robert Main, Jr was not only a welcoming for supporters of passenger rail across New York State, but also an act of common sense. I applaud Judge Main’s ruling and the efforts that Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi and others have done to ensure the rails stay in place. Rail advocates have long disagreed with Governor Andrew Cuomo and many others on the plan to remove 34 miles of rail line from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, as it would destroy a vital transportation artery.

For years I have been part of the argument that the rails should be restored to allow trains to travel the full length of the line from Lake Placid to Utica to connect with buses and Amtrak service. While I understand that the state is under fiscal stress right now, such a dream should stay alive. The railroad brings campers into the Adirondack Park. The railroad has been used in the past to fight fires and even to install and maintain power lines. While the long-term goal to rehabilitate the line would cost millions of dollars, I still think it is a cause worth pursuing, and so does the state, as NYSDOT has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Adirondack Scenic for vital improvements. While the need for trails is an important issue to the Adirondacks (and one I can appreciate), tearing up a perfectly good railroad is an inappropriate way to do so.

In his current frustration,  Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates (ARTA) board member Lee Keet took to the Adirondack Almanack to voice his disappointment, claiming that Judge Main might have been bias in his ruling. Unfortunately, I expect the ruling to be appealed, as the region, the DEC, the DOT and the governor’s office are extremely eager to see the line come to fruition.

I have to disagree. While New York State law is mind-boggling to say the least, Judge Main has been known to uphold the law. Had Main ruled in favor of the APA, DEC, DOT and ARTA, I view it as having opened up a Pandora’s box which could have threatened many tourist railroads operating across the country.

ARTA’s site claims that:

The seasonal tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was provided for in the 1995 Unit Management Plan as an experiment that had to prove itself through market development for the benefit of the local economies.  In addition, the operator was committed to upgrading the entire line from Lake Placid to Old Forge to Class III service (60 MPH max) at its expense. This experiment has failed: ridership has never exceeded 14,000 per annum and the New York Department of Transportation continues to expend massive amounts to keep the corridor open and the limited train service running. 

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates on a revolving 30-day agreement between the State and the railroad. It is near impossible to get funding and support when the state could tell you at a moment’s that your operating rights are not being renewed. While the state owns the tracks, ARPS (the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s parent organization) if I recall correctly owns the equipment to operate. In recent years the organization has gone through an adolescence, paying off debts, bringing in a young and dynamic executive director. Far from an organization without aim, the ASRR has become a far better operation.

As someone who finished high school and college outside of the Adirondacks, the line is dear to my heart. The father of a friend of mine from college has been a longtime volunteer for the railroad. When I came back to the region last fall to ride the train, I had a very delicious lunch at the Downhill Grill. The train made that in part possible.

While I know that many of us will not change the opinions of Keet and others on the railroad, I hope that they can appreciate that there are many of us who believe that preserving the railroad (and a vital part of the region’s past) is the right thing to do, and that a rail-with-trail is perfectly sensible (and also benefits the rail riders as well!). I understand why so many people in the Tri-Lakes support the idea for a trail linking the three villages, and I am strongly in favor of economic development for the Adirondacks and the North Country as a whole. My disagreement stems from the method to achieve that economic development and the trail to drive it. Tearing out a perfectly good rail line, even if it is need of rehabilitation, makes little sense.

What bothers me and other rail advocates is the groupthink in the Adirondacks, that the railroad is a significant nuisance, dishonest entity that does nothing but inconvenience the people it serves. That being said, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad should make a public relations campaign to highlight the benefits the railroad brings to the Tri-Lakes to quell the negative opinion people have of the railroad.

Rail travel and the pursuit of happiness

Taking a train may not give us life or liberty, but, ah… it’s a great way to pursue happiness. My trip last week on the Empire Builder reminded me that trains are the best way to enjoy our spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!

No matter what your political beliefs are, we need your help to keep the trains running.

Happy Independence Day!

-CH

Photo: “Dawn with fruit trees, Wenatchee, WA,” C. Hamilton

How to advocate for passenger rail with your elected representatives

Several passenger rail advocates were fortunate to meet with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) in April while we were at the National Association of Railroad Passengers meeting in Washington, DC.

Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to meet with Congressional representatives in person, but Rep. Jayapal has some suggestions, taken from a Facebook Live interview published in Crosscut.

Is the new Resistbot app [which allows a person to text a message and have it show up in a congressional member’s office as a fax] a good way for the public to provide feedback?

Our mailroom tells our office we get the most mail of any congressional district in the country. I think it’s something like 80,000 phone calls, emails and letters that we have received. The most effective thing is when we get a personal message or person’s story. It doesn’t mean you can’t use Resistbot with a standard message. But if you take that standard message and add something that is personal to you and why it important to you, it really makes a big difference. If we see it as part of a campaign, it probably doesn’t have as much impact.

And there are many ways to advocate for passenger rail. Check them out!

Some good news. Now, let’s make it better.

Congress is rejecting the president’s attempt to kill our national rail passenger network. That’s very good news. Our elected representatives, from both sides of the aisle, recognize the importance of the rail services in their community — what the National Association of Railroad Passengers calls “My Town, My Train.”

But NARP knows that saving the existing network is not enough. America needs to fix the hundred-year backlog of underinvestment, fill the holes in today’s skeletal system, and add service in places that haven’t seen a train in years. That will take funding, equipment and determination.

What should be the priorities? One of NARP’s goals is to “Put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station by 2035.” To make that happen, we’ll need massive support, not only in DC, and also in state legislatures, city councils, and community groups around the nation. We know it can be done: witness the enormous support we’ve seen for restoration of Gulf Coast service, the daily Cardinal, and the Colorado ski train.

But to meet this goal, we need a long-term, large commitment to a passenger rail vision. One wonders sometimes whether anyone in Washington, DC, these days has the ability to pursue such a vision, but if the baby boomers have failed, the next generations will succeed.

NARP members should read the group’s Strategic Plan. And if you’re skeptical that it can be made to happen, well, that’s understandable–but with your help, and the help of younger people, we can make “A Connected America” happen.

This fall, NARP will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a large event called RailNation Chicago. Please join us, and bring your friends and family–we can begin to build a rail future for the next generation.

–CH

Post rail advocacy info in train stations

Sometimes you will see information from chapters of the National Association of Railroad Passengers posted in train stations.  You don’t see this at [Washington] Union Station, but you do at Penn Station in Baltimore (at least back when I used to ride MARC to Baltimore a few days each week for work).
Richard Layman

I first learned about NARP from a newsletter posted on a bulletin board in Baltimore’s Penn Station in 1977. Even in this age of electronic and social media, print materials reach people who might not find out about our advocacy any other way.

NARP offers several types of print materials. Some stations are willing to let us post brochures and newsletters, others are not. Ask.

And if you’re a NARP member, don’t forget to order NARP business cards that you can hand out to fellow passengers. Information is available to members at this link.

Trains don’t grow on trees

Every once in a while, someone will post that they’re tired of politics, and just want to talk about trains. But are these folks naive? Whether they like to ride trains, or watch them roll by, how do they expect service to survive without the hard work that’s done every day in Washington, DC, by organizations like the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and by state advocacy groups in state capitols and with local elected officials?

I think most of us would agree that the current political environment can be poisonous and hyper-partisan. But support for passenger rail service is still one of the few subjects that finds support on both sides of the aisle….if you and I keep telling our elected representatives that passenger rail is important.

Please join NARP for our annual “Day On the Hill” if you can make it to DC in a couple of weeks. And if you can’t, contact your elected representatives, and show them how passenger rail affects your community.

Working together, we can make sure that the “Train Tree” stays healthy and growing!

-CH

Support for passenger rail continues to grow, with your help

Have you ever looked at the profiles of your friends on social media in passenger train groups? The other groups they belong to? The pages they like? The posts they make? You might be surprised at the range of political beliefs in the Amtrak communities on Facebook.
 
What’s more, the number of people asking to join these groups is growing… a lot. The admins of the passenger train groups on Facebook  are hard-pressed to keep up with the requests to join. And the membership of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, as it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, is booming.
 
So don’t let the pundits make unwarranted and incorrect assumptions about the level of support for passenger rail. It’s strong, and continues to get stronger. 
 
But we need to make our voices heard, in Washington, DC, and beyond–especially in our state legislatures, since a large amount of passenger train service is paid for by the states.
And do you want more service, or service in places where it’s lacking? That will only happen from the bottom up — if we push our local councils, business groups, and mayors to remind the legislators and Congressional representatives how important passenger rail is to the health and development of our local communities.
 
There are many ways that all of us can work to improve passenger rail. Please check this list. Let’s all work together to keep trains on track!

How can Amtrak improve accessibility?

Charlie Hamilton, NARP Council Rep. at Large (WA), is part of a team asking for input from us and others on the topic of Amtrak trains, stations, and passenger services being ADA compliant for those traveling passengers that may have limited mobility or other physical disabilities. These items can also include concerns that have been addressed through current ADA guidelines but which could be improved.

For example, Stephanie Weber, NARP Council Rep. (WA), offered the concern of passengers with impaired hearing having a difficult time understanding station announcements given by Amtrak employees. Also, there are stations that don’t have a visual train status information board for those to read that are unable to hear a PA system.

At your earliest convenience, if you have ADA topics relating to Amtrak trains, stations, and services offered that should be addressed, please contact us. Be specific so Charlie can accurately present your suggestions/concerns.  Should you have any questions, please contact Charlie Hamilton.

UPDATE: Thanks so much for everyone’s continued input. We are collecting comments here, and in a number of other locations:

Amtrak Unlimited
http://discuss.amtraktrains.com/index.php?/topic/69449-how-can-amtrak-improve-accessibility/

Amtrak Fans on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmtrakFansGroup/permalink/697139910463687/

@AmtrakFansNews on Twitter

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Amtrak Riders on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmtrakDeafHOH/permalink/388955888116149/

The trains are still running

January will see a new team in the White House. The Congress will still be divided. There haven’t been too many changes in state legislatures.

And the trains will still be running.

But now more than ever, we all need to work together to build bipartisan support for a robust passenger train network. Please join, donate to, and become actively involved in, the National Association of Railroad Passengers, and rail advocacy groups in your area.

And there are many other ways to help.

Trains don’t grow on trees. With your help, we can keep them running!

Vote for rail supporters at all levels

For now, seven races shift toward Democrats:

Florida’s 7th District (John L. Mica, R) from Tilts Republican to Tossup

Representative Mica (R-FL7) has been known for micro-managing Amtrak for several years, but he is now facing a real struggle in his bid for re-election.

The National Association of Railroad Passengers has a list of local transit measures on their website here, but they can’t endorse candidates because of their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. If anyone knows of candidates who are worthy of endorsement by passenger rail supporters, please post them here or on the Grow Trains Facebook page.

Don’t forget to vote for passenger rail supporters in the Senate, the House, in state legislatures, and locally!