Category Archives: Tourist Railroads

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.