By DAVID H. LINK
October 05. 2014 3:15AM
RAIL OR TRAIL? Railroad a wilderness gateway for all
Forty years ago the New York state Department of Transportation, showing bold leadership, stepped in to block the abandonment and scrapping of the Adirondack Railroad. The argument was the line was a valuable rail transportation asset and should be preserved. Looking back, that decision was wise and foresaw the trend of increasing passenger rail travel and freight development on branch lines across the country.Forty years ago the New York state Department of Transportation, showing bold leadership, stepped in to block the abandonment and scrapping of the Adirondack Railroad. The argument was the line was a valuable rail transportation asset and should be preserved.
Looking back, that decision was wise and foresaw the trend of increasing passenger rail travel and freight development on branch lines across the country.
In 1992, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad commenced operation of a four-mile segment of the Utica-Lake Placid Line on a 30-day permit from the DOT. Operating on that same permit 22 years later, the railroad now operates over 70 miles of track, has carried what is now approaching 1.5 million passengers, and continues to market and explore economic opportunities in the Adirondacks and Mohawk Valley.
Three years ago, a self-labeled “steering committee” emerged and held a meeting in Tupper Lake to propose ripping the line out to build yet another trail. The justification was an economic study paid for by the backers of the proposal which showed huge economic, social and environmental benefits, while misrepresenting any factual accounting as to the cost’s and benefit’s of their scheme. The trail “advocates”, known as ARTA, have continually attacked the volunteers, employees and supporters of the railroad in an unprecedented and well-funded effort to destroy what is today the longest National Register Historic property in the country.
Hiding behind ARTA’s nonprofit status and funding the battle are familiar names who over the last 20 years have fought to stop and delay projects related to public access and economic development. Development of retail stores in the North Country was thwarted, forcing the public to drive many miles out to shop. A resort project has been stalled in Tupper Lake, and other projects have been challenged or delayed.
Now the effort is to try and rip out the railroad, using the ruse of increased trail access and economic benefits.
The rail line from Utica to Lake Placid is a unique asset with not only an important link to our past history and culture, but more importantly an economic factor in the future of the region and the park. As our population continues to grow and fuel supply becomes more and more an economic and social factor, the efficient rails will continue to make a comeback as the transportation mode of choice. The Adirondack railroad is the only line into and through the heart of the wilderness to the world-famous resorts of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. This rail puts the Northeast metropolitan region within a day trip by rail to these resorts and Utica, Old Forge, Tupper Lake as well. The lumber and wood industry has long depended on rail to move products to market, and to say that lumbering is over is being a little too overconfident. Trees are still growing and people are still building, furnishing, and heating houses.
The 1.5 million riders the railroad has hosted come from all over the country and overseas. They are young and old, fit and not so fit. Many want to see the wilderness from a comfortable and safe seat, many prefer to travel in groups, not sit on top of a machine or battle black flies, snow or rain. Whoever these visitors are, they all spend time and money in this region that would be spent elsewhere if the rails were removed.
It is time for the DOT to actively support and develop this world-class transportation asset. Our elected officials need to be asking some hard questions about the spin put out by a few advocates who want to destroy our transportation infrastructure to add a few more miles of costly and underutilized trail.
David Link is a founding board member of the Adirondack Scenic Railway Preservation Society. He lives in Blossvale.