Lake Placid resident Jim McCulley testified at a Department of Transportation budget hearing in Albany Tuesday against continued state support of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and in favor of ripping out the tracks and creating a recreational corridor.
McCulley identified himself as being with the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club and "Adirondack Rail Trail." He told the panel, which was chaired by state Budget Director Robert Megna, the state has spent $40 million on the Remsen-Lake Placid railroad corridor - more if interest on the state's borrowing is factored in - and that DOT plans to spend even more to benefit what McCulley characterized as a "small group of well connected rail fans."
McCulley, a frequent advocate for the proposed trail, said the scenic trains get fewer than 40,000 riders yearly, with the large majority between Remsen and Old Forge. He said the one between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid attracts about 8,000 riders yearly. He didn't mention the source of these numbers in his testimony.
McCulley argued a recreational trail would attract snowmobilers and visitors "from around the world," citing the examples of other rail-trails in Ohio and Canada. He asked that DOT at least do a cost-benefit analysis before spending more money on the rails.
"The recreation of the rails was sold as economic development," McCulley said. "It has not created one job," other than those on the train itself, "and has cost the taxpayers millions."
McCulley mentioned that some local governments, including the town of North Elba and the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators, have suggested the tracks be removed. He quoted North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi, who called the train a "boondoggle." Other local officials and governments, such as in Tupper Lake, support the train and have lobbied for state funding for it.
McCulley was one of two members of the public to testify at the hearing. Most of it was taken up by testimony from acting DOT Commissioner Stanley Gee.