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Compromise on a trail and rails

October 21, 2011
By Danny Ryan

I'm writing to offer some input regarding the current debate about converting the Adirondack Railroad corridor to a recreation-only trail. This appears to be a dispute based more in principle than reality. Most of the recreation being advocated for this corridor is already going on due to the seasonal schedule of the railroad. Given sufficient willingness on the part of all interested parties, there is no reason we cannot have an exemplary recreation corridor, as advocated, as well as a transportation option that will benefit the region for decades to come.

The rails-to-trails advocates point to the alleged impracticality of designing the corridor for dual use while overlooking the many modifications required for a recreation-only trail. My map illustrates that there is a whopping one road (a private one at that) that accesses the corridor between Stillwater Reservoir and Conifer, a good 50- to 60-mile distance. How will this trail be accessed for service if someone is injured - or, more likely, driven mad by blackflies in June? My point is that substantial modifications will need to be made for a recreation-only trail and that it may be a better use of money and effort to improve what is already under way rather than rip it up and start over. Again, this only makes sense if we are considering this an either-or idealogical exercise where anything less than pure victory is failure.

The trail advocates also refute the notion that having railroad access to the area is unnecessary. When we are using millions of gallons of the one essential ingredient for life - water - to extract oil and gas, this should tell us that the days of cheap oil - and the auto world built upon it - are ending. Rail has always been the most fuel-efficient means of transporting people and freight, and the last decade has seen a dramatic improvement in both fuel efficiency and emissions reductions in locomotives. These changes more than surpass the fuel-efficiency improvements in automobiles, maintaining rail's status as the best BTU bang for the buck. As oil prices spiral ever higher, it may well come to pass that communities with rail links will enjoy a distinct advantage over those that don't, as retailers and shippers will likely rely more - not less - on rail to ship goods at acceptable costs. If you look at the nation's railroad scene today, you will see that this is already happening.

In closing, I need to comment on the tone that appears to emerging from this debate. It may just be me, but I detect a we're-smarter-than-you air of condescension in the trail advocates' message - and if this is more than simply my perception, this really has no place in this discussion. What we need is a reasoned discussion among neighbors about how to develop the best long-term solution for as many of us as possible. No one will be served by this degenerating into another round of idealogical, I'm-right-you're-wrong militancy. What is most likely is that both sides are right and that there is, again, no reason we cannot work together to come up with a mutually agreeable solution. This need not be divisive. This need not be like Congress. All that's required is a decision and a commitment by all parties to behave like principled adults who respect each other.


Danny Ryan lives in Saranac Lake.



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