I would like to address the railroad supporters' proposal that we can and should have both a rail and a trail from Old Forge to Lake Placid. Wouldn't that be nice and solve the issues for everyone involved? Well, I would be a big supporter of both if somebody could provide me with factual reasons why we need the train to begin with.
I've asked, and nobody has given me one good reason why millions of dollars (more than $40 million are in the state Department Of Transportation proposal) of New York state taxpayer money should be spent revitalizing a railroad that has failed three times. And sorry, the threat of $5 or even $10-a-gallon gas isn't one.
There is no freight of any consequence being delivered or being shipped out of the Tri Lakes area, and freight (not passengers) is the main driver of the current railroad revival across the country. This railroad was built by railroad magnates at the turn of the 20th century for their own benefit. They hoped to transport raw materials out of the Park and provide a cushy way to bring their families and guests to their great camps. Well, those captains of industry now fly their private jets to the Saranac Lake airport, and the industry du jour is technology and not raw materials. The end (of the railroad) was inevitable once those industry scions gave up their private rail cars.
It was tried again, after massive amounts of state funds were infused to revive it for the 1980 Olympics. Another good idea that didn't pan out. The problem was that most people came to the Olympics via the east side of the Park. They came south from Montreal and north from New York City and Albany, places with international airports unlike Utica, and they drove on the 10-year old Northway, never again to think a 10-hour train ride was better than four hours in their own car.
The DOT rail corridor from Old Forge to Lake Placid travels through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the Park. The corridor traverses wetlands, lakes, ponds, forests and rock cuts. Even if we could get all the required permits from the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and other state and local entities, the astronomical costs associated with filling in of wetlands to widen the path to accommodate both the rail and the trail would derail the entire effort. Take the estimated costs of $4.4 million for the 9 miles of trail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake, and multiply that out for the rest of the 81-mile corridor ($39.6 million). Add to that the money required to bring the railroad itself up to modern standards, and you can see that this proposal is unrealistic. The sponsors are hoping the $4.4 million will take them all the way to Saranac Lake, but phase one is currently only permitted as far as Ray Brook (6.1 miles). There are concerns that the $4.4 million may only be enough to get that far. If that is the case, then the cost per mile will reach close to $500,000 and the cost of the entire Lake Placid to Old Forge will be closer to $45 million, plus the costs to upgrade the rails. The argument now, that we can build a trail alongside the rail for some parts of it and then carry our (bikes, strollers, wheelchairs, etc.) over the tracks in other areas, is simply ridiculous. The whole idea for this trail is that it be continuous and without obstructions. These trails have been economic drivers in every community they have been built in.
The proposed trail for Lake Placid to Ray Brook, along the railroad, will require a 3-and-a-half-foot chain-link fence between the rail and the trail anywhere the trail is less than 11 feet from the tracks. This will not exactly enhance the experience of both train and trail users looking for a bit of wilderness experience, not to mention the people on Lake Clear and elsewhere with the tracks between them and the water.
Anyone who has traveled along these tracks knows what it will take to fill in the wetlands and widen causeways to make the corridor wide enough for both. Even some APA commissioners have expressed regret that they voted to approve permitting for the Lake Placid-Ray Brook rail and trail proposal.
The unit management plan for the rail corridor states that a recreational trail is an approved use of the corridor. This UMP from 1995 was approved by the DOT, DEC and state Adirondack Park Agency. The train use was approved for a marketing trial only. We think that the trial is more than up and it is time to build the recreation trail. More than 3,000 supporters of the Adirondack Recreation Trail Advocates agree. Please join us at TheARTA.org.
Hope Frenette lives in Tupper Lake and is a steering committee member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.