While promoting the conversion of the Adirondack Rail Corridor to a recreation trail, I have had the opportunity to speak with some people who are just in love with a train. No matter what the costs or feasibility of it, they are simply in love with a train, and nobody is going to change their mind.
Some will tell you that train service is vital to the Adirondacks because it will bring additional tourists here to eat and sleep, while others believe that regular train service should be restored all the way to Utica because it will be needed for freight in the future. One person even suggested that the U.S. Postal Service may want to deliver mail by train again if daily service is restored to the area.
I have found that most of these people are so passionate about restoring train service to the Adirondacks that they won't let anything stand in their way. They are simply in love with a train, and who can blame them? Trains are romantic, nostalgic and historical. The simple idea of train travel is enticing to most people.
What these people are forgetting is that train service went out of business more than 40 years ago due to lack of passengers and freight, and no company has stepped forward since then with realistic plans to restore this service. Most of the current tracks are in such deteriorated condition that passenger trains are not permitted on them, and the estimate to repair these tracks has been quoted at more than $40 million, according to a DOT report. Some people believe that tax dollars should be used to rebuild these tracks, but they never address the fact that no regular train service has run for many years on this corridor.
I know the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has proposed connecting the Tri-Lakes with a seasonal tourist train that would allow a passenger train to travel up to 15 miles an hour while stopping, or at least reducing speed, at 29 rail crossings. With the distance between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake being 34 miles, it will likely take five to six hours to complete a round-trip. I have to wonder how many people will really be interested in spending this much time on a train. I realize that some tourist trains have been successful in other areas; however, these appear to be offering relatively short train rides to large population bases, which is the exact opposite of what is being proposed here.
Some train supporters believe that removal of the rails will cause the corridor to be reclassified as "forever wild," thereby preventing snowmobiles from ever using it again. I have sought out information justifying this claim, to no avail, and to the contrary, I found that converting the rail corridor to a recreation trail is an accepted use of the corridor, as documented in the 1995 unit management plan. This plan was drafted and adopted by more than two dozen people from multiple agencies including the New York state Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency. All agreed that private enterprise should be given the opportunity to develop tourist train excursions, passenger and freight rail services at their own expense; however, at the end of this marketing period, corridor segments not included in viable rail proposals were to be committed to trail development. All members of this working group supported the retention of the travel corridor classification for the recreation trail and agreed that the entire corridor should always remain open for public use, to include snowmobiling.
This plan was supposed to be reviewed after five years but has not been revisited since it was signed by all parties 16 years ago.
So, while not intending to offend the train lovers of the world, I submit that it is time to stop living in the past and to embrace the future by supporting the proposed Great Adirondack Recreation Trail. This trail is a fresh idea whose time has come, and it is worthy of support by our elected officials. A recreation trail would be popular with locals and tourists alike, and would allow people of all ages and physical abilities to hike, bike and ski on this jewel of the North Country.
The removal of the rails would also allow for an extended snowmobile season, which this winter alone would have added more than seven weeks to the beginning of the season. I actually reside along this corridor and counted more than 40 snowmobiles passing by while writing this letter on a Sunday afternoon after the first big snowfall. I have to wonder how many more snowmobiles would have visited our communities and businesses if these unused rails were removed. In the summer, this trail would provide a bike path connecting our communities that would be the envy of all others. I believe this trail would help promote the Adirondacks as a world-class outdoor destination and would draw people here by the thousands to enjoy the mountains in a safe and healthy environment.
I encourage anyone who agrees with this idea to visit www.thearta.org and consider signing up as a supporter of this cause.
Chris Keniston lives in Tupper Lake.