Gene Falvo's Guest Commentary of Dec. 14 claims that "rail removal advocates twist facts." He goes on to impugn two of the independent studies done on the 34-mile section of rail corridor linking Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, while ignoring the third study that was actually commissioned by train advocates.
First, some simple corrections:
1. AdkAction.org is not, as claimed, "the forerunner of ARTA" (Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates). AdkAction.org is a not-for-profit dedicated to addressing important issues affecting the Adirondacks without taking sides in disputed issues: For example, it works for broadband access everywhere, shared school services, water quality, fair assessments, road-salt reduction and invasive species control. What to do with the unused rail corridor was one of many unanswered questions that AdkAction.org took on and is no longer involved in. ARTA was independently formed by local citizens in late 2011 after the Camoin study was commissioned and is totally unrelated to AdkAction.org.
2. The Camoin report was not, as claimed, "expected to arrive at a pre-determined conclusion." It was overseen by an independent steering committee to insure that the Camoin team produced an unbiased report. The report was not "shelved." It is still one of only three reports to have studied the corridor for alternative uses.
3. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy does not create "works of fiction." It is the most respected trail-development organization in the country, with more than 150,000 members. RTC has facilitated the development of more than 20,000 miles of rail trails. To call their detailed and highly professional study a "work of fiction" demeans Mr. Falvo, not the study.
Now let's look at the facts that he claims are being twisted by ARTA, with specific attributions where necessary:
1. Mr. Falvo says that "the most significant fact is that neither study was allowed to factor in the impact of a complete rail connection from Utica to Lake Placid." This is true. Both Camoin and RTC focused on the first stage of a recreation trail connecting the communities of Lake Placid, Ray Brook, Saranac Lake, Lake Clear and Tupper Lake. The third study, commissioned by the train-restoration supporters and written by Stone Consulting, did look at the complete corridor connection. Mr. Falvo conveniently ignores that study because it does not support his cause.
2. So, what do the three studies actually say? (All three may be found online at www.TheARTA.org in the "Information Links" tab.)
Camoin says that a recreational trail, even if it runs just from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, will produce 61 percent more in new local spending ($1.2 million) than would extension of train service over the same path.
Camoin says that extending the existing 9-mile tourist train from Saranac Lake another 25 miles to Tupper Lake, an increase of 278 percent in length, will only produce a 75 percent increase in ridership. The passengers per mile will drop 37 percent from 1,555 per annum to 980, which hardly looks profitable.
RTC says that just the Lake-Placid-to-Tupper-Lake portion of the rail trail will attract (a midpoint estimate) 244,000 new overnight visitors who will spend $19.8 million locally. (See p. 10 of RTC report.) They did not pull this number out of thin air, as Mr. Falvo implies. RTC based it on the actual results from a composite of similar rail trails in similar terrain, for which they provide full details.
Stone says restoration of the entire rail system, from Utica to Lake Placid, will attract 7,000 overnight visitors who will spend $649,000 locally. (See p. 11 of their report for details.) Stone notes that when service was briefly restored during the 1980 Winter Olympics, ridership averaged 200 passengers per day.
RTC provided actual construction costs for similar rail trails that range from $15,000 to $214,000 per mile, with a midpoint of $86,500. At current steel-salvage prices, sale of the rails would bring $5.3 million, more than enough to cover the rail-to-trail conversion from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake.
Track rehabilitation is projected by Camoin at $312,000 per mile, while the New York State Department of Transportation projects a cost of $359,000 per mile. Mr. Falvo claims the rehab work can be done for less than $20 million, without providing any references to support that claim. (Camoin's figure works out to $28 million for the 90 miles between Lake Placid and Old Forge, and NYSDOT's figure is $43 million.) No matter how you cut it, the cost to taxpayers is immense compared to the ridership anticipated.
3. None of the studies considered the economic impact of greatly improved snowmobiling on the corridor, though this impact would be substantial. $242 million is currently spent annually by snowmobilers in the Adirondacks, roughly $23 million of which is spent each year in the contested corridor. This impact would be magnified by removing the tracks between Old Forge and Lake Placid, essentially doubling the length of the snowmobile season and providing easy connectors from Old Forge, the snowmobile capital of the Adirondacks, to Tupper Lake, Lake Clear and points east and north, including Canada. All this revenue and potential would be eliminated if an active railroad were running on those tracks, even if infrequently, as proposed.
Where does this leave us? Speaking personally, I am tired of the endless claims that trail advocates lie and twist facts. If the facts provided by the three consulting groups are suspect, someone needs to provide better information. The train buffs are quick to disparage the data they dislike, while failing to back up their claims that restoring train service is worth the immense costs involved.
The Adirondack Division of the New York Central Railroad failed long ago for lack of riders and freight. If there are other facts to consider, let's have them presented at public hearings on the state's unit management plan - something that practically every town and village along the corridor is asking for.
Lee Keet lives in Saranac Lake and is a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board of directors.