To the editor:
The recent letter to the editor from Rusty Russum (March 29) about the rail-vs.-trail debate was revealing. It showed how some people are under the impression that this issue is about transportation vs. recreation. But it really has nothing to do with transportation. It is a debate about recreational use of the rail corridor connecting Lake Placid and Old Forge - a 90-mile passage through much of the Adirondack Park.
The train that has been operating between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake at this end of the corridor, and at the other end between Utica and Thendara, is a purely recreational use, and even its supporters will tell you they want to use the entire line for different kinds of tourist excursions. They hope to create what my Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates colleague Maureen Peroza has dubbed "The Great Adirondack Amusement Ride" between Utica and Lake Placid. Operating a few days a week, once or twice per day for tourists, is recreation. Even the pipe dream of restoring overnight Pullman service between New York and Lake Placid via Utica, as proposed, is a recreational use. It is not a practical or convenient means of transportation.
So I am unsure why Mr. Russum is now saying we shouldn't put all our eggs in the tourist basket when tourism is the only egg there.
"What is wrong with some regular commerce like we have had in the past?" he asks us.
Mr. Russum is proposing that we spend millions more dollars in taxpayer money to restore freight service on this line. But his idea raises interesting questions. Shipping fuel to the Adirondacks via rail, when hugely expensive tank farms and sidings would have to be built to do this? Transporting by rail in 10 hours a commodity that is now moved by truck in a little over two hours from the port of Albany? How could it be more convenient or cheaper or practical to send fuel (or anything else) an extra hundred miles to Utica and then another 140 miles to the Tri-lakes region at 30 mph?
The only thing limiting this region when we consider the best use of the corridor is the railroad tracks themselves. What would happen if the rails were removed and salvaged to pay for converting the rails to a trail and the corridor were to become a year-round, multi-use recreation trail? (Studies of economic benefits, and comparisons with similar rail trails around the country, leave little doubt that this conversion would greatly stimulate tourism.)
For the last 20 years, this recreational asset has been monopolized by the smallest of user groups with a disregard for economics and the realities of today. Isn't it time to stop living in the past and create a new use for this infrastructure based on today's needs?
The need for economic growth can be met at a low cost by salvaging the rails and building the trail for the use of far more residents and, yes, far more tourists than will ever ride the train.