In the News  Archive

Adirondack Tourist Railroad Seeks to Block State Rail Convversion Plan

Times Union
May 18, 2016

By Brian Nearing

The owners of an Adirondack tourist railroad are suing the state to reverse a decision to pull up miles of tracks to create a hiking, biking and snowmobile trail.

The state is prepared to spend $8 million to build the trail after a 34-mile section of rails is removed along the route now used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid. The state also plans to spend another $15 million to rebuild 45 miles of decrepit tracks along the line from Tupper Lake south to Big Moose in Herkimer County. Track removal starts in November and the project is to be done within three years.

This week, both the state Environmental Conservation and Transportation departments signed off the plan, which had been accepted in February by the Adirondack Park Agency after about two years of work. The not-for-profit railroad has been leasing the 119-mile, state-owned line, which run from Utica to Lake Placid in the High Peaks.

Railroad President Bill Branson said the plan was "less about the proposed recreational trail than it is about accommodating a few opponents of the railroad who wish to see it extinguished. I expect that what will be left after the rails are removed will be a lengthy snowmobile race track, but not the type of quiet trail associated with the Adirondack wilderness experience."

Trail advocates said it will be more popular than the railroad in attracting more year-round tourism and associated economic development to the region as snowmobilers, hikers, and mountain bikers take advantage of the trail, which also would be used by the Olympic Regional Development Authority and Olympic Training Center for biathlon and cross-country ski athletes.

A lawsuit filed by the railroad last month in state Supreme Court in Franklin County seeks to block the plan, and force the state to preserve the railroad usage of the tracks, with some recreational trails added around the line if possible, said railroad Executive Director Bethan Maher.

The railroad opposes any loss of rails, and is supported by Franklin County, the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, Oneida County, the city of Utica, and the town of Harrietstown.

The state plan leaves open the possibility that rails, once removed, could be restored. "There is a need to preserve the possibility of reactivating it for rail purposes should the need arise at some time in the future," according to the plan. The land along the line will not be reclassified to match the Forest Preserve lands adjoining it, and will continue to be considered by the state as a legally defined "travel corridor."

Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway called the plan a "good compromise that protects natural resources and responds to economic, cultural and recreational needs ... (that) will encourage tourism development in Tupper Lake, while also helping to discourage illegal ATV access to some of the park's most sensitive areas."

State Assembly member Anthony Brindisi, a Democrat from Utica, said the plan will inhibit tourism from his region into the Adirondacks. "It makes no sense to simply rip up the tracks. Once this tremendous asset is gone, it is highly unlikely we will ever have it back," he said

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