Piercefield asks state to halt rail spending

The Piercefield town board is asking for rail spending to stop until the state decides what will happen with the Adirondack Scenic Railroad corridor.

The board, which asked the state a few months ago to rip up the railroad tracks in the corridor and replace it with a trail, sees it as a bad idea to put money into the corridor if the state is going to open up its unit management plan and possibly change the corridor’s use.

“We appreciate anything you can do to put funding on hold until the state has reviewed the unit management plan and has come up with a long-term plan for this incredibly valuable resource,” the board wrote, capitalized, bolded and underlined, in a letter to state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald and other state officials.

The letter was written in response to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s application, sponsored by the Adirondack North Country Association, for $15.2 million in federal grant money to rehabilitate the rails between Big Moose and Saranac Lake to Class II condition, which would let a train run 30-35 mph.

In the letter, the board writes that “a vast majority of the public” wants to put the corridor “to better use,” while “a handful of people in positions of power want to make yet another attempt to revive dead-end rail service on a corridor that has failed commercially three times and for which there is no demonstrable demand for either passenger or freight services.

“While the use of (Strategic Transportation Enhancements Program) funds may eventually be warranted, the UMP review should be the next step, not the transfer of yet more public monies for unclear uses,” the letter reads.

It is signed by town Supervisor Neil Pickering and three of the four Piercefield town councilors.

Councilwoman Lorraine Lewis was the only one on the board to vote in favor of supporting the ASR’s grant application, and her name is not on the letter. Lewis said she thinks the rails will be rehabilitated.

“I happen to think it’s something that we’re going to see,” Lewis told the Enterprise Monday.

The rest of the board agreed with Pickering that funding should be held until after the corridor’s use is decided.

“We just didn’t feel they should be allocating money if we’re going to open the UMP this summer, and who knows what’s going to happen?” Pickering told the Enterprise Monday. “It seems silly to appropriate funding when we don’t even know what’s going to happen with it.”

Pickering said he believes the UMP will be opened soon, and it will change at least part of the corridor’s use to a trail, rather than the railroad.

“Then all this funding is for naught,” Pickering said. “If they start spending money on the rails, it’s that much more a waste.”

He said he doesn’t understand why the Tupper Lake town and village boards supported the grant application just a few months after they joined the municipalities who have asked the state to reopen the UMP.

“I was just shocked,” Pickering said.