An all-round losing proposition
In a recent commentary, Ed Kanze presented numerous facts in support of rail service. Unfortunately, his facts present a substantially misleading picture of what restoring rail service on the Remsen-Lake Placid line offers to the Adirondacks.
While some trains can be a highly efficient way of transporting people and freight, this one would be anything but. It would be slow, dirty, outdated and wasteful of taxpayer money, with no investors and few customers. Why, one wonders, should we taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve so little when a low-cost recreational trail along this corridor can clearly achieve so much?
As Mr. Kanze pointed out, China is wisely investing in rail transportation. However, China has more than 1.35 billion people – no problem about empty trains there. By comparison, the number of residents and annual visitors to the central Adirondacks represents less than 0.02 percent of the population of China. He also pointed to Amtrak’s success, overlooking the fact that Amtrak’s successful routes pass between population centers with millions of people.
Mr. Kanze points to trains as more fuel efficient and environmentally sensitive than automobiles. This is certainly true in some cases. However, a near-empty passenger or freight train pulled by a big, old locomotive lacking any pollution controls, consuming many gallons of diesel fuel per mile and belching toxic soot is hardly fuel efficient, environmentally sensitive or “green” in any other way.
He describes the current condition of the rail infrastructure along this corridor as “less than ideal.” That’s something of an understatement. Other boosters have described it as “needing a few new ties.” In fact, this rail corridor was first developed in the 19th century and was last used and maintained on a regular basis a half-century ago. The rail infrastructure is now in terrible shape.
Over the many decades since active rail service, the rail industry has changed a great deal. As recently as the 1970s, rail cars were limited to a loaded weight of 220,000 pounds, but loaded rail cars now weigh 286,000 pounds to as much as 315,000 pounds, with still-heavier loads on the horizon. The Remsen-Lake Placid line is outdated, having been rated significantly below 286,000 pounds. Further, the railroad-restoration proponents aspire to provide service at only 25 to 30 miles per hour, when every minute counts now for passengers or freight. Nearby, we already have active 286,000-pound lines to the east and west of the Adirondacks and a 315,000-pound line to the south. There are few if any foreseeable customers for Utica-to-Lake Placid train service, and the “investors” seek only government subsidies.
Finally, many colorful comments have been offered in support of rail service, including “Borg versus Connors.” I’ve chuckled at a few of them, but they are no substitute for reasoned, objective review and careful consideration of relevant evidence. The state of New York has a process in place to do exactly that, and its review of the unit management plan for this corridor is long overdue. Let’s get on with it.
David Banks lives in Lake Clear and is a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board of directors.
“Rail Car Weights Limits in NY – 2008,” New York State Department of Transportation, www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/policy-and-strategy/planning-bureau/state-rail-plan/repository/Fig%2020%20-%202008%20NYS%20Rail%20Car%20Weight%20Limits.pdf
“Impacts of Heavy Axle Loads on Light Density Lines in the State of Washington, Final Report,” February 2001, Washington State Department of Transportation, www.wsdot.wa.gov/research/reports/fullreports/499.1.pdf