Rail question should not delay Tupper trail

A Tupper Lake village trail project has hit a snag as municipal crews try to build part of it along a former railroad spur that branched off the main line to the former Oval Wood Dish factory and an old veneer plant.

The trail is part of the Tupper Lake Multi-Use Recreational Trail and Transportation Network Master Plan, unveiled in 2007. Once complete, it will link the Junction neighborhood with the village center and The Wild Center nature museum, for use by snowmobilers, cyclists, cross-country skiers and foot traffic. It will follow roads and this rail spur, which hasn’t been used since 1937.

Most of the spur’s track was torn up decades ago, and this spring, the village had its workers remove most of the rest, which was in rough shape. Village officials said the ties were rotted and patches of the rails were missing.

They said the state Department of Transportation had asked them to remove these tracks so the six-year-old trail project could get done before grant funding expires. But recently, at the prompting of a local railroad advocate, the DOT told the village it has a right of way on the spur and may need the village to replace 1,500 feet of track there so trains can turn around in the future – if train traffic ever returns. The village has stopped trail work until the issue is resolved.

This is a waste of time, energy and momentum. We support Mayor Paul Maroun’s appeal to the DOT, asking it to let trail work proceed. If the train ever returns and needs that turnaround, the mayor says, the village will see about moving the trail over to make room for it.

The return of regular train traffic is iffy even for the main railroad; for the OWD spur it’s extremely unlikely. Tourist trains travel on either end of the line but have many hurdles to leap before they can provide regular service to Tupper Lake. And now the state is about to revisit the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor’s unit management plan, which in the 1990s allowed train traffic to return. Many people have been pushing the state to replace the tracks with a bicycle-foot-ski trail, at least between Saranac Lake and the Old Forge area. It’s hard to foresee what will come of this.

Even if the new UMP reinforces train travel, it would be many years at least before trains stop in Tupper Lake more than once or twice a year on their way between Lake Placid and Utica. Even if they do return in full force and need to turn around in Tupper, they can do so the way they do daily in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake – with the locomotive being unhitched and going on a parallel track to the other end of the train.

Therefore, the only way a train would need the OWD spur would be if it was hauling freight to or from some new industrial user of the OWD plant – and that’s pretty much a non-option for several reasons:

1. It would require winter as well as summer use of the railroad, eliminating the state snowmobile corridor there and also requiring a great deal of winter track maintenance and snow removal.

2. For freight rail to be viable, it needs a level of volume that it’s hard to imagine the Adirondacks ever achieving. A single manufacturer at OWD would be far from enough. Freight died on that line in the 1970s, when OWD was going strong, and even then, that spur hadn’t been used in about 35 years.

In a recent meeting we had with Al Dunham and Steve Erman, officials with the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society and Adirondack North Country Association, respectively, they told us flat-out that freight is off the table.

The DOT should let the village go ahead and build this trail, which would provide obvious public benefits.