Railroad defense ignores reality

To the editor:

My purpose in writing is to urge participation in public comment for the state-owned travel corridor between Old Forge and Lake Placid. I believe this is a critical issue for our community, but many have chosen to bury their heads in the sand. They say, “Have both! Put a trail BESIDE the rails!” This is known as the side-by-side option. Advocates have found a way out of the debate and onto the sideline.

A side-by-side is possible only in the sense that if we’ve put a man on the moon, certainly we can build a side-by-side from Old Forge to Lake Placid. Have you not been to Rollins Pond? Please look at some of the many pictures that have been posted of sensitive areas such as Lake Colby, Lake Clear and beyond. A side-by-side is “possible,” but it’s not practical, feasible, responsible, permittable, workable, doable, plausible or worthy. Let your common sense win this one; side-by-side is not an option.

So now we’re stuck. We have to choose between this awful plan to turn the page on an era and tear up the rails, or we have to invest $43 million in public funds to create supply for which there is no demand. There’s no middle ground.

Reasons given to retain the rails ignore reality. Small and medium-sized freight depots began closing across America beginning in the 1950s. This is not an Adirondack issue; the efficiencies of the 18-wheeler made that mode of transportation cheaper, so train service ended. The point-to-point service provided by the modern road system rendered train transport less efficient except for very large loads. This is a common misconception; trains are only environmentally sound when they are efficient – that is, when they are full. They expend a tremendous amount of resources per trip and require high occupancy to be efficient.

The personal transportation market has taken a similar turn. Train service in the U.S. lags other world leaders for various reasons. But the convenience and, again, cost changed the personal transportation marketplace in the entire country. When will the Remsen-to-Lake Placid line be viable? How many Adirondack visitors today enter from points other than Utica? These rails and these ties and this ballast are already shot. Something modern will come along, but we would expect it to run on these rails?

Let’s expect our successors to exhibit good judgment when opportunity such as cheap maglev trains arises to turn the corridor back to mass transit. We are at a singular moment for our community today. Biking is a phenomenon; many will make the 84-mile trek in a single day. The studies have not even addressed snowmobiling. The hard work and dedication of so many on the railroad make this a truly hard thing to say: Our community can’t afford the rails anymore.

The editor of this publication has yet to take a stand on this issue. Editor, please do not wait until the end of the public comment period in order to make the most dramatic effect. Please, state your position.

Steve Urquhart

Saranac Lake