Train critics spread misinformation

Within the last month, several regional newspaper editorial boards have printed pieces concerning their support for a “recreation trail” versus a “tourist train” for the section of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. Other papers not in the region, that cover large population areas, have also printed articles with heavy emphases on what trail-only supporters have had to say.

Editorial boards have the right, just as any citizen who writes to the paper, to print whatever opinion that they may have on any subject. The questions start when an institution, especially the editorial staff that is expected to provide at least reasonable accurate information in their articles, appears to not be doing this and just printing whatever someone has told them. This is not only poor journalism but is a disservice to its readers.

After reading these articles, several of them read just like a letter that was written by the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates and contain information which is misleading at best. ARTA has conducted a program using the idea that if you tell someone something often enough, they will believe it to be true. Whether it is true or not is not the point.

Some of the information contained or ideas put forth by ARTA includes the following statements:

-This is an issue between a “tourist” train and a “recreation trail.”

This is not an issue between a tourist train and a recreation trail, but an issue between a group that wants to convert a section of a designated multi-use corridor which includes an active rail line into a single-use corridor. Supporters of improved rail service do not want just an upgraded rail line which can support additional rail service along with a “tourist train,” but also the construction of a multi-purpose trail alongside the rail line, as the currently-in-place New York state unit management plan allows for.

-Supporters of improved rail service/tourist train are a bunch of “rail fans” or nostalgic history buffs.

Supporters of a multi-use corridor are neither. A large percentage of supporters of improved rail service and a multi-use corridor are also avid bicyclists, hikers, skiers, climbers, canoeists, kayakers, walkers with children, and some are also snowmobilers – and are very concerned with the economic condition of the region. This is not an issue between two different groups of people but a difference of opinion of how the corridor can be used. Some of us want to share the resource; others want the resource for their idea only.

-Rails with trails is a new idea.

It is not new. It is what the currently-in-place UMP calls for.

-Studies show that a trail only will bring a larger economic benefit than a “tourist train.”

Studies can be shown to indicate almost anything. Before the word “studies” is put into a newspaper, any respectable journalist or editorial staff should verify the source and content of any such indicated “study,” regardless of which group puts the information forward. I can find you many studies that indicate global warming is occurring and that it is human induced. I can find other studies that say just the opposite. I can find a study, perhaps several, that indicate more restrictive firearms control laws will make people safer. We saw how well that went over in upstate New York. My point is you need to find out which study or studies are being referenced and who authored them. Any study done by one advocacy group – in this case the Rails to Trails Conservancy (which appears to be ARTA’s primary study that is referenced) for another advocacy group, ARTA – should raise immediate concerns for any reputable journalist as there is certainly a potential for bias. The study indicated only covers the corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, not the entire corridor.

-Scrapping the rails and metal will pay for a trail.

A simple phone call to a scrap dealer found railroad rails and associated metal being worth $300 per ton in early August. This works out to around $73,080 per mile of track, or somewhere around $2,192,400 for 30 miles of track. Remove the costs for removal and transportation of any scrap to a dealer, and the value begins to drop. Saratoga County spent $2 million of federal stimulus money three years ago to pave 6.5 miles of trail. Where will all of the additional funds come from for trail-only construction?

-The railroad is state subsidized.

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad receives no state subsidies for operations. Surprisingly, this information is contained in the Rails to Trails Conservancy report. The railroad performs corridor maintenance and then bills the state for associated costs, as allowed for by the UMP. This is maintenance work that has to be done regardless of the user. Initial opening of the corridor was done with a combination of grant and loan money. This was work that had to be done regardless of who wanted to use the corridor, as it was blocked by trees and washouts.

-You cannot put a trail alongside of the rail line.

Of course you can. It is done in multiple areas, and the trail is protected from the rail line by engineered systems such as fences, walls, distance, etc. This is being used along railroad lines that are far busier than the corridor would see. Would it be a challenge? Of course it would. A trail has already been planned and engineered between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, and there is enough room for both. This trail has, as of this date, been canceled due to various reasons.

ARTA is trying to present this as a simple issue between their idea and multi-use corridor supporters. It is not simple. Readers of any article, regardless of who it is from – even this one – should take some time to verify what is being said. It appears that some newspapers won’t.

Michael McNulty lives in Saranac Lake.