Train advocates, stop the attacks

How unfortunate that once again, train advocates have chosen to personally attack trail advocates and news media in online responses to recent reporting on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

Trail advocates are not seeking use of the corridor south of Old Forge, so the Adirondack Scenic Railroad will likely be allowed to continue its rail operations from Utica to Old Forge. They’ll still be “winners,” even if they no longer control the corridor north of Old Forge. They and their supporters should graciously accept that opportunity, and the state support that will likely go with it. They should stop attacking well-intentioned advocates offering evidence in support of an inexpensive Adirondack Rail Trail from Old Forge to Lake Placid, and its valuable benefits to the region.

I like trains, and I recently enjoyed a very nice trip on Amtrak. I admire train advocates’ resourcefulness and “20 years of blood, sweat, and tears.” However, their substantial efforts do not entitle them to permanent control of this corridor and permanent state support. They have been allowed an extraordinary opportunity to develop rail services along the corridor, and the state has spent millions of dollars, and they haven’t achieved the results that were promised.

There’s no evidence that more time and state money would change the fundamental fact that people don’t travel to the Adirondacks in significant numbers to ride the train. There is abundant evidence that people would travel to the Adirondacks in very significant numbers to walk or ride on an inexpensive-to-build Adirondack Rail Trail, where they would not face steep climbs, highway traffic or possibly getting lost in an unfamiliar forest by making a wrong turn. They can spend days walking, bike riding or sledding from one village to another, spending money at every stop.

Train advocates’ earnest efforts and failure to achieve their goals demonstrate the unfeasibility of restoring train service here, in the absence of investors and with so few customers. Railroads’ huge, fuel-guzzling locomotives can move thousands of tons. Contrast that massive capacity with the negligible demand for any form of rail services north of Old Forge, as discussed at “Fifteen million dollars” represents the tip of the iceberg of what taxpayers would pay for an expanded Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Why should New York taxpayers spend many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to restore and subsidize operations of a train that would carry no more people than a small bus or no more freight than a small truck?

If it is not possible to justify huge taxpayer expenditures to restore and maintain rail service along this corridor, how can they justify a much larger expenditure for a train plus a trail? Even if we set aside the overwhelming evidence of the physical unfeasibility of a parallel trail, it simply makes no sense to spend so much money north of Old Forge for any form of train service along this 90-mile, dead-end corridor with near-century-old rails and only 20,000 people – particularly given our less-than-successful 16-year experience with that train service.

Train advocates also posted comments that other forms of transportation receive government subsidies, so the state should be willing to subsidize the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. However, an expanded ASR would be much more dependent on public support than any airline, trucking company or bus line, particularly north of Old Forge. This would be essentially a state-funded enterprise, not an awarding of a small state subsidy. Before the state of New York even considers extending the ASR’s control of the corridor, they must first conduct a comprehensive analysis of overall costs, revenues and benefits.

Dependency, transparency and accountability

An expanded Adirondack Scenic Railroad would be intractably dependent on state funding, but they have hardly operated in a transparent or publicly accountable manner. The ASR has refused to release its proposal to the public and has stiff-armed the press, while train advocates have personally attacked the press. These attacks should also stop.

Do we really want to reward that kind of behavior and invest in their massive and expensive but undefined and unneeded venture? Do the citizens of the state of New York value rail service to Lake Placid more than any other urgent budget priority, such that they are prepared to issue a “blank check” to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad? The Adirondack Rail Trail can be built and maintained inexpensively, and it will bring substantial benefits to the region. Which option is supported by communities along this corridor? The Adirondack Rail Trail – see

David Banks lives in Lake Clear and is a board member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.