Train robbery in the Adirondacks

Recent published revelations about the poor financial health of the Adirondack Scenic Railway, despite significant government subsidies to the organization, are startling, baffling and disappointing, if not downright maddening.

I have attended several public meetings over the past few years where the railroad advocates have “wagged an index finger,” claiming they were not the beneficiaries of government support. However, Jim McCulley’s recent commentary published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise reveals via tax filings that the ASR received nearly $1.5 million of government support in 2011 and 2012 alone. That is a LOT of public subsidy for what has been a seasonal hobby business.

And what benefit has the public received from that government subsidy to date?

Close to nothing.

After years of promises, most of the rail ties continue to rot. The Lake Placid-Saranac Lake summer rail service is seldom used. And sadly, more promising ideas as to how the rail corridor can be utilized (think recreational path) continue to get roadblocked by agencies that should be focused on generating economic development for the Adirondack region versus acting as business prevention agencies.

The fact that the railroad continues to soak up public money and simultaneously sits on a public corridor that could attract thousands of additional tourists year-round is an outrageous and abysmal bureaucratic decision.

It is time to confront the facts:

1. The railroad, after decades of promises and high hopes, has never come close to fulfilling even the most modest dream.

2. Towns and villages all along the corridor have overwhelmingly voted to either convert the rail bed to a recreational path or to at least open it to a formal review.

3. The unit management plan for the corridor, which was supposed to be revisited in 2001, is now 13 years overdue. Why isn’t someone held accountable?

4. State Sen. Betty Little should have entered this debate long ago. She happens to be chair of the Senate’s Committee for Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation. It seems ironic that she is not supporting (in fact impeding) the one thing that could do more for tourism and recreation in the Adirondacks than anything else. It is time, Senator! This has tremendous economic implications for the North Country, and you should take the lead.

I spent my career in business. There is an indisputable economic principle that dictates, “A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow.” In other words, delay and inefficiency have a tremendous cost. In the case of the railroad corridor, lack of focus, initiative and accountability have cost the North Country millions of tourist dollars. What a waste.

As every season fades away, so does the revenue that could have been derived from better managing the rail corridor in a more effective and productive manner.

We simply cannot afford that. This endless delay and costly procrastination cannot continue.

It is time to take advantage of one of the Adirondack Park’s greatest and, until now, most wasted public assets.

1. Senator Little: It is time to enter the discussion and actively support what will best serve your constituents, not a group of hobbyists.

2. New York State Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation: It is time to update the unit management plan now 13 years overdue

3. Adirondack residents and locally elected officials: It is time to demand what you rightly deserve a viable economic engine that can benefit this great and beautiful region. Take charge.

Richard Maid lives in Lake Placid and Mount Arab.