Failed logic on ripping up rails

So not much has changed since the first of the year insofar as any word from New York state about the future of the travel corridor. And like everyone else, we, too, are disappointed by that.

But some things have moved the game on, and it is very telling that the rhetoric continues and by some measure reveals more the feelings of opponents of the rail operation. Significant energy has been leveled at the railroad that declares “a failed operation, a waste of (taxpayer) subsidized funds, inept or unsuitable management, lack of economic influence, no business plan for the future,” and so on and so on and so on. In the past we have been clear about the success we have achieved against substantial headwinds; about the facts surrounding subsidies, or the actual lack thereof; that the railroad not only has educated, experienced managers, but most who are committed as volunteers; a significant financial impact in locales where we operate; and not least, a detailed, 140-page business plan created in late 2012 and early 2013 outlining expenses and expected returns. This document was professionally produced and has received an overwhelmingly positive response from those who have reviewed it. This is unlike the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates’ pitch, which depends on fantasy numbers of trail users, offers no means for construction finance, relies on state and local municipalities for upkeep, and suggests that somehow the environment would be better for the increased snowmobile use. Failed logic!

Let’s talk about the taxpayer for a moment, a subject frequently highlighted by the ARTA folks. Assuming the unit management plan is reopened – a study process which will take many years to complete and at a cost which will no doubt be a large fraction of either the rail or trail proposal – it will be an expense of the taxpayer. This process will entail environmental impact studies; a myriad of permitting challenges; reversionary rights debates; state, local and federal inputs; public hearings, soliciting the various chambers, legislatures, boards and anyone else with an opinion and is breathing; and who knows what else. This exercise, be reminded, was completed in 1996 and from which came a sensible outcome. The expense will be staggering, and sadly, when the process is over, there will still have been no work done to the corridor. And all of this is being done to satisfy environmentalists who don’t want the train in the neighborhood.

Be clear; this contest is not at all about another trail. There are thousands of miles of those already. This is about no rails. Simple. Again, refer to Mr. Beamish’s 1995 book, and pay special attention to the section which proposes pulling up the rails and prohibiting any motorized vehicles thereafter. Snowmobilers, beware. ARTA needs your support right now, but be keen to verify that it won’t disappear along with the rails. It is strange that funding of many organizations and projects in the Adirondacks aimed squarely at the environment and its preservation comes from people associated with ARTA, and then suddenly a cozy relationship with snowmobile groups pops up. So who needs whom?

As for the railroad, we will continue to operate as normal in spite of all the noise. Whatever the outcome, we will be satisfied in the knowledge that ours is an honest pursuit not propelled by selfish interests. A pursuit that outlines from the beginning the economic and social implications and which serves the interests of the most constituents. The either/or route was determined to be wrong in 1996 and still is. Trails can easily be incorporated in the Tupper-to-Saranac segment, as we are finding out from multiple studies, both independent and in concert with the TRAC group, and resources at the state level.

So you decide. No failed logic here.

Bill Branson is president of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. He lives in Skaneateles.