Rail bikes won’t return this year

Railroad now hopes for 2019

Adirondack Scenic Railroad Executive Director Jack Roberson shows what the organization’s new rail bikes will look like during a presentation at the Adirondack Carousel in Saranac Lake in June. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — Despite a press conference earlier this summer announcing the start of rail bike operations out of Saranac Lake, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad will have to postpone the effort until next year at the earliest.

A number of questions remained unanswered when the proposal was announced, but due to logistical issues, the railroad does not have the staff or equipment in place to begin operating the popular tourist attraction as planned.

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, which operates trains under the ASR name on the state-owned Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, had hoped to re-create the success of a previous rail bike operation, Rail Explorers. But manufacturing, planning and staffing issues prevented the launch.

“We just didn’t have enough pieces in place for this year,” ARPS board member Al Dunham said Tuesday. “So we’re planning on next year.

“We just want make sure it’s very well organized and fully staffed.”

During the press conference in June, ARPS Executive Director Jack Roberson said the rail bike operation would begin Aug. 17. But at that time, the railroad did not have a permit from the state Department of Transportation — which oversees operation of the travel corridor — or an end point in Lake Clear. At that time, only one rail bike had been built, but Roberson said as many as 10 could be completed by a manufacturing company in Utica, where ARPS is headquartered.

Dunham said he was able to ride the prototype bike recently. He also said the owners of Charlie’s Inn, a restaurant next to the old Lake Clear Junction train station, were receptive to the rail bikes stopping there. The starting point for the ride was slated to be Saranac Lake’s Union Depot train station.

The rail line has been a source of contention for years. Most of it is state owned, from Lake Placid south to Remsen, and a private section continues on to nearby Utica. The state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation had proposed a plan to remove the train tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid and replace them with a multi-use recreational trail, and also to renovate the tracks north to Tupper Lake.

ARPS sued over that plan and won in state court. The state Adirondack Park Agency has since proposed a change to the legal definition of a travel corridor that would allow the removal of the tracks, but that proposal has not been finalized.

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