The trail advocates representing the group ARTA seem to know a lot about the railroad. You might think so, for over the past year they have worked tirelessly to discredit the railroad and everyone involved with it. This is interesting since, for the last three years, I've managed the railroad and I've never met them. I don't know a thing about their business but apparently they know everything about mine, and they cannot find anything they like about it.
That's unfortunate. For if they had asked me about the railroad, maybe they would appreciate it and be working with us, not against us. For too long they have made ridiculous, negative and sometimes mean-spirited claims, degrading the railroad based on what I can only say is ignorance.
First, I admit, it has not been fun trying to run a business and be part of the community against the backdrop of the nonstop negativity. Can you imagine trying to run your business with someone clamoring nonstop against you every day while you and your staff are just trying to do your best? I have to admit, it's been just plain awful.
Since I know the railroad, I know that much of what has been said is misleading or incorrect. For example, it has been stated we do nothing for the community. Really? Besides running a railroad safely, we do a lot more. We support community causes. We run Ironman run-aid station No. 1; we've donated to the Lion's Club, hospice and area schools, and many other fundraisers. We're a favorite trip for the disabled and handicapped. We've done training for fire departments and hosted countless school groups. We are in the Block Party and the Winter Carnival and support the Adirondack Carousel, the Farm-to-Fork food fest, the Hobofest music festival, to name but a few local events. We both employ and purchase locally, buying fuel, food, beverages and supplies. But apparently, the trail advocates are blind to this.
And the claim of 4,100 riders. Hello? Fact: Last year we served more than 14,000 passengers on this end. This year we have grown that to more than 20,000 passengers. Columbus Day we sold out. Halloween trains promise the same. Our business is up in a down economy. Why? Because people like trains and we have worked hard. Yes, we have slow days, and busy days, and in-between days, like every other business. Nobody is immune from these cycles.
And the claim that we are subsidized from the taxpayer? This is perhaps the biggest blather of misinformation. Fact: We receive no operating subsidy. Our trains, their expense, the fuel, the salaries, the food, the insurance - all come out of our fare box. We get some reimbursement for maintaining the out-of-service corridor cutting brush, repairing culverts or the like, and for that, I do not apologize. It is not our property. Somebody needs to take care of it. These costs will not go away, regardless of use. We are a good tenant and partner for DOT. The railroad is both a historic and strategic asset for the Adirondacks and, like everything else, needs to be maintained.
Some of the cost is rail-specific - it is railroad track - and if it were a trail, there would be trail-specific costs, too. Some funding passes through the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society to subcontractors, too, and that should not be held against us. Do you see new railroad trucks or equipment around? No. New railroad cars? No. Fancy offices? NO. New track? Unfortunately, no. You don't see it because the subsidy claimed does not exist. If it did, we would already be in Tupper Lake.
Regarding dismantling: Those who suggest volunteers can remove the railroad are naive to the work and danger. Volunteers are not going to lift miles of rails and ties. It is heavy, dirty and dangerous work. A volunteer could be injured or killed doing it, and it is irresponsible to promote it.
Rail banking? Just where would the money come from to rebuild it when the time came? Will there be a multi-million-dollar trust fund created now for this or will this problem just be dumped on the next generation? Because without money set aside, it won't happen.
Nothing will be gained by removing the rails. It's 1960s-era thinking. We have an extensive trail network and snowmobiling. We have shared year-round use of the corridor. We have a fully funded, ready-to-build plan for a unique rail with trail. You don't need a new trail along the entire corridor. The trails will work where they are practical, as planned for between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
Why would you eliminate rail service in favor of trail activities already here? You would trade out our dollars for yours? That is a sideways move. This is a tourist economy. We need more, not less, reasons for people to visit. We need the rail transportation asset preserved and protected for the future generations.
Why not work with everyone to get the present rail with trail built? If there are contractors ready to donate and volunteers ready to contribute, as claimed, then build it for less money than planned, and maybe we can stretch the dollars more and do it all the way to Saranac Lake. At the same time, that rail with trail will enhance the railroad business with one-way riders. And don't forget the Adirondack Carousel, too. That will be a great attraction for everyone. Moreover, for those less active like the little kids, the elderly and handicapped, they can continue to ride on the train and enjoy the Adirondacks, too.
There is more I could say, but my point is this: The railroad is here and does plenty of good. It's all how you look at it - you can see the good if you want to. Let's stop bickering and start working together to build something unique.
Pete Snyder is operations manager for the Adirondack Scenic Railroad's Lake Placid-Tupper Lake Division.