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Mixed emotions on railroad

October 31, 2011
By Glenn Poirier

I have been following the ongoing debate of the rails or trails or both with great interest.

A little background: When I was a kid back in the '60s, my grandparents lived on Webb Row, adjacent to the tracks and the train station. There was nothing cooler than seeing the train arrive and watching visitors disembark. I especially remember Fresh Air kids from New York City getting off, looking around and thinking, "Oh my God, where am I?"

Sadly, the railway went the way of the horse and buggy while interstates and roads throughout our state were built. This was almost 50 years ago.

Why did the railway die? Simple economics: It's cheaper to send freight and people via other means.

In 1979, in between college semesters, I was fortunate enough to land a job here in Tupper Lake working for the Adirondack Railway. It paid $4.50 an hour, and I learned a lot about the railroad. Many of the guys I worked with are still in the area, and I have a lot of great memories.

The Adirondack Railway was resurrected for the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, and millions of dollars were poured into its restoration. Shortly after the Olympics it went belly-up.

All the work on replacing the rails and ties were done by hand, and it was work in the strictest sense, hard work, but rewarding for a 20-year-old. Augie Zande was the foreman, and that in itself is a book. Suffice it to say, I've worked on the railroad between Horseshoe Lake and Lake Placid, and I understand the amount of money and work it entails to maintain a functional railway. It's millions of dollars.

On Columbus Day weekend a few weeks back, my wife and I went to Old Forge to meet her brother, wife and kids who had ridden the train from Utica to Thendara. Old Forge was packed, it was a beautiful day, and my brother-in-law, a train nut, had a ball on the train. A good time was had by all.

I love the train. I love the Adirondack Railway. I love the history. I love walking down the tracks to Underwood Bridge and thinking about what it must have been like 100 years ago, when the railway was the highway to Tupper Lake.

The folks who have poured their blood, sweat and tears, not to say money, into the rebuilding of the new depot in Tupper are to be commended. It's a fantastic project and is a centerpiece of revitalization of the Junction.

That said, here's my humble opinion.

Trains anywhere can't be profitable, for obvious reasons (fuel, lack of freight, etc.)

Utica to Thendara is the exception. It's all about numbers, and central New York has a population much greater than ours. I say, keep that running, along with Placid to Saranac Lake. Placid has the summer business to make it semi-viable. A side-by-side train-trail project is viable there based on the short distance between the two communities.

As far as running the train to Tupper from Saranac Lake, or Thendara to Tupper, rip up the tracks and make it a dedicated trail for ATVs, snowmobiles, skiers, hikers and bikers. Distance is the enemy here. The distance makes it impractical for passengers to spend a day on the train from Thenadara to Tupper, SL or LP. The money involved would cost tens of millions.

There is simply no way on this God's earth that a train and trail can exist. Perhaps if George Pataki was still governor and dropping millions off in the North Country every year, it could, but times have changed. Governor Cuomo loves the area, but he's a pragmatist, as we've seen as of late. I don't predict any major gifts from Albany in the near or distant future, based on the economy in the state and country. We simply don't have the people traffic that it would take to have the train have a positive impact on the local economy. Forget about freight, unless you're in China.

A recreational trail that could be used by the aforementioned groups would, in my humble opinion, bring people and dollars into our economically depressed area, and have a real sustainable effect. The repeat business would be incredible, provided accommodations were available. People would stay for a weekend, or a week, and maybe, just maybe, come back next year. If you ride the train once to Tupper from Placid or SL, are you going to do it year after year and spend a weekend in TL?

So there is my 2 cents worth; I've mixed emotions and know many people who are invested emotionally in the train.

I say step back and see the big picture.


Glenn Poirier lives in Tupper Lake.



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