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Railroad advocates chugging ahead

February 24, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

TUPPER LAKE - Railroad advocates are chugging ahead with plans for rehabilitating the train tracks between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, despite opposition from a group that wants the tracks ripped up for a recreational trail.

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society announced this week plans to add two more board members from the Tri-Lakes area. Tupper Lakers Jim Ellis, Sandra Strader and Dan Mecklenburg already sit on the board, but they are looking for two new board members from this area.

Next Stop Tupper Lake Chairman Dan McClelland told the Enterprise in a Thursday interview that he has in mind a few people from the Saranac Lake area, but he hasn't approached anyone yet.

"We need more representation up there," said ARPS board President Bill Branson in a phone interview. "We've needed more people up in the North Country for a long time."

"We need a bigger presence from ARPS at this end," said David Tomberlin, who McClelland said has been giving the effort new life.

In addition to that, Next Stop is working on a partnership with ARPS that would essentially have the organization running the northern leg of the railroad for ARPS.

"We would be the hands-on kind of people," McClelland said.

The ARPS board members in the Tri-Lakes would oversee Next Stop for ARPS, McClelland said. He said the arrangement still needs approval from the ARPS board.

They are also trying to boost the number of volunteers for the railroad in the Tri-Lakes area. On the railroad's southern end, where the trains run from Utica to Thendara, there are about 200 volunteers who help with operations each year.

But they need more volunteers to help on the northern end, so they're planning on holding training courses in early May. Volunteers start as trainmen, then proceed to conductor, then can become engineers over what's normally about a three- or four-year process, Tomberlin said. He said he wants to do the training because it's always been his dream to drive a train.


Phase 1

The rail groups are also looking to move forward with Phase 1 of their On Track to Saranac initiative, which means raising about $350,000 to $500,000 to rehabilitate the tracks about 5 miles, from the Tupper Lake train depot to the back side of Rollins Pond.

They've had three people offer $50,000 donation matches, and they also have a truckload full of donated rail ties ready to go.

"The only thing we need is ties, some ballast, but the rails are fine," Tomberlin said.

If they can get that portion of the track rehabilitated, they want to offer short train excursions along that route - "kind of a teaser," McClelland said.

They're also looking into the possibility of using a military training program to bring members of the military to Tupper Lake to work on the tracks. The only cost with that program would be housing the workers and providing the materials, Tomberlin said.

They're still in the application phase for that program, but if they're able to use it for the first phase, that would cut down on the costs significantly, Tomberlin said.

The goal for the first part of rehabilitation would be to get the track to Class 1 status, which would allow trains to go 15 mph. After that the goal would be to step them up to Class 2, which would allow trains to travel faster, but "the first step was to get it operational," Tomberlin said.

Since it's essentially maintaining the current use for the corridor, Tomberlin said they believe they only need approval from the state Department of Transportation to start work once they raise the funds.



When they first announced the On Track to Saranac initiative, Next Stop officials had talked about adding trails alongside the tracks eventually. But now the idea is to try to work on the trails concurrently with the rail work.

McClelland said he's looking at the land around the tracks and is going to talk with the landowners, one of the large ones being Lyme Timber, about using the current rail right of way as well as some existing logging roads to create trails.

"There's an awful lot of trail network in close proximity to the rails now," Branson said. "So for the trail and rail people, if there are any, we might be able to accomplish quite a lot of that at the same time."

They're looking for trails that could go around some of the tougher parts of track rather than right alongside the rail. If they can avoid wetlands and other difficult areas like that, it will be cheaper, McClelland said.

He said he's hoping some members of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates would join the effort and volunteer to clear brush and cut trails, but he's had a hard time getting anyone on board so far.

One of the ARTA's main arguments against keeping the tracks is that it's not realistic to be able to pay for both a rail and a trail. But McClelland and Tomberlin both say that if Next Stop and ARPS take it in small, manageable, baby steps, they see a future that includes both a railroad and a recreational trail.



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