To the editor:
The tourist-train promoters have announced an agreement with Iowa Pacific to restore overnight Pullman car service between New York City and Lake Placid. This pipe dream would be a joke if there was not so much at stake. What it's doing, however, is delaying the conversion of the 90-mile rail corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge into the country's finest recreation trail.
The announcement about restoring the old overnight rail service to Lake Placid was greeted with great fanfare by rail fans. "I believe!" shouted one of them. What I believe is that this is just the latest in a long line of broken promises that stretches as far as the 118-mile corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid, an obsolete and decaying rail line that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad wants to restore at a cost to taxpayers of $43 million.
The deceptions began 20 years ago. "We will pay all costs of rehabilitating the tracks," ASR told us. Well, $35 million in taxpayer dollars later, the tourist train still can't pay to maintain its own operations. They assured us that if taxpayers spent $10 million to enable a tourist train to run between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, they would increase ridership by 50,000 per year. What happened? They just announced that 22,000 riders traveled on the Placid-Saranac train this year, which is actually about half that number since they count a round-trip passenger as two separate passengers. They promised Tupper Lake that if the village built them a station, they would extend the tourist train to Tupper from Saranac Lake - another empty promise.
Two years ago we heard from railroad promoters that the U.S. Army will come to their rescue and rebuild this 25-mile rail corridor so the tourist train would come through. They have insisted that both a railroad and a parallel recreation trail are possible on the rail bed between the two villages. Yet doing both is a physical, financial and environmental impossibility.
Now ASR dreams of restoring overnight service from New York to Lake Placid so wealthy tourists in the Big Apple can make the 11-hour train trip to the Olympic Village the old-fashioned way - and at a huge cost to taxpayers, with no benefit for businesses along the way. I am not sure they could have found a more minuscule user group to cater to.
Moreover, rebuilding the line for overnight Pullman service would prevent the conversion of the corridor to a multi-use recreation trail, including a greatly improved snowmobile trail running north from Old Forge that would attract large numbers of snowmobilers to Tupper Lake. The trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would, according to a study by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, bring a quarter-million tourists to the region, compared to just 7,000 new overnight visitors from extended train service and far fewer under the Pullman promise. The recreation-trail tourists would spend $20 million while here. The additional train riders would spend $649,000.
Just how long can we continue to allow a small user group of rail fans to determine our future?