2. State decides on plan for rail corridor

“Rosie,” one of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s engines, leaves the Saranac Lake train depot for perhaps the last time in October. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

After nearly three years of public comments and input, the state decided in February to move forward with a plan to build a trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake along the Remsen-Lake Placid travel corridor.

In February, the state Adirondack Park Agency board voted to approve the plan to take up the train tracks and build the 34-mile trail. The plan also calls for the state to upgrade the tracks for passenger service between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation announced in early May that it would go forward with the plan, and on the same day as the DEC announcement, the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society said that it had filed a lawsuit against the DEC and APA to halt the plan.

ARPS, which operates tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name, runs trains on the southern end of the line and between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

As spring turned into summer, Rail Explorers USA, which operates a rail-bike excursion business on the rails out of Saranac Lake, began to run its operation to a residential property in Lake Clear. Several neighbors began to complain about the operation, even while Rail Explorers expanded its offerings to include day trips to Tupper Lake.

In the discovery phase of the lawsuit, it was found that the state did not own fee-title to four parcels of the corridor, though.

This gave hope to the train folks, and caused hearings on the lawsuit to be delayed several times. Since then, the state has begun working with the owners of the parcels to come to an agreement that would allow the trail to move forward.

Three of the parcels are around North Country Community College, and the fourth is the train depot in Lake Placid, which is owned by the Lake Placid/North Elba Historical Society.

The DEC began holding stakeholder meetings to create a conceptual plan for the trail this fall. The meetings were behind closed doors, and after prodding by the Enterprise, the DEC agreed to release meeting notes after the fact to the press. However, the meetings remained closed to both the public and the press.

Meanwhile, Saranac Lake village Trustee Rich Shapiro has hosted several open meetings to gather public input on amenities the trail should have.

In the beginning of October, Rail Explorers told the Enterprise that it would cease its local operations unless the state offered some sort of incentive, like a long-term lease, for them to stay. Rail Explorers also said that it would open an operation in the Catskills and possibly other areas outside of New York.

It was also discovered that Rail Explorers had been operating without a necessary permit from the APA this summer.

In November, another hearing on the lawsuit was delayed when the state said it needed more time to come to an agreement with the owners of the parcels in question. The railroad agreed to the delay on the condition that no rail infrastructure be removed before the next hearing, which is scheduled for the end of January. The state had previously said that removal of rail infrastructure could happen as soon as this fall, but the agreement on the hearing delay postponed any removal of tracks until at least next year.