×

Governor green-lights rail-trail plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced $23 million in funding for a plan to split the state-owned Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor into one section for trains and another for a trail.

Tracks are to be removed and replaced with a multi-use trail on the 34 miles between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and the railroad is to be upgraded to allow 30 mph train travel on the 45 miles from Tupper Lake to Big Moose.

The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation first announced the proposal nearly two years ago, and the Adirondack Park Agency signed off on it three months ago, but the governor’s office had been silent until Tuesday’s press release.

Now the governor says the state will “immediately invest in the implementation of the plan,” pledging $15 million to upgrade the railroad from Big Moose north to Tupper Lake and $8 million to build a multi-use trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Those expenses are roughly in line with estimates from June 2015, when the DOT said it expected track rehabilitation to cost $11 million and the 34-mile trail to cost $7.8 million to $9.8 million.

It should all be done in three years, the governor’s office said.

Fierce debate has swirled for the last five years or so about what to do with the 124-year-old railroad. Grassroots groups have formed, advocating for a trail to replace the rails as well as for a trail that would weave roughly parallel to the tracks. Supporters of the railroad and of a rail bike business that started last year in Saranac Lake have raised money for a lawsuit, and the Preservation League of New York State has put the railroad on its “Seven to Save” list.

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, who runs the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, released a lengthy statement blasting the plan and saying the organization had filed a legal challenge against the DEC and APA concerning the decision back on April 11.

“Upon submitting the legal challenge, the ARPS was advised by the DEC and Attorney General that no decision had been made, despite the signed document which appeared on the DEC website,” the statement read. “The DEC and Governor had both recently stated that New York State was going to ‘rethink’ the most recent Amendment. After the Railroad met with the DEC on May 17th, the Agency later sent out a press release announcing Alternative 7 will be implemented.”

ARPS President Bill Branson, in the statement, again criticized the APA’s finding that the plan conforms with the State Land Master Plan’s allowances for a “travel corridor.”

“The proposed recreational trail will have nothing to do with ‘travel’ and the APA’s conformance finding is thus wrong,” Branson said. “In fact, one of the APA Commissioners specifically stated this when the APA voted on the proposal.” APA Commissioner Dick Booth was the lone dissenting vote against the plan but made clear that he was not against the substance. Rather, he wanted to wait until the State Land Master Plan language is tweaked to clarify that a travel corridor does not require physical railroad tracks. Parts of the SLMP say a travel corridor can include either a railroad or a railroad right of way, but some just mention a railroad.

With the governor’s blessing, however, the state is now all aboard and moving full steam ahead with this so-called compromise plan.

ARPS left the DOT out of its legal challenge, suggesting a conflict between state agencies, but DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll gave a supporting statement in the governor’s announcement Tuesday.

“This proposal will strengthen the existing excursion railroad from Utica and extend its operation to Tupper Lake – a distance of more than 100 miles,” Driscoll said. “At the same time, we will work to mitigate impacts and to preserve the character of communities along the rail corridor.”

The state would also give a longer-term lease to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad instead of one-year leases that the nonprofit company’s officials have said restrain their potential investment.

ASR’s excursion trains on the 10 miles of track between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid would have to end this November, 16 years after they began there. The state said train stops would be established in communities along the railroad between Tupper Lake and Big Moose, including some linkage at the wilderness-surrounded Lake Lila.

Also in that stretch of the corridor, the state also said it will look into establishing a hut-to-hut cross-country skiing route between Beaver River and Horseshoe Lake.

Snowmobilers would still be able to use the entire corridor in winter, although the rails obstruct their movement when snow cover is shallow. The state plans to develop snowmobile trails between Tupper Lake and Old Forge on Forest Preserve and conservation easement lands, and connect them to trails in the western Adirondacks and Tug Hill Plateau.

The multi-use trail, with a railroad’s flat grade, would be a place for cycling, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, running and walking between the Tri-Lakes villages of Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. The state Olympic Regional Development Authority would have a hand in managing it, and ORDA President-CEO Ted Blazer said it “will complement our facilities like no other here in the Olympic Region.

“Families, elderly people and a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts will be able to safely and easily bike, walk or ski between the Tri-lake communities,” Blazer said in the governor’s release. “The trail will not only provide economic growth for the region, but can also be used to educate users about the history and culture of the communities and the corridor. Those using the trail will also observe and learn about the wonders of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.”

“From Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, the Adirondacks is home to unparalleled natural beauty, and today we are building on what makes this region so special,” Cuomo said in the release. “By rehabilitating the railway and building a scenic trail, we are better utilizing the corridor and its surrounding lands to create more economic and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike.”

One hurdle is that the railroad corridor is listed on the state and national registers of historic places. The governor’s press release said state officials would consult with the state historic preservation office about ways to mitigate the impact of removing the rails and ties.

“We are disappointed by the Governor’s announcement, as we feel that the railroad advocates have made a strong case for the preservation of the entire 119-mile rail corridor for its economic, social, and cultural value,” Steven Engelhart, executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage, said in an emailed statement.

The plan will also be an upheaval for Rail Explorers, a new business last year whose pedal-powered cars drew several thousand riders on the rails between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear.

Questions were raised last week about whether the plan was being reconsidered. Asked on May 10 if the tracks would be removed at the end of this year, Cuomo deferred to DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos, who said, “DEC is reviewing it all now and will make a decision shortly.” Seggos later told North Country Public Radio his office would review all aspects of the plan and may make some “tweaks here and there.” Nevertheless, the plan Cuomo announced Tuesday appears to be identical to the one that had been in the public eye.

The railroad line was built over a span of 18 months by William Seward Webb and began operating in 1892. It was operated by the New York Central Railroad, which ended passenger service in 1965, and then the Penn Central Railroad until freight service ended in 1972. The state took ownership of the corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid in 1974 and leased it to the Adirondack Railway Corporation during the 1980 Winter Olympics until that short-lived company went bankrupt.

Governor green-lights rail-trail plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced $23 million in funding for a plan to split the state-owned Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor into one section for trains and another for a trail.

As planned, tracks would be removed on the 34 miles between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and tracks would be upgraded to allow 30 mph train travel on the 45 miles from Tupper Lake to Big Moose.

The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation first announced the proposal nearly two years ago, and the Adirondack Park Agency signed off on it three months ago, but the governor’s office had been silent until Tuesday’s press release.

Now the governor says the state will “immediately invest in the implementation of the plan,” pledging $15 million to upgrade the railroad from Big Moose north to Tupper Lake and $8 million to build a multi-use trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Those expenses are roughly in line with estimates from June 2015, when the DOT said it expected track rehabilitation to cost $11 million and the 34-mile trail to cost $7.8 million to $9.8 million.

It should all be done in three years, the governor’s office said.

Fierce debate has swirled for the last five years or so about what to do with the 124-year-old railroad. Grassroots groups have formed advocating for a trail to replace the rails as well as for a trail that would weave roughly parallel to the tracks. Supporters of the railroad and of a rail bike business that started last year in Saranac Lake have started raising money for a possible lawsuit, and the Preservation League of New York State has put the railroad on its “Seven to Save” list.

The state, however, is now all aboard and moving full steam ahead with this so-called compromise plan.

The state would also give a longer-term lease to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad instead of the one-year leases the nonprofit company’s officials have complained about in the past.

ASR’s excursion trains on the 10 miles of track between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid would have to end this November. They would continue next year and beyond between Utica and Thendara, and could soon be expanded north to Tupper Lake. Train stops would be established in communities along the railroad, including some linkage at the wilderness-surrounded Lake Lila.

“This proposal will strengthen the existing excursion railroad from Utica and extend its operation to Tupper Lake – a distance of more than 100 miles,” said DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll. “At the same time, we will work to mitigate impacts and to preserve the character of communities along the rail corridor.”

The trail, with a railroad’s flat grade, would be a place for cycling, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, running and walking. The state Olympic Regional Development Authority would have a hand in managing it.

“This long-distance, multi-use recreation trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake will complement our facilities like no other here in the Olympic Region,” ORDA President and CEO Ted Blazer said in the release. “Families, elderly people and a wide range of outdoor enthusiasts will be able to safely and easily bike, walk or ski between (Lake Placid, Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake). The trail will not only provide economic growth for the region, but can also be used to educate users about the history and culture of the communities and the corridor. Those using the trail will also observe and learn about the wonders of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.”

“From Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, the Adirondacks is home to unparalleled natural beauty, and today we are building on what makes this region so special,” Cuomo said in the release. “By rehabilitating the railway and building a scenic trail, we are better utilizing the corridor and its surrounding lands to create more economic and recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. I am proud the state is moving forward on this important project and this is yet another example of our commitment to ensuring the Adirondacks remain a first-class tourism destination for generations to come.”

One hurdle is that the railroad corridor is listed on the state and national registers of historic places. The governor’s press release said state officials would consult with the state historic preservation office about ways to mitigate the impact of removing the rails and ties.

Snowmobilers would still be able to use the entire corridor in winter, although the steel rails obstruct their movement when snow cover is shallow. As part of the plan, the state plans to develop snowmobile trails between Tupper Lake and Old Forge on Forest Preserve and conservation easement lands, and connect them to trails in the western Adirondacks and Tug Hill Plateau.

Questions were raised last week about whether the plan was being reconsidered. Asked on May 10 if the tracks would be removed at the end of this year, Cuomo deferred to DEC Acting Commissioner Basil Seggos, who said, “DEC is reviewing it all now and will make a decision shortly.” Seggos later told North Country Public Radio his office would review all aspects of the plan and may make some “tweaks here and there.” Nevertheless, the plan Cuomo announced Tuesday appears to be identical to the one that had been in the public eye.

The railroad line was built over a span of 18 months by William Seward Webb and began operating in 1892. It was operated by the New York Central Railroad, which ended passenger service in 1965, and then the Penn Central Railroad until freight service ended in 1972. The state took ownership of the corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid in 1974 and leased it to the Adirondack Railway Corporation during the 1980 Winter Olympics until that short-lived company went bankrupt.