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APA OKs state rail-trail plan

Railroad tracks run beside Tupper Lake’s train station, rebuilt in the 2000s in hopes of receiving train traffic. New York state intends to replace the rails with a multi-use trail from here to Lake Placid and renovate the tracks south of here, connecting to Utica. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

The state Adirondack Park Agency on Thursday approved a revised plan for the railroad line that connects the Utica area to Lake Placid. The plan will create a recreation trail in the heart of the Adirondacks while preserving part of the rail line for scenic train service.

The plan, pushed by the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation, will tear up the rail lines for a multi-use 34-mile trail, including snowmobilers in winter and cyclists in summer, from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid.

It will also refurbish about 45 miles of track that runs south from Tupper Lake, allowing scenic trains to run up from Utica. New York state owns the portion of the line between Remsen and Lake Placid; between Remsen and Utica it is privately owned.

Tupper Lake would thus be the project’s hub, the terminus for both rail trail users and scenic train tour riders.

Refurbishment of the line south of Tupper Lake, to get the trains going again, is expected to be done by 2021, the rail trail by 2023.

The train buffs have fought the bikers and snowmobilers for years over the line, appealing to the historic nature of the rail line and the growing scarcity of scenic train routes, while the trail advocates have pointed to the growing popularity of recreational trails and the success of rail trails elsewhere in the country.

Trains ran on the line through the Adirondacks from the late 19th century through the early 1970s, and then off and on as part of scenic tours — including from 2000 to 2016 between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The right of way is 100 feet wide, and since it is already cleared, trees would not have to be felled for the project.

This is not the first time the APA has approved a plan like this for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. In 2017 a Franklin County judge shot down a prior state plan, siding with a lawsuit by the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society (which does business as the Adirondack Scenic Railroad) that the state acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by not making a historic preservation plan, not fully owning all of the travel corridor and that removing the tracks would no longer meet the definition of “travel corridor.” The APA has since revised the legal definition.

No action on other rails-to-trails plan

Meanwhile in Warren County, where a similar transformation to a recreation trail has been proposed for a line running from Hadley to North Creek, nothing appears to be happening. In February, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board advised county supervisors to hold off on abandonment proceedings, which would have allowed them to explore tearing up the tracks and using the right of way as something other than a railroad.

The transportation board recommended supervisors wait on another abandonment request, this one from the Department of Environmental Conservation for the Tahawus line, which runs north of the Warren County rail line. The Tahawus line is tied up in the bankruptcy of its owner, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC.

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