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Critic correct on rail-trail study

I am responding to the letter from Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board member David Banks, who correctly pointed out on Feb. 2 that I made an error when I asserted the Camoin study found the all-trail option was the worst choice. He called it a misrepresentation; I made the mistake of conflating the study’s examination of removing the line all the way back to Utica with ARTA’s call to remove it only back to Old Forge. My bad – it was not my intent to mislead.

I do thank him for pointing out that “They found that the ‘all rail’ option would provide nearly as much economic benefit,” before going on to say it should be ignored because he questions the ridership numbers for the railroad. I’d like to repeat that the economic benefits estimated for the rail trail have also been challenged, and with a lot more facts behind that challenge. But let’s not stop there.

It needs to be said that the Camoin study and the rail trail proposals based on it are obsolete and flawed for three reasons.

They do not include any of the economic benefits coming from the rail bikes of the Rail Explorers. Harrietstown and Franklin County are calling to keep the rails in place now that they’ve had a demonstration of what the rails can do. The economic impact from the rails is clearly looking like the better option now.

Further, serious safety concerns have arisen about the trail, given that state Departmnt of Environmental Conservation failed to account for the numerous dangerous road crossings it would have. Have they also considered the safety implications of a multi-use trail they expect to accommodate cyclists, runners, walkers, wheelchairs and more, all at the same time? Mixed traffic moving at different speeds – how wide would this trail have to be to give them all room?

If that wasn’t enough, the winter this year should be a clear warning that removing the rails for a marginal extension of snowmobiling in the corridor is a really bad idea. Many snowmobile trails without rails have bare spots; grooming isn’t possible. Skiing, ice fishing – all of these and more are being impacted by the weather this year.

Winters in the Adirondacks keep getting warmer and the snow season shorter. Does it really make sense to kill off the proven economic benefits of the railroad while putting more money into a declining winter tourism market and an unproven, redundant trail? There are already thousands of miles of trails – but only one railroad. Does Lake Placid really want to cut itself off from direct access by rail to both Amtrak at Utica and the New York State Thruway, and become even more isolated?

Mr. Banks admitted that “Neither Camoin nor the state even considered a 90-mile rail trail from Lake Placid to Old Forge,” which means that ARTA has nothing to back up its claims that the 90-mile trail it prefers is really the best option. In fact, you could take the flawed compromise proposal as evidence that a trail without rails is only viable if it connects with rails at Tupper Lake – else why stop the trail there? If that is the case – how much more sense does it make to keep the rails already in place and in use?

Mr. Banks is eager to complain the railroad is already too long for a tourist railroad, but ARTA supporters seem to have no problem extolling the virtues of long bike trail systems elsewhere. Wouldn’t he like the Adirondacks to be number 1 in something? More seriously, the railroad has succeeded despite being hindered by the limitations of the middle section of the line. Remove those, and the benefits coming from the existing operations can only increase.

His statement describing the current operations of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad as “disappointing-to-all” isn’t just a misrepresentation – it’s a bald-faced lie, as evidenced by the thousands of riders the railroad has already hosted, the thousands more who could ride in the future and the support it has in the community. Given ARTA’s concerns with misrepresentation, I trust he will withdraw that remark.

Save the rails.

Larry Roth lives in Ravena.

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