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Bogus claims cloud rail-trail debate

Dear Gov. Cuomo:

New York state has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to prop up Adirondack Scenic Railroad operations along the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor — for example, recently providing $791,000 for ASR’s new maintenance facility in north Utica.

However, ASR President Bill Branson has again explicitly rejected the state’s generous proposal, which includes both paying out millions more taxpayer dollars to restore 45 miles of rail infrastructure from Big Moose to Tupper Lake, and building a 34-mile rail-trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid to revitalize Tri-Lakes communities — which ASR tried and failed to do.

What evidence did Branson provide in support for his rejection of your proposal and his threat of legal action? He stated that “Media outlets have been provided all the facts of the ASR position during the past five years.” Let’s review some of rail advocates’ arguments in support of ASR extension:

¯ ASR is “green.” WRONG! ASR’s locomotives belch clouds of toxic soot and other pollutants, and are definitely not “green” — more “dirty brown.” In addition, any mode of transportation that consumes gallons of diesel fuel per mile must transport very large loads to be carbon-efficient, and a locomotive may be the least carbon-efficient way to transport small loads to a remote, sparsely populated region like the Tri-Lakes. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/09/climate-change-and-reality-really/.

¯ An extended ASR would enable freight rail service. WRONG! There is probably not enough freight moving between Utica and the Tri-Lakes to support a guy making daily trips in a Ford Econoline van, let alone a train. In fact, most of the freight moving to the Tri-Lakes comes from sources far-removed from Utica.

¯ An extended ASR would enable daily passenger service. WRONG! There is not enough movement of people between Utica and the Tri-Lakes to support a guy making daily trips in a Ford Econoline passenger van, let alone passenger rail service capable of hauling hundreds of passengers per day. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/06/a-railroad-to-lake-placid-is-not-sustainable/.

¯ An extended tourist train would attract enough riders to be successful. WRONG! The longest-distance non-freight tourist train in the nation is 67.5 miles, only 5 miles longer than ASR’s current 62.6-mile route from Utica to Big Moose. Branson has rejected 103 miles to Tupper Lake and insisted on 140 miles to Lake Placid in the total absence of supporting evidence. If New York state pays to support ASR extension, taxpayers will forever be paying for the substantial likely shortfall between ASR’s revenue and their substantially increased costs. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/07/the-adirondack-travel-corridor-boondoggle-or-public-benefit/.

¯ “Rails with trails” is the best solution. WRONG! Many ASR advocates have argued that tourist train service with a network of trails running parallel or perpendicular to the rails would benefit all. In fact, experts long ago concluded that the corridor cannot accommodate rails with a parallel trail in very many places, and “rails with trails” advocates have proposed only pieces of parallel trail that would be of little value. The whole premise of trails emanating from the rails is of no demonstrated value, and is actually little more than a pipe dream to support ardent rail fans’ desire for ASR extension. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2017/12/reasons-rails-with-trail-is-not-possible/.

¯ Think of ASR extension as an investment in the region’s future. WRONG! What benefits can New York state point to as return on taxpayers’ spending in support of ASR north of Old Forge over the past two decades? https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2017/11/think-of-it-as-an-investment/

¯ ASR extension is the only means of historic preservation along the corridor. WRONG! ASR is doing little to preserve the corridor, while a popular rail trail could do much to explain and celebrate the region’s history. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/11/dot-asr-let-corridor-crumble/https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2017/11/rail-trails-foster-historic-preservation/.

¯ ASR would be a good partner with New York state. WRONG! ASR has demonstrated that they are not a good partner, with their shaky finances, their poor maintenance of the corridor, their imperiousness and their secrecy. See https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/stories/trainload-questions.

Gov. Cuomo, please don’t allow New York state to be restrained by the obstructionist Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Unfortunately, there will be no consensus in this regard. ASR has disrespected New York state taxpayers with Branson’s imperious new rejection of your plan. Bill Branson evidently believes that “It’s my way or the highway” (“https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=my%20way%20or%20highway”>https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=my%20way%20or%20highway) and “Possession is ten-tenths of the law” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Possession_is_nine-tenths_of_the_law).

The evidence strongly supports New York state going ahead with the trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake. This year-round amenity will attract many visitors and residents to the Tri-Lakes region and will boost the local and regional economy. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/05/lets-get-on-with-it/.

Allow ASR to operate from Utica to Big Moose, and allow Big Moose to Tupper Lake to lie fallow for a few years, and then determine how best to proceed based on experience with the rail trail. Better still, remove the rusty rails and rotten ties from Big Moose to Tupper Lake now to enable greater use of the corridor than is now possible, and pay snowmobile clubs and local communities to do a better job than ASR of maintaining that section of the corridor. See https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/07/extend-rail-trail-to-big-moose/.

ASR rarely operates to Big Moose, and New York state taxpayers owe them nothing north of there — or south of there, for that matter. It is indeed time to end the fantasy of ASR extension, which would be nothing more than a colossal government boondoggle (https://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/opinion/guest-commentary/2019/01/end-the-fantasy-of-asr-extension/).

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David Banks is a former resident of Lake Clear and former board member of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates. He now lives in Rockville, Maryland.

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