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Too inflexible on removing rails

November 27, 2012
By Danny Ryan

In watching the ongoing brouhaha over the railroad corridor, I've been struck by Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates' inexplicable dedication to squandering a once-in-a-generation opportunity - specifically, a completely unique, multi-use rail-trail corridor that can benefit Adirondackers for many years to come.

The squandering I'm referring to arises from the non-negotiable, unconditional-surrender approach ARTA has been taking in this debate. Instead of recognizing that just as many - if not many, many more - people want to maintain a rail link to the area, they have diligently portrayed those who want to keep the railroad as soft-skulled sentimentalists who are just north of being morons and have demanded the impeachment of any public official who has the temerity to disagree with them.

What is not being adequately recognized in this imbroglio is that no one is saying we shouldn't have a recreation trail; what is being said is that we shouldn't forfeit another valuable resource for it. I have yet to see a persuasive argument for narrowing our options-opportunities.

The recreation trail is premised on a continuation of the car culture that eclipsed passenger rail service a half-century ago. There is much crowing in the news lately about our impending oil self-sufficiency, with the subtext that it's "party on" when it comes to driving as much as we want. However, while on a rail trip in September, I witnessed part of the cost of our ongoing oil binge. As we passed though Wisconsin, what had been mature forest just the year before was now hundreds of acres of sand pits, full of massive (gas-driven) equipment extracting the extraordinarily round sand required to hold open the cracks produced by the hydraulic fracturing in North Dakota, hundreds of miles away! As anyone who has lived with me will tell you, I am not an economist, but it is obviously impossible to get cheap oil out of such an expensive process. The car era as we know it is coming to an end, and if any region is to remain on the economic map, it must adjust to this emerging reality. The car era in our area led to the demise of the Whiteface and Saranac inns, the Wawbeek and Seven Keys, all of which relied on less, rather than more, mobility. Five-dollar-and-higher gasoline is once again going to redefine our mobility, and those communities that have alternative transportation modes are going to have an extraordinary advantage in this new environment. It is a betrayal of our duty to future generations to short-sightedly (if not arrogantly) narrow their options for how to shape and support their lives.

There are obviously sizable constituencies for both the recreation corridor and the railroad; take a breath and imagine what we might be able to bequeath to those to come if we elected to work together to create a world-class rail AND trail system that both brings people into our version of paradise and helps them explore and enjoy it. Think about it - hasn't the monumental engineering feat already been achieved? We have a railroad corridor running through some of the most rugged and irregular wilderness in North America; our challenge is merely to modify it for our new needs.

As recent news items have revealed, others outside the area see the potential for passenger rail in the Adirondacks; their success elsewhere suggests to me that they are not soft-skulled sentimentalists. Maybe they see an opportunity that all the needless arguing is obscuring. The train is coming; will everyone (this means you, too, ARTA) please get on board? And please, mind the gap.


Danny Ryan lives in Saranac Lake.



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