A couple of years ago the AMC movie channel launched an on-going series called “Hell on Wheels” that dramatizes — in gritty fashion — construction of America’s trans-continental railroad in the 1860s.
A similarly gritty melodrama is unfolding now in the Adirondacks over the future of railroading in the mountains.
The big news earlier this month was the state’s decision to revisit management of the big rail corridor that stretches through some of the Adirondacks’ wildest country.
The decision was bitter news for train buffs who see a future for railroading that might someday include Pullman cars arriving from New York City and the restoration of regular passenger and freight service to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
But as New York prepares for public hearings, the skeptics are increasingly, well, skeptical. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise ran a lead editorial this week asking pointed questions about millions of taxpayer dollars going to keep the little-used tracks in place.
We understand it’s hard and expensive to re-establish a railroad, and maybe the public hasn’t gone far enough through the tunnel to see the light at the end. But if there is enough demand for a train to justify to the expense, wouldn’t it have shown itself more by now?
Similar questions are being asked in the North Creek area, where the “Saratoga-North Creek Railway is months behind on payments the railroad is supposed to be making to the county,” according to the Glens Falls Post Star.
At one point, the delinquent payments totaled more than $85,000, though the railroad has cut the amount owed to roughly $28,000. This from the Post-Star:
The railway pays the county a portion of the revenue it takes in, and has been continually late with its payments, the Treasurer’s Office said in a budget report released this week.
“We have had problems collecting our monthly payment on time since 7/1/12,” Deputy Treasurer Robert Lynch wrote.
Finally, there is renewed debate over the future of a railroad spur that runs to Newton Falls in the northern Adirondacks. A couple of years ago, New York state agreed to spend $10 million refurbishing the line.
It was the largest single project approved as part of the state’s new Regional Economic Development program and backers touted it as a way to help revitalize the local paper mill and protect jobs in the region.
But now the mill in Newton Falls is being dismantled, with the component parts auctioned off.
Even though there’s no industrial operation in place to use the train route, some locals say the state dollars should still be spent. This from WWNY-TV:
Despite the paper mill’s demise, officials say a plan to use nearly $10 million to rehabilitate a 46-mile railroad line running through St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson Counties has not been scrapped and remains on track.
“You have to have that railroad if we’re going to encourage any type of business into that site,” said Chris Westbrook, Clifton-Fine Economic Development Group.
So what do you think? Is the railroad spur to Newton Falls “a road to nowhere”? Or a smart infrastructure investment that could bring industry back to the northern Adirondacks?
What about millions of dollars in taxpayer support for these other Park railroads? A smart downpayment? A boondoggle? Your comments welcome.