Afternoon Read: Adk Scenic railroad “Polar Express” derails near Utica

The Utica Observer-Dispatch says the Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s popular “Polar Express” train derailed last night around 6:45.  More than three hundred people were on board, including a large group of children, but there were no injuries reported.

This from the Observer-Dispatch.

“It basically jumped the track,” Utica police Sgt. Steve Hauck said. “It’s as if you picked the train up and moved it 3 feet to the right – not even that.”

Utica police and firefighters assisted at the scene. But riders had to remain on the train for more than two hours before being bused back to Union Station, Hauck said.

Many of the passengers joked and laughed with fire personnel as they were escorted off the train and onto the buses. A few even posed for pictures.

Polar Express trips tonight have been canceled, but trips are expected to resume tomorrow.

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23 Comments on “Afternoon Read: Adk Scenic railroad “Polar Express” derails near Utica”

  1. Paul says:

    “More than three hundred people were on board” I thought that no one ever rides these trains??

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  2. Mark says:

    Paul, Wrong train. People argue that the Saranac Lake-Lk Placid portion is not popular enough to justify it. This was down in Holland Patent, outside of the park.

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  3. Paul says:

    Mark, thanks. My comment was partially in jest. Personally I think that if the entire line could be reopened and include flag stop hiking trail-heads and put-ins for back county paddlers and mountain bikers (as well as other programs), the Adirondack RR could be a very viable and unique asset for the region. Much more unique than another rails-to-trails project like we seen in many places around the country. There should also be rail-side trial where possible.

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  4. Paul says:

    But with this said above I do agree that the Saranac Lake end of this line is a bust the way it is set up now. Even if it is viable more needs to be done one way or the other.

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  5. Jeff says:

    I Heard the Saranac Lake end had their best year this year. Some new ideas and hard work seems to be paying off for the volunteers

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  6. Paul says:

    They did have a good year. I bet they would love to see the rails refurbished on the entire line. I wonder what the price tag would be?

    This is a model that I would like to see:

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  7. Mcculley says:

    What do you call a good year I watched the train return with 5 people here in Lake Placid most days there would be 4 or 5 cars in their lot with the train out. Every year according to them is their best year but their tax returns show massive losses that would have closed them if the taxpayers wasn’t paying for their hobby. They still are taking money from the taxpayer to maintain the rails. Which I might add according to their permit with the state they are suppose to pay for along with their utilities. And they still have not created 1 job out side the ASR, this was suppose to be economic development for the area, but once again it’s a slush fund for hobbiest and people who do not deal in reality.

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  8. Walker says:

    Jim, face it, you guys missed the boat! Where were you in 1991, before the ASR got started? THAT was the time to get the rails removed. You are twenty years too late. You don’t come along after a group has been working on this project for twenty long years and suddenly say “you guys suck, let us destroy everything you’ve worked for so we can play with our sleds for an extra two months a year.”

    And I’ve heard your version of the ASR’s budget and I’ve heard their version, and frankly, theirs sounds more believable.

    Finally, you Rip ’em Uppers make it sound like it is absolutely inevitable that if you do a rail to trail conversion, it’ll be an instant goldmine. Well what about the Lake Clear to Malone trail? Tracks there were ripped up long ago– where’s the gold mine?

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  9. Snowflake says:

    Before you all get too excited you might do some research and read the NYS funded ” Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, Final Management Plan/ Enviromental Impact Statement”. The history section is an eye opener for one thing. The total report is almost 300 pages.

    Bottom line for me is the necessary upfront investment required to bring this line up to standard for a real operating railroad vs. the hobby railroad it is currently. The actual number of people/ communities that the railroad will benefit from this investment. And, will those who pay to ride the railroad be able to support the ongoing maintenance required? NYS is in no position to subsidize a tourist train. In fact ADK Rail didn’t get one red cent of that stimulus money provided to the North Country just the other day. It rightly went to support the railroad at Newton Falls because it is a “job creator” not a money pit.
    Simple business decision ” Return on Investment” I think Cuomo gets it.

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  10. Walker says:

    Snowflake, if you’re talking about the DEC page that links to the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan/EIS PDF ( ), it is 195 pages long. The DEC page that links to that document provides a summary of the process that led to the present situation on the line:

    “Three public forums were held in October of that year [1991] to assess public opinion regarding the Corridor’s future. More than five hundred individuals attended the forums and nearly one hundred of them gave spoken comments. The written and spoken comments were overwhelmingly in support of:

    Resumption of full rail service between Remsen and Lake Placid.
    Recreational use of the Corridor, particularly by snowmobiles.

    Following the forums, the Commissioners of DOT and DEC appointed a twenty-four member Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) to consult with the Task Force in the development of the plan. Membership of the CAC included representatives of each of the counties crossed by the Corridor, members of the business community, landowners, sportsmen, environmentalists, railroad interests and recreationists. The Planning Team completed the Draft Remsen-Lake Placid Corridor Management Plan/EIS in consultation with the Citizen Advisory Committee in September, 1994. Following public review, the Final Plan was completed in September of 1995.”

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  11. Tony Goodwin says:

    Twenty years ago (and actually years before that) I was against rail restoration. I was on the Citizens Advisory Committee to the DEC and DOT as they prepared the Unit Management Plan and made my feeling known then. At that point DOT was clearly against rail restoration, but the final plan allowed for rail to be tried to see if it was viable. At first, ASR said they would restore the whole line at no cost to the State. Then they said $11 million in State aid would restore the line all the way to Lake Placid for 60 mph operation. Many millions more than that and we have track that derails even at very low speeds.
    Once the “experiment” started, I and others felt that we should give it a chance – hence no move to stop it until now when we’re strongly suggesting it’s time for a reality check. The experiment may have shown that the Utica to Thendara operation can sustain itself; but we firmly believe there is no traffic to support anything north of there and no economic benefit from the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake-Tupper Lake that justifies the ongoing State payments to keep the rest of the line intact.

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  12. Snowflake says:

    The Hard Copy I have dated October 1995 is 254 pages long.

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  13. Snowflake says:

    And I said that the history section is an eye opener. I’m talking here about the cost of a tourist train as an investment and what the return on that investment has been to the people and communities along the line. We cannot afford to use State assets to fund a few people’s hobby. If we are going to have real train service then we should be running tracks from Saranac Lake to Plattsburgh so we can hook into high speed rail to Montreal or NYC. Going from Remsen to Lake Placid at 25 mph is nonsensical and a wasted resource.

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  14. Walker says:

    Well it’s a twenty-year-old eye opener that was understood at the time the decision was made to keep the rails.

    I guess what I’d like to see is a reconciliation of the claims made by ARTA and the ASR. They can’t both be right. Maybe NCPR and/or the Explorer should find a way to allow both sides to do a dialog until the true state of affairs becomes clear.

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  15. Walker says:

    From the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan/EIS, p. 127:

    “The State held three public information meetings in 1991. Located at Ray Brook, Old Forge and Utica the hearings were attended by over 450 people from the six county area and beyond. Of the 80 speakers who made statements, over 80% strongly favored reactivating the railroad corridor for railroad use. This use would be exclusively railroad or in combination with some form of recreational trail activity.”

    ( )

    And Tony, I’ve at least glanced at the entire document without coming across any sign that there was an “experiment” underway, other than during the first five year period. If there is somewhere that it says “this is all subject to revision whenever anyone wants it to be reconsidered” could you give me a page reference?

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  16. Tony Goodwin says:

    There is no statement that the plan is subject to revision “whenever anyone wants it to be reconsidered”. UMPs are supposed to be revised every five years, but of course that hasn’t happened; and there would surely have to a public hearing process to revise it now.
    The language that is there says the rails should remain in place, “…during a rail marketing period.” ARTA maintains that this period is up without the rail operations (at least not north of Thendara) becoming self-sustaining.

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  17. Paul says:

    “The experiment may have shown that the Utica to Thendara operation can sustain itself; but we firmly believe there is no traffic to support anything north of there and no economic benefit from the Lake Placid-Saranac Lake-Tupper Lake ”

    Tony, this is true. But it is based on the fact that these short spurs appear to be less viable.

    My argument is that a fully restored line that can transport hikers, bikers and paddlers year round to unique put-ins and trail heads would be far more advantageous for the region than a recreational trail. Once you do that “trail” experiment” it is all over for the other option.

    Tony, have you ever been to this part of Colorado and seen this train (see below). This could work in the Adirondacks. I am a cross country skier, I am a biker, I used to love snowmobiling, so I can totally relate to wanting more space for these activities but here you have an opportunity for something much more special that could be important for the tourist economy of the region.

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  18. Snowflake says:

    Been there, done that, not impressed.

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  19. Snowflake says:

    Expensive, limiting and you can drive a beautiful road to Silverton and do those trips or vist the town for less money. It’s a short trip. We want trail from Old Forge to Lake Placid were people can do sections or the whole enchilada. Just like hiking the Appalachian Trail. Something for everyone whether you ride a $50.00 bike or a $10,000 sled, jog or walk with a stroller, or just get your evening stroll in. A trail that appeals to the residents as well as tourists. An asset that enhances the whole community as well as the ADK region. If we make our communities appealing and wonderful for the people who live here than the tourist will come as well as new residents who are interested in an out oriented healthy lifestyle.

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  20. Walker says:

    Just like hiking the Appalachian Trail, only it’s flat, straight and boring. Anyone who has ever walked a rail bed knows that it’s not a real hiking trail.

    You can walk it right now. I walk a section near Lake Colby from time to time, and I rarely see anyone else on it, except sometimes a few snowmobiles in the winter. There’s a fair amount of litter on it, though, so someone is using it, badly.

    Look, I’m not dead set against the idea of taking up the tracks, but I know that the ARTA claims of instant wonderfulness if the tracks are taken up are wildly overstated. You have only to look at the use of the Lake Clear to Malone trail to know that.

    I also know that, once the tracks are gone, that’s it, forever, so if it’s going to happen, it shouldn’t be done based on exaggerated claims.

    I believe that ARTA’s claims about ASR’s failure are overblown as well, but I would like to see the two sides’ stories reconciled. This would seem to be a task that NCPR could take on– how about it? Both sides can’t be telling the whole truth. How about an objective investigation?

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  21. Tony Goodwin says:

    Paul, the service you envision would never attract a trainload to go to trailheads or canoe put-ins as there are really none of those that can only be accessed by rail. Neither can I think of any point to point trips where the train could be a useful shuttle. Durango, Colorado has two scenic railroads (Silverton, and Cumbres and Toltec) that use restored steam engines and truly vintage restored cars. They go through a spectacular canyon or up a pass mostly above tree line with views of snow-capped peaks. (And even then Snowflake was not impressed.) It’s not good for walking now because the rails and ties are there, and anyway we envision most non-snow use will be bicycles. As for the Lake Clear to Malone section, that was never improved for bicycle use. It is popular for snowmobiles, however. I don’t know about businesses in Owls Head, Mountain View, or Malone; but I seriously doubt Charlie’s Inn would still be in business if it had to rely on those who rode a railroad to get there.

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  22. Walker says:

    “As for the Lake Clear to Malone section, that was never improved for bicycle use.”

    Right. Why not? It’s a goldmine waiting to be tapped, no?

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  23. Snowflake says:

    Really, nothing is forever. If the real need arises for a real train for real transportation of goods and services the the bed will still be there and the rails can go down again. Only this time they will be of modern technology and beneficial to the communities and worth the investment. Until that need arises let’s move on.

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