Why we’re asking these thorny questions about the Adk Railroad

NCPR's coverage of the rail-trail debate comes as New York state is gathering public comments about the future of the rail corridor.  (Photo:  Brian Mann)

NCPR’s coverage of the rail-trail debate comes as New York state is gathering public comments about the future of the rail corridor. Photo: Brian Mann

The last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of conversations — on the phone, via email, in person, and on social media — with supporters of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad about the fairness of NCPR’s reporting on the rail-trail debate.

Our latest story appeared Wednesday morning.

The concerns fall into a couple of broad categories.  Firstly, some folks are worried by the fact that this public radio station has prominent supporters  and donors who are also leading members of ARTA, the pro-trail group that wants to dismantle the Scenic Railroad.

Secondly, NCPR continues to ask thorny questions about ASR’s track record (I know, sorry), operating on sections of the line from Old Forge to Lake Placid over the last twenty-plus years.

Some pro-train advocates think these questions, by their very nature, are unfair and inappropriate.  They think maintaining the railroad is a no-brainer and they’re dismayed that critics have been given so much attention and air time.

So let me address these two concerns in order.

IS NCPR SECRETLY SUPPORTING THE TRAIN (OR THE TRAIL)?

It’s true that we have some good friends and donors, including Lee Keet from Saranac Lake, who are part of NCPR’s community while also serving as high-profile leaders of ARTA.

But it’s also a fact that we have a huge cadre of support — financial and otherwise — from passionately pro-train folks, from Lake Placid to Old Forge and beyond.

It’s also true that we have a carefully crafted system of ethical and professional “firewalls” in place to protect our reporting from financial influence or political pressure.

In fact, NCPR has a long history of infuriating people who consider themselves to be our friends and core supporters.  We don’t do it cavalierly, but we do it cheerfully when the facts and the story make it necessary.

Sometimes those folks drop  out of our community.  Usually they don’t.

Finally, it’s important for both sides in this debate to remember that the rail-trail fight in the Adirondacks is a relatively small issue in the context of the stories we cover over our huge region.

Our reporters are in the field covering high-intensity and high-dollar issues all the time — from hydro-fracking to the rooftop highway to big Adirondack land purchases.

In doing that work, we’ve developed strong procedures for protecting our work from undue influence.

SO WHY KEEP ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS?

So assuming we’re not in the tank for either side, why ask these questions at all?  Why dig into the Scenic Railroad’s business plan?  Why give them the third degree over things like their financial health?

The first answer is that we plan to continue asking similarly tough questions about the rail-trail idea.  We haven’t yet kicked the tires adequately on claims being made by ARTA about the cost and benefits of creating a long trail.   That will happen this winter.

But it’s also true that in this story the Scenic Railroad is sort of like the incumbent politician in a political race.  They’re the group with the history, the long years of struggle, with some big successes and some pretty big stumbles.

ASR now plans to ask New York for a 20 year commitment for use of the publicly-owned corridor, and for roughly $15.2 million in funding to restore a set of rails that would be used almost exclusively by their trains.

It’s NCPR’s job to provide skeptical, hard-nosed, fact-driven reporting about the Scenic Railroad’s internal workings, so that the public (again, including supporters) can reach informed conclusions about whether that investment is a good idea.

We also strive to be scrupulously fair and respectful.  But train supporters, as much as critics, deserve to know as much as possible about the project, its strengths, its weaknesses, and any unanswered questions.

One final note.  Folks following this story closely will note that the version on NCPR’s airwaves differs a bit from the version that appeared in the pages of Adirondack Explorer magazine.

This is because the magazine has a longer lag time and went to press before I uncovered some key bits of information, including my interview with Iowa Pacific executive Ed Ellis, and my opportunity to view a part of ASR’s business plan.

HOW TO REACH US IF YOU DO HAVE A CONCERN

As always, if folks do still have concerns about our reporting, or hear something that just doesn’t sound right, we welcome feedback.  I’m at brian@ncpr.org.  Martha Foley, our news director, can be reached at martha@ncpr.org.  Station manager Ellen Rocco can be reached at ellen@ncpr.org.

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127 Comments on “Why we’re asking these thorny questions about the Adk Railroad”

  1. ThisGuy says:

    Andrew. You’re a genius. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this. You should contact DOT ASAP. Stop the presses! Problem solved. We can all go home now.

  2. ThisGuy says:

    Come to think of it, on the other side of the rail, build a moving sidewalk for those with limited mobility. And while we’re at it we should build a high speed monorail along the historic RR too.

  3. Maontain View says:

    Brian is not ” asking these thorny questions” from ARTA. Strange? No comparing the passengers who pay to support the railroad with the “supporters” signitures gathered by their petition carriers. I was
    challenged by one of them last year. This is an ARTA funded, ( by their deep pocket backers ) campaign to smear a non profit that has benifited the region and is preserving an asset for future use. The trail economic arguement is dreamlike at best, and I don’t buy the ARTA Kool-Aid that we are all going to be so much better off and the ” 400 business’s ” will thrive if we rip out the rails. The above Mann article is a poor attempt by Mann and NCPR to present themselves and past coverage of this matter as objective.
    Srange how reducing energy consumption, access to the park by people of all ages and physical conditons has been trumped by the burn gas, drive to the trail give me money now community,. And I guess we are expected to believe that after riding, biking, or snomobiling 90 miles and stopping at every business and filling their coffers with profits, they will turn around in Lake Placid and do the same all the way back to minimumize their carbon footprint.

    The ADE, and NCPRl are leaders of the attack on the railroaqd. To give Beamish’s Explorer
    credibility ( over 20 letters printed in the ADE as part of the ” Letter a Day” ARTA campaign is a joke. As is Brian’s article there. If NCPR was really unbiased and objective, they wouldn’t allow Mann to write outside of NCPR. Mann has trashed my respect for NCPR and I will be thinking about it when time comes to renew my support. I waold think anyone who has second thoughts about ARTA’s tactics and
    NCPR’s coverage do the same.

  4. Bill Hutchison says:

    Walker: That’s not what ARTA says. they claim he “got a hold of the ARPS business plan via FOIL”, while he claims he got it from a source at ARTA. Which is it? I think we have a right to know.

    In the comments following the article “Can the Adirondack Scenic Railroad Make It Happen,” someone named “Pablo” claims Brian Mann is friends with railroad opponent Dick Beamish, whose ARTA group is trying to rip out the rails and that Mr. Mann writes for Beamish’s eco-paper, the Adirondack Explorer.

    If this is so, we have a MAJOR conflict of interest. This dog does hunt.

  5. Brian Mann says:

    Mr. Hutchison –

    I’ll repeat it again: Whatever you’ve read on Facebook — which, I urge you to consider, is not a fact-checked source of information — the reality is as follows.

    According to ARTA, they submitted a Freedom of Information request for ASR’s business plan to the state DOT. They received a copy and passed a partial version along to me.

    As soon as I received it, I contacted ASR and asked them to verify its contents. They declined to do so.

    If you’re interested in actually doing some homework (before questioning my ethics and professional standards based on a muddley Facebook post), it’s easy enough to test your accusation.

    Give DOT a call. Ask them if they provided NCPR with this document. They’ll tell you that they didn’t. (Honestly, I wish I had thought to FOIL the document – it just didn’t occur to me.)

    Meanwhile, the only information ARTA receives from me or NCPR comes by way of our regular broadcasts and on-line publications. Period.

    I have the EXACT same relationship with ARTA that I have with ASR, which is to say, that of a journalist approaching sources trying to elicit accurate and factual information.

    The rail-vs-trail debate may be complicated. This question is not.

    Brian, NCPR

  6. Bill Hutchison says:

    Andrew says:
    November 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Keep the railroad intact and build a trail along side.

    Just as sidewalks are built next to roads.

    —————————————————————————————————————-
    ThisGuy says:
    November 1, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Andrew. You’re a genius. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this. You should contact DOT ASAP. Stop the presses! Problem solved. We can all go home now.
    ——————————————————————————————————————

    Makes perfect sense to me:

    http://www.cottonvalley.org/DCP_2987.JPG

    Don’t say it can’t be done because it can!

  7. David Lubic says:

    “Peter: the main difference between trail and tourist trains is that tourist trains require a large public subsidy year after year after year for maintenance and trails do not. I’m okay with that for mass transit trains but much less so for tourist trains. They tried the tourist train idea for several decades. It didn’t work. Ok fine. Let’s move on.”

    A large public subsidy for maintenance that trails don’t need? Please explain this.

    It seems to me that much, if not most, of the work in maintaining a railroad or a trail or a road is the same. That includes bridge maintenance and repair, cutting weeds that clog drainage ditches, taking care of water action (such as washouts), frost action, keeping trees cut back so they don’t grow into the light of your right-of-way, and clearing tree falls, beaver dams, and other things. In the case of a road or paved trail, there’s pavement maintenance as well. For a secondary road, which this is in some ways comparable with, you are talking about $1,000 per mile per year, or about $90,000 for this trail. This is based on a financial statement from a highway department, and is very conservative, being based on numbers from about 20 years ago (it likely costs a good deal more now).

    For comparison, an Interstate highway with four lanes and much truck traffic was budgeted for $10,000 per mile per year in that same financial report.

    Explain where this money is to come from. Are you going to charge tolls on the trail? Do you plan to get some from the highway department, based on motor fuel taxes? Will trail volunteers be able to do the work the railroad people have done, which despite certain remarks around here, doesn’t look too bad? Consider that they’ve had relatively minimal public support, and they have gone from, what, 4 miles of open line to over 60? Granted, that’s slower than a lot of us would like, but compared to some other projects, it’s not bad.

  8. Bill Hutchison says:

    Okay Brian. I’ll take you at your word. ARTA isn’t exactly factual a lot of the time, anyway. I’m just concerned that any reporting is factual and unbiased. The proof is in the pudding.

    I just think there has to be a way for both sides to work together to reach a solution. I happen to believe that rail-with-trail is the best solution. ARTA refuses to engage in any real dialog and insists on destroying the railroad in favor of a trail. To them it’s a simple solution.

    The problem is that it isn’t a simple solution. For one thing, the railroad and its supporters will fight against what they view as a real threat. For another, if it appears that the tracks will come up, certain federal protections for railroads could come into play, even for a dormant rail line.

    The railroad should be viewed as a precious resource to be protected and not squandered in haste as ARTA proposes.

    BTW, thank you for spelling my last name correctly. You have no idea…

  9. David Lubic says:

    Bill, Andrew, and others have questioned the claim that a trail, or perhaps an “access road” with the railroad is, to use the words of one unnamed trail supporter, “IMPOSSIBLE.” He particularly has said this had never been done on an active single track line, but only on former double tracked lines where the trail took what had been one of the tracks. This is not true. It not only can be done, but has been done.

    Some examples:

    San Clemente, Ca. has a short trail alongside an active rail line. This is a route with modern trains, including passenger trains, that pass at speed. Granted, San Clemente likely has a bit more in the way of money to play with than some others, but it does prove that trails have been built alongside active rail lines that were always single track.

    http://www.americantrails.org/resources/railtrails/San-Clemente-Beach-Railroad-Trail.html

    http://www.americantrails.org/i/resourceimages/San-Clemente-railroad03.jpg

    http://www.traillink.com/trail-photos/san-clemente-beach-trail-.aspx

    Comments from the Rails-With-Trails division of the Rails-to-Trails group, which includes one of the San Clemente photos above:

    http://www.americantrails.org/resources/railtrails/FHWArwt.html

    San Clemente is not alone. There is a considerable bicycle trail system in Madison, Wisconsin, that shares much of its route with active rail lines. Some of this was built on the beds of abandoned second tracks, but other sections were built fresh. Below is a slide show link showing this system:

    http://www.capitalbikeandwalk.org/images/madison/phpslideshow.php?directory=.&currentPic=0

    The page for that trail system:

    http://www.capitalbikeandwalk.org/

    One fairly ambitious rail trail with active line is the Tennessee Central Heritage Trail, named for the former Tennessee Central Railroad line it parallels. This is perhaps the closest available example of a trail in conditions similar to those of the Adirondacks, at least as far as terrain is concerned. The length is around 20 miles, which is a bit shorter than what’s proposed here, but how much tougher can it be to go longer, at least as far as engineering technques?

    http://community.railstotrails.org/blogs/trailblog/archive/2012/10/26/chomping-at-the-bit-tennessee-community-finds-ways-to-make-rail-trail-happen-faster.aspx

    https://www.facebook.com/TennesseeCentralHeritageTrail

    http://www.railstotrails.org/news/recurringFeatures/trailMonth/archives/1308.html

    From the last link above:

    “A few times a year, vintage 1950s-era trains also whisk bright-eyed tourists from Nashville to Cookeville and other communities along the way to enjoy farmers markets, antique shops, handmade crafts, friendly restaurants, and all the warmth and charm of small Southern towns. The themed rides, organized by the Tennessee Central Railway Museum, include fall foliage sightseeing, journeys with Santa, and Thomas the Train trips that proclaim to give youngsters the ‘ride of their life.’

    “‘The excursion trains carry 300 to 500 people from Nashville to enjoy our town,’ says Keifer. As the home of Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville is a college town that she calls, ‘a happening little place.'”

    Sounds familiar, at least to me. . .

    While here, I’d like to point out that some have claimed there are places where it might not be feasible to have both rail and trail, particularly in places where things are in a tight squeeze. Again, this has been done in a variety of places. The solution is to have the trail and railroad share the operating envelope; think of “paved track,” like the street trackage of a trolley line. There are many places where trains, including full-sized freight trains, share the right of way with automobiles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, potentially, snowmobilers. The principle that applies is that people stay out of the way of the train when it’s around, just as you don’t cross tracks at a crossing when a train is approaching. It’s not a long wait, certainly not with a passenger train.

    For an extreme example, take a look at this railroad and highway tunnel in Alaska, which is only 2 1/2 miles long!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=74Oew0lIjmA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8L9MetrB024

    Compared with this, shared operations on the causeways in New York should be a breeze.

    The point of all this is that shared operations can be done, and both trail and railroad can be accommodated, with a bit of creativity and compromise. Why give up anything, when it’s not really necessary to do so?

  10. Alexander says:

    “Finally, I welcome Brian Mann’s scrutiny of ARTA, its finances, and its plans for the trail. As has been repetitively noted, we have tried to address this issue from the perspective of what will most help our communities, using the best research and facts that we can garner. Our conclusion, based on multiple independent analyses is that there is a 30:1 advantage in new visitor spending for the trail versus train restoration, at a final implementation cost of close to zero.”

    Unfortunately, the fact remains that, in the vast number of cases such as this in which public monies are spent for the public “good” with “economic stimulus” touted as a side benefit–hotel rooms booked, restaurant meals eaten, fuel purchased, whatever–you can always find a “consultant” willing to be paid to tell you what you want to hear, but seldom, if ever, are the actual results followed up upon later. And when they are, it is too often the case that the promised economic benefits were not realized after all.

    This is hardly unique to this situation over the ASR. All across the nation and world, we see politicians goaded into spending money ostensibly in support of the local economy, from “rail trails” and state parks to sports stadiums and convention centers, military bases and transit systems. It’s always possible to unrealistically exaggerate the economic “benefit” of spending “someone else’s money” (i.e. tax dollars), just as it is to exaggerate the economic benefit (and, conversely, the perils) of a Wal-Mart coming to a community.

    Unfortunately, while it’s quite easy to tally up expenditures and costs for things like spikes, ties, diesel fuel, and gravel for washout repair when a public-private partnership such as the ASR is involved and then use the numbers gathered to argue either way about it, similar numbers for trail construction and maintenance are exceedingly difficult to come by in the case of publicly-administered trails, as they are usually built into general maintenance budgets. Typically the biggest beneficiary of such trails in rural settings are the adjacent landowners, who get to jog a mile daily or cycle with their kids a few miles on weekends; actual “outsider,” “through traffic” or point-to-point travel ends up a distinct minority.

    I have yet to ever see, in twenty years or more, an analysis that convincingly supports the idea that rail trails work as economic stimulus to attract dollars from outside a region to a region, demonstrating proof of success after the fact. The few I have seen tend to use preposterous “multiplier” factors exaggerating how much the money is spent and re-spent locally. I hardly suggest that the ASR has a business plan/model that would be deemed feasible in the “real world” of business. But I can guarantee you that any rail-to-trail plan would fail such an analysis even more spectacularly.

    The ASR plans and proposals do bear intense scrutiny and rational analysis. But, then again, so do the proposals of the trail advocates. I would suggest that NCPR take a similar, hard-nosed look at the proposals of the trail advocates and their backing data and information. Far better to do the analysis now than stories in ten years asking “Where are all the snowmobilers the studies promised? Why do the communities still languish, in spite of the millions spent on the trail? Why is the ARTA asking for millions more in further improvements?”

  11. Big Burly says:

    @ Brian Mann,

    Your reporting is welcome.

    Clarifying what has been a mostly lop-sided coverage of ARTA views elsewhere (read Dick Beamish’s treatise on how to get media attention for a cause) is an important addition in all this.

    When discussing with ARTA supporters their plans and projections in your continuing examination of the issues, I suggest you include these questions:
    • is the cost of operating railroad abandonment proceedings at the Federal government included in ARTA’s projections of trail preparation
    • What delays in building a trail would be caused by hearings to remove the state and federal historic designations
    • how would ARTA supporters (including the snowmobile association) react to a reversion to private property owners of significant portions of the current ROW if indeed abandonment and historic designations reversals occurred. How would such truncating of the trail vision affect the projected financials by community
    • what in ARTA’s plan addresses the requirements of SEQR and the Army Corps of Engineers. What is the estimate of time delays that would be incurred
    • what is ARTA’s plan for actual removal of rail infrastructure, assuming abandonment and removal of historic designations. Where would sleepers be moved to for disposal

    These are some of the practical issues facing any conversion from current operating status of this ROW. The decisions called for, and actions required, are not just the purview of NYS, they also involve the federal government. The comparables used by ARTA, especially Mr. Beamish in his comments in this thread leave out, perhaps inadvertently, that the rail ROWs had already been abandoned and were not historic in the same manner as the ROW operated by the ASR. It is not at all clear that the hurdle of adequate alternate transportation capacity (a key factor in abandonment hearings at the federal level) can be surmounted. Recreation transportation, as in snowmobiles and bicycles, is not considered alternate transportation capacity.

    NYS did not meet the obligations set out in Option 6 of the UMP. Let’s encourage NYS DOT and DEC to fulfill those obligations. As I have said in other postings on this issue during the past year +, rail with trail is a solution that brings greater benefit. I remain confident that the UMP review deliberations underway will conclude the same; trail supporters will gain, much sooner than following the ARTA proposals as outlined to date.

  12. The Original Larry says:

    Trains, trails, hotels, mom & pop cabin colonies….I have seen all these and more put out as solutions to the region’s economic woes. More and more they sound to me like yesterday’s answers. People spend so much time and effort looking backward for answers, meanwhile, time and events pass them by. Now, as this blog demonstrates, we’re down to arguing about the argument. I don’t claim to be much of a visionary but you don’t need to be one to understand that the answer is in front of us, not behind. Time to start using time, talent and effort to look ahead.

  13. Lakeman says:

    Brian Mann – nice job covering a VERY hot topic. I look forward to your upcoming article on ARTA. I have followed your news reporting for many years and have for the most part, always found it to be professional and un-biased.

    I have interests on both sides of the debate. I am a rail buff since the age of 5, a rail historian and member of the National Railway Historical Society for over 25 years. I am also a hiker, biker, kayaker and four season lover of the Adirondacks. I am also an avid snowmobiler and have had the pleasure of snowmobiling the railroad corridor from Forestport to Lake Placid many times(though this can be challenging at times because of lower snow conditions). I have enjoyed the magnificent scenery on the corridor both winter and summer. I do understand why this issue is so controversial, but I think some mutual respect and compromise is long overdue here. For transparency, I have recently donated money to ARTA, as well as to the ASR in the past.

    There a lot of passionate, intelligent, hard-working people on both sides of this debate. It is very sad to watch the ASR trashed by many of the comments to these news articles. This group has worked very hard for the last 20 years to create a successful rail tourist line on its north and south segments. This group is challenged by many issues, but does a very nice job in the areas it focuses on. The Old Forge and Lake Placid operations, as well as specialty operations like the Polar Express from Utica to Remsen are all well attended. I believe with continued focus on the these successful operations and more business-community partnerships, they will be around for a long-time. I am somewhat disappointed that the ASR board of directors has not been more open with their business plan and present financial status. I would caution that this “closed” mindset will not bode well for future public and private support. As for expansion of the Old Forge to Lake Placid ASR operations, I don’t believe this to be a very realistic idea. Much of the presently unused corridor is in need of upgrade, and would also carry expensive annual maintenance costs. I firmly believe the ASR should consider a compromise and support the conversion of the railroad from Big Moose to Lake Clear, and then on to Saranac and Lake Placid.

    ARTA will also have their work cut out for them. Even a limited conversion, as I have described will be full of challenges and need support from the community as well as state and local government. It will all start with the consideration presently being given by the NYSDOT and eventually the NYSDEC and APA. ARTA could also use a little more diplomacy and recognition of the other sides goals.

    My hope is that at some point both sides will truly work to find a compromise. ………..and one last comment; let’s all keep the debate cordial, everyone has good ideas and we should all listen a little closer to what the other guy has to say.

  14. A couple observations: The FRA classifies the ASR under Tourist,museum,Scenic rail. I am not able to find it under transportation inventory.
    Historic Classification offers many Grant opportunities, but little protection. If Federal historic Grant monies are used, public hearings may be reviewed.
    Reversion of properties are avoided here for several reasons, State ownership is unique.

    Cotton Valley Trail is 6.1 miles and the trail beside the rail (and inside) is for only hundreds of feet for a connection. Not Apples to Apples.

    A letter today states: ” the few who are affected by the tourist industry” ARE YOU KIDDING ME??
    It affects every one! Taxes, Roads, stores, fuels, town,county and State jobs, schools, contractors if it were not for being an attraction for the rest of the state and country do you thing 1$ of state money would come here??

  15. David Lubic says:

    Original Larry, you have a point, although I have to admit to wanting to use the best of the past to improve the future (and of course, that includes trains!) At the same time, where do we go in the future? I have some ideas on that, but I can’t say some would find them pleasant to contemplate.

    I do think we spend too much time arguing about the wrong things. For instance, we had a presidential candidate make an unfortunate remark about 47% of the population a bit over a year ago. That was pretty stupid, partially of who’s in the 47%. That includes kids, retired people, people on disability, people with jobs that pay too little to pay tax (as an unemployment auditor, I see those), business owners whose profits are too low to pay tax (I see them, too), and, let’s admit it, a certain percentage of the rich 1% who have really good accountants and lawyers (I don’t know the 1%, but I have met a couple of accountants).

    I got interested in the corollary, which is that only 53% of the population pays income tax. I got to thinking, what was that ratio when the economy was better, like in the 1950s? Well, I looked it up, and found that the ratio of taxpayers to the population in 1960 was only 49%! That makes sense when you remember that most women in 1960 were at home wearing aprons (hello, June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson). The Baby Boomers then were still babies, indeed a bunch hadn’t even been born yet. So much for that point.

    Then there is the tax question. We had (cough, cough) “conservative” pundits and candidates claiming that having the tax rate increase from 35% to 37% on income in excess of $450,000 per years was “confiscatory.” Well, the maximum tax rate in 1960 was over 90% on income in excess of $300,000 per year (which is probably about $1.5 million today). So much for that!

    Banks then charged 6% on a house, and you had to have a solid, real 25% down payment. Today you can get a house for 4% or even less, and if your credit is good enough you can still get one for nothing down.

    The point of all this isn’t to argue that taxes are too low or too high, or that there are too many or too few taxpayers. What is notable is that, based on these points from the last election, our economy should have been a wreck in 1960 and it wasn’t, and it should be booming now and it isn’t. This tells me our troubles are from other things–and we’re not talking about them, indeed I suspect many are clueless about the other things. I have some ideas on the subject, but I’ll wait until this gets moderated so I can ask about them.

  16. David Banks says:

    How unfortunate that once again, instead of presenting evidence of the benefits of a train or disproving the benefits of a trail along the state-owned Lake Placid-to-Thendara/Old Forge corridor, train advocates have chosen to insult and malign trail advocates (e.g., “bully,” “delusional”).

    I like trains, and I recently enjoyed a very nice trip on Amtrak. I admire train advocates’ resourcefulness and “twenty years of blood, sweat, and tears.” However, their substantial efforts do not entitle them to permanent control of this corridor and permanent state subsidies. They have been allowed an extraordinary opportunity to develop rail services along the corridor, and the state spent millions of dollars, and they haven’t achieved the results that were promised.

    There’s no evidence that more time and state money would change the fundamental fact that people don’t travel to the Adirondacks in significant numbers to ride the train. There is abundant evidence that people would travel to the Adirondacks in very significant numbers to walk or ride an inexpensive Adirondack Rail Trail where they wouldn’t face steep climbs or get lost by making a wrong turn. They can spend days walking, riding, or sledding from one village to another, spending money at every stop.

    Train advocates’ failure to achieve their goals demonstrates the unfeasibility of restoring train service here, in the absence of investors and with so few customers. Railroads are, by definition, a form of “mass transit,” because their fuel-guzzling huge locomotives can move tens of thousands of tons. Contrast that massive capacity with the negligible demand for any form of rail services north of Old Forge, as discussed at http://www.thearta.org/UMP%20Submittal.pdf. Why should New York taxpayers spend many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to restore and subsidize operations of a train that would carry no more people than a small bus and no more freight than a small truck?

    If it is not possible to justify a very substantial taxpayer expenditure to restore and maintain rail service along this corridor, how can they justify a much larger expenditure for a train plus a trail? Even if we set aside the overwhelming evidence of the unfeasibility of a parallel trail, it simply makes no sense to spend so much money north of Old Forge for any form of train service along this 90-mile, dead-end corridor with only twenty thousand people—particularly given our less-than-successful 16-year experience with that train service.

    Finally, “good government” won’t be achieved by “splitting the difference” between adversaries in this important public policy debate. Instead, evidence should serve as the basis for this decision. If train advocates are unable to publicly present credible evidence that their very expensive train service north of Old Forge would benefit the region’s economy much more than the inexpensive Adirondack Rail Trail, then the state should allow them no further use of that corridor. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad will likely be allowed to continue their rail operations from Utica to Old Forge, so they’ll be “winners” anyway. They should graciously accept that opportunity, and the state support that will likely go with it, and stop hurling insults at well-intentioned people offering evidence in support of an inexpensive rail-trail and its valuable benefits to the region.

  17. The Original Larry says:

    Do you listen to yourselves? Both sides have visions of armies of tourists “spending money at every stop” if only their particular “vision” is adopted. I’ve got bad news: they won’t come, at least not any more than they do now, no matter if there’s a train or a trail or a casino or a big hotel. Not too many ever did come and those that did, stopped years ago when other destinations became more accessible. What money they brought and spent was always welcome but was never enough to make this a prosperous region, at least not for most people. Everyone with roots in the North Country has either worked in the tourist industry or is related to someone who has. Who got rich doing it? A certain amount of people will always come but why keep chasing yesterday’s dream? It’s barely enough to keep alive. Time to move on.

  18. Hope Frenette says:

    Bill, that question has been answered twice already.
    3rd time is a charm.
    ARTA got the ASR business plan via a FOIA or FOIL request from the DOT. ARTA made it available to Brian Mann after hearing that he wasn’t able to get a copy from ASR.

  19. David Lubic says:

    “If it is not possible to justify a very substantial taxpayer expenditure to restore and maintain rail service along this corridor, how can they justify a much larger expenditure for a train plus a trail? Even if we set aside the overwhelming evidence of the unfeasibility of a parallel trail, it simply makes no sense to spend so much money north of Old Forge for any form of train service along this 90-mile, dead-end corridor with only twenty thousand people—particularly given our less-than-successful 16-year experience with that train service.”–David Banks

    This brings up something I’ve been thinking of for years.

    What David describes is the past history of the last 80 years, and it’s the status quo now, but what of the future? I’m old enough to remember when gasoline was 35 cents per gallon, and a lot of us thought it was expensive. I also remember being told that we would never see gasoline in this country get to the then-outrageous price of $1 per gallon, even in the face of the gas going at 72 cents per gallon following the first Arab-OPEC oil embargo of the fall of 1973–just about 40 years ago now. I guess you could say, long term, those people were right; we’ll never gasoline at $1 per gallon (again).

    The point is, sooner or later–and sooner than anyone thinks–motor fuel, for cars or for snowmobiles, will become unaffordable or unavailable or both. Think it can’t happen? Think of the gasoline shortages that hit a big part of the country when there was a hurricane that disabled refineries that sent fuel to that area. I know of trucking firms that went out of business, never to return, when fuel hit $4 per gallon. One of them was the only firm that served some little stores out in the country of the state I live in. Granted, all this is perhaps marginal stuff, but just about all those places once had rail service. It’s notable that railroads in general have been increasing market share in both freight and passenger service in recent years, and part of it is driven by this oil question.

    Are you sure you want to close this option for the future?

    P.S.: This is a video about the Dutch and their cycle paths. Of note is how Dutch history paralleled ours in the postwar era, including big American cars (check out the vintage Cadillac in one of the clips), and how the Dutch got a scare at the oil embargo in 1973. Rather than double down on cars and fight wars for oil, they made the decision to change their lives without changing the quality of life.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuBdf9jYj7o

    I’m not saying bicycles are THE way to go, although they are certainly part of what we need. We need a bit of everything, electric autos, bicycles, buses, trolleys, and yes, trains. I am convinced we have wasted 40 years and who knows how many dollars and lives by not facing things as the Dutch did.

    How did this country become so dumb?

  20. Bill Hutchison says:

    Ummm…Hope, I already said I’d take Brian at his word so that issue is settled. But thanks anyway.

  21. mervel says:

    I don’t think either are any sort of economic silver bullet, no way not even close. I have never seen a tourist train be an economic engine, and a flat trail through woods is not going to create a Moab in the Adirondacks.

    If the train was going to be a huge draw it already would be, if the trail was going to be a huge draw you would already have bikers and hikers riding there now. You don’t need some sort industrial ready made trail to get mountain bikers out there.

    Now I like both of these concepts, I think they both are good, I like riding and hiking more than I like riding a short train, however I see the value in both. But both help and both would make the ADK better, there in the end will be some sort of compromise. Both are very expensive so it will come down to what government funds.

  22. dave says:

    Can someone clear something up for me?

    I know the train has received significant public funds in the past.

    But what I want to know is if the train STILL receives public funding, subsidies, grants, whatever… does it? Or is it self sustaining at this point?

  23. Mountain View says:

    Lee Keet says he has refrained from jumping in on this discussion until now? We find that a little hard to swallow. His concluding paragraph…. “Our conclusion, based on multiple independent analyses (sic) is there is a 30:1 advantage in new visitor spending for the trail vs train restoration, at an implementation
    cost close to zero”.

    More unfounded and unsupportable claims which are submitted as truths from experts and studies.

    Brian, you wouldn’t ask any, “thorny questions” about that outlandish claim. Oh wait. There is going to be a hard hitting interview with Keet, complete with headlines and paragraphs ending with question marks or doubtfull summarys, just to bias the listener toward the desired negative conclusion of the story. Don’t forget to take cheap shots at an employee. I would also expect you to go at ARTA’s business plan, but, oh wait, they don’t have one to show us what trail construction, maintainence, policing, etc. would cost.

    Your coverage of this issue and the very evident bias is not lost on your listeners and, in my case, until recently one of your supporters.

  24. http://www.ptny.org/pdfs/greenways/publications/economic_benefits.pdf

    Also consider : the National Association of Realtors Ranks greenways as one of the top priorities when deciding where to live!

  25. The ASR serves as prime contractor for the maintenance of the Corridor averaging $300,000 a year from DOT. Last year, the Railroad was able to use grant funds to rehabilitate the rails from Carter ~5miles to Big Moose Station (Restaurant). Passenger figures for the Big Moose run have not yet been available , but the project was bid at $1.42 million $1.25 million was obtained using a qualifier of ~$250,000 of services in kind from Plumbley engineering of Utica. (Joel Plumbley is a member of ASR)

  26. Mountain View says:

    Scott:

    What is that factoid supposed to bring into the discussion? Your a board member of ARTA, and having read your scores of letter’s to the editor, your keyboard must be worn down to the roots. All I read is we are supposed to make sure you thrive in Beaver River in spite of global warming, a dying snowmobile industry, and the fact that hunting has lost steam. You have received $$ to haul your kids to the Webb school, $$ to maintain what is a town road with a no bid contract, $$ to groom a snowmobile trail with a contract that has raised the concern of the State Comptrollers office, and state taxpayers paying to have supplies and fuel hauled in when the dam was drawn down a few years ago. You had a chance to embrace the growth of rail service and would have been one of the greatest benefactors of it . You don’t even register your vehicles in Beaver River or insure them as we have to do outside of your personal kingdom.
    which I think is again wrong that we taxpayers are expected to subsidize the fact you want to exist in Beaver River. Ok, you have been there for generations, but many of us have been here as long as well.
    We have been forced to adapt, change direction, or make hard chices to survive in this unpleasent economic climate without expecting the state to keep us afloat. Many of us see beyond supporting your tavern as the main economic justification to remove an important public asset based on your weak
    self serving, “study”.

  27. David Lubic says:

    “Can someone clear something up for me?

    “I know the train has received significant public funds in the past.

    “But what I want to know is if the train STILL receives public funding, subsidies, grants, whatever… does it? Or is it self sustaining at this point?”–Dave

    From what I’ve read, the railroad is self-sufficient operationally. The trains pay for themselves and generate an operating profit.

    The railroad is reimbursed for track maintenance; this is the “subsidy” the ARTA complains about. This includes brush cutting, tree removal, washout repairs, and electricity to operate crossing signals. According to ARTA, this has come to $1,418,000.00 over the last nine years for the entire 119 mile corridor. This works out to an average a bit under $158,000.00 per year, and works out in turn to $1,324.00 per mile per year. An item of note is that the ARTA’s list doesn’t seem to include railroad-specific work, such as tie replacement or line-and-surface work other than the repair of sun kinks (this occasionally happens in very hot weather, the track expands enough to kink). That $1,324.00 per mile is close to my estimate of $1,000.00 per mile for a secondary road, based on information from a highway financial report from 20 years ago.

    Interestingly, the ARTA estimates trail maintenance to be somewhat higher, on the order of $1,500.00 per mile per year. See this report from the ARTA; relevant section starts on page 15:

    http://www.adkaction.org/files/public/Rail-Corridor-Study.pdf

    An important question to ask is where the money for trail maintenance will come from. Is it to come from toll booths? Is it to come from a gas tax? Or will it come from general revenues as a subsidy?

    I’ve brought this up before on another page, and it’s appropriate to repeat it here. There is what I consider a double standard in regard to railroads vs. anything else, and it applies to ANY railroad–heritage, commuter and transit service, Amtrak, freight–and that is that anything on rails is supposed to “support itself” or be “profitable,” but subsidies for anything else–highways (your gas taxes barely pay half the cost of the road system), air service (Essential Air Service subsidies can run into thousands of dollars per passenger), and yes, trails (see note above) gets a pass. Grrrrrrrrrrrr. . .

    This is not something new. Check out this railroad public relations film from the 1950s. The relevant commentary starts at about 13:30:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElyERLwsV0c

    Is it any wonder the rail system shrank the way it did, with the motorist never paying his way for almost 100 years? How different would this country look if he had to pay the true cost of driving, instead of having it subsidized all this time?

  28. Bill Hutchison says:

    Funny how the ARTA report, which they quote as gospel, contains some big holes. David Lubic uncovers the false argument that the railroad is getting huge subsidies, while the trail will cost next to nothing and apparently will be paid for by the tooth fairy. Thanks, David.

    Another distortion is that the report goes into laborious detail on the railroad and ends up saying it will not provide real service that would compete with autos or buses. Well, no kidding. It’s a tourist operation and never claimed to be anything else. Aside from that, snowmobiles won’t provide public transportation, either. It’s another false argument.

    On top of that, we keep hearing about the state’s estimate that it will cost $45 million to rehab the line between Big Moose and Saranac Lake. How does this square with the railroad’s estimate of $16 million?

    Mountain View has it right when he says that these are:

    “More unfounded and unsupportable claims which are submitted as truths from experts and studies.”

    ARTA has done a fine job of stirring up trouble by hoodwinking the media and others into supporting its position that railroad is an anachronism that should be gotten rid of at once. Build the trail and the angels will sing.

    People need to think this issue through very carefully. Once the railroad is gone, it’s gone forever. It’ll be too late to wish it was back.

  29. Why would someone use a name like ” Mountain View”? Must not have the conviction of their opinion.

    More to the point:
    ARTA includes the ASR sponsored “Stone study” and the North East Engineering study from 1992 that was used in the origional UMP. Ultimately, it will be the people> the agencies>the Governor who will decide what happens. So what ever the opinions here express, we should agree the State needs to review the UMP and make something happen.

  30. Hope Frenette says:

    Maybe the reason that rail subsidies aren’t as plentiful as others such as road and air is because there is not as much interest from the public for it. All subsidies are political. If there is public demand and enough money available then these “subsidies” will be granted. That is just the way it works. Essential Air service money is out there because there is public demand for affordable air service. There is more demand for air service than train service. That is just a fact. That may change sometime in the future and it might not. Certainly faster train travel will help in that direction but the demand for that service needs to grow significantly to get to that point. There are big subsidies going out for building “Complete Streets” encompassing pedestrian, bicycle and traffic lanes. These projects are getting big bucks from Feds and State DOT’s because of public demand.
    ARTA has gotten this far due to public interest in this type of venue. If there was limited interest then we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  31. dave says:

    Thanks for that info, David Lubic. It is very helpful.

    Knowing that the train is not necessarily an ongoing drain on public funds, does alter the equation (at least for me) a little bit. It also helps me understand why this debate tends to be so focused on theoretical, indirect economic benefits. If neither the train nor the trail will be a huge public money sink going forward, if they cost about the same to maintain, then it comes down to personal preference and which will benefit our communities more.

    I do, however, have some comments on the following:

    “There is what I consider a double standard in regard to railroads vs. anything else – and that is that anything on rails is supposed to “support itself” or be “profitable,” but subsidies for anything else–highways (your gas taxes barely pay half the cost of the road system), air service (Essential Air Service subsidies can run into thousands of dollars per passenger), and yes, trails (see note above) gets a pass.”

    I imagine some train enthusiasts will try to argue the point, but history and the people have been clear… we prefer automobiles and airplanes when it comes to meeting our transportation needs. So it makes perfect sense that we would publicly subsidize those preferred modes of transportation.

    It is especially hard to try to make the case that we should subsidize tourist trains at a rate even approaching the rate that we subsidize essential transportation infrastructure.

    However, I do think it is an important point to make that a train and trail should be subjected to the same standards, both being non-essential endeavors. And they should receive the same scrutiny when it comes to self support and maintenance costs, etc. It would indeed be unfair to hold a train system to a higher standard than a trail in this regard.

  32. Alexander says:

    “All subsidies are political. If there is public demand and enough money available then these “subsidies” will be granted. That is just the way it works.”

    I would strongly suggest that you are confusing, perhaps deliberately, what you call “public demand” with what should really be called “effective lobbying/political machinations”.

    If the actual cost per passenger were publicly promoted and the issue put to a referendum, the Essential Air Service would die a quick death. I would suggest a similar analysis and referendum would also kill of most of Amtrak’s long-distance services, effectively making Amtrak a regional and state issue rather than a national one. These services survive not because they’re cost-effective or good, but because it has proven effectively impossible to kill off ANY Federal entitlement project.

    ARTA has gotten where it is because of effective political and publicity work, superior to the pro-rail forces. That still, however, doesn’t mean the expenditures are a good idea. Most rail-trail projects nationwide have gotten where they are because of promoting the largely-false idea that the creation of the trail is a one-time expense (often understated) with perpetual “free” benefits from there on in, while neglecting (usually deliberately, sometimes out of naivete) to factor in continuing maintenance and administration expenses over the same period.

    But if you were to put the issue to a region-wide or state-wide referendum, the ARTA would probably find itself still with relatively insignificant support from “public demand.”

  33. Hope Frenette says:

    Whether or not a rail trail is a good idea or not is a matter of personal opinion. NYS will determine the end result based on review of facts presented, public opinion and public benefit. That is as it should be. ASR had ample opportunity to build their organization (20 years). As a not for profit entity they should have been preparing their organization for the long haul. They could have developed a long range business plan 20 years ago but treated the train organization more like a social club than a business. They have no one to blame but themselves. Running several trains over 110 miles of backcountry is a serious endeavor and it is right to question whether or not they are up to the task.

    I’m sure that ARTA will be run through the Brian Mann gauntlet also. We expect to be. Of course we aren’t hiding anything either.

  34. Bill Hutchison says:

    Hope speaks TRUTH: “All subsidies are political”

    However from here we go downhill…

    “Maybe the reason that rail subsidies aren’t as plentiful as others such as road and air is because there is not as much interest from the public for it. If there is public demand and enough money available then these “subsidies” will be granted. That is just the way it works.”

    and

    “Certainly faster train travel will help in that direction but the demand for that service needs to grow significantly to get to that point.”

    Amtrak’s ridership has set records every year since 2004, except for the recession year of 2009, when it “only” carried the second-highest ridership ever, which indicates tremendous demand. In 2012 it carried over 31 million passengers on what is a skeletal system. Outside the Northeast and a few state supported corridors, most routes have only one train a day. Three have service only three times a week.

    In fact, Amtrak could carry many more passengers than it does now if it had the equipment. Many trains operate in sold out conditions during peak periods, especially sleeper services. It isn’t a lack of demand that is the problem; it’s a lack of capacity on existing trains and the fact that they don’t go to enough places. The solution is simple: Add more service.

    So, why hasn’t that happened? To a large degree it’s because powerful interests which benefit from the fly/drive status quo view passenger trains as a threat to their picnic. They pay conservative “think tanks” (Heritage/Cato) to put out scholarly looking documents to “prove” that intercity passenger rail and transit are inefficient wastes of the taxpayers’ money. They also pay anti-rail hitmen like Randal O’Toole and others to go around the country to kill rail projects and they support Congressmen who agree with their point of view.

    Another reason is that highways are supported by dedicated trust funds, not subject to yearly Congressional votes. The money just rolls in. Amtrak, on the other hand must go through the annual appropriations process and run the gauntlet as congressional critics (supported by Big Oil) take their shots. Amtrak usually survives, but does not get enough to be a truly national system. The only exception to this was the stimulus-related $9 billion for rail that was pushed by President Obama in 2009. Since then, Congressional Republicans have squelched any attempts to do more.

    Amtrak was formed in 1971 and we have spent about $40 billion to operate it since then. We spend that much on roads each year. That’s right: We spend as much on roads in ONE YEAR as we have on Amtrak over its entire 42 year history. You get what you pay for.

  35. ARTA and rail-to-trail supporters continually cite the success of rail trails elsewhere but consistently leave out one huge and important point – that every one of those trails is near or goes through substantial population centers, including one in Missouri that goes through the State Capital!
    The Adirondack railroad corridor starts at a relatively small population center and goes through the middle of nowhere to a tiny village that is hours from any kind of substantial population center.
    ARTA is comparing apples and oranges and their trail use projections simply can not be supported.

  36. David Lubic says:

    “I imagine some train enthusiasts will try to argue the point, but history and the people have been clear… we prefer automobiles and airplanes when it comes to meeting our transportation needs. So it makes perfect sense that we would publicly subsidize those preferred modes of transportation.”–Dave

    Maybe that’s so, and maybe not. Let’s recall that there was a little bit of corporate mischief called National City Lines:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_City_Lines

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_conspiracy

    That was perhaps the most notorious example, but let’s recall that the auto industry also lobbied hard, hard, hard for road construction over the years.

    More importantly for today, at least in my opinion, is the idea that we may have had too much of a good thing. This shows up most in the form of traffic around a city of any size, in spite of approach roads with 12 lanes or more (guess how I had the time to count the 12 lanes). It even shows up in smaller towns (say, 10,000 people or more) and their surrounding areas.

    There are other problems, too. One is oil dependence. It is a big part of climate change, and just as bad, is a national security risk. It’s something we should have faced 40 years ago, at the time of the first oil embargo.

    Another is the aging of our population, which I admit includes me. I’ve been having problems with night vision for the last 10 years or so (I see fine in low light, but recovery from headlight glare has slowed down, and new LED headlights make things worse), and there is the question of automobile comfort on longer trips (even the most comfortable car won’t help with the leg cramps I get from sitting too long).

    Equally interesting is the idea that America’s auto culture may be turning out to be generational. I started to notice this over 20 years ago, when I was proposing a local light rail line (actually, a modern “interurban”) as an alternative to a 4-lane highway where I live. My argument was to avoid repeating the mistakes everyone else made, including that city with 12-lane approaches. For my trouble, including a cost study, I was told I was trying to take away cars and bring back the horse and buggy, and was called a Communist, too!

    What turned out to be interesting was the pattern I started to see as I talked with people. Those who liked the idea then–20 years ago–were either over 70 or under 40. Those who hated it were between 40 and 70.

    I was a member of a civic organization in the town then, and one of its members happened to be an Amtrak marketing man. He said his marketing department had observed the same pattern in relation to Amtrak nationwide.

    Since then everyone has gotten older. The highway was eventually built, but it currently looks like its western extension–about half of the total project–is on hold indefinitely due to no money. The lower break point moved upward over the years, and is now a bit over 60; I assume the high one has moved up as well, which would make it over 90. This has been observed by various people, including those involved with things like the high-speed rail project in California.

    What’s the reason for this? I think it has to do with when people came of age. For most of us this is around 20 or so; a psychologist will tell you this is when your views about yourself and world around you–who you are, what you are, what the world is like and all sorts of other things–crystalyzes, solidifies.

    For the people who were over 70 and are now over 90, this period would have been prior to about 1950 or so, and would put their birth dates prior to 1930 or the late 1920s. These people grew up in a pre-Interstate, pre-Chevy V-8 world where trains and electric streetcars were part of the landscape, almost as much of civilized life as tap water.

    The group under 40 before, and now under 60 (and damn, I’m getting close to that!), grew up with cars as part of the landscape, and as much a part of life as tap water. Perhaps they take them for granted, perhaps they don’t appreciate what mobility machines they are, but they are very environmentally aware. They also have all these electronic gizmos like wireless phones and pocket pads that they can’t use while driving. I also have to mention that for them, driving isn’t fun anymore, because of too much traffic and what some would say are boring cars. (One fellow, commenting on that in another web log, gave his age away when he said they needed cars like his red convertible with a V-8 and tail fins).

    The group in the middle–between 40 and 70 before, between 60 and 90 now, at least more or less–would have come of age between about 1950-1953 and that first oil embargo and its accompanying shock in 1973. Birth dates would have been between 1930 or so to about 1950-1953; this would encompass Depression Babies, War Babies, and about the first third of the Baby Boomers. These people grew up at a time when the car was ascendant, and trains were supposed to go away like the stagecoach. The future was supposed to look like “The Jetsons,” or perhaps the New York World’s Fair of 1964. We didn’t quite get all of that future, and perhaps it’s just as well; I remember how ugly some of the clothes styles looked in the 1960s, among other things. Once was enough, thank you!

    (I will say some of the styles of the 1950s were cool, though. Still, that future turned out to be just a chimera, a will-o’-the-wisp. . .)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puxVKNbG_3I

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCutLTuIqOo

    A lighter look:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytXgoI5Xys4

    The bit about younger people not being as interested in cars has got the auto industry spooked, along with auto-related businesses like car insurance. Some stories on this apparent generational shift:

    http://adage.com/article/digital/digital-revolution-driving-decline-u-s-car-culture/144155/

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/us/report-finds-americans-are-driving-less-led-by-youth.html?_r=0

    http://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/A%20New%20Direction%20vUS.pdf

    This change doesn’t seem to be driven by the economy, mostly because it started before the big run-up in gas prices around 2007 and the following recession. It is, I think, a generational change.

    I said it has the car builders spooked. How bad? Why would a car designer say, “We have to hook them back to the car?”

    http://www.copenhagenize.com/2010/08/personal-emotional-mobility.html

    Back to the subject at hand. . .

    “It is especially hard to try to make the case that we should subsidize tourist trains at a rate even approaching the rate that we subsidize essential transportation infrastructure.”

    I would regard this tourist train as a placeholder for the day when we need this railroad again. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I don’t think we can continue driving as we have for the last 80 years or so. In that respect, it may well be that this tourist or heritage line may have a higher purpose.

    http://www.railwayage.com/index.php/blogs/doug-bowen/preservationists-rearview-work-or-future-prep.html

    “However, I do think it is an important point to make that a train and trail should be subjected to the same standards, both being non-essential endeavors. And they should receive the same scrutiny when it comes to self support and maintenance costs, etc. It would indeed be unfair to hold a train system to a higher standard than a trail in this regard.”

    A great start–I’m all for it!

  37. David Lubic says:

    “But if you were to put the issue to a region-wide or state-wide referendum, the ARTA would probably find itself still with relatively insignificant support from ‘public demand.'”–Alexander

    Not a proper referendum or even a real poll, but there was a “poll” run by New York Now (WMHT) on just this subject:

    Question: “What do you want to see happen to the Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor?”

    Results:

    Restore full line: 50%
    Take rails out and make a multipurpose trail: 41%
    Incorporate both: 9%

    The respondents who would be supporters of ARTA are significant at 41%, but if you include both the full-line proponents at 50% and the fellows who would go for both at 9% as being pro-railroad, that would be a pretty solid majority.

  38. Hope Frenette says:

    Check out The Virginia Creeper Trail located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural VA. Starts in Abingdon, VA pop. 8,191 (2000) goes thru Damascus, pop. 981(2000) and terminates at Whitetop (less than Damascus pop. But no official count). The entire county pop. 15,533(2000). The Appalachian Trail cuts thru Damascus. Recent 2011 economic study stated out of state users 70% in state 30%. Over half of the businesses in Damascus (midpoint on t he trail) reported that 61% of their business comes from trail users. The 34 mile trail sees 500 to 3000 users a day in season. They do not have a winter snowmobile season. this is in rural Virginia and not close to any large metro areas.
    Damascus is having growing pains due to the trail popularity.

    I don’t know similarities? Adirondack Mountains, well known anchoring towns of Lake Placid and Old Forge. Well known hiking destination. Smaller communities located within reasonable distances along the trail. Outdoor oriented destinations.

    Don’t believe it? Check it out at http://www.vacreepertrail.org.

  39. ThisGuy says:

    Adirondack Citizen- you are correct that its difficult to compare. However, are there examples of rail trails that are not successful?

  40. David Lubic says:

    “Adirondack Citizen- you are correct that its difficult to compare. However, are there examples of rail trails that are not successful?”–ThisGuy

    One might argue that the photos at this link would be examples of failed rail trails, in that no one seems to be taking care of them.

    http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=128&t=123746&start=60

    An observation one rail enthusiast had–and I’m afraid I don’t remember where I saw it–was that railroad failures tended to be “more spectacular,” in the form of abandoned operations, but a failed trail just became a wide spot in the woods, and would eventually be swallowed by the woods. It would just die quietly, with no mourners. Who would know a trail had been there, once people just quit using it?

  41. Walker says:

    Hope, Abingdon is part of the Tennessee Tri-Cities region, a Metropolitan Statistical Area with a population of half a million.

  42. Hope Frenette says:

    And there is over 2 million people within a 2 .5 hr drive of either end of the proposed rail trail. But that really doesn’t matter as the Adirondacks are a major destination in and of itself.

  43. David Lubic says:

    There is an important difference between the Virginia Creeper and the Adirondack; the former Abington branch had been abandoned for some years before it became a trail. The Adirondack is at least a partially active railroad, and the southern end has trains running on it at 40 mph. Despite some comments by some trail people, the whole line is open, at least for equipment ferry movements. It’s not like that chapter has been closed yet.

    And as I said before, I think a day is coming when we will need that railroad and others again. Yeah, I know, I know, it puts me in the “Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again. . .” camp. . .

  44. Bill Hutchison says:

    David Lubic just showed us the elephant in the room:

    “There is an important difference between the Virginia Creeper and the Adirondack; the former Abington branch had been abandoned for some years before it became a trail. The Adirondack is at least a partially active railroad…”

    ARTA is crossing a line by going after an existing rail line (even if it is partially dormant), rather than an abandoned railbed. If ARTA wins, this could set a precedent that threatens ANY existing railroad, be it a tourist line, a shortline freight line or even a class one railroad. Others are watching this and the Catskill Mountain Railroad case very carefully to see where it goes.

    The Rails-To-Trails movement started with a noble idea: That abandoned rail rights of way should be recycled for other uses, such as walking or biking. The Rails to Trails Conservancy even notes that if the need exists, a railroad can reclaim the roadbed for its use, usurping the trail. However, this is now metastasizing into an opportunistic movement where any rail line is fair game.

    The really sad part of all of this is that the rail community and trail people should be natural allies. We certainly need each other to counter the power of the highway lobby. Instead, overly aggressive trail advocacy is starting to cause rail supporters to view all trail plans with suspicion.

  45. Walker says:

    “And there is over 2 million people within a 2 .5 hr drive of either end of the proposed rail trail.”

    Well, OK, but within 2.5 hours of the Virginia Creeper you’ve got Asheville, Winston-Salem, Knoxville, and Roanoke. They’ve got us beat by a good margin.

  46. Mountain View says:

    “Damascus is having growing pains due to the popluarity of the trail”. Really Hope, I think I’ll pass on giving that the dignity of a response.

    So Brian calls Lee. ” Hey, we are having some pushback about the way we are handling your project , Can you help us look more objective” ?

    So, here is the ARTA writing club!

    Keet
    Beamish
    Banks ( The Poet )
    McCully
    Thompson
    Frenette
    Ralston

    etc.

    The ARTA Board has written over 100 letter’s to the Editor of the ADE, ( with the EZ pass from Peter Crowley ) Day in day out, the same diatribe. Using the playbook of Beamish’s book. If we just keep repeating the same BS some of it will stick and the weak politicians will cave in or we can just buy them.

    Brian, keep asking “these thorny questons” and attacking the railroad. ARTA’s playbook seems to have some flaws for those of us that think and ask questions.

  47. Alexander says:

    Mr. Hutchinson raise Amtrak as an example of government subsidies.

    There’s one thing that is usually ignored in any discussion about the positive attributes of Amtrak:

    When Amtrak was formed by the Railroad Passenger Service Act of 1970, it was promised that the corporation formed as Amtrak in 1971 would be “profitable” in five years, or it would be shut down.

    Instead, forty-two tears later, the subsidies continue, to the tune of a billion dollars a year or so.

    I’m not sure that a Federal program started with false promises of limited expenditure turning into endless subsidies is exactly an example you want to invoke.

  48. Bill Hutchison says:

    Alexander: You are wrong, wrong, wrong. ALL modes of transportation are subsidized by all levels of government.

    Highway users only account for 51% of the total costs of highways thru user fees (gas taxes, registration fees, etc), with all the rest coming from general revenues. The federal highway trust fund has been running deficits since 2008 (due to the recession and a decline in driving that started even before that), with Congress bailing it out to the tune of $53 billion 2008-2012. Federal subsidies of highways began in 1916, long before there were enough users to pay for roads and the first federal gas tax was not imposed until 1932. Up to that point it was all general revenue funded.

    Ditto aviation, where users only pay about half of the costs of the air traffic control system. Airports are financed with tax free bonds and airlines benefit from massive government support on many other levels. There is also an essential air services subsidy that runs up to $1,000 per passenger. Airlines were bailed out with $15 billion in direct federal payments after 9/11 and they shucked off their retirement responsibility off on the government as well.

    Amtrak was formed to give the freight railroads, who by 1971 were on the verge of collapse due to massive government support for every other mode, especially aviation and highways. Thus we went from the world’s greatest passenger rail system in 1948 (all operated as a for profit business—no subsidies) to a dying carcass by 1971 that the government ironically had to take over after destroying it. It was massive government support for highways and aviation that distorted the transportation marketplace to the point where for-profit rail passenger service was no longer possible.

    On top of that, government imposed suffocating regulations of the railroads and a heavy tax burden. One example of the latter was 10% ticket tax imposed in 1942 as a war measure, but did not come off until 1962. Much of this revenue went into airports and highways that benefited the competition.

    Yes, Amtrak was “supposed” to be “profitable” but that was a sop for conservatives who would have voted against it otherwise. That was really all done with a wink and a nod. Otherwise, we would have lost every train in the country. It really was supposed to fold after two years and allow the railroads to gracefully exit the passenger business. But then a funny thing called the Arab Oil Embargo happened in 1973-74…

    So…again…EVERY FORM OF TRANSPORTATION IS SUBSIDIZED…now go park your car in protest of all those highway subsidies!

  49. David Lubic says:

    I will add one other comment about Amtrak–and that is that its recovery rate is higher than that of the road system. It currently has an 88% “operating” recovery ratio (not including capital), vs. 51% for roads (cash flow accounting). Some of its trains have positive recovery ratios. Most speak of the Northeast Corridor trains, but most amazing are some trains that were recently started in Virginia, which average only about 60 mph (top speed around 80), and have an operating cost recovery ratio of 165%.

    An interesting thing about Amtrak: Some of its critics claim its subsidy is something like 4 cents per passenger mile, vs. 1 cent per passenger mile for autos. Part of this is that the auto system is so vast you do have an economy of scale there. But, “unit cost” is only one accounting metric, and it’s not always the most important one. “Rate of recovery” or “farebox recover” is another.

    Let me put it this way: An oil company called Atlantic-Richfield Co., whom some of you may remember as ARCO, no longer serves its namesake eastern territory. It couldn’t compete in a business of low unit costs at the time, and today. However, another company, with what is essentially another oil-based product, does very well with something that sells for–is my memory right?–$105.00 per ounce, which I believe comes out to $56,000.00 per gallon! Chanel has no trouble staying in business with that “No. 5” product, and others, too.

    Unit cost isn’t everything.

    Oh, and the subject, the Adirondack, does cover operating costs and then some. Which brings up a question–who has been paying for its somewhat gradual expansion? Who paid for an expansion form 4 miles to the present 60 or so? Who pays for ties and locomotives and cars, for tie inserters and ballast spreaders and tampers? The road does get reimbursed for the maintenance work as noted, but apparently reconstruction and reopening work is not paid for by the State of New York, otherwise the whole line would have been reopened long ago. Does that mean the railroad is paying for rebuilding and reconstruction, too, as well as its own operations, or at least chasing its own grant and investment money? If it is, then you have a really hard working and almost heroic bunch running that road. Are these people you want to “throw under the bus?” Are these people you want to throw into the trash?

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