By STEVE JONES Staff writer
The Adirondack Scenic Railroad wants to get on track with a plan to spend $16 million for a continuous run from Utica to Lake Placid. That, according to projections, would mean $30 million economic impact and creation of 225 full-time jobs.
The plan was announced Friday in a study sponsored by North Country Chamber of Commerce, the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce and Oneida County Tourism with support from several other partner organizations.
The Regional Economic Impact Analysis of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad outlines $3,090,761 in annual direct operating expenditures in the region plus a further projection of $5,464,834 annually in added visitor spending. The study also notes that in addition to the full-time jobs, work would mean creation of 338 temporary construction jobs.
"The Adirondacks are simply not so blessed with transportation infrastructure that the area can afford to lose any of what remains," said North Country Chamber President Garry Douglast. To do so would further isolate a region that already suffers too much from transportation and economic isolation, and leave cars and trucks as the only transport mode for all time in the future."
The Adirondack Railway had 65,000 riders in 2011. It has "the clear potential to make a significant impact in the Adirondack North Country region," according to Kate Fish, executive director of the Association. "Using the train to transport people, bicycles and canoes to trail heads and water access points along the corridor, as has been done successfully in other regions, would only add to the economic impact" estimated in the study, she added.
The distance between Utica and Lake Placid along the route is 141 miles. "Closing the gap would enable a long-distance rail potential from Lake Placid to Utica and to all points on the national rail system as a long-distance attraction," the report states. The study estimates that the improvements could mean 7,000 more seasonal travelers per year.
Rehabilitation of the rail line to Newton Falls would help reopen the Newton Falls paper mill. There would be resumption of freight service to the former titanium mines at Tahawus in Essex County. The expansion would build upon the "success of the tourism rail operation between Saratoga and North Creek," the study notes.
There are also ongoing fundraising efforts by Next Stop Tupper Lake with plans to initiate rehabilitation work on the Tupper Lake-Saranac Lake rail segment this season.
The next step is obtaining funding from the state (which owns the tracks) and federal grant sources. There is already federal funding in place to start the work that will be done this year.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s ridership has been on a sharp upswing in the last two years. It fluctuated between 42,784 and 47,648 between 2007 and 2009, but rose to 56,214 in 2010 and again to 65,891 last year. The operation began in 1992 as the Adirondack Centennial Railroad. It adopted its current name in 1994.