Area officials fight for scenic railroad

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UTICA — Assemblyman Anthony J. Brindisi and Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. are teaming with local railroad officials on a two-pronged attack to keep the Adirondack Scenic Railroad operating at its full potential.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the State department of Transportation are proposing to end the railroad line in Tupper Lake. Brindisi, Picente and others want the line to continue to Lake Placid and realize the full earnings and job opportunities afforded by the longer rail line.

“At this point we are, for lack of a better phrase, on the wrong track,” Brindisi, D-119, Utica, told reporters at Union Station July 3.

Brindisi and Picente have a two-fold plan: they will write to the state DEC commissioner Martens and DOT Commissioner Mathew Driscoll to ask that the line be extended to Lake Placid, and they proposed a public hearing to let Utica residents and those employed by the railroad to let their voices be heard.

“Without the direct input of Oneida County residents this move will cost the region millions in economic activity,” Picente said.

A public hearing on the issue is scheduled in Tupper Lake. The hamlet is located 100 miles from Utica.

Plans are being made to develop 34 miles of railroad and then replace existing railroad lines with nature trails for hikers and snowmobilers. Adirondack Scenic Railroad Executive Director Bethan Maher said that a better plan is to extend the railroad another 45 miles into Lake Placid, a move that would only increase the viability of the area.

“The future of the Adirondack region depends on bringing people and business to the area from outside the park,” Maher said. “We cannot afford to eliminate any infrastructure which serves to attract tourists to the area.”

Utica Comets President and MV-500 Co-Chair Rob Esche said while he spent time as a hockey player he often travelled by railroad in Switzerland. He appreciates the value of railroads and believes tourists of all ages continue to value what they add to the economy.

“We have a whole new generation of people who should experience the railroad,” he said. “It’s a big mistake not to speak up.”

MV-500 is a local economic development initiative.

More money means more jobs. Esche said for every one million dollars in revenue realized 15 jobs are created. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad currently averages 900,000 passengers and earns $2 million a year.

The railroad would add to Utica’s economic development.

“We should not be tearing up railroads because of a lobby group in Albany,” Esche said.

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