County lawmakers oppose bid to remove tracks in North Country

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Oneida County legislators oppose a proposal to remove 34 miles of track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake – the north end of the119-mile rail corridor that runs between the county and Lake Placid.

A total of 18 legislators signed a petition opposing the Adirondack Park Agency’s support of a state plan that would break up the rail corridor, with rails upgraded from Big Moose north to Tupper Lake and removed to create a recreation trail from Tupper to Lake Placid. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad currently runs seasonal tourism trains on both ends of the corridor and has plans to upgrade the section not currently in use so passenger trains could again travel the full length of the corridor.

“The Oneida County Board of Legislators is opposed to the Adirondack Park Agency’s decision and any proposal that destroys instead of rebuilds critical rail infrastructure that accommodates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad,” states the petition circulated among the 23 legislators at last week’s meeting.

It also says, “The Oneida County Board of Legislators would like to reiterate its support for the existing plan to restore the rail corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid while also providing access and infrastructure to winter sports enthusiasts, thus expanding upon an invaluable and growing tourist attraction and resource to the area.”

The rail-less trail between upper Lake and Lake Placid could be used in winter by snowmobilers and skiers and by bicyclists and others the rest of the year. The final proposal by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and state Department of Transportation also calls for track upgrades from Big Moose to Tupper Lake that would extend the excursion rail service by 45 miles. Trains presently travel no farther than Big Moose.

The railroad now runs from Remsen, just outside Utica.

Adirondack Scenic Railroad Executive Director Bethan Maher spoke to the Board of Legislators March 9, urging lawmakers to support the railroad’s position that the corridor should remain fully intact. It is her view that ripping up the rails destroys the past and limits the railroad’s future.

The Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor runs through the center of the Adirondacks. A 1996 management plan called for rail use to be developed along the entire route with parallel recreational trails where feasible. It specified that no action to eliminate rail should be taken at that time.  

In 2013 the DEC and the DOT proposed dividing the rail corridor into two segments. The state agencies held public meetings to gather public input, and they received thousands of comments.

Railroad boosters wanted all the tracks fixed up so trains could travel from Utica to Lake Placid. Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates pushed to have the tracks removed between Big Moose and Lake Placid. This would create a 79-mile multiuse trail but allow the railroad to continue operating its more profitable trains at the southern end of the line. The state’s proposal is seen as a compromise.

Supporters of maintaining rails the corridor’s full length were encouraged recently when the Preservation League of New York placed the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor on its 2016-17 “Seven to Save” list of historic properties. The designation confers no legal protection on the corridor.

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