To the editor:
There's not much question that the tourist railroad line between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is currently underutilized and it is likely that replacing the tracks with a recreational trail would see some increase in the use of that corridor.
However the tracks, underutilized or not, are a treasure whose elimination should only be considered following a thorough review of what is occurring in tourist railroads throughout the country, and with consideration of international issues that may impact tourism in general and the cost of auto travel specifically.
The majority of the 305 tourist railroads in the US are booming. In this region, the takeover of the moribund Upper Hudson River Railroad by the newly formed Saratoga and North Creek Railroad witnessed an unprecedented increase in tourism, and its 75,000 rider was recognized in August, just 15 months into operation. The village of North Creek has enjoyed a tourist boom as a direct result of this railroad, with a dozen new businesses opened and several existing businesses expanding in the past year. The SNCRR Polar Express trains had more than 35,000 riders during last year's holiday season.
In 1997 the Cape Cod Railroad went out of business, but thankfully much of its trackage remained. In 1999 the Cape Cod Central Railroad was formed and quickly became recognized as operating one of the top three dinner train trips in the nation. Had the rails been removed, this new and very successful effort would have been impossible.
As the price of gas continues to rise, and the impact on the environment from multitudes of vehicles continues to worsen, replacing removed tracks in the future may not be a pipedream but a necessity. Yet, replacing them in the future would be nearly impossible. One set of tracks was foolishly removed between Albany and Schenectady in the late 1960's and Amtrak is replacing those 17 miles of track for $90 million dollars next year.
We have a treasure here and should be exploring how to increase its usage rather than how best to remove it.