New York State Department of Transportation officials don't think a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling will have any bearing on the future of the rail corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid.
The question was raised after the justices ruled 8-1 on March 10 in favor of Marvin Brandt, a landowner in Wyoming whose property is crossed by the Medicine Bow Rail Trail. A defunct rail corridor there was converted into a public trail, but the court determined that government easements used for railroad beds over public and private lands expired once the railroads went out of business, meaning the land must be returned to its owners.
The decision was based on an 1875 act of Congress and a 1942 Supreme Court decision involving Great Northern Railway.
"The Brandt case dealt with the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875, where the federal government provided rights in land to railroads," DOT spokesman Beau Duffy wrote in an email. "The Supreme Court decided that any of those grants reverted to the landowner and not to the government once the railroad was abandoned. The decision does not apply to all railroad property, but to those that were granted land under this federal act. This would not apply to abandoned railroad rights of way in New York since the federal government did not own property or convey any rights to railroads under this act."
Duffy explained that the DOT acquired the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor from the Penn Central Railroad in the early 1970s, and holds eminent domain over the corridor with a few limited exceptions that include rights to crossings and utility easements.
"The Department appropriated the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor under the Eminent Domain provisions in Highway Law, and therefore extinguished any other claims against the property," Duffy wrote. "So, there are no residual property rights in the corridor, with those few exceptions."
Since the 1996 unit management plan for the corridor, the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society has used the tracks to run tourist trains in summer and fall between Utica and Old Forge and between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. ARPS' goal is to run trains along the entire corridor. In the winter, the rail corridor is reserved for snowmobiles.
Members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates say the state should remove the tracks and resurface the corridor as a trail for bike and foot traffic and easier snowmobile use.
Four meetings were held last fall to help the DOT and state Department of Environmental Conservation determine if the UMP for the 119-mile, state-owned railroad line needs to be updated. Those departments originally set a decision deadline for the end of 2013, but that hasn't happened.
"I don't believe there's a specific timeline on a recommendation," Duffy wrote. "A team from NYSDOT and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has been reviewing comments and issues surrounding the corridor. They will be making a recommendation to the commissioners of both Departments, and they will ultimately decide if the UMP should be re-opened."