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Utica rally criticizes New York's plan to replace train tracks with bike trail

Payne Horning
Railroad advocates rally in downtown Utica to protest a state plan that would remove 34 miles of rails in the Adirondacks to build a bike path.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to find a compromise over how to best utilize a corridor in the Adirondacks, he opened old wounds from a decades-long debate.

The governor has approved a plan from the state's transportation and environmental conservation departments that would put $23 million toward restoring some of the Adirondack Park's train tracks and replacing 34 miles of rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a multi-use trail bike trail. Cuomo says it could boost the park's tourism, but many fear it will have the opposite effect.

Hundreds protested the plan at a "rally for rails" event in downtown Utica late Friday afternoon, saying that the removal of those tracks will derail the region's tourism industry. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which travels throughout the park, is even suing the state over the matter. Passengers can currently board the tourism train at Utica's Union Station, among others.    

"It's the only tourist railroad in the country that shares a platform with a main line railroad," said Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society Director Bill Branson, operator of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. "People can get off Amtrak in Utica, step across the platform and get into our train and be in Lake Placid in 3.5 hours and we think the tourism would be hugely impacted for the good up north." 

Currently, his passengers can't take the train all the way there because New York state never followed up on its promise to restore the section of track between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) is calling on the governor to make good on that promise and then find an alternative way to build a bike path around the tracks.

"We don’t want it to stop in Tupper Lake," Brindisi told the crowd. "We want it going all the way to Lake Placid. I love recreational trails, I love snowmobiling, we can have it all. But, let’s not rip up these tracks!"

This is an old and tired debate for William Janeway, executive director of the Adirondack Council, a citizen environmental organization. He said the constant battles over rails versus trails has done nothing for the Adirondacks.

"I understand the magic and the vision of a full rail all the way to Lake Placid and how beautiful that is and what that offers," Janeway said. "I also recognize that proposal has been on the table for decades and it has failed to move and that it is time to try something different."

Janeway said the compromise brings investment with it, so he said people should embrace the state's plan. 

"Some who want to bike the whole corridor are not happy with that, some who want the train on the whole corridor are not happy with that, but this probably gives the most opportunity for the most people to enjoy this corridor in the most positive way while avoiding the further degradation that has not had the investment it’s needed," Janeway said. 

The state plans to begin the corridor renovation this November.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.