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Bill Branson is president of the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/39017545@N02/">Matt Johnson</a>, CC <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/deed.en">some rights reserved</a>
Bill Branson is president of the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. Photo: Matt Johnson, CC some rights reserved

Man at the heart of the Great Adirondack Railroad Debate

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A group that wants to tear up an old railroad track in the Adirondack Park and replace it with a multi-use trail says it has gathered more than 10,000 signatures supporting the idea.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, known as ARTA, formed last year, reviving the debate over what should be done with the historic rail corridor that stretches from Old Forge to Lake Placid.

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ARTA's leaders say the train hasn't operated regularly since the 1960s and they claim that a new trail would attract far more tourists, from hikers and bikers to snowmobile riders.

Seven local governments along the corridor have followed the group's lead, passing resolutions calling for the tracks to be torn up, or asking the state to review whether a railroad still makes sense.

An asset like that is something that you would never want to rip up. Anybody in government or otherwise would be crazy to consider doing that.
But backers of the tourist train continue to push forward and they've won big support from organizations ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

So far, the state Department of Transportation has resisted re-opening a formal review of the railroad corridor.

In an email, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post acknowledged that local governments have passed resolutions urging a change.

"We encourage these communities to work together to form a consensus about the future of the corridor," Post wrote.

She added that communities should partner with the North Country Economic Development Council "to put together a plan."

Brian Mann spoke in-depth this week with Bill Branson.  He's president of the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society, which operates the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

Branson is clearly weary of the criticism and debate surrounding his group's project.  He says he's still convinced that train service could play an important role in the Park's economic future.

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