The Adirondack Rail Trail is being built on the old New York Central line. The Adirondack Rail Trail will travel 34 miles to connect Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, with signage and markers to honor its amazing history.
William Seward Webb constructed the Mohawk and Malone rail line, with service beginning in 1892. The original line ran from Herkimer to Malone, a distance of 191 miles. In 1893, the New York Central Railroad leased this line from Webb's Mohawk and Malone. The New York Central changed the southern terminus to Utica and added a spur from Lake Clear Junction. to Saranac Lake with service to Lake Placid via the existing Delaware and Hudson tracks. The New York Central operated the line as their Adirondack Division with through passenger and freight service from Utica to Malone, Montreal, Saranac Lake, and Lake Placid. In 1913, the New York Central bought the line and commenced a major upgrade to both accommodate heavier engines and withstand the harsh climate. The line operated profitably for another 10-15 years before paved roads began to siphon off both freight and passenger traffic.
In 1952, the New York Central first petitioned to abandon the day train to Lake Placid. The petition was denied. In 1957, the railroad successfully petitioned to end passenger service to Malone, and the tracks from Lake Clear Junction to Malone were removed soon thereafter. In 1958, the railroad petitioned to abandon all passenger service on the line and threatened to abandon all service if they were not allowed to abandon passenger service. When this petition was also denied, the railroad substituted rail diesel cars (a single-powered rail car "bus on rails") for passenger service.
In 1963, the New York Central again petitioned the government for full abandonment, but ultimately agreed to continue freight service after being relieved of passenger service. In 1968, the New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad merged to form the Penn Central Railroad, with the Penn Central continuing limited freight service until 1972 when its petition for discontinuance was finally accepted.
In 1974, the State of New York acquired the Remsen to Lake Placid line from Penn Central "...in order to preserve the right-of-way until the best use could be determined." (Corridor Management Plan, page 7.) In 1977, the State signed a contract with the Adirondack Railway Corporation to rehabilitate and operate the line, with rehabilitation costs set at $1.75 million. ARC received a $1.645 million grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration and matching State funds of $105,000.
When passenger service to Lake Placid for the 1980 Winter Olympics was added to the plan, the State provided an additional $805,000 plus another $100,000 to prevent a shutdown for safety reasons prior to the Olympics. Limited service that was plagued by derailments continued through the fall of 1980. The State then reviewed the operations and canceled the lease in February 1981. The Adirondack Railway Corporation filed for bankruptcy in April 1981.
When the state Department of Transportation (DOT) subsequently solicited bids for another operator, they did not receive any acceptable bids. It then took until 1991 for DOT to regain full control of the line from the prior owners.
In 1990, the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA) commissioned Northwest Engineering to conduct a feasibility study for rail rehabilitation and operations. The cost of rehabilitation from Remsen to Lake Placid was set at $17 million.
In 1991, DOT and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) jointly began the process of preparing a management plan for the Adirondack Rail Corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid. The first step was the formation of a Citizens Advisory Committee, which met seven times between January and September 1992. All but one of the 25 members favored the restoration of at least some rail service. In September 1994, the DOT/DEC planning team released a "Summary Draft Plan" that kept the rails in place for five years while a suitable operator was sought.
The plan stated: "State funding would not be made available for rail service development." In December 1995, a "Final Draft" plan was released for public comment with the modified statement: "Rail development will largely depend on privately secured funding sources because, although there are potential public sources, government funding availability cannot be guaranteed."
In 1992, simultaneous with this planning process, the DOT permitted the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society (ARPS) to improve the track for four miles south of Thendara and operate the Adirondack Centennial Railroad in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Adirondack Park. This short, eight-mile round trip excursion (later extended to nine miles) attracted as many as 76,800 riders per year during its three seasons from1992 to 1994.
In 1996, the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society (ARPS) received $2 million in federal and state grants to upgrade the line from Utica to Thendara and thereby add a longer excursion service from Utica. In 2000, the state awarded a total of $7.1 million in grants to upgrade the track between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake with additional improvements to allow equipment to move the 80 miles from Thendara to Saranac Lake. In 2006, DOT spent $4.1 million to rebuild the railroad overpass at Thendara.
In a 2007 letter to Scott Thompson of Beaver River, Mark Silo, P.E. and DOT Region 2 Director, stated "New York State assumed ownership of the Corridor in 1974 and since then, through several State administrations, has invested $32 million in its preservation." This wording implies, but does not make clear, that the $32 million figure does not include the apparent $15 million purchase price of the Corridor in 1974.
From 2000, ARPS, operating as the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, operated excursion service in the following locations on the Adirondack Rail Corridor: Lake Placid and Saranac Lake (9 miles); Thendara and either Carter Station or Moose River (both 5 miles); Utica and Thendara (52 miles); Most recently once a week from Utica to Big Moose (63 miles). The Adirondack Scenic Railroad's popular Polar Express Christmas trains do not use any portion of the Adirondack Rail Corridor.
In mid-2010 an advocacy group, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, was formed to press for creating the Adirondack Rail Trail. This was stimulated by inaction on the State's part after eight years had elapsed since the end of the original 5-year "marketing experiment" for rail restoration. During this period the 81 miles of track between Old Forge and Saranac Lake had not been used for any train services, either passenger or freight. The remaining 9 miles, from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid were used seasonally for an excursion rail service that at its peak served 14,000 customers.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a 501c3 charity, began to collect petitions from ordinary citizens and local businesses and to ask the municipalities along the way to take a stand on either demanding that the State review the management plan for the corridor or demand that the tracks be removed and a recreation trail be constructed immediately, at least on the unused 81-mile section. During the first ten years over 13,000 citizens have signed petitions for a trail as have over 400 businesses on the corridor in which the trail will be constructed. 12 municipalities on the corridor passed resolutions either asking the State to immediately reopen the Corridor Management Plan or move to the construction of the trail without further process. Editorials in papers in Albany, Utica, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Plattsburgh, and elsewhere have called for State action.
In mid-2013, the State's Department of Transportation began hearings that were at first thought to be the long-delayed legal proceedings to reopen the Corridor Management Plan, but which subsequently were disclosed to be hearings to determine if the legally-required review would take place. A decision was promised by year-end 2013, but none was forthcoming. ARTA filed a demand with DOT that the management plan be reopened immediately, 12 years after it was statutorily mandated to be reviewed. On July 9th, 2014, that demand was finally met, and on February 12, 2016 the APA ruled that the plan was in accord with the State Land Master Plan. On May 17, 2016, the state published its official approval of the plan.
On July 9th, 2014, the State announced that the Management Plan for the corridor would be reopened and recommended that the 34 miles between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake be converted into a multi-use recreation trail with restored train service south of Tupper Lake and a multi-use trail from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid. In 2015 the DEC and DOT held four more hearings and reaffirmed their intention to build a rail trail on the old corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and to permit rail extension north from Big Moose to Tupper Lake. In late 2015 DEC and DOT jointly reaffirmed the 2014 plan and it went to the Adirondack Park Agency for a final vote to confirm that the plan was in accord with the State Land Master Plan.
On February 12th, 2016 the APA voted almost unanimously to support the proposed rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and the possible extension of rail service north from Big Moose to Tupper Lake.
The next step was the May 17, 2016 formal announcement of the Governor's approval of the plan. Between the Governor's announcement and the fall of 2016, a group of "Stakeholders" representing private and public interests along the corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake met with officials from the State under the leadership of the NY Department of Environmental Conservation to plan for the amenities, access points, signage, road crossing, and all related considerations leading up to proposal requests for trail construction.
On September 27th, 2017 acting on a challenge to the Unit Management Plan by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, Judge Robert Main threw out the UMP for three reasons:(i) the historical preservation remediation was approved by the Parks Department AFTER the UMP was approved, (ii) three properties along the corridor were not under State control at the time the UMP was approved, and (iii) the State Land Master Plan did not provide a sub-definition or other provision for a rail-trail within the defined term 'Travel Corridor'. The first two were procedural and easily remedied but the third interpretation of the Master Plan, which the State has challenged, would require a revision to that master plan and a re-start of the unit management process.
On March 8, 2018, the Adirondack Park Agency proposed changes to the State Land Master Plan that would accommodate rail trails. Hearings were held in April 2018 and a public comment period was provided until May 7, 2018. On December 13, 2018, the APA voted to change the Travel Corridors classification definition to permit recreational activity sanctioned under an approved Unit Management Plan (UMP). This change received Governor Cuomo's signature allowing DEC and DOT to restate the UMP process for the Remsen-Lake Placid travel corridor.
A Draft Amendment to the 1996 Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was issued in November 2019, followed by multiple hearings.
The new UMP was approved by the APA in early 2020. In 2021 NYDOT removed the rail infrastructure and construction of the 34-mile rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake was begun after the authority transferred to the NYSDEC in 2021. Construction is projected to take until 2025 with the first section, Lake Placid to Saranac Lake, due to open in 2023. In the interim, the corridor is open to snowmobiles and mountain bikes.
In 2022 Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates changed its name legally to Adirondack Rail Trail Association, retaining the acronym ARTA. The new ARTA is a trail-town association that represents and promotes the business and municipal interests along the 34-mile Adirondack Rail Trail. A 12-year-old not-for-profit, ARTA has represented over 13,000 citizens, 400 businesses, and six representative governments in the effort to get this world-class all season trail to the construction stage.
Now that construction is underway, ARTA is again representing these stakeholders in the public-facing aspects of the project, providing visitor information through the web, social media, and printed materials, and inter-community coordination through a diverse board that represents both commercial and governmental interests. Board representation is open to qualified business and municipal leaders.
ARTA is funded by grants, donations, member dues, underwriting, sponsorships, and merchandise sales. Donations to ARTA are tax-deductible. Adirondack Rail Trail is a trademark of the Adirondack Rail Trail Association to be used only with ARTA's permission.