Adirondack Scenic prepared for spring, summer, and uncertainty with New York State

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Adirondack Scenic Rail bike, New York
Adirondack Scenic Railroad crew members unload a rail bike in for a tuneup, at the railroad's yard in Utica, N.Y.
UTICA, N.Y. — On a sunny early-spring Thursday, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad Utica facility, located across the platform from Amtrak's Utica station, was buzzing with activity as the railroad gets ready for a busy season. One of the line's RS18s was switching out cars, assembling the Beer and Wine train that will run this weekend. That trains features a live band, as well as beer, wine and food.

Several rail bikes arrived for tune-ups, to be ready for rental out of Thendara, N.Y., station, near Old Forge, N.Y. In one corner, a welder worked on a water tank for one of the railroad's six main locomotives. In a cut of cars stood cafe car No. 800, a former Canadian National car that is undergoing an extensive rehabilitation.

The railroad is readying for a full schedule of trains, including excursions from Utica to Thendara twice a week in the summer, and four days a week in the fall, says Al Haywood, board secretary, who also doubles as a conductor and engineer. Other trips include taking passengers and their canoes or bicycles from Thendara to Big Moose, and specialty trains, such as the Polar Express, which drew about 15,000 passengers last year, Haywood says.

The rail bikes were popular the past two seasons, and Haywood says that the scenic railroad will run them again this year, out of Thendara and possibly elsewhere. Because there is only one track, bikes and trains have to be carefully coordinated.

In the long term, the board is looking to run more longer distance trains along the line from Utica, Haywood says. That inevitably means talking about the controversy surrounding the tracks that run from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid, N.Y., at the northern end of the line. New York state has attempted to tear out the 34 miles of state-owned track to create a rail trail, and it was the railroad's successful lawsuit that halted that process. A judge said the rail trail didn't fit the state's definition of a travel corridor, and cited other concerns as well.

The state has been working to meet the judge's objections, and may be submitting a revised rail-trail plan this summer. In its planning process, the scenic railroad's board has been meeting to discuss the possibilities for service if the segment is removed, and also if it remains as part of the railroad.

"We have meetings regularly over 'what if we can go to here,' and 'what if we can go to here," Haywood says. "We've got to be ready when that day comes, for what's going to be needed internally... It's all pretty theoretical, because we don't know when and we don't know how far we'll be able to go."

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