Rail line travel from Utica once again possible
By Tim Rowland
A northbound passenger train out of Utica rolled into Tupper Lake for the first time in 57 years Sunday, enchanting rail buffs and sightseers, and tantalizing merchants with thoughts of what an extra 200 tourists regularly delivered to their doors could mean for the local economy.
Richard Palmer was a 19-year-old railroad enthusiast when he twice rode the rails through Tupper Lake in 1965, once as part of regular passenger service to Plattsburgh, and once on a charter train to Lake Placid. So, with a career as a newspaperman for the Syracuse Herald-Journal now behind him, he wasn’t about to miss the chance to replicate much of the route.
Still a railroad fan and a member of the Central New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, Palmer said he relished the scenery, the rails and the camaraderie, and that he believes the scenic railroad can be a long-term success.
About 250 people rode the inaugural excursion of the High Peaks Limited, an 11-hour odyssey from Utica to Tupper Lake and back, much of it through scenic Adirondack backcountry. Operated by the nonprofit Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, Inc., it was also the first public manifestation of a years-long, often-contentious discussion over the best use for a 119-mile rail corridor between Remsen and Lake Placid.
Rail buffs wanted the entire line open to trains, while recreationists believed it would be better served as a rail trail. In the end, the state did both, refurbishing the rails south of Tupper Lake for rail traffic, while targeting the Tupper-to-Placid segment for recreation.
Passengers Sunday said they were captivated by the history of the line, which was built by William Seward Webb 130 years ago, the first Mohawk and Malone Railroad locomotive steaming into Tupper Lake on July 16, 1892. Through much of the 20th century the line was operated by the storied New York Central. But as the industry declined, passenger service ceased in 1965, freight service seven years later. In 1974, the corridor was purchased by the state, which since 1992 has leased it to ARPS for scenic rides out of Thendera, near Old Forge.
DON’T MISS A THING: Sign up for our daily and/or weekly newsletters
Doug Ellison of Vermilion, Ohio, was a railroad worker who was on the last train south out of Lake Placid on Aug. 5, 1980. “We didn’t know it was the last train at the time,” he said. But he did know that he wanted to be on the first train back.
“There hasn’t been a lot of change, but it’s a thrill riding through the Adirondacks and seeing all the historic sites,” he said.
To greet and celebrate the first train of paying passengers, Tupper Lake arranged a “Junction Function,” with music, arts, tourist information and vendors. Tupper Lake residents turned out as well to welcome the passengers.
“I’m excited for Tupper Lake,” said Becky Trenz, whose family had been watching the track construction from their home. “It’s a great opportunity for the community, and when I saw the train was going to be here I wanted to bring the kids down the hill to watch.” Her children affirmed that now, they too, are rail enthusiasts.
Sarah Pratt, arts coordinator for Tupper Arts, said she believes the state got it right by catering both to railroad aficionados and trail users.
“I love the combination of railroad, bike path and snowmobile trail,” she said. “The impact is going to be tremendous.”
One piece of the puzzle yet to be figured out, she said, is how to connect passengers with the downtown commercial district, more than a mile and a half away. “There’s a lack of transportation to the downtown,” she said, which means the economic benefit cannot yet be maximized.
Some were in town for other reasons, such as to ride the final rail-biking excursion of the season. Deonna Formica and Michael Jim came from Syracuse to enjoy the scenery on the six-mile rail-bike excursion running on the same recently refurbished rails. It was exciting to see the train come by,” said Formica, as the couple found themselves surrounded by disembarking passengers.
Joe Van Ells, director of rail bike operations for ARPS, said the ride, which, along with their High Peaks Limited, will resume in 2023, features views of Mt. Arab, the southern High Peaks and the Raquette River.
“Every time they come back they have huge smiles on their faces, Van Ells said.
The rail bike schedule is timed so that a passenger could ride to Tupper, pedal on a rail bike on their 90-minute layover, and then return to the train.
Adult ticket prices for the inaugural High Peaks Limited ranged from $150 to $235 based on the level of service, with discounts for kids, seniors and military. Seats range from posh, overstuffed chairs to seats in an open-windowed coach where riders snapped pictures and waved to the people along the route who showed up to see the train. “People were out taking photographs (of the train) in some pretty remote locations,” said head conductor Bill Moll. “I don’t know how they got out there.”
More information about the High Peaks Limited and other Adirondack Railroad excursions throughout the year can be found at adirondackrr.com.
Don’t miss a thing
Sign up for our “Adk News Briefing” newsletter, a weekly look at the hottest Adirondack stories
Bill Keller says
Good luck on the train schedule. Under 2.5 hours by car from Utica to Tupper, 5.5 hours by train. I hope they are successful but history says not. The train from Saratoga to North Creek, dismal failure and a waste of millions of tax dollars. Revolution rail gets a great deal for $2.7 million for their rail bike business. Rule of thumb for new track construction is between $1 Million – $2 Million per mile, so that makes 30 miles of track worth at least $30 million, nice return on a $2.7 million investment. I’m all for it as long as tax dollars aren’t keeping them afloat.
Big Burly says
The trip on 10-16 took longer than will be the case in 2023 and beyond. Travel speed was restricted to 20 MPH over an approximately 30 mile segment that has not yet been ultra sound tested following completion of upgrade work in September. When that is completed, track speed will increase significantly. The track work done is to Class 3 standards. Transit time Utica to Tupper Lake will be closer to 3 hours as a consequence — in comfort one does not enjoy by car on NY 28, enjoying somebody else doing the driving while able to enjoy the company of other passengers and the scenery
scott thompson says
How long will all the stops they claim they will be making? Each takes time a lot of fuel to get the train rolling again.
Don’t think these folks are looking for a speedy route north. People gotta just kick back and enjoy, life is short.
Sally Hoy says
Three of us were on top of Low’s Ridge/Hitchin’s Overlook when the train came chugging by on the 18th!!
I was able to get a picture of it as I celebrated my Adirondack Paddle Pursuit finish. How fortunate!
LeRoy Hogan says
Does Adirondack RR pay a rail usage fee as does Catskill Mountain RR pays a lease to Ulster County? Plus CMRR pays for its own rail maintenance.
LeRoy Hogan says
Has the Adirondack Explorer ever seen a financial report from the Adirondack RR? Unlike Fort Ticonderoga sending reports to all supporting members, I’ve seen nothing from the railroad. They are a charity, aren’t they?
Tony Goodwin says
Great that 250 rode this initial run to Tupper Lake. It did not, however, appear that there was a waiting list for tickets for this run because the report was that there were, “…just a few empty seats.”
So, once these 250 have enjoyed the scenery and (endured) the nine-hour ride, how many others will pay $150-230 to also ride this train?
I agree. As much as I would like to see the train be successful, I have to wonder about sufficient demand to keep the tracks shiny.
Roger Jette says
Me, I will gladly pay 150 for this senic ride. maybe 230, depending what you get.
If you get a senic, catered, carefree ride to Tupper and back that’s worth it to me. Have you seen the route? Looked at it on google satellite? It goes through some beautiful places, along rivers and beaver marshes, around mountains and across parts of forests and lakes that I have never seen.
Wild lands. I might see Eagles, hawks, moose, deer as I snack, enjoy my beverage and look out the window.
Once in Tupper, stroll along the lake through the park, catch a cab into town or over to the Wild Center.
The lack of transportation from the train to other destinations or trailheads is an oppertunity that will hopefully be filled soon. I would prefer a private entity but possible a single route bus from the train to the wild center could sufice both for getting people to town and as public transportation. I envision E-bike rentals, Pede-cabs, more festivals in the park, guide services, boat rentals on the lake and the raquette river, conoeing and kayaking, maybe even rafting on the lower raquette. Tupper has the potential to be a great ending point to this railroad and desperatly needs the tourism. I hope it suceeds.
The stations in Big moose and Norridgenock, Sabbitis, Horseshoe lake can all serve as backpacking trailheads and spur businesses around them.
We shall see. Part of the compromise. How is the snowmobile/bike trail doing? Just curious – seems to just be ruffed out so far?
Ginny Brandreth says
Re: Second to last sentence
Several of us from Brandreth Park we’re out by the tracks clearing brush from old foundations. We were snapping pictures, waving and cheering – so excited to see a train pull through the Brandreth Station once again! Epic experience!!
Scott Thompson says
Always an attraction, but a couple years ago a dozen young people from Brandreth Hiked down to Norridgewock for lunch and claimed they thought biking down would be a blast and would prefer the trail.
Desiree Terrell says
When is Plattsburgh line going to reopen?? Please soon…we need it back DESPERATELY!!!
Saratoga to North Creek didn’t survive; this boondoggle cost @$200 per ticket for a 11 hr train ride, that can be driven for a lot less & a person has a vehicle to get around Tupper Lake when they arrive; no tourist attractions within walking distance of the train station & no local transport available. But 250 for the 1st ride – not bad. See if you can keep that up next year, because with the cost of fuel & insurance & maintenance going up, you’ll need full trains to stay on the positive side of money. But we all know YOU WILL FAIL in the end!
Very positive attitude, Dave.
Julie Higgins says
I am excited for the tourists and for Tupper Lake. Hopefully I will be able to take the train and also try the railbikes. It is great that there are plans that will add jobs for the area.
LeRoy Hogan says
The railbikes were fun in the Catskills and easy to do for me being 64 years old.
Len Dano says
First, let me say that I have been and continue to be a visitor to Tupper Lake annually. At 51 years old I have spent at least a week, sometimes much more, Tupper Lake and the Adirondacks in general. Growing up there was never any question where we were going on vacation. Mybrothers and sister passionately looked forward to going to “camp” each summer. We didn’t know that any other type of vacation existed.
As I grew older, I was lucky enough to meet my wife at Raquette Lake, and now we continue the tradition of vacationing in Tupper Lake each year. Our son, at the age of 16 when most kids are looking to go to luxury resorts on vacations passionately, looks forward to going to camp every summer.
As a family, we have watched Tupper Lake decline over the past several decades. And yet we continue to visit there every summer, waiting, hoping that something will happen to breathe life into the town. The last 10 years or so I have watched the town slowly begin to come back to life. New businesses have opened and flourished, food trucks, and a baseball team, bring visitors and money into the area. In this visitors view, Tupper Lake is on the rebound.
And finally, before I address the return of train service to Tupper Lake, let me be clear that I live, work and pay taxes in New York State.
As for the return of rail service to Tupper Lake: as a child, I was fortunate enough to ride the train from Tupper Lake all the way to Lake Placid and back. Simply put it was a thrill. Now the thought of being able to ride from Tupper Lake south, is something that I’m looking forward to very much. I for one will gladly pay whatever fee is necessary.
Over the past several years, there has been great debate over the financial feasibility of the plan to rehab and reopen the rails from Tupper Lake to Old Forge. I for one believe that the compromise that was reached, is workable if it is handled correctly.
In short, I would rather see my tax dollars going to an enterprise that tries to bring tourists back into a region that so sorely needs them. There is so much other waste, corruption and fraud in the state that does not go toward meaningful progress. By that standard, this project is actually a breath of fresh air. There is a tremendous amount of positive news about Tupper Lake these days, I would implore everyone who has ever visited this area to embrace, nurture and support the changes that are taking place.
Over the past several weeks, I have read over a dozen articles about the train returning to Tupper Lake. Sadly, many of the comments are cynical at best and completely negative at worst. For the sake of the town that I consider a great part of my childhood, and for the region, where my family and I continue to make memories every summer, I say, let’s give this a chance. Our tax dollars get wasted on far less meaningful boondoggles every single day.
Without memories and traditions, even the beautiful scenery of the Adirondack mountains, and the charm of the small towns in that region cannot survive. Support the train, and the rail trail for the better of everyone that lives in works in the communities that are serviced by it. We will all be better for it!
Is there c any plan for dropping off canoeists at Lake Lila or the Sabbatis siding crossing the Bog River leading to Lows Lake? I hope not; there is a hard way to get to those places and in the past 3 years it has become difficult to find parking or camping. If half a dozen canoe parties were dropped off at each of these places, competition for suitable camping would become difficult. It might encourage overuse.
Perhaps this could be a follow-up report.
Scott Thompson says
I believe Tupper Lake has maybe 4 taxis. The new train schedule is not out yet, but 12-14 weeks a year, maybe 3 days a week may not encourage more taxis or shuttle busses. The Old Forge Shuttle bus has cost the Town a lot!
George Boyd says
Tupper Lake has no taxis at this time and I don’t think any Uber either. Running a taxi is expensive and you need 7 days of business to have a chance of making it.
They have Uber. You have a smart phone, check it out on the app.
I just sold my Camp at lake pleasant, had 18 glorious years there….I drove from Ma to NY Over 5hr to reach my little piece of heaven….
As I passed thru little towns and lakes and rustic stores,and spots to eat…while I made the most of it I was terrorized by rude and threatening trucks and SUVs
Hell bent on speeding and
Just generally driving recklessly…my point being that this such train service offers a lovely alternative
To see the beautiful gift that is the Adirondacks , the mountains ,valleys,waterways
Wilderness and the beautiful wildlife that abound.all that and not having a maniac bearing down on you to ruin your day or take your life.