We tend to be ruthlessly pragmatic when it comes to this notion there is a lucrative tourism market for railroads.
We don’t see it.
Americans drive cars and value their time and convenience too much to look at tourism trains as anything more than a one-time novelty.
We looked at the promo on the Gore Mountain website for the “Pullman Ski Train” and admit it sounds inviting:
“The Saratoga & North Creek Railway will be transformed into a cozy Adirondack ski lodge with front row seats to Gore Mountain skiing next winter. Thoughtful vacation packages have been created for you to enjoy the perfect winter weekend getaway. After boarding the train at New York City’s Penn Station or Saratoga Springs stations, iconic and refurbished Pullman cars will ride the scenic route to North Creek where they will provide truly unique accommodations aboard the train.”
It goes on to chronicle what a delightful adventure you will have, but last week it was learned the railroad company pulled the plug on the excursions and laid off all but two of its workers.
When the company addressed the Warren County supervisors this week, it said it was going to market better in the coming year and try again.
We are skeptical the company will have any better success, and so were some members of the board as they debated whether the county – which owns the line—should be using it for another purpose, such as bike and hiking trails.
This was previously debated last spring and the supervisors eventually decided to sign on with the railroad company for another five years. We thought it more prudent to sign a one-year deal.
Ultimately, what makes the county supervisors believers is that the county is guaranteed $81,000 a year from the railroad company while the railroad commits to maintaining the track. The president of the company said it will have paid the county over $1 million over the length of the contract.
The golden goose is if the company can secure freight trains on the line to haul out stone from the mines in Tahawaus. Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, LLC has said there could as much as $4 million of revenue on the line. And Warren County would get 6 percent of that.
But so far there is no deal and the winter tourism train is not running.
While we understand the supervisors’ reluctance to give up any revenue, there is a movement afoot to cash in on cycling and hiking opportunities in the Adirondacks.
The state has suggested several plans.
We remind local citizens there was some consternation about ripping out the railroad spur that ran through the center of Glens Falls when a bike trail was proposed there.
Surveys now show that a good portion of the people who use the bike trail are from out of town. We suggest the bike trail may be one of Glens Falls’ greatest assets.
It’s hard to know for sure, but we believe that biking, hiking and snowmobile trails have greater potential for tourism than the belching engine of a locomotive.
It may be just a lot harder to measure.
The supervisors may want to consider renegotiating the contract with the railroad over a shorter span to see if it can turn things around.
They might want to insist on specific ridership numbers as well.
While the revenue generated from the railroad is significant, expanding hiking and biking trails may have a far greater impact on the future of the local economy.
The county should not be afraid to take that chance.