Monday, May 9, 2016

Trains and Historical Preservation, a Win

May Issue 2016 Kalmbach Publishing Trains Magazine
5/9/2016 A fantastic article in the May/June issue of Kalmbach Publishing's Trains magazine highlighting the importance and value of the preservation railroad industry, yes industry.

I think this is pertinent up here because of the brutal assault faced by rail historical preservation groups in New York at the hands of “trail zealots” who covet the right of ways and want nothing more than to murder the historic preservation railroads that use them, like the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and the Catskill Mountain railroad. To justify their personal outdoor playgrounds these hobbyist groups have been using the buzzword “underutilized” and horrifically mutilated the Rails-to-Trails conservancy into a railway gobbling monster, bullying communities and picking on volunteer operated non-profit historical themed organizations.

One group I've seen posting on the internet has resorted to name calling and routinely uses the kind of insults and derogatory slurs when talking about the rail enthusiasts and historical preservationists would make a libel lawyer dance gleefully with wads of cash clenched tightly between their fists.

Sadly for those trudging away trying to make a preservation railroad operate what is underrepresented is the continued growth and interest in the industry. This is what makes Aaron Isaacs' article “The State of the Railway Preservation Industry” so welcome and wonderful. The article is a fantastic read, he opens stating that “It's time to apply the word 'industry' to railway preservation and it's no exaggeration.” Combining tourist railroads, museums, restored depots, private car owners and historical societies he asserts is a $400 million industry. “It's grass roots, and it would be hard to find another industry that relies so heavily on volunteers labor.” The last few years has seen 6 reborn tourist line just Pennsylvania, with more appearing throughout North America that he lists.

Isaacs also talks about how important special events are, such as the popular “Day Out With Thomas” and “Polar Express” trains, which for some organizations cover “as much as 30 percent to 50 percent of their annual operating budgets.”

However despite the interest and growth of the preservation railway industry “a major setback to funding for big ticket items, in 2012 Congress gutted the Transportation Enhancement grant program that began in 1991 and had channeled an estimated $626 million to railway preservation” which was important for places like Spencer, NC, home to the largest preserved roundhouse and host to several extremely popular events. He also lists several other valuable sources that have been drying up like the “MAP-21 federal transportation law that cut overall funding for Transportation enhancement-type projects” these are huge losses for operations that welcome millions of every year, including the “40 railroads and museums” that host Day Out With Thomas events alone “roughly a million people attend” according to Isaacs, and plus there are the Polar Expresses, Easter Bunny trains, Halloween trains and regular season runs.

The interest keeps building and the projects keep getting done despite the negativity from special interest groups. “The last two years have seen the completed restorations on a dozen steam locomotives, five diesels, 12 passenger cars, 10 freight or non-revenue cars, and 10 street cars, plus at least 12 new or restored buildings and four major track projects.” there is a great amount of interest in this history and they can really pack the people in to experience it.

This is why I cannot understand why New York State and these special interest lobby groups are so obsessed with destroying what we have. One local historical preservation railroad has suffered for years with empty promises of state backing on several large projects that never materialized, leaving it in the position it is now, fighting for it's very survival. This wouldn't have been a problem nor the trail group that hounds it had the state followed through on their original intentions.

A historic preservation railroad is not just a train ride, or a special interest, it adds a wonderful attraction and increases the diversity of an area's tourist draw. Isaacs mentions “it happens that between the ages of 2 and 6, kids go crazy for big mechanical things that move” and scenic train rides are a great way for a family to experience an area and learn about local history. Most preservation railroads utilize historic and vintage equipment, like the Adirondack Scenic railroads 6076, while an operating GP9 is not entirely rare, a 1959 GP9 with a 'F' emblazoned on the end of the long hood and control stand to match with a proud high short hood is something you don't see anymore.

With that locomotive you get eager volunteers, ready to answer your questions and explain what makes a particular piece of equipment special. These are the kind of operations you can get a good look at how a railroad functions, ask questions and see how a big horsepower diesel locomotive runs and people happy to show you.

Historic preservation railways offer a great insight to local history as well as providing a fun family friendly activity and you may not realize how much you learn. Railroads were important to the everyday lives of just a generation or two ago and I'll break down just a small segment of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for example. On a ten mile stretch of rail line between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, NY there were 16 businesses and industries that utilized the railroad directly. The railroad fell under the New York Central and Delaware & Hudson Railroad as well as under different names. It supported 2 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid in 1932 and 1980, providing most of the transportation in and out during the earlier games. In fact in 1932 snow had to be transported to Lake Placid in freight cars for some events due to a mild winter! The railroad saved millions by transporting people out of the cities into the clean mountain air of Saranac Lake for respite from Tuberculosis. Presidents and important actors rode the train, and Lake Placid and the Adirondacks (famous style chair included) wouldn't be the tourist destination it is today without the railroad.

Today you can take a train from either Lake Placid or Saranac Lake riding in classic 1950's passenger coaches behind a 1950's locomotive and learn wonderful anecdotes and history first hand while talking to the all volunteer crew in a unique setting.

However this endearing scene of Americana is endangered by a group of trail zealots, 2016 is to be the final season of 34 miles of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Despite the broken promises of state support, despite plans for rails-with-trails solutions that the state and trail groups dismissed out of hand despite successful “Steam Into History” and Western Maryland Scenic combined rails-with-trails outfits, despite what Isaacs says that “The industry is growing and in good shape, largely because so many people want it to happen. There are challenges, but also much forward momentum.” Recent decisions by NYS turns its back on all this with the DOT, DEC and Adirondack Park Agency collaborating in the state sponsored killing of a treasured piece of history that affected the lives of millions of people, where thousands of visitors annually make family memories, is now turning its back on part of a $400 million industry with increasing interest and growth for the lofty goal of spending millions of taxpayer money to create a nice space for your dog to go poop.

May Issue Trains Magazine 2016 Kalmbach Publishing
Maybe if more articles like this had been written and published the trail lobby wouldn't have as much ground the last few years.

I am glad there is someone out there talking about the good parts of railway preservation and I hope Aaron Isaacs message gets around much farther, because it is a wonderful relief and very encouraging news.

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