The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society has teamed up with Iowa Pacific Holdings to develop luxury passenger rail service between Lake Placid and New York City - contingent on the state Department of Transportation making major upgrades to the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
The Adirondack North Country Association announced this morning that ARPS and Iowa Pacific's new partnership aims to bring high-end excursion rail service to the Adirondack railroad, using restored Pullman rail and sleeping cars. ARPS currently operates scenic trains on the state-owned railroad between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and between Utica and Thendara, near Old Forge. The rail corridor would require an expensive overhaul - estimates range from $20 million to $43 million - to let trains go between Old Forge and Saranac Lake at speeds faster than 5 mph.
"This (memorandum of understanding) has been the subject of several months of effort as our two organizations established the basis for a working relationship and as Iowa Pacific fully assessed the potential of the Adirondack Railroad as the next in their continuing series of successful rail service developments across the country," ARPS President Bill Branson said in a press release.
Promotional photos by Pullman Rail Journeys
Models pose as train riders enjoying drinks in a Pullman dining car.
Iowa Pacific, based in Chicago, owns several passenger and freight lines in the U.S., including one recently revived between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. The company also owns the Pullman Sleeping Car Company, which buys and restores Pullman passenger, dining and sleeper cars. Pullman Rail Journeys will start offering its first tours, between Chicago and New Orleans, in November; the website's booking section showed a price range of $1,275 to $2,850 for a round-trip. The cost would likely be less between New York City and Lake Placid based on distance alone, but Branson said the trip would likely be aimed at upper-middle class or wealthy customers.
"This is not going to be an economy trip," Branson told the Enterprise. "It would appeal to the person who would like fine dining and pleasant surroundings in a railroad setting, those people who would not choose to drive. It's anticipated that it would be the sort of purchasing customer that would have the means to come up on the train, spend a weekend or a week, and go back on the train. We expect that their spending power would be substantially higher than average."
The Adirondack rail corridor is at the center of a heated debate between railroad supporters and a group of advocates that wants to remove the train tracks to build a year-round, multi-use trail for hikers, bikers, snowmobilers and others.
Dick Beamish of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates panned the luxury rail service proposal.
"Railroad people are truly visionary," he said. "The problem is their vision is backward. They're looking back a hundred years rather than looking ahead to what we could do with this corridor through the Adirondacks and really make something of it that would be a tremendous boon to tourism and to quality of life of people here, and get people outdoors and enjoying the Adirondacks."
Jim McCulley, of ARTA and the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, said he thinks the Iowa Pacific and ARPS plan, if considered by the state, would require a review of the unit management plan that governs the travel corridor, something his group has been asking for since it formed last year.
Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said he believes the "higher-end travel audience in New York City is ready to respond to a first-class overnight experience on historic Pullman cars through the Adirondacks to Lake Placid.
"While we are quite aware of the structural challenges involved in developing this kind of service, we believe we are uniquely qualified to assist ARPS and this agreement is a first milestone in working toward the vision," Ellis said in the release.
Branson said the trip between New York City and Lake Placid would likely "necessitate tagging onto an Amtrak train and then switching (locomotives), either (in) Albany or Utica.
"None of that is an issue," he said. "Amtrak - that's going to be a hurdle for us to get across. But we believe that there will be substantial interest in this with the people who are making the decisions at the state level."
According to the press release, the MOU says "Iowa Pacific Holdings, Pullman Sleeping Car Company and the Saratoga and North Creek Railroad also concur with ARPS and the other parties that, based upon our broad national experience, the Adirondack railroad offers numerous opportunities for rail service development in the future in addition to the Lake Placid-New York City operation, including other expanded tourism rail operations along its length, rail access to trailheads and waterways, and future freight potential.
"The parties therefore also commit to the joint identification and shared exploration of these and all other forms of rail activity which appear achievable as a part of the future of this singular and irreplaceable infrastructure."
Iowa Pacific and ARPS will submit a plan for their proposed project to the state Department of Transportation. They will also work to "form the basis of business discussions with Amtrak and other stakeholders."
"Iowa Pacific will bear the equipment and operating costs and risks, and will be open to partnering in the costs of capital improvements required on the rail line, to be defined as part of the full plan," the press release said.
Branson and Ellis said they will reach out to Lake Placid hotels and resorts "to determine their interest in becoming partners in hosting future visitors."
ANCA Executive Director Kate Fish and North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas, co-chairman of the state's North Country Regional Economic Development Council, both praised the partnership.
Iowa Pacific also plans to begin hauling mine tailings soon on the Tahawus Line between North Creek and Newcomb.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@