Adirondack Railroad ridership slowly rising Group has line on dream By DAN MINER Observer-Dispatch Posted Dec 21, 2008 @ 10:51 PM Last update Dec 22, 2008 @ 01:02 AM UTICA — In 1992, a group of train enthusiasts rallied the resources to start a dream: Reviving the rail line between Utica and Lake Placid. Nearly two decades later, a roughly $13 million barrier exists before that dream can be completed, as dilapidated sections of the line still cannot handle train traffic. But officials for the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society – a nonprofit which administers the Adirondack Scenic Railroad – still are optimistic for the future, saying they are evolving their business model as ridership continues to climb. “The whole thing started out years ago with people who like trains, and it’s really turned into a business,” said Bill Branson, president of the railway’s Board of Directors. “Our job right now is to understand how we are doing as administrators of it.” The board recently laid off one employee and cut ties with a contractor, but board member Frank Elias said the moves were not financial and instead were based on performance. He declined to release their names. Ridership has fallen since 2003, when officials believe early curiosity for the Polar Express exhibit – which is based on the popular children’s book and movie — helped attract 67,602 riders. By 2005, ridership was cut in half — 32,139 riders. It then rose to 43,434 in 2006 and 47,721 in 2007. A recent study from Warren, Pa.-based Stone Consulting and Design projected another bump in ridership for this year. Ticket sales are the best way to gauge the railway’s viability – as they are used along with fees for members of the society to pay for operating expenses, equipment and repairs to the line, Branson said. Budget figures are unreliable because the state chooses when to fund repairs or construction along the line and funding levels change yearly. The railway’s main expenses are insurance, repairs to equipment – which is old but must meet rigorous state and federal safety standards – marketing and payroll, Branson said. One distinct movement the railway has undertaken to increase its popularity is theme trains – which include the Polar Express as well as a series of others for children and adults, Branson said. The economy also could boost traffic because it’s a novel a Evidence of that movement was on hand Friday evening, as parents drove their youngsters through a snow storm — that dropped 8.5 inches on the city — from places such as Syracuse, Camden and Norwich for the Polar Express train. Just before 7 p.m., the station was full of people waiting to board the train. Annmarie Gianotti of Utica brought her daughter and two nephews to the event. “I think it’s a great thing,” she said. “There’s not many other things in Utica at Christmas-time.” For now, the railway is making ends meet, Board treasurer Eugene Falvo said. But for it to experience its full potential, the full 141 miles from Utica to Lake Placid will have to be connected. “When we can connect this line, we should see an astronomical rise in ridership,” Falvo said.