While Ulster County and New York State Fiddle, Planet Burns

Two unprecedented March Nor’easters in rapid succession (with a possible third on the way) have caused millions of dollars in damage, left hundreds of thousands without power, and disrupted transportation up and down the east coast. Ulster County and New York State are choosing policies that will make matters worse.

These storms are what climate change looks like. Researchers attribute the strength and timing of the storms to the disruption of the Polar Vortex, changes in wind patterns that have left the Arctic much warmer than it should be this time of year because of global warming. Extreme weather events are increasingly likely in the years ahead.

New York State is changing land use laws to make it easier to turn railroads into trails. Ulster County is turning a rail line that parallels a major transportation corridor into trails and disconnected rail segments. Trails will take no trucks or cars off the roads. They will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions. This is a policy catering to the short-sighted gratification of special interest groups, not prudent governance.

Over a quarter of the energy expended in the US goes to transportation, moving people and goods. Carbon emissions from that contribute significantly to global warming. Railroads are the most energy-efficient means of land transport — but the US has invested heavily in car-centric transportation for decades. We are now experiencing the consequences of that choice.

The importance of 2 Adirondack tourist railroads and 1 in the Catskills in dealing with climate change may seem insignificant — but enough small steps taken everywhere can and will make a difference. The rail lines in question once moved freight and provided passenger service to their regions. The only thing preventing them from doing so again is a refusal to recognize the world has changed and a reluctance to make the necessary investments. They can be much more than an amusement for tourists in ways a trail never can.

The Netherlands operate their trains with an electrified rail system running on 100% wind power. Biodiesel, hybrid locomotives, even hydrogen fuel cell trains all offer immediate ways to reduce carbon emissions. The rest of the world is investing in rail systems — only America is ripping up rail corridors for trails while still subsidizing everything that competes with railroads. It is a recipe for disaster in the face of changing global climate.

Railroads offer resiliency, vital in a world increasingly subject to climate disruption. When airplanes are grounded, when roads become dangerous, trains can keep running. When mudslides blocked a critical commuting route in California in January, Amtrak and other passenger rail carriers added trains and ran longer trains; the alternative was a 275 mile detour by road. Railroads increase resiliency by broadening the economic base beyond tourism — trails can’t.

The 21st Century is not going to be like the 20th. The sooner we face up to that fact, the better.

Please address all inquiries to:
Larry Roth
Media Relations
U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation
P.O. Box 503
Phoenicia, NY 12464

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