OnTrack: a derailed promise for Syracuse

The Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency is selling off the nearly 300 tons of steel as scrap in hopes of recovering some of the losses for a railroad bridge that never was. The bridge that would have completed the promise of an endeavor called OnTrack.

From 1994 until it stopped running in 2008, OnTrack was uniquely Syracuse. Many people have fond memories of the commuter and tourist rail line that ran through the city, including Ann Chase. She told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "It was fun because kids don't know what a train is. We could take our grandkids on the train all the time."

OnTrack was operated by the Susquehanna and Western Railway. Not only did it offer special runs like the "Santa Train", or the "Orange Express" which provided SU fans rides from Armory Square to the Carrier Dome, it was also intended to serve as a commuter train from Jamesville to several stops in Syracuse.

Frank Kobliski, of the Regional Transportation Authority supported the concept behind OnTrack. "It was wildly popular both for Syracuse University football and basketball home games and concerts and NCAA basketball events." When asked if OnTrack was a good idea, Kobliski replied, "It was if you forget a minute about the money."

Kobliski says OnTrack had to rely heavily on community support and taxpayer subsidies because the $1.50 fare could never cover its operating costs. Over the years the state shelled out about $8 million to keep OnTrack running, but in the end it failed.

Today you can see the former OnTrack station at Armory Square along with the rusting tracks and long abandoned passenger platforms behind Destiny USA and in front of the NBT Bank stadium.

OnTrack's fate seemed sealed when the CSX Railroad put a stop to plans to build a railroad bridge at the Regional Transportation Center. CSX was worried the construction could compromise the integrity of the current railroad bridge over Park Street. Kobliski says interest in OnTrack diminished when Walter Rich, the chairman of Susquehanna and Western died in 2007. He says Rich was the visionary behind OnTrack.

Looking back on the history of OnTrack, Kobliski says it was perhaps, "too big a dose of optimism."

Kobliski says he is often approached about what it would take to bring OnTrack back. "So many things have changed now it would be quite a lift. If money were no object...I'd love to see it because I think it filled a niche market."