Kevin Cahill clicks ‘like’ on rail-only option up to Glenford

ktx cahill maxwell

In this image from Assemblyman Kevin Cahill’s Facebook page, we see Cahill and Walter Maxwell on their ride last week on the CMRR “handcar.”

To ride, or not to ride, or maybe to walk. Those are the questions — or at least two of them — surrounding the fate of the Catskill Mountain Railroad for the hearts and minds of railroad enthusiasts, hikers, bikers, politicians, bureaucrats and everyone who wishes to visit or benefit from a trip to the Ashokan Reservoir.

A Facebook posting last week by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill reporting on an 11-mile trip the Kingston Democrat made up the railroad line has triggered the latest round in a long-standing battle that pits supporters of the railroad against supporters of a planned rail trail to the reservoir lands.


In the posting, Cahill extolled the idea that providing rail access to Ashokan lands from Kingston up through Glenford as a “tremendous asset” to the county while contending that “trail development only along that corridor is simply not ready for prime time.”

The reason, he said, was “rock-cut areas where walkers and bikers might be trapped because access on and off the (t)rail was non-existent for unacceptable lengths.”

His posting puts Cahill at odds with supporters of the proposed walking/hiking/biking trail, chief among them Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. The two Democrats engaged in a months-long political donnybrook over the 1 percent add-on to the Ulster County sales tax, a fight that culminated early this year with both combatants claiming victory.

Hein adamantly refused to comment on the rail-versus-trail controversy last week, referring all comments to two supporters of the rail trail plan.

Cahill, for his part, sounded a conciliatory note, saying on Monday his support for the railroad was not another round in his battle with Hein. “This isn’t something between me and him. I believe his position is incorrect, but he’s entitled to his position.”

Hein signed an agreement last month with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that’s expected to open the 11.5 miles of land along the reservoir’s north shore to bikers and hikers, but not railroad trains. If all goes as planned, the trail, which has been closed to the public for a century, will run from Basin Road in West Hurley along Route 28 to Boiceville. The DEP has agreed to provide $2.5 million toward the trail’s planning and construction. While the DEP owns that land, the county has held a right-of-way since 1976 along the reservoir’s shore that was intended for rail usage but never developed.

Today, the all-volunteer railroad hopes to expand along that track from Kingston as a tourist train. To boost its claims of being a viable enterprise, it has brought in several well-attended commercial endeavors such as the Christmas-themed Polar Express and a Thomas the Tank Engine-themed ride.

But those efforts haven’t moved the legislature or the Hein administration. The county’s years-old suit to remove the railroad from the tracks is still under appeal, while the railroad’s lease with the county will be up next May, with signs of a renewal being remote.

‘Mystified’ by Cahill

Cahill’s Facebook posting unleashed a torrent of arguments for and against the railroad; chief among those opposing his contention that a rail trail was unsafe was Kathy Nolan, co-chair of the Woodstock Land Conservancy and chair of the Catskill Heritage Alliance, who says the deal with the DEP is a godsend to the county and trumps any plans the railroad could provide. “We feel the county’s making the right choice here, it’s economically viable and we’ve got very strong public support.” She says the railroad has had its chance to upgrade and maintain the track and failed. Clearly, she says, a deal that includes DEP commitments on parking and marketing a rail trail is the only way to go.

Nolan called it an either-or question, and that the trail agreement was the vastly more feasible and desirable choice.

Kevin Smith, who is Nolan’s co-chair on the Woodstock Land Conservancy, said he was “mystified” by Cahill’s assertion that the proposed trail was unsafe, saying the eventual design will be “world class” and will be able to accommodate full-size emergency vehicles with ease. “The real risk to the public’s health and safety is the sedentary lifestyle that winds up costing taxpayers money in health care costs, costs that can be reduced by getting out in nature.”

Smith buttressed Nolan’s contention by forwarding a description of the DEP agreement that “recognizes that a rail-with-trail scenario is not feasible” along the Ashokan lands corridor.

Asking NYC to reconsider

Cahill says the rail trail-only argument ignores the bigger economic picture and that the current “community minded” leaders and members of Catskill Mountain Railroad have made good-faith efforts to demonstrate the line’s value to local businesses. “They need to go further, but already they’ve plowed everything they have into the community,” he said Monday. Making the railroad a tourism attraction that would go the distance to the Ashokan lands is something he said has been gaining local business support and the support of people who live along the route.

Ernest Hunt, president of the railroad club, could not be reached for comment.

Cahill said he met last week with DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd and members of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to see if the commission would “reconsider” its position. He acknowledged that while Lloyd didn’t appear receptive to the idea, he intends to pursue the issue further.

Cahill called for a “new partnership” of political and private interests that could preserve the railroad and the rail trail concepts. Even if there’s already a plan in place, he said, “any plan can be modified.” He compared the potential loss of a tourism train to what was lost in the City of Kingston in 1969 when the city’s old post office building was razed to make way for a fast-food franchise.

There are 52 comments

  1. CP

    Wow – political sanity from Mr. Cahill! Thank you, sir! Of course, he has experienced the ride for himself. I believe that CMRR ha an open invitation to other political figures to ride the CMRR and see what would be lost if the blunder of removing the raisl was to happen. I’m sure that Mr. Hunt, President of the CMRR (a corporation, not a club, by the way) , would oblige them.

  2. TrailFriend

    Wow, Cahill is endorsing a deadbeat tenant… so much for accountability. Based on documents I’ve read CMRR is 80% behind on the track rehabilitation they committed to in the lease. Who in their right mind would give them another chance to screw the county?

    1. CP

      Mr. Cahill is endorsing the railroad’s more professional management and its proven success, especially in the past year and a half. There were always professional railroaders involved, but now CMRR’s business head is a pro in that area and is delivering results, even despite the county’s attempt to financially strangle it. Imagine how much further along the railroad would be had its FEMA funds not been sequestered and its profits not been eaten up having to hire lawyers to defend it against those who would arbitrarily force it out of business.

      In my personal opinion, Trailfriend, your last question should properly be: Who in their right mind would re-elect county officials and give them another chance to screw their county by driving out a responsible revenue-generating regional tourist attraction?

      1. TrailFriend

        So is CMRR magically going to have the 25 miles of track rehabilitated by May 31, 2016 per the lease terms? If not they will still be in default of the lease at that time.
        RE FEMA funds, the damage covered by that affects only a small part of the tracks. Explain why Kingston to the reservoir wasn’t done… almost no storm damage there.

        CMRR shouldn’t even be considered as a tenant in the future based on their performance and their suing the county when the county tried to enforce the lease. The business people on the legislature get this.

    2. Susan

      They aren’t screwing the county. People want other options. We have plenty of parks, trails, roadway and sidewalks for bikers, hikers and walkers already.

  3. Alicia

    I’m sick of all these trail people talking against the Railroad. Let’s see you bring in almost a million dollars, like we did last year. I have been a volunteer since 2009. We had to spend a lot of the money on legal fees and court costs, that’s why were behind in track rebuilding. Here’s an idea, why don’t you join and help us rebuild. I would also like to add ,if you don’t Live and Pay Taxes in Ulster County, you have no say in the matter.

    1. TrailFriend

      The track rehabilitation deficit occurred long before CMRR sued the county to stop the county from enforcing the terms of the lease. To blame their lawsuit for the track deficit is nonsense.

    2. Concernedcitizen

      Actually, the non-local grant funding on the U&D corridor and related projects amounts to more than $11 million before the trail is even built. I would love to help the railroad rebuild in the location that makes the most sense, which is in the Shandaken stretch. It now appears that the railroad and its supporters–at least Assemblyman Cahill and I expect more to come– are, however, focused on the Kingston segment to the exclusion of any trail AT ALL. That Assemblyman Cahill would try, on behalf of the the CMRR apparently, to overturn a historic agreement to open the Ashokan to the the wider public and jeopardize $4-5 million of grant funding for Ulster County seems like an enormous overreach of his position as a state assemblyman working on behalf of the people of his district. Over 100,000 local resident uses projected for a trail versus at best 5,000 residents riding the train last year and only 1,000 in previous years. It is difficult to see how this is acting on behalf of the wider public who has spoken rather clearly by two different County Resolutions, that it definitively prefers a trail as the use of the U&D corridor in the Ashokan stretch on which Assemblyman Cahill traveled.

        1. Concernedcitizen

          The 1,000 and 5,000 are figures for LOCAL residents riding the train in the Kingston segment. Last year’s 40,000 figure came from the CMRR report of 31,000 in Kingston and I would guess then another 9,000 in Shandaken. Of those 31,000 27,000 came from the two events leaving just 4,000 for the rest of the year. The CMRR has reported for the last many years, before the theme events that 75% were from out of county, leaving just 1,000 local residents riding the train in Kingston. That number went up with those locals who participated in the theme events last year. Still far far short of the projected 100,000 uses of the trail.

    3. dewy crow

      They were behind on the track rehab before Mike Hein, before any weather events. but we are supposed to forget that because the ‘new management’ has Cahill’s email address? Please, Cahill is going to launch every torpedo he can find at Mike Hein. Now that he no longer sits at the right knee of the disgraced Shelly Silver he is looking for a new job; County Executive.

  4. tom healy

    (Please print this one. Typo on the original. thanks) )Hey at least Cahill went and actually looked. Glad Walter went with him for backup. When was the last time Mike Hein actually even called and spoke to the railroad? or visited it at it in depth besides photo ops? At a time when DEC is opening up trail access else where on other reservoirs, Retricting access on the U&D corridor to either Rail OR trail is unacceptable. There is no reason why a trail can’t be built along side OR eslsewhere on reservoir property to the reservoire. That’s Mike Heins – let’s make a deal – Politics in play. — Get the DEC to call for trail only allowed and Hein Drops the Lower esopus dirty water lawsuits against DEC, what he once called an “occuping nation” while suing them. There is no reason why a Rail with trail deal should be not reached. Cahill realizes it….. “Cahill called for a “new partnership” of political and private interests that could preserve the railroad and the rail trail concepts”… This hopefully would eliminate the Bullying of the railroad by the county executive. The best bang for the buck in the future for Ulster county residents and Ulster county tourism is having both Rail and trail along the reservoir. Not just one or the other.

    1. TrailFriend

      Mike Hein or anyone else from the county can not talk to CMRR without going through their lawyers because CMRR sued the county.

      From the press reports legislators, engineers, rail inspectors, and others representing the county have been on the corridor a lot.

      Hein is right to stick to his guns.

  5. tom healy

    Trailfriend, Using the trail formula. the railroad brought in 40,000 riders and over $3.5 million dollars in economic value to Ulster county in 2014. They are on pace to doing it again this year. the county would be crazy to dismiss that for personal politics.

    1. TrailFriend

      The county would be crazy to forgo the $4.5 million in funding that is already secured for the trail on the U&D, and the 100,000+ trail visitors it would attract, many for multi-day stays. The only personal politics in evidence is Kevin Cahill picking at Mike Hein again… and Cahill getting into the middle of decisions already made by the elected county legislature and county executive. He is a walking advertisement for term limits.

        1. dewy crow

          The lease is up in May of 2016 and this is how you negotiate a new one? Heretofore, trail proponents were not calling for all of the U&D Corridor to be converted to trail only. Pretty obvious from the tone here that is too generous to the traniacs.

      1. Tom Healy

        “The county would be crazy to forgo the $4.5 million in funding that is already secured for the trail on the U&D” ….. The county seems to be doing just well in the crazy dept. in forgoing over $3 million in fema money that was approved to fix it’s railroad infrastructure.

        1. TrailFriend

          From what I heard a representative of the planning department say at a public meeting the FEMA money is still available for the corridor. It seems the problem has been CMRR’s demands for how the money was to be handled… their unwillingness to follow the prescribed process… that led to the impasse.

          1. tom healy

            That is incorrect. and the planning dept is spreading false information on the CMRRs “unwillingness to follow the prescribed process”….. After Hurricane Irene, The CMRR was asked by the county to do an assesment and to provide storm damage cost and right of way analysis. They did that. The county and RR together worked with the data and cost figures to be filed and the county as required,and filed for the grant. It was approved. So there are no “Demands” by the Railroad. Only a desire to see the grant be used in repairing storm damage as mutually agreed to in the application specifications. Politics against the RR has since got in the way the Fema funding being allocated.

  6. AnotherTakeOnIt

    “[R]ock-cut areas where walkers and bikers might be trapped because access on and off the (t)rail was non-existent for unacceptable lengths” is perhaps the most ridiculous reason I’ve ever heard for not building a trail. It also runs contrary to the proposal for access. The trail will meet ADA and ASHTO standards, will be wide enough for emergency vehicles, and will have 3 major access points with parking as well as other access points where locals can access the trail alongs it’s route. Other rail trails in this area have stretches between access points of 3 or more miles, along with rock cuts and embankments, and have been safely used for decades. Also consider the many miles of hiking trails in the area, that go miles into the mountains, that are only accessible by foot. Who dreamed up such a ridiculous excuse? Sounds like something CMRR supporters have written on other web sites.

  7. ktownhv15

    The rail guys haven’t run a public train anywhere near the Ashokan Reservoir in the 30 years they’ve monopolized the public’s rail line. This argument by Cahill is just a desperate attempt to make up for a complete failure by the rail guys to maintain the line and make this a real railroad. It’s time to make this a trail, and Cahill knows better. The impact of the railroad on Kingston neighborhoods has been very negative over the years, and even his assistant, Tom, called for trail development years ago.

  8. CP

    To Trailfriend and our old “pal” Anothertake: When circumstances change, wise people acknowledge the changes and adjust their understanding accordingly. As Mr. Healy note, the CMRR has brought much needed new money to the area and is on track (sorry for the pun) to repeat that success. Yes, there have been issues in the past, but this is the present, looking to the future, based on significant recent success. In the light of this success, a contract can be reopened and renegotiated before someone does something unwise and irreversible.

    Which side do our elected politicians want to be on – their constituents who are benefitting from CMRR’s operation or an ego-drivenvendetta?

    1. AnotherTakeOnIt

      So the roughly $4.5 million in trail rehabilitation that CMRR still owes the county (this based on CMRR’s business plan valuation of such work) will be paid to the county in cash to make the county whole? If not… forget it.

      The next rail vendor may be able to do something with the ashes left by CMRR. I wish the next vendor good luck west of Boiceville and, if the legislature changes policy, on the 2 miles in Kingston.

    2. TrailFriend

      This isn’t a school yard kick ball game with “do overs,” it is a performance contract and CMRR has failed to perform. The politicians should be on the side of accountability… if they don’t enforce the contract it’s an open invitation for every other vendor to screw the county as they please.

      1. Tom Healy

        Mike Hein put a 3 phase rebuild of the railroad on the county TIP after he was elected county executive. He had no problem at that point with the RR and their performance. He even asked for and got the Railroads help in working on the numbers. then trail politics got in the way.

        1. dewy crow

          Then he looked at the facts on the ground and made the right decision; trail not rail from Kingston to the reservoir.
          Au reservoir cmrr.

          1. tom healy

            No, after the 3 phase plan that got knocked off the TIP, He then again asked for the Railroads help and got it in applying for a FEMA grant that would fix Hurricane Irene storm damage. Then it was used as leverage against the RR to try and remove them from Kingston. Bait and switch politics It would seem to most.

  9. John Garesche

    Cahill is a fool. There is so much more tourism and business that will be attracted by the interconnected trail network that is forming: from the Walkway over the Hudson to the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail to the Kingston Point Trail and the Hurley Rail Trail – and eventually connected trails going to New York City! This is the future. A tourism railroad
    In an appropriate location is fine – but no one wants to ride a tourism railroad for hours. It’s a fun short trip a few times a year. The trail will be used by many more people year-round.

    Time for a trail!

    1. tom healy

      The railroad has been sucessful in Kingston with events for kids. (30,000 visitors in 2014) Yes attention span for kids is about an hour and a half on the train. But Adults…. Run a train to the reservoir and serve them diner with reservoir views and mountain vistas for a a couple of hours… they will come.

      1. AnotherTakeOnIt

        The built out trail network will attract touring cyclists. We’ve already got touring cyclists using the disjoint pieces of the trail network (regularly seen between the Walkway and on the road between the WVRT and O&W in Cottekill for those who don’t use the trails). Touring cycling is a large and growing activity not only in the U.S. but worldwide.

        Also, as with all trails and all road systems there are segment users, i.e., those who use shorter sections regularly. For example, you don’t drive on every road in Ulster County do you? Nor do you use the entire Eisenhower Interstate system. Well the same applies to the road networks of the world.

          1. AnotherTakeOnIt

            That is abundantly clear… the trail supporters on the other hand are fine with rail operations west of Boiceville per county policy.

            The next rail vendor may have better luck and they will be more closely watched under a lease that is unlikely to exceed three years in length at a time. No more stretching the intent of the law to give a for-profit business an unfair advantage on the corridor.

  10. Alicia

    To All The Critic’s of the Catskill Mountain Railroad : Why don’t you all become volunteer’s and help us to rebuild the track.

    1. dewy crow

      Why would we help a company that has failed in its obligation to the county taxpayer to the tune of millions? Thousands of sales tax dollars generated by the one successful year of operation will not pay for the millions of dollars of neglect damage suffered on the county property. Time to restore the U&D Corridor to transportation use; non-motorized transportation that is.

    2. AnotherTakeOnIt

      Some of us prefer the quiet trails, the closeness to nature that you can experience there, and the ability to stop and ponder the wildlife and scenery. We also prefer being able to use different trails that give different experiences and different destinations with each trip. That and we are very busy planning, building, and maintaining trails. To attract and retain Gen Y, millenials and tourists the future is in connected trails and Complete Streets. Tourist trains are a day trip.

  11. CP

    There are many quiet trails all around Kingston and Ulster County. How many do the rail-haters walk regularly? And in the winter, when the Polar Express brought in all that busines for local merchants?

    There I ONE available corridor with rail for a regional attraction. Many people will ride for several hours if the train has somewhere to go. Glenford Dike is an excellent destination, there are more along the line, including Phoenicia. CMRR has been doing amazingly well despite fighting a tidal wave of lawsuits and negativity.

    As for a change in county executive, perhaps one less vendetta-driven would be good for everyone. Mr. Cahill seems like a fine choice. At least he sees what is and what could be. A little visionary thinking would be good right about now….

    1. TrailFriend

      Rail west of Boiceville is fine… Cahill constantly interfering with the decisions of the Legislature and Executive isn’t. Term limits are needed!!

  12. Dave

    The main difference between the numbers that keep being used by the two sides is one is based on actuals, one is based on predictions. According to the 2013 study commissioned by trail people that is being used as fact, there will be approximately 140,000 users of the trail per year, with approximately 38,000 from out of county and 102,000 will be in county users. Since we have approximately 182,000 humans living in Ulster County, that equates to 60% of every man, woman and child of Ulster County using the trail, regardless of age, physical condition and/or proximity to the trail.
    There is no argument against the health benefit of trails, but the economic development argument for a trail over a railroad doesn’t hold water. Using the trail study numbers to predict the sales tax dollars and spending is deceptive at best. It is true that the CMRR didn’t build, repair and use the RR as they predicted. When you build a bridge you can’t use it until it is complete. The new leadership at the CMRR has made a world of difference and they began to capitalize on the work done before them. Regardless, the county didn’t put a dime into the railroad as has many places with tourist trains, and in fact got money out of it in rent. If you get a chance to ride the rails to the reservoir you will see the tracks are not in that bad a shape and can be repaired for use easily and you will also realize, as did Kevin Cahill, why the trains should continue to roll.

  13. baffled

    So the County has been trying for years to terminate the lease of the railroad, forcing the operators to go to court to maintain their operations.
    The county withheld FEMA funds in an attempt to terminate the railroad.
    The railroad, when asked, provided a rails with trails option, which was ignored by the county.
    People travel to see TOURIST attractions, and SPEND MONEY. Businesses benefit from this. People do not travel far to snowmobile, walk, or cycle.

    1. dewy crow

      ‘The county withheld FEMA funds in an attempt to terminate the railroad.’that is a spurious accusation ma’am. If you have data to support it please provide.
      The railroad company withheld $25.000. per year of rail expenditures for near 20 years. Half a million dollars due the county taxpayer.

      1. Tom Healy

        Actually, The county withheld FEMA funds and used it as a tool in an attempt to leverage the CMRR out kingston. This after it asked for and got the railroads help in working on storm damage assement costs and figures.

      2. AnotherTakeOnIt

        …and the $25k was for materials for a mile of track per year. Add in the value of the labor, that combined with the materials CMRR values at up to $250,000 per mile in their business plan, times the 18 mile track rehab deficit and the county is out up to $4.5 million.

        1. CP

          Said “deficit” was figured pre-washout of the Boiceville Trestle. Look, numbers can be made to say anything. Check the recent sharp upward trend going back three or four years now – and then ask yourself if you are the same as you were four years ago, or even 30 years ago. Most of us have changed and accommodated. It’s time to let the railroad do the same. This is not the time to blow off the last best chance. A trail will never, as its proponents suggest, rival Walkway Over The Hudson; but a railroad is a unique entity and a major attraction that will bring in new money, not just recycle local dollars.

          1. dewy crow

            Look down the tracks at the DURR. A fine outfit that split their corridor with the trail community there.
            A great feature, but still not economically viable, they get $500,000. of charitable trust support each year. Look at those numbers. That is what it takes to run a tourist railroad. We do not need to continue to support a railroad in Ulster county if it does not even work in Delaware county without additional support.

          2. CP

            To “dewy,” the DURR is running on their least scenic section, in my opinion, although it is pretty country. Far more dramatic would be the Arkville-Highmount run., Also, DURR is farther from an easily-accessible city than is the CMRR, whose ROW to Glenford is as or more scenic.

          3. dewy crow

            The cmrr does not own any right of way. They lease the use of the corridor from Ulster County until May 2016. The most dramatic rail and views on the U&D are on the horseshoe bend between Phoenicia and the DURR. None of your arguments counter the reality that all of these railroad excursion outfits end up on some sort of dole.

  14. Johnson

    Perhaps when (if) recreational marijuana comes to NY the railroad can run special Tommy (Chong) the Toke Engine trains … that’d make some bread, man.

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