Railroading group opposes conversion to rail-trail

rail trail SQA group of dedicated rail enthusiasts has been working on restoring the Ulster County-owned railroad from Kingston to Highmount for the better part of a generation. Now, an equally dedicated group of enthusiastic rail-trail advocates say it’s their turn.

Trail people have a powerful ally in county executive Mike Hein, who last October announced a plan for the county to take operational control of the 38-mile railroad bed parallel to Route 28. The intention would be to eventually connect rail-trails all over Ulster County to the state-operated Walkway Over the Hudson, which connects Poughkeepsie and Highland.

That Hein consulted neither rail nor trail advocates before unveiling his plan in his annual budget presentation in Rosendale came as “a shock” to the former, who hold a lease on the track until mid-2016.


“We see this as a real once in a generational opportunity for the seven communities [along Route 28, including Kingston] to participate in the kind of economic development that goes with these rail-trails,” said Kevin Smith, chairman of the board of directors of the Woodstock Land Conservancy. “We think the executive is focused on the highest and best use for this county asset. The railroad’s track record is a matter of record.” Smith claims about 50 active members in his organization, compared to about 80 in the railroad group.

Members of the Catskill Mountain Railroad board of directors signed a 25-year lease with the county in 1991, agreeing to rehabilitate the track and run tourist trains. The county purchased the abandoned track for $1.5 million in 1979 (about $4.7 million in today’s dollars) for its potential tourism value. Under the lease, CMRR is supposed to rehabilitate a mile of track a year, a promise they say has been impossible to achieve given their all-volunteer workforce and limited fund-raising ability. CMRR also pays the county annual fees ($1900 last year) based on net income.

Since signing the lease, CMRR, by dint of its labor and through various fund-raising drives, has partially restored a two-mile section of track from Elmendorf Street in Kingston to Colonel Chandler Drive over the Esopus Creek, and another six-mile stretch from Mt. Tremper to Phoenicia. CMRR has also purchased and restored rolling stock for its tourist trains, which operate sporadically about four months a year. The Kingston section runs a holiday train during December. Board members say the activities attract about 12,000 riders a year.


Can the two uses co-exist?

But trail advocates say the potential for hikers, bikers and even equestrians along the railroad routes is much greater.

Smith and Kathy Nolan, an activist with the Phoenicia-based Friends of the Catskill Mountain Trail organization, point to a recent state study that showed upwards of 80,000 persons a year using the comparatively recent Hurley walking rail-trail that runs along Route 209. The same study claimed upward of 700,000 annual visitors to the Walkway every year. Smith and others believe an influx of tourism on walking trails can enhance the Route 28 corridor from Kingston to Highmount.

While rail and trail advocates say they might co-exist, perhaps with side-by-side operations along the 66-foot railroad right-of-way, the thrust of Hein’s plan is toward extension of trails and the elimination of rail.

Officials in New York City, which owns a ten-mile stretch of railroad next to the Ashokan Reservoir, have informed county officials they would be willing to discuss creation of a pedestrian trail, or reconstruction of the railroad, but not both.

There are 5 comments

  1. Joe

    The statistics cited by Kathy Nolan are suspect, that 80K people use the Hurley walking it just not believable and she does not give the exact report she pulls number from (ie. “A recent state study”). What study?

    I have worked in the outdoor community as my occupation for 40 years and it is well know that outdoor participation is on a slow decline, especially with younger people 18-25. When a survey asks a question as to what sport you participate in and includes the option of “Walking for exercise”, this typically is overstated and usually means something other than walking on a straight unending trail as is typical of “rail to trails” inventory.

    Lastly, lets say she is right, why isn’t a cooperative agreement being discussed. In other states Scenic rail trains typically have parallel trails that bikers can use, and they coexist nicely.

    To take away a fledgling business tourist attraction, where volunteers have poured in much sweat, time and money in an area already hit by the economic downturn is both myopic but just plain dumb./

  2. Sally Smith

    Fledging tourist attraction? The CMRR, for profit business, has been in control of this corridor for over 20 years and yet have not managed to open it. Time to use it to it’s full potential and bring in tourists who will fill up area hotels and restaurants. As for a pararrel trail, it is not possible on the western end as told to me by Harry Jameson and Earl Pardini, the ROW is too narrow for both. And really, would you want children riding their bicycles next to a smoke spewing, ear deafening train?

    1. Antonio


      Why do you think tourists will fill up hotels and restaurants because of a trail? With trails in practically every major community in this country and $3.50 a gallon gas, I doubt very few people will venture more a hour or two away from home for a trail. New York has been a dying state since major railroad abandonments in the 1970s and most industries have left! And by-the-way, most children are fascinated by trains, I would guess you never have taken any children to a Thomas The Tank Engine Day at the Strasburg Railroad were 20,000 plus will ride the train in a given week. And Sally what’s the full potential of a rail corridor if it has no tracks???? No potential for rail freight means no full time jobs in industries in the area. And tourist cannot hold the weight of the entire economy, we need to make things, mine things and exports things!!!! Can’t keep the same dollar floating through an economy without having a trade and current account surplus!!! We have been doing it for 40 years only because we became the world’s reserve currency after the fall of the British Pound in the 1970s because of their socialistic spending. And now we are falling because of the same thing. 10 percent fall in the dollar in just the last three and a half years!!!! Unless you plan a significant usage charge for the trail, you will never recover that money! The fact is that CMRR has opened significant track in Kingston just in the last two years! The hard sweat of those volunteers is underappreciated. We need more of them and less mindless trails, empty factories and half-abandoned towns like those found in rural New York!

  3. Wes


    I am afraid you have no idea what you are speaking about. The trains are not smoke spewing…at least no more so than the cars rolling along nearby…and ear deafening is a bit dramatic too.

    The trails will not fill up area hotels or restaurants. I have visited your area…to ride the train…which was a great experience. I live in New England, where we enjoy 100’s of miles of rail/trails, trails, railroad rides…we have it all. I can tell you as an avid hiker…the trails do not fill up area hotels or restaurants. We New Englanders are known for our outdoors activities. We are fortunate that both options exist in our area.

    The other thing you should consider is this…at the very best…the Catskill railroad operation operates short, quick rides, and rarely exceeds, if every, 15 mph. The trains are not blowing past at 50 mph. Railroads and their right-of-ways are resources that surely can be used by both.

    For further reading…check out the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. The WMSR is a HUGE tourist draw for the community…AND they have trails that run along side their tracks.

  4. Stuart

    A. trains are not smoke spewing, your thinking in the wrong era
    B. trains are not ear deafening
    C. if you had say, spent 20 years (like they have) planting an entire arboretum and you had just started to see results of all your efforts, would you be happy if someone came in and said, “lets build a nice, large parking lot right here! They have had 20 years to do things and so far haven’t.” The amount of tax payer dollars that will be spent to rip up existing rail, clean up brush, remove grade crossings, and pave the entire path, could easily be put into the railroad and have them build at the very least 3/4’s of the entire route! P.S. pavement deteriorates faster than rail. Think trails to rails, not the other way around!

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