Editorial: A deal which should be taken

Kingston Times editor Dan Barton.

Kingston Times editor Dan Barton.

As someone who’s held and continues to hold the opinion that the Ulster & Delaware will do more people more good as a free-to-all walking trail than a mostly-disused corridor with sections upon which for-profit pleasure trains run periodically, I think a couple of things about the county executive’s proposed rail-with-trail compromise: 1.) it’s an acknowledgement that tourist trains have some potential as economic stimulus and 2.) if the people currently involved with the Catskill Mountain Railroad want to continue to be the ones running these trains, they should ignore the voices which want more, lest they end up with nothing at all.

Let’s give the CMRR its due — in the past few months, it’s gone from what was in essence a 1:1-scale train set for a dedicated group of hobbyists to something approaching what it’s always been cracked up to be: a viable enterprise. Any objective observer would see the potential Thomas the Tank Engine and the Polar Express promises in bringing cash-carrying families to Uptown Kingston. Had this not happened, we’d be where we were before: in a legal stalemate, with Hein holding the advantage as all he has to do is wait ’till the lease expires in 2016 for him to prevail. Hein’s plan allows the Thomas/Polar Express potential a chance to become reality. (Do little kids really need a train ride of more than a couple miles each way? If the answer’s yes, then there’s always Metro-North, or the ride further up in the mountains.)

But the Hein deal also allows for a more important reality: the conversion of the U&D corridor going back into the city into a trail which people can walk on. Why this is important, more important than a tourist train, for me comes down to fairness to the lower-income people of the city who can’t afford to take their kids on a pricey tourist train and need healthy no-cost recreation and exercise. (Would any financial benefit the train would bring be wiped out by the increased burden of healthcare costs from Midtowners deprived of that chance to walk and lose weight?) There’s also the quality-of-life improvement dividend for the poor folks who live along the tracks who’ve been tormented by the noise, stench, foundation-cracking vibrations and undeniably dismissive and arrogant attitude of CMRR officials past for decades.


The railroad’s supporters seem to be missing or in denial of something I’ve noticed since the rail-trail plan was first unveiled back in 2013: the telegraphing of the concept that someone else (or no one at all) would be brought in to run the trains in the CMRR’s place. In Hein’s release this week, Jeannette Provenzano was the latest lawmaker tapping out the code: “Regardless of who the future operator of the railroad will be in 2016, this is a ‘win-win’ for both rail and trail.” I suspect this translates to “the stick behind the carrot.” It’s perfectly plausible that after the rail requests for proposals have been answered, none, including CMRR’s, could be found to be acceptable in the county’s eyes and the tourist trains cease for good.

I’m not trying to minimize the passion and commitment the railroaders have shown, and I do think Hein could have been more diplomatic and inclusive as his rail-trail plans started to take shape. If he had, and had the railroaders been cooperative as well, then a lot of money could have been saved on lawyers and a lot of feelings spared. But the way I see it, the CMRR has two ways to change the equation to get a deal they’d like better: 1.) as a for-profit venture, get a venture capitalist (Hello, Sean Eldridge?) to commit to investing big bucks, maybe enough to buy the corridor outright from the county, or 2.) make Hein pay politically for his stance. The former seems vastly more likely than the latter; while Hein is not quite the alpha and omega of Ulster County politics, he’s at least the alpha and phi or chi. People grouse and we hear rumors of rebellion but consider this: his budget passed the legislature unanimously and with some tweaks, but none that affected the final total. (One change was taking money away from perceived/alleged Hein rival Elliott Auerbach’s comptroller’s office; make of that what you will.) Also consider that the resolution calling for the tracks in the City of Kingston to be removed to make way for the trail passed 18-4. Not unanimous, but not a contest, either.

The compromise is what a compromise is: a deal where neither side gets it quite the way it wants it. The CMRR should realize this is as good as it’s going to get and move forward from here.

There are 15 comments

  1. bruno black

    I’m thinking that all argument on every side will be subject to adjustment. All this Sturm und Drang… huge amounts of emotional energy wasted all around. Hundreds of thousands of public and private dollars pissed away on a Blood Feud. When the general economy implodes bigger and more destructively than it did half a decade ago, all present models of.viewing reality will shift. Someone will “win” this battle, but they might just feel like the Roman general who took Masada. What was the point? Studies by the CDC suggest that unhappiness isingrained into the DNA of some cities. I’m wondering how much kg that effect is in part here.

  2. Bob Lusk

    The Freeman has consistently taken a negative attitude towards the CMRR. Interesting to see you acknowledge this. You are always very careful to say that CMRR is “for profit”. My understanding is that this is only because legally RR’s are required to be owned by a “for profit” company. Otherwise I’m sure it would be a non-profit 501c(3). A more accurate labeling would be to call it an “all volunteer” organization. No one is making any money from this – they are doing it out of love and commitment. They would have been able to be much more successful over the years if they had had proper support from the County. Remember “Steamtown”? Ulster County and Kingston in particular has lost out on a lot of good bets over the years.

  3. Michael Helbing

    Rail With Trail is the BEST scenario. Take it from a government employee and trail advocate who understands the overhead involved with maintaining a trail on county level. CMRR has done a fantastic job keeping a long stretch of line clear at no cost to tax payers. The trail WILL cost the people of Ulster County more in the long run.
    Listen to me. I am a trail advocate, I’m President of Metrotrails, Chairman of the Board of Recreation for a whole county, and I work for DEP. As much as I love trails, on beautiful spring and Summer days i hiked the Marbletown Rail Trail…both Sundays…did not pass A SINGLE OTHER PERSON. Let’s look at this in a way that makes sense and has the most recreational value. RAIL WITH TRAIL.

    1. Hokey_stuff

      I don’t normally engage in this debate in a public forum but clarification is sometimes needed when people post misleading information.

      The Delaware and Ulster Railroad operating in Arkville is owned by Catskill Revitalization Corp, Inc. which is a 501(c)3 Not For Profit organization. So, CMRR could easily be a 501(c) as well. And as far as people volunteering to work for CMRR out of ‘love and commitment’, many are shareholders and could potentially stand to profit now that the themed rides are generating revenue.

      Mr. Helbig, you’ll forgive me if the credentials that you offer up don’t lead me to believe that you’re an authority on tourist railroads or trails. As far as hiking on the Marbletown Trail and never seeing anyone, I’d just say that I’ve had a much different experience, because I have seen many people on the trail, weekends and weekdays. There are also plenty of people on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail between Kingston and Rosendale every day.

      I believe that the CMRR management knows that they’ve gotten a good deal given the circumstances and I just hope that they ask the vocal rail zealots to give it a rest because it isn’t conducive to moving forward.

  4. John Garesche

    I am both a rail and trail supporter – however, 3 months of success does not mean the railroad is viable. We have witnessed 100 years of decline, and anyone who thinks that CMRR has kept the corridor clear has not hiked much of the corridor. I have hiked nearly all of it, and it is only in the last year that they finally cleared between 209 and Hurley Mountain Road. Much of the corridor to the west of Phoenicia has trees growing in the tracks. And far too many parts of the corridor are seriously damaged due to lack of maintenance and clearing the drainage. The for-profit railroad has not been able to attract the investment to restore full rail operations – or even keep the corridor clear.

    Despite my reservations, I do hope rail operations can continue. But not just to preserve history – it has to remain financially viable. Trails require government dollars, but so does rail. This corridor will never support privately run rail operations. The recent success is unsustainable. I hope they prove me wrong, but the county should not commit to wildly expensive rail with trail options without serious commitment of dollars from a rail operator.

  5. John Rahl

    John Rahl

    Hein is a bully and is wrong and unlawful in his actions by the laws of New York. Your not following the laws and you don’t know them. Railroads are paramount to rail-trails and that is that. It is a property and legislative right and one of the first rules of the “law of the land”. Art.1,NYS Const.. The rights you take from someone may be your own freedoms. It is a matter of fair under the laws not from how you see it for your needs today. It is not free at all to walk along railroads and the rail-trail is to save the railroad as by rail-banking the property You need to wake up and see that Hein is not on the U&D Railroad board and once the railroad was leased he has no say in any of the issues. The General Railroad laws of New York Chapter 140 of 1850 are the rules of law that prevail here. Hein can not take real property from railroads because he says so. That is an act of treason. Oh, and the freeman lies all the time.

  6. John Rahl

    John Rahl is the owner of “The Wallkill Valley Railroad Company” (Chartered in 1866) and knows railroad law and all the support laws of the county with a library that proofs the same facts as stated above.

  7. tom healy

    In putting the compromise in perspective…Giving the railroad just 2 miles with no chance to grow, is the same as giving a kid a 10 speed bike. And then telling him he can only ride it to the end of the driveway.

  8. tom healy


    As seen in the freeman…So basically the walkway trail does not appear to be a boon to local business as trail studies have indicated it would. Now you need a Resort proposal ($283 million) which may or may not help acording to the loyde town supervisor. Add Legislator Herb litts name (as he spoke at the August legislative meeting)as being concerned as to how little the walkway has helped in his area of loyde. So Respectfully, I’ll disagree with MR Barton in saying the Railroad has at least brought something to the table (30,000 visitors) in the last few months They should be allowed suported and encouraged to grow. After reading how little the walkway has helped local area business, the county might have a better deal in kingston area business growth by letting the railroad rebuild to the reservoir. At least the taxpayer won’t be on the hook.

    1. AnotherTakeOnIt

      The Freeman article talks about Walkway related business on the west end of the Walkway. It is disingenuous to generalize the article’s points to the entire business community near the Walkway as the eastern end has benefited. The western end offers little visible enticement to users… the parking area is in a rather rural residential area. Compare this to the east end that puts you in the heart of Poughkeepsie and where other attractions are visible from the bridge right along the river.

  9. George

    As a CMRR volunteer who has subsidized the tourism economy of Ulster County by contributing thousands of hours, I find it offensive that you characterize us as a 1:1 scale model railroad hobbyists. That is a very arrogant and false opinion that causes me to completely dismiss the remaining opinions listed in your piece.

    The foolish mischaracterizations you have made with regard to my colleagues and I reveal a lack of understanding and only serve to fuel and legitimize the same old anti-CMRR rhetoric.

    My interest and involvement stems from a desire to preserve history and to make something special for our community to be proud of. I constantly send our riders (most of whom come from out of Ulster County) to local businesses, serving as a concierge of sorts. I have seen tens of thousands of smiling visitors who have been introduced to Ulster County because of what we do. My work (and that of a bunch of my fellow railroaders), causes local businesses to benefit. Business growth means job growth. It also means more money for them to advertise in your newspaper.

    I have a working knowledge of Physics and structural dynamics, so I feel confident in saying that nobody’s foundations have been cracked by our little locomotive chugging by at 5mph. 100 years ago, heavy steam locomotives with counter-weighted side-rod powered wheels pounded the rails of this corridor at speeds up to 60 mph. It is more likely that the individual claiming this needs some better gutters, footing drains, or basic masonry maintenance.

  10. Sue's husband.

    Sue Boice would be very disappointed in you Dan. She always admired you, but this opinion piece, although well penned, is misleading and certainly biased against the railroad. Please reconsider after considering a wider set of facts.

Comments are closed.