Cahill likes rail-only option up to Glenford

Kevin Cahill at Interpretive Center opening. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

Kevin Cahill at Interpretive Center opening. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

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 walking/hiking/biking trail, chief among them Ulster County Executive Mike Hein. The two Democrats engaged in a months-long political donnybrook over 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 that end, it has brought in several commercial endeavors such as the Christmas-themed Polar Express as proof of its value to the community and tourism.

But those efforts haven’t moved the legislature nor 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 7 comments

  1. walter J. Kierzkowski

    The Railroad well bring a lot of business into the area a family can enjoy a ride through the forest and along the river.trips like Thomas and the Polar Express well bring people in and they spend. Not so people walking or hiking the trail and these well certainly not be any large number in comparision to a train event which well draw family’s from all over. The hiking trail well bring in zero revenue and certainly no large groups of walkers. A LOST CAUSE, My money is on keeping and expanding this railroad as a valuable asset to the county and state for bringing in revenue as well as history. Check out how the NYS&WT&HS has been sucessful running down in Phillipsburg New Jersey they bring plenty of revenue into the area.. Walter Kierzkowski

  2. Raji

    Cahill needs to step down. He thinks he is a real charmer – we don’t want charmers in political positions. On the Smart Meter issue he had his 20 something year old groupies meet with us while he cancelled the meeting that took weeks to setup with him, 30 minutes prior to us driving to meet with him. His “girls” then sat in a conference room, rolling their eyes, and made it quite obvious that they thought our information was not worth their time. I then saw Cahill at an event weeks later and when I asked him about the issue he stated, “Oh….I thought we took care of that for you!” No Mr. Cahill, you did not “take care of” anything, rather you turned your back on a community that came to you for help. You do not represent the people. Why not take a position elsewhere where you can turn your charm up to 100 and people will love you for it.

  3. Rachel Marco-Havens

    By merely skimming the history of this topic it is clear that we have a good plan in place. I am not here to ire train nostalgics, but a bit of research may not leave one feeling very confident in a rail option.

  4. CP

    The rail or rail-AND-trail option is the right one to create a regional tourist attraction that will help grow and develop the local economy far more than a trail alone would.

    The problem with the trail-only proposal is that its proponents expect it to be as big an attraction as Walkway Over The Hudson. However, without the spectacular vista several hundred feet over the unique Hudson, that simply isn’t going to happen. However, a railroad will offer a unique perspective, whether or not accompanied by an adjacent walking/biking trail. The U&D route offers a Kingston terminus with three major historic neighborhoods (with two, uptown and midtown, immediately servable by the train); Glenford Dike and Woodstock to the west; and if wiser heads prevail, the charming Phoenicia as a western terminus. The right-of-way offers scenery ranging from nice to spectacular along the entire route.

    No matter what one thinks of CMRR’s early history with the U&D corridor, in recent years they have proven that they can do a lot with a little thanks to their reinvigorated management and creative marketing – hundreds of thousands of new dollars have come to a region that seriously needs it. And even if the county is unwilling to let CMRR continue, don’t take it out on the rails; find a different operator who you think might be more responsible (although I doubt there is one currently that is as committed and capable) and who can effectively nourish and grow this valuable regional attraction.

    This is not the time for shortsightedness or for political revenge against the CMRR or the rails it operates on. This is a unique and golden opportunity. To rip up the rails and not operate on them is to me a dereliction of duty to our citizens by our county government; it will kill a source of both good will and revenue in exchange for a high-maintenance and high-cost folly.

  5. Thomas Whyte

    I have asked Ms. Nolan in several of the online forums if she is a paid spokesperson/advocate for the Land Trusts that are trying to kill off the Catskill Mountain railroad. I am still waiting for an answer.

Comments are closed.