Catskill Mountain Railroad trains stuck on Phoenicia property without permit

Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) plans to ask Ulster County and Rail Explorers, the rail bike company designated by the county to take over the western end of what was CMRR’s tourist rail operation, if the railroad can run its trains occasionally on the county tracks, particularly in the fall foliage season. Furthermore, CMRR does not plan to move its train cars off its residentially zoned property anytime soon, given that it has no place to put them that the railroad deems appropriate.

CMRR president Ernie Hunt made the statements in a letter to the Town of Shandaken, responding to the town’s request for a timeline for removal of trains CMRR had transferred surreptitiously from the county tracks to its own property in Phoenicia on the weekend of January 20-21. The railroad has been trying for over a year to obtain a permit to store the trains, while facing the county’s January 29 deadline for vacating the tracks. Neighbors have objected to the granting of a permit, citing environmental, esthetic, and legal considerations.

Hunt wrote that the area of track offered by the county is not secure and leaves trains subject to graffiti and vandalism, while the cost of moving the trains would be $100,000. “We have been discussing locations for a permanent yard in Kingston with the county, but no site has been agreed to yet. It is highly likely that a new property will need to be acquired by the CMRR, rezoned, graded, and built by the CMRR before we will have room in Kingston to safely store our equipment. We believe this process will take one to two years to complete.”


Furthermore, CMRR’s lease on the eastern end of the tracks, where it still has the right to run excursion trains, is subject to cancellation by the county with only 60 days’ notice. The railroad is loath to spend the money to move its trains when it could be kicked out again. “We will be asking the county to extend this period before we spend the huge investment of a new yard in Kingston,” stated Hunt. “Until we do so it is difficult to give a precise timeline for vacating our property in Phoenicia.”

Hunt pointed out that CMRR has stored a boxcar on its property for 27 years without objection, and the company believes it has the right to continue to store trains without a permit.


No sharing with Rail Explorer

Sharing the tracks with Rail Explorer is not an option for CMRR, according to Chris White, Deputy Director of the Ulster County Planning Department, who was involved in putting out a request for proposals for use of the county tracks last year, when CMRR’s lease on the tracks expired.

He said, “Use of the western segment was awarded to Rail Explorers for five years because it will operate more frequently for a longer season, provide the county a higher use fee, and attract more visitors to the area than CMRR, as well as employ 22 local people.” White also noted that CMRR was made aware it could not operate together with Rail Explorers on the western segment due to logistical, regulatory, and other issues but noted CMRR has a multi-year permit to continue operations in the Kingston area.

As for the possibility of renegotiating CMRR’s permit with the county, said White, “All county agreements now include a provision for termination with 60 days’ notice, which are rarely used unless something egregious happens.”

He also noted that CMRR had previously informed the county that it would move its equipment to Kingston in the coming months, and the county was aware of only one minor graffiti issue in recent years in Kingston.


Letter from DOT

Alex Catchpoole, owner of Rail Explorers, said his company has not been approached by CMRR, although he heard about Hunt’s letter to the town. “I understand they’d like to duplicate their success with fall foliage rides they had last year, but that’s our big season as well,” said Catchpoole. “To lose days to the railroad would take a chunk out of our revenue.” The permit granted by the county forbids Rail Explorers from granting access to any other operator. Catchpoole said the company’s tours in the Adirondacks drew 26,000 riders last year.

Regarding Hunt’s letter, town Supervisor Rob Stanley remarked, “We are not completely satisfied with the response but will continue moving this conversation forward with them to find a resolution. CMRR is still pursuing a permit through the planning board. In the interim, and in the absence of a permit, the town is still in conversation with our attorney to investigate our options moving forward.”

On February 8, Harry Jameson of CMRR presented the Town of Shandaken Planning Board with a letter from Greg Hart, Region 8 Rail Coordinator of the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT), indicating that the rail company’s activities qualify as “‘public transportation use’ with respect to the Town of Shandaken zoning code.” This designation, if valid, would justify CMRR’s application for a special permit to store trains on its residentially zoned property. Lawyers for the Phoenicia neighbors have argued that a tourist railroad does not fulfill the requirements to be considered public transportation and that such an designation would have to come from the state’s transportation commission.

After receiving the letter, the planning board prepared to return to considering CMRR’s application, pending review of the letter by the town attorney.

There are 8 comments

  1. Steven L Fornal

    Yet another proof of CMRR’s lack of business acumen. If it takes two years to find, buy and prepare a storage yard, why didn’t CMRR begin the process two years ago? Because they don’t care at all about legality; it’ll do whatever it wants and then put up a huge stink when taken to court.

    CMRR has done nothing but disrupt in order to cry the blues; disobeying lease agreements as well as latest agreement drawn up to allow it to continue operating even though it didn’t fulfill its responsibilities for 25 years! Its behavior is atrocious. Why isn’t the town of Shandaken moving quickly and forcefully against these code breakers? Why hasn’t it been subjected to the same treated any recurring law breaker would be?

    The CMRR and its officers should have to attend mandatory sessions on how to fulfill obligations of agreements entered into. Admittedly that would tie it and them up for many years.

  2. Jen Dragon

    I believe that the CMRR has been an under appreciated asset to the town of Shandaken in general and the village of Phoenicia in particular. It makes sense to store the trains on the grounds near the Empire State Railway Museum. The neighbors who are objecting to the building of sheds have been living next to a train yard and museum for almost 30 years. If they didn’t like trains, why did they purchase homes near a train line? Why not instead work together to make some beautiful historically relevant architecture that would enhance the Railway museum, store the trains safely and contribute to the history of the village of Phoenicia? So far, the Railway museum and it’s trains bring thousands of visitors to the village with its programming of monthly concerts, seasonal train rides and visits to the train yard and displays. These aren’t just random figures. As an admin for the Phoenicia Facebook page, I see thousands of shares and likes for almost every CMRR event – for the 2016 fall foliage train alone, we had 35K views and the attendance and ticket sales were at an all record high! So let’s not diminish what these hard working volunteers have built and instead find a solution to help create elegant storage that will support and enhance Phoenicia’s Empire Railway Museum.

  3. Jen Dragon

    Since I wrote my previous comment, it has been brought to my attention that the dangerous substances (like solvents and diesel fuel) customary to a train yard are a hazard to the Esopus if there should be another flood. There is a commercially zoned train shed available in Kingston that has offered to take the trains. This may be the way to go after all and perhaps Phoenicia can host a train at the train museum as opposed to the many cars that are currently parked there.

  4. VTT

    Jen, Can you please verify your comment? “There is a commercially zoned train shed available in Kingston that has offered to take the trains.” It sounds like ‘fake news’.

  5. Mike

    Look at all the NIBMYS and libs wondering where every single producer and job is leaving New York.
    I think the people paying the bills need to tell the tree huggers that they need to BTFU and step off issues that don’t have anything to do with them.
    Isn’t there a job killing pipeline demonstration for you nitwits to attend?

  6. Laurent

    I think a Good coat of Paint in the CMRR paint scheme for every piece of rail equipment standing about idly would help sooth the nerves of those that don’t like seeing these cars “just sitting”. When things look clean, people don’t bother with them.

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