Catskill Mountain Railroad Corp. ridership declined 6 percent last year. The rail operation, which has about 70 volunteers and one paid events planner, attributed the decrease in part to the western end of its scenic run being eliminated.
Early last year the county and the railroad reached an agreement whereby CMRR would continue scenic runs on the eastern end of the old Ulster & Delaware line from Kingston Plaza to West Hurley, with a pedal-car operation taking over the Boiceville-Phoenicia route. That pedal-car firm did not operate last year, but has announced plans to begin service on Memorial Day weekend this year.
CMRR’s figures showed 36,374 passengers in 2017, compared to 38,743 in 2016. Ridership on the Polar Express, CMRR’s most popular attraction, peaked at 24,223 last year, offsetting some of the overall decline due to loss of western operations. CMRR estimated 90 percent of these riders came from outside Ulster County. CMRR estimates it operations generate $4 million in tourism-related activities.
CMRR plans to continue its Polar Express, Steam Engine Viscose, Easter Bunny Express (March 24 and 31) and Halloween trains. Plans also call for improving track and extending the run further west toward the Ashokan Reservoir.
Meanwhile, CMRR President Ernest Hunt has asked the county to consider revising plans for track removal between Midtown Kingston and the Kingston Plaza in order to allow a railroad connection with the north-south CSX freight line. Hunt advises that the right-of-way could be widened to allow for rail and trail use.
Hunt advises in a March 15 letter to county Public Works Commissioner Thomas Jackson that New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection’s shipping of “thousands of tons of material” to rebuild the Glenford and Woodstock Dikes via rail would keep heavy truck traffic off Route 28. Jackson was not available for comment.
On March 9, Don Williams, president of Red Hook-based Williams Lumber, advised Catskill Mountain Railroad of its hope to ship up to 100 carloads of lumber a year out of the former Lowe’s Plumbing on Smith Avenue, which it owns, next to CSX tracks in Midtown as “an economic alternative to the high cost of shipping by truck.” The plan involves CSX replacing a switching station at that point, he said. Lumber would be carried by tractor-trailer to that site.
“There’s a lot of moving parts, here,” Williams said.
Ulster County is completing work on removing tracks and ties along the 11-mile stretch through the Ashokan to create a bike and hiking trail. A federal transportation agency is currently reviewing charges by Phoenicia-based railroad supporters that the county should have formally abandoned the tracks before beginning removal operations. County officials contend the tracks were abandoned by Penn Central in the mid-1970s before the county purchased the right-of-way.