Catskill Mountain Railroad ridership down slightly; is freight in the future?

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.

There are 17 comments

  1. AnotherTakeOnIt

    Very odd that Williams Lumber would be shipping lumber out… it would make more sense if they were going to ship lumber in. Either way, CMRR would not need track access past Cornell St. to service Smith Ave. As such any requests for track to Kingston Plaza is meaningless if Williams Lumber is their justification for the switch.

    1. ITR

      Lumber would come in. Much cheaper than by truck. And it would be distributed to Williams lumber locations throughout the Hudson Valley.

    2. ITR

      “meaningless”? Not really, It would show that Ulster county is open for business in attracting economic development and job growth.

    1. ralden

      Josef K – curious on your point of view. An estimated $4 million in tourism benefit to the region is bad? And what economic benefit do you see being returned to the region from a walking/bike path that the dep and nyc will sue to close? Sounds like you do not live in the area. Take some time to actually learn facts about the history of the dep and its approach to “visitors” to the watershed area and how nyc continues to avoid a filtration plant for its water supply. Instead they continue to purchase land to keep people away and then sue the local communities to get tax breaks further straining those same communities. This doesn’t even begin to address the watershed the dep and nyc are destroying. Only a misguided ignorant fool believes the dep will welcome visitors to the watershed.

  2. S more

    Sad that people don’t support this revival of a rail line, freight, tourist, money for Kingston and the Catskills. I visit often and think the political people are the ones who should feel bad…. very bad Josep k.
    Lack of sight and respect of history.
    RAIL is the future!!!!

  3. ITR

    Once again here is another example of Ulster county putting the CLOSED for business sign up in the window, when it comes to economic development and the potential for Job creation. Not to mention maybe the possibility of Ulster county getting it’s own discount on Lumber. Don’t they realize that other companies looking to invest in Ulster county watch this? It’s no wonder surrounding counties do a much better job in attracting tax revenue producing business. At the very least, a review of the offer by Williams should have been made by the office of economic development/planning dept (but alas, that story is for another article…) As for rail bikes. Story going around shandakan is that the county stopped by the local shandaken zoning board meeting just to say hello and to talk about that permit process that seems to be a problem. I wonder how that worked out? May is almost here.

  4. unatracktive

    why would anyone think having one (iffy) freight commitment is enough to support changing an existing plan? no real economic analysis has been done on this topic since conrail took a pass in the ’70’s. what magic has occurred that changes the harsh reality that commercial rail will not work on the U&D Corridor? this is pure desperation at its worst, shame on those that support such a weak undeveloped idea.

  5. ITR

    unatracktive… Looking at the bigger picture. Ulster county does a poor job in attracting tax revenue and Job producing business (with maybe the exception of hotels all over Kingston) Hugh’s article that discusses of the split of the office of Economic development and the planning dept, hits the nail on the head. there is a problem. And it very well might be a reason Ulster county has done little in improving it’s economic growth status since IBM left. One Example, One only has to look at the amount (Or even why? ) taxpayer money was spent on putting a business (the tourist Railroad CMRR and now Rail explorers) in Ulster county, OUT of business. instead of supporting/encouraging it’s growth, (The failure of using the approved Millions in FEMA money to fix the tracks. -Ulster county’s own infrastructure- being the example in Rail explorers case) and you will see a small example of a much bigger problem/Picture. Now The lack of a proper review of the Williams offer sends a message to others companies who might consider investing in Ulster county, that Ulster is not open for business.

    1. unatracktive

      A proper review of this matter is still available. For some reason the railroad interests chose not to use it. The use of the U&D Corridor is controlled by the Legislature. Any changes to the agreement must start there, not through the back door with a County Commissioner. But one letter of intent is very little matter to base a change on; no real economic value has been defined.

      1. ITR

        unatracktive RE: “But one letter of intent is very little matter to base a change on; no real economic value has been defined.” It was good that the RR put it out there for public consumption. The Transparency is refreshing. What’s bad that the county outright rejected it the way it did. It underscores a bad policy. And sends the wrong message to other companies ( in this case Williams lumber-directly) that might wish to locate (with the desire to grow) in Ulster county.

  6. ITR

    unatracktive Re: “A proper review of this matter is still available. For some reason the railroad interests chose not to use it.” I find it interesting that there is a constant knee jerk reaction to blame the railroad for everything . At what point does Ulster county get credit (or blame) for not following up on an economic opportunity that came their way?

  7. unatracktive

    when you are overseen by the legislature, you must work through them to get your business done…but this is not a serious attempt at getting business, it is a melodramatic political move to stoke the railroad as a sob story victim…even Harvard graduates know what a real business plan looks like

  8. ITR

    unatracktive Re: “when you are overseen by the legislature, you must work through them to get your business done” If you have been following the history of this mess, You will find that the county has spent upwards of a million dollars in taxpayer money in trying to put a business, that draws in 35,000+ people and grosses over a million dollars a year in revenue. Visitors, most of which comes from outside the county. —- out of business. It’s tough to “work through them to get you business done”

    1. unatracktive

      the county did try to dispossess the non-compliant railroad, but was sued in return..
      the county was sued by the railroad rather than comply with their lease or attempt mediation of the terms!

      and, I am still convinced most of those rail visitors would have trekked up 28 to use a railroad feature in Phoenicia.

      Mike Hein, made them a better railroad with his actions.

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