A decision by a federal regulatory board clears the way for plans by the county to replace portions of the old Ulster & Delaware Railroad line’s Catskill branch with a walking and biking trail. The tracks will remain along another portion of the old rail line for use by the Catskill Mountain Railroad’s popular excursion tours.
On June 29, the federal Surface Transportation Board issued a ruling declaring the Catskill branch of the former Ulster & Delaware Railroad abandoned. The decision came in response to a request by the nonprofit Ulster & Delaware Railway Revitalization Corporation to clear up the issue and the county moves ahead with plans to convert portions of the 38-mile branch, which runs from Kingston to Bloomville, into a rail trail. The nonprofit also requested that, if the trail was not abandoned, an order be issued barring the county from tearing up tracks or undertaking other “salvage activities” without the board’s approval.
The board based its ruling on documents from 1977 including a notice from then-owner Penn Central that it had abandoned the rail line and a document from the state Department of Transportation confirming that the line was inactive.
The ruling removes one final hurdle to a compromise plan reached between the county, which has long sought to convert the rail line into a walking and bike trail, and advocates for maintaining the railroad as a tourist attraction. Under the terms of the deal, the Catskill Mountain Railroad retains rights to run its themed excursion tours — which currently run between Kingston Plaza and the Hurley flats — a full nine miles out to Route 28A in the Town of Ulster. Meanwhile, tracks will be taken up for another section of the track that runs from Cornell Street to Kingston Plaza. That stretch will become a walking and biking trail. Advocates for the trail say the Midtown walking path will allow residents of Midtown who don’t have cars easy access to jobs and amenities — notably the Hannaford supermarket — at the plaza.
“This just reaffirms that the direction we’re going in, what we are doing has been appropriate,” said County Executive Mike Hein of the ruling. “We want to have a balance between historic railroad operations, we want them to thrive and continue … at the same time we’re going to have a walkable linear park in the City of Kingston that will provide residents access to high-quality low-cost food, as well as recreation.”