The Delaware & Ulster Railroad (DURR), which operates tourist trains from Arkville to Roxbury in Delaware County, has been awarded a five-year permit to extend its operations into Ulster County, bringing passengers to Highmount, opposite Belleayre Ski Center, for the first time in nearly two decades. DURR ended tourism passenger service to Highmount in 2001 to focus on developing its popular rides farther west.
Wes Coates, general manager of the DURR, said, “This important partnership puts the ‘Ulster’ back in our operation and will support our plans to attract more visitors to the western Catskills and the Route 28 Scenic Byway.” DURR will not pay rent for using the tracks but will repair and maintain the 930 feet of Ulster County’s railroad immediately east of the county line, including the property along the tracks adjacent to Route 28, as well as along Galli Curci Road, which connects the highway with Belleayre.
When asked whether the tourist trains might also provide skiers with access to Belleayre from the west, Coates said winter operation is not likely for the excursion railroad. However, he did not rule out the possibility of eventually conveying summer passengers to scenic gondola rides at Belleayre.
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said the extension will form part of the county’s rail-and-trail strategy, the compromise adopted when local railroad enthusiasts and the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) objected to the county’s plans to turn the Highmount-to-Kingston railroad corridor into a rail trail. Currently CMRR’s excursion trains run from Kingston to West Hurley, and a rail trail from West Hurley to Boiceville is under construction along the Ashokan Reservoir. Rail Explorers is operating seasonal rail bikes between Phoenicia and a point west of Boiceville. The stretch from Phoenicia to Highmount is slated to be made into a rail trail at some unspecified future time, and the restored Highmount-to-Arkville tracks will connect that trail with the Delaware County rail operations of DURR.
Coates said the new agreement has been in the works since February, when he and Ulster County Planning Department Deputy Director Chris White both spoke at a meeting of the Central Catskill Chamber of Commerce in Pine Hill. “The county started to learn how Delaware & Ulster operates and who we were,” said Coates. “We have the track from Arkville to Highmount, but it ends at the county line, so for us to reach Highmount, we would need a track permit from Ulster County. We had conversations and developed this vision of restoring the rails.”
Among the extensive track work required, DURR will be replacing ties and putting in ballast, the coarse gravel between and under the ties. Although volunteers run the train operations, DURR’s track crew is paid. “We’re a non-profit corporation,” explained Coates, “ and part of our mission is creating jobs. We put a lot of work into creating infrastructure. We also have quite a bit of machinery for working on the tracks.”
Coates hopes the new stretch will be open next spring. One mile of track going east from Arkville, on the Delaware County side, has already been restored, but there are another six miles to go before reaching Highmount.
DURR is part of the Catskill Revitalization Corporation, with Coates serving as executive director. The not-for-profit economic development organization operates the railroad’s special event and dinner trains and also owns and maintains the Catskill Scenic Trail, a nearly 26-mile recreational trail that runs alongside the Delaware County tracks.
For information on Delaware & Ulster Railroad train rides, visit http://durr.org.