Rail plan tied up in politics


By Jay Braman Jr.
A plan to take the tracks out from under the Catskill Mountain Railroad has drawn some ire in the Shandaken area, where the town’s Democratic Committee recently was granted a presentation on the project. That decision prompted some members of the party to call for a public forum to discuss the pros and cons of the county driven proposal and a cry that politics should stay out of it.

In January, Ulster County Executive Mike Hein announced a plan that called for the demise of the Catskill Mountain Railroad’s (CMRR) dream to have trains running between Kingston and Highmount on the old Ulster and Delaware Rail line, which the CMRR leases from the county.

Earlier this month, Shandaken’s Democratic Party heard the details of the proposal, but some think that more information is needed before such a plan come to fruition.
Phoenicia resident Tom Rinaldo, who is not only a train enthusiast but also a music producer that puts on events at the historic Phoenicia railroad station, lit up the Democratic Party’s Facebook page Monday with a long case for not endorsing Hein’s plan.

“Yes there are potential merits to this plan, but there is also merit in the alternative plan for use of that Rail Corridor that this new trail plan supplants,” he wrote. “Both proposals promise future economic benefits to our community in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.”
Rinaldo also stated that he would have rather seen the Democratic Party promote a public educational forum to explore the competing visions for the Ulster and Delaware Rail Corridor.

Community service
“That would have been a service to our community, bringing us together to seek common ground or at the very least providing all of us here in Shandaken with the information we need to reach informed decisions on the best future use of this precious community resource,” Rinaldo said.
Nick Alba, chair of the Democratic Party, said Monday that the party has done nothing inappropriate.

“We did have a discussion about rail trails at our last meeting, and all we did was informally agree that we like rail trails,” said Alba. “There was no resolution, no position, and nothing negative towards the railroads. I also like railroads, and would hope that we can have both.”

Hein has said that Governor Cuomo has included $2 million is this year’s budget to create a rail trail that connects with the wildly popular, “Walkway Over The Hudson” with the beautiful Ashokan Reservoir, via rail trail, and at the same time, open up the Ashokan Reservoir to recreation. Hein believes the move can dramatically help the regional economy, help public health efforts, and help the tourism industry.

But CMRR officials have disagreed with Hein, stating that the railroad can coexist on the tracks with a rail trail for hikers and bikers.
“We…believe that we can all work together for what is best for Ulster County,” said CMRR Chair Harry Jameson. “We at the CMRR look forward to making the dream of access to the Ashokan Reservoir, with a trail alongside the railroad, a reality.