Railway museum plans train repair barn at Phoenicia
By Jay Braman Jr.
The Empire State Railway Museum plans to erect a large train repair barn at the museum site on Station Road in Phoenicia, and museum officials say it has nothing to do with the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) being kicked out of Kingston last year.
The museum has received a zoning variance to build a 96-foot long, 40-foot wide, 26-foot tall barn over the railroad tracks that pass by the museum (the old Phoenicia Station), and along Station Road. The new building will be constructed and used for the restoration of historic railcars currently stored and deteriorating in the weather on the tracks.
Museum officials have applied for a building permit and expect to begin work on the barn soon.
“I was out there with the contractor just the other day,” said museum spokesman Paul LaPierre. “We are almost ready to go.”
In order to get ready to go, the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals had to override an Ulster County Planning Board decision to prevent the project, citing concerns over the building being put up in the Esopus Creek floodway in an area that received severe damage during the heavy flooding that has occurred on and off since 2005.
In that year the museum was almost washed away as floodwater scoured out the earth around its foundation and under the tracks, causing the trains that sat on them to fall onto their sides.
Ulster County planners also had concerns about hazardous chemicals being used in the restoration and cleaning of rail cars.
With those issues now in the past, LaPierre said Shandaken builder Robert Jones, known for his “Farmer Jones Baby Barns” has been hired to build the structure. LaPierre said the building will have board-and-batten wood siding and a metal roof.
One year ago the Catskill Mountain Railroad, which operates a tourist train that goes past the museum, was barred by the City of Kingston when it tried to bring two dilapidated rail cars into city limits for restoration. Kingston officials secured a New York State Supreme Court order to prevent the cars from entering, claiming that the cleaning and restoration of the cars would be a health hazard. At the time, Kingston’s attorney Andrew Zweben said that those cars were covered with lead-based paint and that sandblasting the paint off could pose health hazards. Zweben also supplied Ulster County Health Department test results showing those cars had lead levels 10 times over what is considered hazardous.
To back up the court order, Kingston Mayor Shane Gallo parked a dump truck on the tracks at the city limits to keep the rail cars from being brought in.
LaPierre said the museum’s project had been in the works for years before that conflict and that CMRR trains will not be brought to the new barn for restoration.
“We are only working on our trains, not CMRR’s,” he said.