Train supporters rail against plan to change track to trail

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By Jay Braman Jr.
The chairman of the Catskill Mountain Railroad refuses to give up hope that there will one day be trains running between Kingston and Highmount even though Ulster County is taking steps to dismantle the railway and sell it for scrap.

CMRR Chair Harry Jameson issued a written appeal to County Executive Mike Hein after Hein outlined the demise of the railway in his recent State of the County Address.

Hein said in his prepared address on January 31 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. At the same time, the plan would 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, he added, the time to talk the idea over is past.
“To get there, we can not get gridlocked in the endless railroad vs. rail trail debate. Simply put, we cannot let more decades pass and more opportunity pass us by, especially when now is the perfect time to act,” he stated.

Time is running out
Hein also said he would fully support the CMRR’s existing operation in Phoenicia, but that would be all.

“Decades are passing,” Hein said, “and the tens of millions of dollars needed to build out and operate a fully functional railroad system have not come and will not be coming anytime soon.”
But, Jameson insists that, not only is Hein wrong about the railroad being incompatible with the rail trail plan, he is also wrong about the cost of fixing the tracks.

Study promised
“The CMRR will soon be publishing a study of the corridor that will clearly show that rail and trail can share the right-of-way,” Jameson wrote. “We wish that you had consulted with us before you launched your campaign to eliminate us, but we assume others gave you incomplete information.”
Jameson also said that there are 16 miles of track on the run that need repairs at a cost of $4 million. If Hein gave the CMRR $1 million from the funds the governor has promised they could get the tracks between Kingston and the Reservoir fixed within one year, he stated.

“We…believe that we can all work together for what is best for Ulster County,” Jameson said. “We at the CMRR look forward to making the dream of access to the Ashokan Reservoir, with a trail alongside the railroad, a reality.  Our report, which we have worked on for the past three months, will show this is more than possible.”

Ulster County owns a portion of the Ulster and Delaware Line, also known as the Catskill Mountain Branch, which includes over 32 miles of rail running from the City of Kingston west to the Ulster/Delaware County line. At present that line is leased to the CMRR until 2016.
He said it would also allow the county to sell existing steel on the line, the value of which is estimated at approximately $650,000.