Catskill Mt. Railroad faces tough trail
By Jay Braman Jr.
The Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) has been struggling along for three decades toward an ambitious goal to run trains along its tracks from Kingston to Highmount.
Now operating a short run in Mount Tremper and another one in Kingston, CMRR boosters still hold onto the dream of restoring the tracks on the old Ulster and Delaware rail line despite tragic amounts of damage that portions have suffered over the years, most recently during Tropical Storm Irene, which hit the rails hard, sending portions of the line down into the Esopus Creek, never to be recovered.
Undaunted, CMRR volunteers have been at work. This year they will be restoring tracks across the Hurley Flats to reach the first goal of a full Hurley Mountain Road Expansion in the Kingston area, the first part of a long-term goal of reaching the scenic Ashokan Reservoir in Olive, then linking up with the Mount Tremper run and beyond.
So it was disappointing for the CMRR when last week Ulster County Executive Mike Hein announced a plan to tear up existing track along the Ashokan Reservoir to make way for a rail trail.
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 county line. At present that line is leased to the CMRR. Hein, who notes that much of this abuts the Ashokan Reservoir and has breathtaking views, expressed his vision of turning this rail line into a premier rail trail next year, leaving intact only the existing tourism railroad attraction operated by the CMRR in Kingston and Phoenicia.
This new project, said Hein, supports his goal of creating the healthiest county in New York State, will create a tourism magnet, and will compliment the Walkway over the Hudson.
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.
CMRR’s lease on the rail line ends in 2016.
CMRR Chairman Harry Jameson said this week that his organization has favored a “Rail Plus Trail” plan that allows for hikers and bikers to enjoy the line but also keeps the trains running.
He was shocked to hear that Hein had other plans, and added that he felt that Hein was pulling the rug out from under the CMRR a