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RyPN Briefs May 24, 2006
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Recent Work on The Catskill Mountain Railroad

On January 24th, 2006, the Daily Freeman, the Kingston, New York, newspaper, ran an article entitled "Trail plan could mark end of line for railroad" and the article's first line read: "Ulster County may drop a long-term plan for a tourist train from Kingston to Highmount in favor of a 38-mile hiking and biking trail along the former Ulster & Delaware Railroad corridor."

Although the article was a misinterpretation of the County's plans for the corridor, it had the beneficial effect of galvanizing support for rail use for the line - especially from those of us who had never before played an active role in restoring this historic and scenic branch line.

Ulster County bought the Ulster County portion of the former Ulster & Delaware from Penn Central in 1979, after service ceased in 1976. In 1991, a 25-year lease was signed with the Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) to run freight and tourist service over the line from MP 3 to 41.4. The CMRR, entirely staffed by volunteers, has to date reopened 6 miles of track for tourist service.

There are six organizations focused on the former Ulster & Delaware corridor. The Ulster and Delaware Railroad Corridor Rail Trail Feasibility Study , the Ulster & Delaware Historical Society (UDRRHS), the Delaware & Ulster Railroad (DURR), which operates the 20 mile section of the line in Delaware County, the Catskill Revitalization Corporation (CRC); owner of the DURR, the track in Delaware County where the DURR operates, and the roadbed up to Bloomville (now part of the Catskill Scenic Trail), the Empire State Railway Museum (ESRM), based in Phoenicia, the CMRR, and the Trolley Museum of New York (TMNY), which operates the first 2 miles of the line from Kingston Point to Kingston.

I have been a member of the UDRRHS and ESRM for many years, but only passively. For years I have noticed the overgrown right of way of the former Ulster & Delaware near Kingston, and in other sections of Ulster County. Last summer, fellow UDRRHS member Joe Marsh asked if I would volunteer for the society on the restoration of equipment owned by the UDRRHS in Arkville, New York. I countered to Joe - what about clearing sections of the right of way in Ulster County that seem to be overgrown and out of service?

After emailing back and forth during the fall, the article in the Kingston paper in January got us going. On Sunday, February 5th, Joe Marsh, John LaBarre, also of the UDRRHS, Freddie Rasmussen of the TMNY and I paid a visit to the CMRR's Kingston shops, and met Earl Pardini, president of the railroad. Earl gave us a tour of the facilities, including their shop, and showed us the work being done to restore steam locomotive No. 23 (owned by the ESRM) to service on the CMRR.

After the tour, we offered to help the CMRR clear their disused track, so that routine maintenance could be performed with track cars. A few days later, we were called upon to join the regular CMRR brush cutting crew, headed by Ernie Gehrer, to cut 500 feet of brush between MP 5.5 and 5.6. This was to allow the CMRR to move some cars stored there on partially washed-out track to a safer spot 1000 feet west. We had a great time, and learned that the CMRR are a great group dedicated to restoring their railroad, albeit somewhat short of volunteers.

Most members of the cutting crew are pictured here, at the end of the day on April 8, 2006. at MP 19.8 on the Ashokan reservoir. Pictured are, (from left to right) Bill K, Chris Bigham, Ernie Gehrer (our foreman), Freddie Rasmussen and Travis (both of the Trolley Museum of NY), Dick W., and George Liucci. All photos by Ernest Hunt.
Another view (looking east) of the cutting crew on April 8, 2006 around MP 20 on the Ashokan Reservoir (note the milepost over Ernie's back). Pictured in the foreground are (from left to right) Bill K, Ernie Gehrer, Al Johnson, and John Voelker. In the distance is Chris Bigham.

Since then, we have had a crew out almost every weekend, which has grown in size each week. Many new volunteers, some from the UDRRHS, the ESRM, the TMNY, and others who are interested in restoring the line have joined our crew. Since that first meeting in February, we have cleared over a mile of extremely thick brush in Kingston, and 4.5 miles of line on the Ashokan reservoir. Our crews have grown in size, with 18 volunteers working the weekend of March 25/26th.

Milepost 20, looking east along the Ashokan Reservoir, considered by many to be the most scenic part of the line. Above photo taken 3/26/06, below taken 4/8/06.

Our first priority was to clear the line on the Ashokan reservoir, MP 16 to 22 (Ashokan to Cold Brook Station), as the CMRR is currently applying for funds to restore this section of the line. They currently operate from Phoenicia, MP 27.5 to just north of Cold Brook Station, MP 22.1. They are hopeful to soon have the funds to double the size of their current operation, extending it to Ashokan, MP 16.2. The line was cleared from MP 22.1 to 19.0 by early April, and was cleared to Ashokan by May 1.

The next priority is clearing the line in Kingston, MP 3 to 6. Although this does not directly benefit the CMRR's tourist operations, it is good for public relations with the city and county, as the brush-filled tracks are currently an eyesore. By cleaning the tracks and running over them occasionally with track cars, it helps to remind the public that this is an active railroad line. It also helps the CMRR seek potential freight customers in Kingston. We are working on this concurrently with the reservoir clearing, and have cleared the line from MP 4.4 to MP 6, the section with the worst brush. Of the remaining section, only 550 feet remains to be cleared as of April 30th.

Milepost 4.6, at the end of the Holiday Inn parking lot in Kingston, looking towards the New York State Thruway and the bridge of the Esopus at milepost 5. Above taken 2/11/06, below taken 4/9/06.

Milepost 4.9 at the Trailways Private Crossing, looking west from the New York State Thruway Bridge (highway milepost 90.7). Above taken on 2/5/06, below on 4/1/06.

The next priority is opening the track between MP 6 and 16, which will allow the railroad to move equipment up and down the line. This section currently has many fallen logs on the tracks, and some growth of small pine trees rather than brush. We hope to start working on this section in May after the work in Kingston is complete.

Milepost 5.6 looking toward nee-New York Central, Ex-Connecticut Valley Dining Car. Above taken on 2/5/06, below on 2/25/06.

Milepost 5.6, looking at nee-Pennsylvania Railroad gondola stored on partially washed-out track. Above taken 2/5/06, below taken on 2/25/06.

The final priority is clearing the line between Phoenicia and Highmount. This section is separated from the CMRR by three large washouts west of Phoenicia, which will need a large amount of money to repair. However, this section of the line is very scenic, and we want to clear some of it this year to perform routine maintenance. The first section cleared will be the famous horseshoe curve between Highmount and Pine Hill, which we plan to start on in the early summer.

As for the rail trail, the CMRR believes interest in the trail can be used to help the railroad by bringing more attention to the ROW. According to CMRR Chairman, Harry Jameson, they will be working with the trail committee to identify sections of the line where the implementation of trails are possible. Sections of the ROW where trails are not practical, because of high fills or rock cuts, may end up being only rail links used to connect the 38 miles. Says Jameson, "Ultimately a linear trail with rail connections to transverse the entire line could be something that could generate CMRR fares in the future".

I will post on Railway Preservation News notices of each of our cutting sessions, and encourage anyone to join us on our weekend sessions.

Other photos of the work may be seen at this link.