Tracks used by Catskill Mountain Railroad to be removed

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Tourist railroad lines threatened by conversion to rail-trails, as of July 2016.
TRAINS Illustration: Rick Johnson
KINGSTON, N.Y. — A contractor has begun removing track along the Ashokan Reservoir, effectively ending a years-long effort by a tourist railroad to access the scenic area. A recreational trail will replace the track.

In November, the Ulster County Legislature ordered 11.5-miles of former Ulster & Delaware Railroad along the reservoir removed. The adjacent property, owned by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, fronts on the reservoir that supplies New York City's drinking water. The city insisted that the corridor be used for a trail or the railroad but not both.

Ernie Hunt, president of the Catskill Mountain Railroad, which operates over the rail line, remains upbeat despite the recent setback. He tells local media he believes the railroad may someday return to the scenic overlook at the Glenford Dike, 1.1 miles beyond the current end of track. Right now, Hunt and his volunteers will focus on rebuilding and upgrading the 8.3 miles available from Kingston to Ulster, N.Y.

"The CMRR's long-term goal is that we intend to rebuild the track to the Glenford Dike once we have renovated the track up to the reservoir easement area," Hunt tells Trains News Wire.

Catskill Mountain has been embroiled in controversy with the county for several years. The group was evicted from its base in Kingston, and it lost its operating rights on the other end of the reservoir. During the last two or three years, the tourist operation has rebuilt several miles of track and has increased its ridership substantially with special events. In 2017, the railroad carried about 30,000 passengers.

The issue has been a hot one in recent years, featuring lawsuits and counter-suits by the county and the railroad, in addition to substantial support and condemnation of both sides by the public in newspapers and public meetings of the county legislature. The county bought the railroad from Conrail in 1976.

In November, the county signed a $943,000-contract with a salvage firm to remove rail, ties and other track materials. In addition, the contractor will remove 2,300 trees. The contractor will dispose of all materials and retain the proceeds of any sales. The trail is set to be complete by May 2019.

CLARIFICATION: The Catskill Mountain Railroad has yet to operate excursion services over the contested trackage. The railroad has used the tracks for storage and equipment moves. Jan. 17, 2018, 11:48 a.m. Central time.
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