Railroad, county squabble over freight return

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KINGSTON, New York - A long running dispute between a tourist railroad and a county government has once again flared up in upstate New York.

Earlier this month, Williams Lumber & Homes Center in Kingston informed the Catskill Mountain Railroad it was interested in receiving lumber by rail to Kingston over track owned by Ulster County but operated by the tourist railroad. The shipper estimated that they would receive 75 to 100 carloads of lumber annually.

The last time freight moved over the former Ulster & Delaware (and later New York Central) route in Kingston was in the early 1990s, according to documents from the U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation, a non-profit group organized in 2016 to advocate for the preservation of the former U&D. The CMRR currently runs excursions out of Kingston on about 5 miles of track.

In order for freight service to resume on the U&D, the CMRR would have to rebuild a switch to the CSX main line and extend the parameters of their current lease with the county. The lease allows for operation on only a certain segment of track and currently runs through 2020.

On March 15, less than a week after the lumber company inquired about shipping freight via the CMRR, railroad president Ernest Hunt sent a letter to Ulster County asking for permission to extend their operating rights. One hurdle to the proposal is the county’s current plan to remove a short segment of track in Kingston to make way for a path. But Hunt wrote that, “(the railroad) believes a way can be found to accommodate both rail and trail in this segment.”

But just four days later, Ulster County officials rejected the railroad’s proposal and said the short section of right-of-way through Kingston could only be used for the path. “Public Works Commissioner Thomas Jackson denied the request in accordance with the legislative policy that dictates that the section of rail corridor between Colonel Chandler Drive and Cornell Street is trail-only,” County Deputy Executive Ken Crannell told the Daily Freeman.

The disagreement is the latest in a long and ongoing dispute between the railroad and the county, which has wanted to replace the tracks with a trail for a number of years. The dispute between the two institutes has often played out in the local press and even in the court system. In 2016, the railroad was evicted from the Kingston rail yard and last year the county voted to rip up 11.5 miles of track along the Ashokan Reservoir to make way for a trail. The rails were ripped up earlier this year.

In January, the U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation filed a motion with the Surface Transportation Board seeking a declaratory judgement to determine if the county had the right to rip up 11.5 miles of rail. The county argues the railroad was formally abandoned years ago but U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation states that is not the case. The county filed an 816-page response to the revitalization corporation filing with documentation it states proves the route was abandoned. On March 22, the rail group filed a response to the response, asking the STB to disregard large portion of the county’s argument because it was based on “inadequate and misleading information” that was out of date. A core tenet of the rail group’s argument is that if the county is right and the rail line was indeed abandoned in the past, they cannot create a rail trail utilizing the National Trails Act and instead would have to start from scratch purchasing easements from individual landowners for the proposed trail along the reservoir.

It is unclear when the STB will rule on the matter.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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