Letter to the Editor: Reclaim, restore and repurpose the U&D for shared use!

Dear Editor,

The 38.5 mile U&D corridor was purchased in 1979 for 1.5 million dollars by Ulster County (approximately four million dollars in 2013 dollars). Catskill Mountain Railroad (CMRR) supporters are now urging people to tell County Executive Mike Hein to “give “an indefinite lease” to the CMRR for the entire length of the 38.5 mile corridor. Railroad supporters claim the railroad “has the ability to maintain its own line and has NOT been a burden on the county or taxpayer”.

Really? Millions of taxpayer dollars and the conditions along the corridor shout otherwise. Past public funding received, the FEMA
monies the County has applied for on behalf of the private railroad company, as well as CMRR’s recent application for well in excess of a million dollars in NYS DOT funding are all public funds -- taxpayer monies.

The CMRR and their supporters are trying to have it both ways. As a private company leasing a publicly owned asset, they either are responsible for and capable of restoring the corridor from Kingston to Phoenicia to service without relying on public funds or they are not. They either are responsible and capable for the continued care and maintenance of the entire 38.5 corridor (per terms of the lease) without relying on public funds or they are not.

Many sections of this extremely valuable county asset have been allowed to deteriorate significantly over the 30 year period of CMRR’s multiple leases with Ulster County. Contrary to their supporters’ claims, the evidence indicates that the corridor is not being maintained as CMRR is committed to do under the current 25 year lease:


In addition, numerous stretches of track have been undermined, and in multiple cases extensive stretches of track -- literally thousands of feet -- are completely washed out. The section between Phoenicia and Highmount in particular has suffered tremendous damage, with hundreds of feet of track washed away entirely and long stretches of the corridor now running in what has become the new riverbed of the Esopus Creek in Phoenicia.

Multiple bridges have collapsed, including the Boiceville Trestle and the bridge in Big Indian. The Big Indian bridge infrastructure must now be removed from the creek per DEC requirements. Who is to going to perform and pay for this removal? From their supporters’ claims that CMRR is capable of maintaining the line, does not rely on public funds and is not a burden to the taxpayers, it appears CMRR is prepared to do so. If not, the taxpayers will foot the bill.

After 30 years of leases to the tourist railroad company, it’s time for a new, fiscally responsible approach -- an approach long advocated for by both past and current members of the County Legislature. Please support County Executive Mike Hein’s great shared-use economic development plan to reclaim, restore and utilize the entire 38.5 mile corridor -- including preserving the section between Boiceville &Phoenicia for continued tourist train rides, where it makes the most sense.

Please sign the Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail’s petition supporting the County’s proposal -- and ask your friends to do so as well!: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/makethe-catskill-mountain

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Kevin Smith - Co-Chair
Friends of the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail