– by Rebecca Andre
So you are wondering why you should care about the railroad of Upstate New York when California and Montana are burning and Florida and Texas are drowning. I get it. I sometimes wonder the same thing myself. Then I make a donation to flood or fire victims and move on with my day.
After all, we can’t fix it, right? The state of our country, politically, physically and morally is so precarious right now. I would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend like none of it is happening until a flame or a flood actually reaches my doorstep, or until the insurance drops my family.
Then I will get angry and all kinds of scared.
In the meantime…there is something I can do, we can do. Like donate to the local food pantry, raise money for animals waiting for adoption or vote on a local level believing this vote will actually count.
Also, I can pitch a fit to keep the Ulster County rails in place. At least until I actually see the steel being carted away. I do this not only because I am in love with trains. I do it because of the incredible blow it would mean for our economy and loss to our future generations if these rails were to be permanently deleted from our landscape.
“Future generations?” you ask. And “Who needs train travel? We have planes, and smart cars, etc. Why not just go back to horse and buggy?”
“Economy?” you ask. “Rail upkeep costs money!”
Trains and minimalism go hand in hand.
Well, to address the former, Millennials are reverting back to foot and pedal travel, and car-sharing. The throw-away culture of my generation is becoming a thing of the past. The core hipster mentality is sweeping the nation: Minimalism.
I can back up the above statement . I’ve traveled Amtrak all over the country. Most recently, between NYC and Baltimore. The amount of young people hopping the train to get out of the city boggled my mind. One vintage Woolrich-clad group was particularly vocal about the horrors of bus travel and the expense of renting a car.
But the train only takes one out of the city into the Hudson Valley. After all, it can’t travel along the west shore of the Hudson. Oh, wait, yes it can. Proof positive this past weekend, Oct. 14 & 15, when the Amtrak Autumn Express found its way tunneling under then crossing over the Hudson, for a sweet and well-spent $169.00 a ticket. I know of a train enthusiast that was flying out from California and spending two nights in a NYC hotel to make this historic run.
Back to logistics. If you want to travel via train to actually visit or stay in the Catskills, you better hope you have a friend you can presume upon to pick you up at Rhinecliff. But you probably don’t, so you will be one more scale on the snake of vehicles slithering along Routes 17, 87 and 28. And, thanks to AirBnB, a house-sharing phenomenon, this congestion is only going to increase exponentially over the next few years. (I am surrounded by AirBnB rentals. Four to six cars in the driveway of a house that sleeps six to eight people is the norm.)
Wait, I’m getting ‘off track’ here…entering into the reduced environmental impact trains afford us…Have you seen the amount of cars overflowing the trail head parking areas?
To quote Steve Porter and Ken Anello, co-chairmens of the U&D Railway Revitalization Corp (UDRRCorp)in their February 7, 2017 letter to Gov. Cuomo, “A revitalized railway has the possibilities of increasing the usage of the area by the most number of visitors with the least carbon footprint.”
But the Govenor has yet to respond to this letter he received from UDRRCorp, a non-profit organization with a mission to “preserve and protect the entire Ulster and Deleware railroad corridor.”
“Rail travel is far from dead and being old fashioned.” writes Steve Porter in ‘Why Trains Are Good For Ulster County’. “More areas are starting to use trains to provide options for transit. No, it’s not going to replace the auto. But our culture is changing and cities and communities are going to be connected by more than just roads and bike trails. At least the progressive communities will.”
As the UDRRCorp would say, “Imagine the possibilities.”
Imagine less cars.
Imagine if the AirBnB-ers could car-share to Kingston and travel by train to innumerable destinations in the Catskills? They could plan to spend the week in one town, or if they want to explore, they can put on their hiking shoes.
Imagine climate-conscience youngsters hiking from Pinehill to Roxbury finding it’s just too long of a trek for them. They could, theoretically, take a train, do dinner at some overpriced, hand-cut-ice-serving-boutique restaurant and head back to their AirBnB one county over.
Imagine skiers leaving Kingston, destination Belleayre. This is not a far-fetched stretch (well, maybe the completion of the proposed resort is). In our not so distant past, trains used to carry vacationers to the doorsteps of Catskills’ resorts. Even Amtrak sees the positives of a rail line heading up country to deliver riders with the new and highly successful Winter Park Express weekend train between Denver Union Station and the high-country ski resorts.
Imagine in vogue upstate nuptials taking place on the train. Considering the weddings exploding all over the Catskills, imagine photo shoots, rehearsal dinners or even bachelor parties on the train. Imagine all the intoxicated wedding-goers having a safe option for commuting.
Imagine none of this happening if the rails are removed.
It won’t happen tomorrow, next year, or 50 years from now. Because once the rails are ripped up they will never be re-built.
“The real problem would be the permits,” says George Bain of the UDRR Corp. “A railroad does not need a permit to maintain or repair itself unless it involves the waterways nearby. [Re]building a railroad would require permits and planning that would take decades.”
Another issue holding up all we can imagine for the rails (for example Rail Explorers) is the FEMA repairs Ulster County has yet to make after the severe flood damage between Shandaken and Phoenicia that Irene left in her wake.
I’m sure Thomas Cornell, the businessman responsible for the commencing of Rondout and Oswego original railroad construction in 1866 is restless in his grave. As are the many men who sacrificed blood, sweat, tears and even their lives to build these rails only 150 years ago.
The rails connect to the past while they serve the present, and can connect to the future. -Larry Roth, UDRRCorp
Should the rails be ripped up, I will have to tell my daughter, who was blessed with the travel bug and an adoration of trains like her mother, that the rails going through her town may not be there one day. That the precedent being set by removal of this seemingly unimportant set of tracks is that rail travel will soon be obsolete. That maybe when she, or her own daughter, is 21, soul-searching and forced by her inherited wanderlust to travel West, she won’t be able to cross this country on a train.
Trains and sustainable tourism go hand-in-hand
Now to address the economical positives of keeping the rails in place, I mention my personal favorite: sustainable tourism. This article ’38 Reasons To Save The Rails’ is much more detailed than these few paragraphs, and compiled by experts, so please be sure to click on the link and read.
Even with only heritage rail companies running on sections of the Ulster and Delaware corridor, the amount of money being brought to these towns served is indisputable. Here are CMRR numbers for their last full season, 2015.
Remember the traffic jam in Arkville, Delaware County the October weekend the Viscose steam engine came to DURR?(pictured at top of this article)
If you are reading this and don’t know where Arkville is, well, that’s my point. There are small towns all up and down the state funded Scenic Byway (Rt. 28) where regular, working people live. People who own shops, cafes, real hotels, etc., that would only benefit from a train delivering hundreds of potential customers to their doorstep. Folks that never see the tourist dollars spent in Kingston.
This is what I mean about economy.
This is what I mean about making a difference locally. It really is not that complicated.
So you can’t damn the floods, or put out the fires, or fix a Texan’s home. But you can vote for rail/trail supporting legislators. You can attend a rally and make some noise. You can even contribute to the cause by actually buying a ticket for one of the train excursions still offered, and encouraging your friends to do the same.
By the way, The Polar Express is back! Thanks to a temporary permit procured by CMRR for short excursions out of Kingston that began this fall. That’s a mere 25,000 person guaranteed increase in ridership during the months of November and December.
If you are so inclined, you can even reach deeper into your pockets and show a little love for the big undertaking that is my first documentary: Disappearing Rails. A short film to raise awareness about the importance of of keeping Upstate New York heritage rails in place for our economy and future generations.
Filming for this documentary, the brain child of Ben Rounds, local musician and major proponent of the railroad, begins this Sunday October 22 during his Whistle Stop Tour. We hope to include footage form this tour along with original Ben Rounds music to produce a small teaser of the film before year’s end. But time is of the essence, and so is money!
The reporter in me will make sure the film addresses both sides of the issues. Historians will be interviewed, along with rail/trail activists and trail-only supporters. Politicians will be given an opportunity for an on-camera interview. If they decline, that will be documented as well.
And if the rails are ripped up during production, well, it will be on film. For all the world, or at least the State of New York, to see, and to know, who is responsible. I am not being dramatic here, Ulster County’s opening of bids to remove rails was slated for October 12 and has been moved to October 19.
If you would like to show your immediate support for the rails, here are details of the Whistle Stop Tour. Show up! At one, or all stops. Your presence will make a difference.
If you are more of a behind the scenes supporter, or a business owner directly affected by the fate of the rails, consider being a sponsor. Ben and I are funding the teaser on our own, but the film itself is going cost too much money without outside contributions.
All sponsors will receive thanks plastered throughout our promotional campaign and spending will be transparent in readily available reports.
And don’t forget the contribution to the Karma Jar. 🙂
What is written here is just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to educate yourself about the possibilities in store as long as the rails are kept in place, pleasego to: