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Catskill Mountain Railroad
Logo
Reporting mark CMRR [1]
Locale Mount Pleasant, New York
Dates of operation 1982–present
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters Shokan, New York

The Catskill Mountain Railroad (reporting mark CMRR), is a heritage railroad based in Shokan, New York, United States that began operations in 1983. It leases from Ulster County the former Ulster and Delaware Railroad tracks from Mile Post (MP) 2.8 in Kingston to MP 41.4 in Highmount, where it connects with the Delaware and Ulster Railroad.

Contents

History

The Ulster & Delaware Railroad was completed between Kingston and Oneonta in 1900. Generations of travelers flocked to the Catskills to vacation at the storied grand hotels and lodges. Lucrative freight traffic included coal, lumber and other commodities, as well as dairy and farm products. Passenger traffic began to fall off in the period between the wars, and plummeted during the Great Depression. Improved roads and the rise of the private automobile doomed the little railroad, and it became part of the New York Central in 1932. The last regularly scheduled passenger train on the Catskill Mountain Branch departed Kingston in March 1954. Freight service continued, though in diminishing amounts over the years. The line was cut back from Oneonta to Bloomville in 1965, ending the railroad's role as a through route. New York Central became part of Penn Central in February 1968, and conditions continued to deteriorate. Federally-backed Conrail took over the operations of Penn Central in April 1976, and operated the Catskill Mountain Branch on a limited basis as an operator subsidized by New York State. The six-month subsidy gave the remaining customers on the line time to switch to alternate modes of transportation. The last freight train ran on September 28, 1976. Earl Pardini hired on with Conrail in 1976, and his first day on the job was brakeman on the last freight train out of Kingston. Pardini was also president of the Catskill Mountain Transportation Corporation, a grassroots group that was looking to purchase the railroad from the Penn Central estate. However, an agreement on price could not be reached. The last train finally returned to Kingston on October 3. The connection to the mainline was spiked shut, and the former Ulster & Delaware was officially taken out of service.

Formation of the New Catskill Mountain Railroad The railroad would not go down without a fight, however. Conservationists campaigned to preserve the railroad and enlisted the help of well-known columnist and author William F. Buckley, Jr.. He famously toured the line in 1977 and helped draw publicity to the tug-of-war between the communities and Penn Central over price. Residents along the former Ulster & Delaware line succeeded in campaigning their local governments to raise enough money to buy the railroad from the Penn Central bankruptcy estate. In 1979, Ulster County bought the 38.6-mile segment from the Kingston (MP 2.8) to the county line near Highmount (MP 41.4). In turn the county leased this line to the new Catskill Mountain Railroad in 1983. Seven towns in Delaware County purchased the right of way from the county line the end of track in Bloomville (MP 86) in 1980. This section would become the Delaware and Ulster Railroad.

The Catskill Mountain Railroad initially began operations in Phoenicia, using track cars and trailers to haul tourists and tubers three miles along the Esopus Creek to Mt. Pleasant station. In 1984, the Empire State Railway Museum relocated back to New York State and made its home in the depot at Phoenicia. The stated goal of the CMRR was to re-open the entire route from Kingston to the county line and beyond. Many volunteers came on board to help with various tasks, from brush-cutting to track maintenance to train operations.

The decision was made to transition from track cars to conventional railroad equipment hauled by locomotives. The railroad asked Earl Pardini to come aboard as president to help guide them through the transition. Pardini was with the DURR at their startup, helping to train their engineers and conductors. He agreed to come aboard, and the CMRR embarked on a period of serious expansion. Looking forward to an increase in business as more and more track was reopened, the railroad purchased a variety of second-hand locomotives, coaches and freight cars. Some of the equipment was refurbished and put to work right away, while the rest sat in storage awaiting the call to duty. Sadly, the economic downturn of the late 1980s coupled with a lack of volunteers crippled the CMRR's expansion efforts. Some maintenance equipment was moved from Kingston and staged about mid-line at Ashokan. Operations re-trenched to the Phoenicia-Mt. Pleasant section, while some limited operations were conducted in Kingston. A flood in 1988 caused a major washout at Campground Curve, about midway between Phoenicia and Mt. Pleasant. The entire hillside supporting the railroad had been washed away, leaving the tracks dangling in the air. Because the washout threatened to undermine New York State Route 28, funds were made available for partial restoration of the railroad right of way. Volunteers from the CMRR completed repairs and were able to resume operations.

Expansion and Setback The railroad entered into a 25-year lease with Ulster County in 1991, and once again turned their attention to expansion. Railroad operations ended at busy Route 28 in Mt. Pleasant. The crossing had been out of service for many years, and the railroad sought replacement if they were to continue east towards Kingston. Initially approved for the project, it took almost ten years to release the funding to complete reconstruction of the crossing and installation of warning lights and gates. The new crossing was put into service in 2005, offering the railroad its first significant expansion. The CMRR finally seemed to be gaining forward momentum when tragedy struck. A devastating flood nearly wiped out the railroad, and caused much damage to the tracks and equipment. It would take many years to recover from this event, just to get the organization back to where it started from.

The railroad scrambled to recover and operations continued through 2006. The railroad continued to push east and was able to reach a point on the other side of Route 28 near Cold Brook station. Despite the hard work by dedicated railroad volunteers, only 5 miles of the 38-mile corridor had been reopened since 1983. While the railroad was doing well at its Phoenicia base of operations, most of the audience for the railroad was at the other end in Kingston. All they saw in the city was derelict equipment, and a right of way overgrown with trees and strewn with trash. The wake up call came on January 24, 2006, when the Kingston Daily Freeman pronounced, "Trail Plan Could Mark End of Line for Railroad." Trail advocates were pushing forward a plan to convert the unused, county-owned railroad into a recreational path, eliminating any hopes of restored railroad service.

Volunteer Resurgence Throughout the winter of 2006, the railroad suffered a number of public relations setbacks as protests from the trail advocates grew. The railroad took the opportunity to regroup and refocus their efforts once more. Publicity from the trail proposal encouraged many new volunteers to come forward. A group from the nearby Ulster & Delaware Railroad Historical Society were among the first to offer assistance. As the weather warmed up, brush-cutting and clearing the right of way took first priority. A high-profile activity with immediate results, reaction from the community was positive, and more volunteers were joining to help. By the end of 2006, the ranks had swelled to 45 full members and 30 provisional. Together they had cleared nearly 20 miles of brush from the mainline, and began aggressive rehab of trackage in downtown Kingston.

Through 2007 and 2008, work continued on opening the Cold Brook Extension. The first train pulled up to Cold Brook station on July 4, 2008, the first regularly-scheduled passenger train to arrive at the station since 1954. Because Cold Book station remains privately owned, the railroad maintains no agentcy and there are no facilities to board or discharge passengers. With six miles open from Phoenicia to Cold Brook, attention returned to Kingston. Aggressive track rehab programs resulted in the inauguration of seasonal Kingston Shuttle Service on December 6, 2008. Running between Downs Street, Westbrook, and Washington Avenue, the new train proved to be extremely popular. In late 2009 the railroad opened more track west of Washington Avenue and offered additional seasonal service throughout the year. By December 2009, nearly two miles of track had been rebuilt in Kingston, from Cornell Street to the foot of Bridge C9.

Phoenicia Operations

The CMRR operates a tourist excursion train from Phoenicia Railroad Station, Phoenicia, MP 27.5 to Cold Brook Railroad Station, MP 22.1. Its trains originate from the former Ulster & Delaware station in Phoenicia, which is also home to the Empire State Railway Museum. Passengers may board trains at Phoenicia or Mount Pleasant Railroad Station, MP 25.2. Initially, service was provided by track cars hauling trailers. Realizing that the future lie in conventional railroad equipment hauled by locomotives, two flatcars were rebuilt as open air bench cars to accommodate passengers. A Porter 50-ton switcher was enlisted to haul the expanded consist. A 1922-vintage wooden caboose often (ex-D&H 35952) brought up the rear, and offered additional capacity. After the 2005 flood, the caboose was taken out of service, but was replaced with a restored coach of Lackawanna heritage. This coach greatly increased the capacity of each train, and also helped offer "all-weather" service. A second coach is nearing completion and is expected to be put in service in 2009. Work trains generally consist of transfer caboose 697 (ex-CR 18015) and "The Duck," a small Davenport switcher. Equipment restoration and maintenance takes place at the railroad's open-air facilities. The original Phoenicia section house is undergoing a multi-year restoration, and is used by the railroad to store tools and supplies for the track gang. CMRR work trains venture as far east as the Boiceville Trestle at MP 21.3, which will continue to be the eastern limit for Phoenicia operations until the trestle is repaired.

Kingston Operations

The Catskill Mountain Railroad also has a yard in Kingston, referred to as "Cornell Street Yard." As of 2009, construction is underway to expand the yard facilities to allow for the storage and restoration of passenger cars for expanded tourist train operations. Equipment restoration and maintenance takes place in the open air. Since November 2006, volunteers have re-opened 1.8 miles of trackage in Kingston. The current operable section stretches from Cornell Street (MP 3.0) to the C9 bridge over the Esopus (MP 5.0), which is also the Kingston City Limits, so all track in the city of Kingston has now been rehabilitated.

On December 6, 2008, the railroad inaugurated seasonal shuttle service between Downs Street (MP 3.2) and Washington Avenue (MP 4.37). A small station and loading platform was constructed off Westbrook Lane (MP 3.78) opposite Kingston Plaza to support passenger operations in 2008. Trains are powered by Alco RS-1 401 (ex-GMRC 401), and consist of converted flatcar 278 (ex-LBR 26) and refurbished caboose 675 (ex-PRR 477672). The critical Washington Avenue crossing was reopened for limited use in 2008, and the track was opened to Bridge C-9 (MP 5) on November 15, 2009. As of August 2009, the regular operating section was extended across Washington Avenue to the Holiday Inn (MP 4.6), and service was extended all the way to Bridge C-9 (MP 5) on December 5, 2009 for the 2009 Kingston Holiday Train. Operations further west will have to wait until Bridge C9 at MP 5 is repaired.

Long Term Goals

The CMRR's long term goal is to run tourist trains on the entire 25-mile run from Kingston to Phoenicia, which will include lengthy views of the scenic Ashokan Reservoir, and a stop at Ashokan Railroad Station. Currently, two bridges in need of major repairs, Bridge C-9 at MP 5 and the other at Bridge C-30 (the "Boiceville Bridge") at MP 21.32. These damaged spans separate the two ends of the railroad and prevent conventional trains from operating the length of the line. Funds and assistance are being sought to repair these bridges. Washouts at Hurley Flats and Butternut Cove also need to be repaired before the Phoenicia operation can be linked with the Kingston operation. Nearly the entire line from Phoenicia to Kingston is navigable by track cars and light maintenance equipment.

A major washout at Bridge C34 (MP 28.8) west of Phoenicia effective severs the CMRR. A washout and landslide near Shandaken needs to be addressed before more damage occurs to the right of way. Bridge C42 over Lasher Road needs to be restored to its original location, it was removed and set aside after the end of Conrail service to allow for greater vertical clearances. Volunteer crews continue to cut brush and keep the tracks clear all the way to the connection with the DURR at Highmount. The CMRR has been isolated from the national network since Conrail removed their Kingston interchange in 1996.

The Delaware & Ulster Railroad has expressed interest in trucking their stainless steel "Rip Van Winkle Flyer" train set to the CMRR upon the restoration of more track and starting service to Ashokan Reservoir. Both organizations are confident that a dinner train operation would prove popular and provide substantial revenues. The DURR has also expressed interest in resuming service between Arkville and Highmount, and continuing south/east over the CMRR to the horsehoe curves at Pine Hill.

Roster of Equipment

CMRR owns two American Locomotive Company (ALCO) RS-1 locomotives, No. 401 (Ex-Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) No. 401, Ex Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad (GM&O) No. 1052, Ex Illinois Terminal Railroad No. 1056, née 756); and No. 2361 (former Alter Scrap No. 2361, Ex-Soo Line Railroad (SOO) 2361). Only 401 is operational at this time. As of 2008, 2361 will be evaluated for reactivation. Also stored west of Kingston at MP 5.5 are several passenger cars, including former EL MU Trailer 4322 and former Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) Coaches 1198 and 1204, awaiting restoration for future tourist train use in the Kingston area.

No. 29

Trains out of Phoenicia are powered by No. 29, an Ex-Navy 50 ton H. K. Porter, Inc, and No. 1, "The Duck", an Ex-Army 38 ton Davenport Locomotive Works locomotive. Two Ex-Navy 50 foot flatcars have been converted to open-air passenger service with the addition of side walls and benches. Former Erie Lackawanna Railway (EL) Multiple unit (MU) trailer No. 4321 was completely renovated and renumbered in 2004 as CMRR 701. Volunteers are completing renovations of a second coach, CMRR 702, former EL MU Trailer 4332, scheduled to enter service in late 2009.

CMRR also rosters several pieces of freight equipment used in work train and storage service. This includes two 50-foot boxcars, a former Conrail Difco dump car, a 40-foot flatcar, and an ex-Conrail transfer caboose. An ex-D&H wooden caboose awaits restoration in Phoenicia after floodwaters damaged the car in 2005. An ex-LV steel caboose is used in Mount Pleasant as a gift shop, stored off the active mainline on panel track.

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