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  1. #41
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    I am only able to say we "won the war but lost a major battle". The Catskill Mountain Railroad is divided into two separate segments of operating track. One (the East End) is based out of Kingston, NY. The West End is based out of Phoenicia, NY.

    Initially, the County and trail people's main thrust was to kill off ALL railroad usage on the East end, ripping up the rails for a trail. We started running "Polar Express" each winter. The first winter, 2013, our revenues went from about $100,000 gross for the year (without running Polar) to just over $1,000,000.00. Now we were in the big leagues. We kept reclaiming track and pushing westward up from Kingston. The County and trail people were trying everything to stop us. We got clear out to the Ashokan Reservoir, despite their claims that the track was beyond all use, etc. At the same time, it became increasingly apparent that to build the rail trail heading west out of Kingston would require re-negotiating easements over something like 33 privately owned parcels of land. The easements are "railroad only". We ran Polar again last winter, having added two more coaches, and did even more business.

    Meanwhile the county, aided and abetted by the (then) mayor of Kingston (the guy who had a city of Kingston dump truck parked across our tracks at one point), succeeded in getting us kicked out of our railroad yard in Kingston. We had a certificate of occupancy, and the place HAD been a railroad yard since the 1890's, but politicians prevailed. So, we moved out of our yard and up the line, still running Polar.

    The County suddenly realized there was no killing us, at least on the Kingston end of the line. So, the trail nuts and politicians went after the West end of the line. They contacted some flea bit outfit called "Rail Explorers", who run pedal powered track car excursions. Pay 65 or 75 bucks a head to go pedal on the tracks. Rail Explorers initially approached us, wanted to work with us if we were awarded the renewed lease on the west end. The County convinced Rail Explorers to bid independently of us, and awarded them a permit to operate on the West End. They also forbid Rail Explorers from utilizing any trains. Rail Explorers had wanted to have our railroad provide a train to shuttle their pedal customers back, as the line is a descending grade running East from Phoenicia, and an ascending grade going back. County said no. At the same time, there is a really bad washout from Hurricane Irene on the West End that the County had refused to address, despite having a FEMA grant to repair it. This washout blocked access to more track with a location along a secondary road. While we had the lease, the County would not access ANY of the FEMA grants, including a 1 million dollar grant to fix a collapsed steel trestle. Now that Rail Explorers is on the line, the County is suddenly accessing FEMA grants.

    The plan is for Rail Explorers to be up and running in mid summer on the West end. They will run as far as the repaired area of the track, and use a bus to get their customers back to the point of origin. They will also use a pickup with high-rail gear (track guide wheels) to drag their pedal cars back.

    The County has given us until 12/15 to get ALL our equipment off their track on the western portion of the line. We own a railroad yard property in Phoenicia, so are laying more spur tracks and switches to do this. As if this isn't bad enough, this nutty woman- an elderly artist/author- whipped the neighbors into a complete frenzy against our railroad and railroad yard, claiming we were an "industrial blight", going to poison the environment, detract from property values, etc. Meanwhile, on the street this old bag lives, there are semi-finished houses in perpetual alteration, unregistered vehicles in yards, and old cars and trucks under rotting tarps.

    This past summer, I welded together a flat car for our last passenger service on the West End. I was in the Phoenicia Yard with an old Lincoln welder driven by an Onan engine with the pepper-pot mufflers. I burned rod for quite a few days and the welder made a nice racket. I was welding, burning, grinding, and making plenty of noise. Interestingly NONE of the neighbors, let alone the nutty old artist/author showed up to see what was going on.

    So, as it stands, we are done running trains on the west end, but going strong on the east end. We "saved the rails", but lost the right to run trains on the west end. Well, nothing is forever, and we have a few more tricks up our sleeve.

    Rail Explorers is setting themselves up for failure. Instead of using the station and parking area out on NYS ROute 28 at Mt Tremper, where there is high visibility on a major road, they are going to base their operation out of a trailer in the railroad museum's property in Phoenicia. Hard to find, not real visible. The Rail Explorers people are off in la-la land, writing us emails like nothing is wrong, and asking us to tidy up our railroad yard so their customers can have a "nice experience".

    Notably, since our railroad yard is our own property, we can do with it what we like within the permitted uses. So, my immediate plan is to start organizing motorcycle events, specifically, poker runs and charity runs ending with pig roasts in our railroad yard. The flatcar I repaired has a nice chain-link fence and handrail on it, and will make a dandy stage for bands as well as for such other events as may just occur spontaneously (such as wet tee shirt contests). We do have a backhoe and gradall on the property, so digging a pit for mud wrestling might also happen. I intend to invite any clubs, groups, or lone riders who care to come, and encourage them to arrive on bikes with loud pipes. I also am talking to local tattoo artists about a body art show, and to local bands about a "battle of the bands". The lousier and more dischordant and amateurish the bands, the better.

    No admission will be charged, since we do not want to officially "run" an event for profit. Any proceeds go to charities. If the doings get rowdy and the people at Rail Explorers feel intimidated and unwelcome, or their customers give them some bad press, too bad. Rail Explorers thinks we are going to help them, and be on call to do track work, fix their equipment, or show them what they need to know. When they worked with the Adirondack Scenic RR, they had an agreement WITH a railroad. Here, no such agreement exists and they had no qualms about cutting us off from our track by going along with what the County wanted. Meanwhile the County Exec is hyping the fact that he is making us the "greenest county" in NY State, and cites his efforts to build a network of trails.

    So, we will lay our equipment up on the west end, and keep on running on the East End. Time will tell if Rail Explorers can succeed by themselves on the West End. They have political pull from the County Exec, who will probably not hold their feet to the fire if they cannot meet their lease payments or fall flat. As for some of us, the idea of having wild pig roasts and having hordes of motorcycles with loud pipes and loud bands in the railroad yard has us carrying on like the guys on Animal House. The old bag who kvetched in public meetings that we were ruining the neighborhood and spoke of a "sweet residential neighborhood" and "sweet little town" is in for a surprise. As it is, in summer, the motorcycles are usually lined up on Main Street in Phoenicia in front of Brio's and the Sportsman's Bar. Phoenicia is a sort of destination for a lot of people on motorcycles. May as well take advantage of that and have some fun.

    Polar Express starts running this weekend in Kingston, so this is our real moneymaker. We actually paid off $620,000 in legal bills that were necessary to keep our railroad alive. The County Exec is not talking about how much his side spent with private law firms trying to get rid of our railroad. We don;t know the half of it. A group called "Save the Rails" has sprung up, and is a real firestorm. The County asked that any of us on the Catskill Mountain RR please distance ourselves from "Save the Rails". Save the Rails has a lot of popular support and is turning into an activist group. What we do know from a kind of "follow the money" is that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr is in the mix. RFK, Jr, is in the mix, and is getting well heeled trailheads down in Manhattan and Westchester to fund the County Exec's campaign and this trail project. Add to it that Chucky Schumer, the Senator for NY, is the political godfather for our County Exec, and Chucky Schumer had said the County Exec needed a "signature project", so pushed for this rail trail. Into the mix we have Bill deBlasio, the mayor of NYC. NYC watersheds are partially in our county, and our railroad line runs right on easement lands along the Ashokan Reservoir. NYC is faced with the prospect of building a federally mandated filtration plant for the New York City water supplies, which will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. The alternative is to have heavy releases of water from Ashokan and from the Shandaken Tunnel. The releases from Ashokan create downstream flooding and the tunnel releases create high turbidity levels in the Esopus Creek (a once fine trout stream, now messed up by the high turbidity levels). deBlasio kicked in $180,000 for the county exec's re-election last year. NYC Department of Environmental Protection (which has control of the watersheds) gave a 2.5 million dollar grant for the rail trail to our county. Needless to say, the County exec and his henchmen are not saying a word about the high turbidity levels in the Esopus, nor are they paying any attention to issues downstream of Ashokan Reservoir. The grant for the rail trail and the campaign contribution were dirt cheap compared to building a filtration plant.

    It is a real political mess. That we stayed alive at all is something we have to take some consolation from. Some of us are pretty burned out from years of this fighting. Some of our stalwarts are getting older, and are starting to have health issues. One guy, who really poured his heart and soul into our railroad doing track work, died this past spring of pancreatic cancer. I gave a eulogy for him. Another guy whom I thought of as invincible suddenly had prostate issues (he's fine now, but realizing he has to slow down), and another lady who was still going strong at 92 doing book-keeping and similar for us had a mild stroke. We still have a good core group of volunteers, and they keep coming out to work on our railroad. It is for them that I will load up a welder and tools and go to work on what otherwise can seem like a losing proposition.

    We are still in the fight, and as we see it, no politician is in office for life. Last election time, there was a back room deal to try to get the Democratic county exec to run for re-election uncontested. The Republicans had made a back room deal with the Democratic committee, and tried to keep a Republican challenger off the ballot. Our youngsters got out the petitions, and the County exec and his goons had attorneys contesting every signature. Nevertheless, the Republican challenger got on the Republican ballot line with NO help from her own party. She had maybe $20,000.00 raised from grassroots efforts. She came with 3,000 votes of beating the incumbent county exec. He spent $200,000 on his campaign with a lot of it coming from the Mayor of NYC and from wealthy trail/bicycle advocacy groups. Three years left on his current term, and we will see if we can help the same Republican challenger, and maybe get her own party to back her for a change.

    It's a long way from burning rod on a hot day in Phoenicia Yard, welding on old equipment, to the political arena. I'd stand up to stretch and get a drink of Gatorade on those hot days and wonder why I was knocking myself out. My wife knew that the fight was far from over, and instead of telling me I was beating a dead horse or somesuch, she'd check to be sure I had a cooler with Gatorade and send me off to work on the railroad. I sweated off 10 lbs in three days this past summer. Welding is solitary work, and a man can do a lot of thinking inside his shield.
    It was hard not to be feeling the overwhelming odds against us, so I'd burn rod and find ways to divert my mind.

    The whole feel of our community has changed since we first moved here in 1991. Back then, deer hunting was a big event.The grocery store in Phoenicia had a "steelyard" butcher scale hanging out along the sidewalk to weigh the buck deer for a cash pool for the heaviest buck.
    Now, if you mention "gun", the new breed of inhabitant is looking at you strangely and if you drove into town with a deer on your pickup bed, you'd be vilified. Back then, the regular citizens scrabbled to get by, working at things like logging, contracting, and trying to get on with something like the NYS DOT or County. People hunted and trapped, minded their own business, helped their neighbors in real ways, and considered the railroad as a valuable piece of our history. The new breed considers the railroad as a polluter, danger to the public safety, and sees no value or attraction in having running trains in the area. Thirty years of work that our people put into keeping and saving that railroad means nothing to this new breed. Times have changed, not necessarily for the better.

  2. Likes n2zon, Billyum, SAG 180 liked this post
  3. #42
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    Sorry to hear of the setback. Keep up the good work. Keep us on PM advised, maybe we can help.

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  5. #43
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    Nothing worse than politicians IMHO.Keep up the good fight.

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  7. #44
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    Hi Joe,
    I'm curious how things are going with the railroad, any updates?

    I'm hoping you're still going strong and fighting to keep the railroad up and running.

    -Luke

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  9. #45
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    Environmentalists will be next to challenge the trail people. That rail bed used Coal Ash for ballast rather than trap rock. Once rails are removed the county will be responsible for removal of this heavy metal contaminated material. Otherwise trail users will track this contamination into their cars and homes. Heath studies will need to be done on this issue. (Also an extreme danger hiking children and pets) Remediation should probably be removal and replacement of all soils on the Right of Way to a depth of 1 foot possibly deeper directly under the tracks, wider at former station locations and sidings. The EPA needs to study this issue. The latest guidelines for "Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals" was added to the federal record in 2015 I believe.

    I don't even want to think about how disturbing this coal ash residue along NYC watershed property will affect drinking water quality. I drink that water at home

    The Woodstock area is home to many environmentally and health conscious people $$ and they will be the primary trail users. I'm sure someone there will take an interest in these issues.
    Steve

  10. #46
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Michaels View Post
    The whole feel of our community has changed since we first moved here in 1991.
    This is why I live in China. The US is fucked up.


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