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Catskill Mountain Railroad

Joe Michaels

Apr 3, 2004
Shandaken, NY, USA
As some of you know, I have been a member of the Catskill Mountain Railroad for the past 27 years. CMRR is an all volunteer organization, leasing its track from Ulster County, in the Catskill Region of NY State. Over the past 30 years, volunteers have been rebuilding the track, repairing large washouts, jacking up and realigning and re-mounting steel railroad bridges, and similar work. This work and the materials which go into it become the property of Ulster County.

In addition, we have been obtaining used or government surplus railroad rolling stock, locomotives, and maintenance of way equipment. Having a minimal budget, we are used to buying junk, or close to it, then overhauling, rebuilding, modifying as needed. The result is we went from pick-and-shovel, hand spike mauls, and similar to mechanized equipment for track work over the years, all with stuff we rebuilt.

In the past few years, a new group of Rail Trail advocates came into being. They want to take our railroad from us, rip up the tracks and make it into a "Rail Trail". They got the Ulster County Executive in their camp, and they have been unrelenting in trying to kill our railroad. The COunty Executive along with the county attorney, have tried every imaginable manuever and dirty trick, enlisting the Mayor of Kingston, NY to try to kill our railroad. The County Attorney had use served with a Notice of Cure, claiming we had not lived up to our lease agreement. We retained excellent counsel, fought them in court, and got an injunction- the judge saying the County had failed to make a case about our violating our lease. They sic'd the Department of Labor on us, claiming that since we were a "for profit" (no one has ever made a dime off the railroad, and we pay no dividends), we were in violation of the labor laws (that was another legal action that went nowhere). They sic'd the US Federal RR Administration on us- we already operate under US FRA rules and undergo inspections by the FRA. That went nowhere. They got the Mayor of Kingston to sic his code enforcement people on us about our railroad yard- a totally bogus set of violations that got thrown out, and the Mayor of Kingston had his public works people block our track with their dump trucks. We have been working hard to rebuild our railroad, and in the process, we have brought along some young people. Some of these were "at risk", and they straightened out- four of whom became locomotive engineers on CSX, and others going into good trades. We run our trains, help the economy, and keep rebuilding the railroad line.

Instead, the Trails Group set their sights on our railroad. Every other branch line in our region is gone, ripped up and made into rail trails, so it is not like we hold the only piece of real estate which could be a rail trail. Some years back, our county commissioned an independent study about the viability of a Rail Trail on our line. The study said a joiunt usage (rail with trail) was viable in some portions, and the gradients and high fill sections made a trail an unsafe proposition in other areas. The county cannot maintain its existing rail trails, yet they claim to need our piece of railroad to make a "world class network" of connecting trails. This effort is led by a very vocal group of "eco facists", people who have never done heavy construction or touched the blister end of a pickaxe. They are well funded, with wealthy people down in NY City backing their groups. They contribute heavily to the County Executive and his followers.

The matter is so absurd that the County Exec is passing up 2.3 million in FEMA grants to repair storm damage to the railroad. The Railroad prepared the grant applications, and the County filed for them grants following Hurricane Irene (which took down a four span steel railroad bridge and created some huge washouts along the line). The grants were approved by FEMA as discrete projects, totallying 2.3 million dollars, all along the railroad. The COunty Exec refuses to go ahead and access the FEMA money unless we give up most of the line that we've rebuilt, including our Kingston railroad yard and shop. We are being held hostage.

Meanwhile, the County Executive had to retain outside legal counsel to fight us. The County Attorney, who, at best is a dim bulb by legal standards, was outgunned. The County Exec blew 100K on legal fees fighting us, lost the round, and now has fired his outside counsel (which we, as taxpayers, have been paying for). We know the legal fight is not over. We were not expected to win this round, and the Trails People and the County executive and his stooges are like angry hornets now. We also know the County Legislature is in the midst of it, and while (due to the length of our lease), they have no direct control over the Railroad, they have some weight. For this reason, I am appealing to all the participants on this 'Board.

We have a website: "Savetherails.org" If you go to that website, you will read about our railroad. You will also see a link "Show Your Support". CLick on "Show Your Support", and you will be prompted thru providing youyr name, address, and then you can select several types of letters (historic, economic, family, etc). When you click "submit", the letter you have sent will go to the county executive and every member of Ulster County Legislature. If you are so inclined, follow the link for "Kingston Letter". We have offered to settle with the County and with the City of Kingston a number of times, but they simply want us dead and gone. Within the City of Kingston lies our railroad yard, and in that yard is the "machine shop in the boxcar". All of that would be obliterated if the politicians and the Rail Trail group had their way.

Please take the time to send a couple of emails using the "Savetherails.org" link, as we need all the support we can get. Emails from people outside of our region carry a lot of weight, and overseas emails really make the case that our railroad has quite a following. We do get ridership from all over the World, but seeing emails from all over the USA, and from abroad hit the screens of the County Exec and the Legislature and Kingston administration will help a great deal.
Please forward this, or the "Savetherails.org" link to your friends, family, and anyone you know to have even a spark of fondness for trains.

Thanking you-
Joe Michaels
Sent them a letter thru your website, will let my family know. There will be support shown from some of us in Iowa.

Good luck Joe and the rest of you folks. I hope the yuppies lose out big time in the end. I'm sick to death of those types.

Luke Bailey
I sent copy of this post to the local steam RR to pass on to their membership.
I'm not a member but I enjoy having them around

Suggest anyone who has a local small RR to do the same.

There's rarely anything unique about a trail, except for the scenery or ecology it accesses. Rail trails exist to allow lazy people to recreate on boring terrain. How unique is a railroad you can ride for the joy of it? They barely exist. Of course, you will likely lose, because fitness is a cause and you don't count. That's how things go. More history passing before the eyes of those who choose blindness.
Joe, best of luck to you guys. My uncle volunteers at the Smokey Valley Rail here in KS and it is hard enough without fighting local government. Can you leverage CSX people to thrown in their support since you have trained some of there employees, maybe they have some higher up power in the state.

Sent the tourism letter,


I also sent a polite email to the planning board of the county.
Laid out the economic benifits of the RR vs a dime a dozen bike trails.
Not that it will do much, sigh, but maybe it will get at least one board member to take another look at what they are throwing away.

Turn it into a trail? For the freeloaders to wander around on. Every old rail bed in Illinois that has been converted to a "trail" has amounted to a waste of time, money, and become a haven for stalkers. Many such trails not used due safety reasons.
The local city park has a paved "trail path" (not old RR bed) for walkers, bicyclists, and runners (local Community College running team, etc.). The idea was sold to keep these "users" off the roads and help prevent pedestrian accidents. And STILL these wonderful idiots occupy the road and cause traffic problems. Plus, at least one woman I know that did use the trail path complained of men that were out in the "wilderness" stalking her and other females. And the area has many sex offenders registered. Just a matter of time!
Try to find out just who is gonna profit by the confiscation of your work. See what dirty laundry he has to hide. That is how you fight these thieving political hacks.
I sent your site's "economic" letter, 'though of course I am not a loacl business owner.

We here in the Greenbrier River valley of West Virginia lost our ralroad in the 1960's, now have a very nice 60-mile trail, that does attract a trickle of tourists. But at the same time all the towns (once served by railroad) are dying, and hundreds of tons of sawdust and pulpwood go to paper mill in Covington,Va by TRUCK, burning petrolem, when they COULD be going MUCH more cheaply by wood-fired steam train.

Tourism is not the only argument for saving rails. As petroleum motor fuels gets ever-more-expensive, the economic advantages of rail transport wil inevitably become more important. But the cost of rolling and re-laying rails once torn up and melted will be increasingly prohibitive.
History letter from me.

Wait. I can ride that railroad now?

Joe, you need to get more advertisment out there. Folks go for
miles to get to steamtown....