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Railway Group Seeks To Halt Rail Removal At Ashokan Reservoir

Courtesy of Ulster County

A railway group has filed a petition with a federal transportation board to stop rail removal near the Ashokan Reservoir. The nonprofit questions whether Ulster County is acting within federal railroad regulations in pulling up rail for a recreational trail. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne has more.

The U&D (Ulster & Delaware) Railway Revitalization Corporation filed a petition January 16 with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, according to the group’s spokesman Larry Roth.

“As part of their agreement with New York City, to remove the tracks along the Ashokan Reservoir, they were supposed to file with the STB, the Surface Transportation Board, for abandonment,” Roth says. “And when we started checking into that and actually contacted the STB, they had no record that the county had ever done that which was a pretty big warning flag to us right there.”

The county declined comment due to pending litigation. Roth refers to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the 11.5-mile rail portion along the north shore of the Ashokan Reservoir. Ulster County has an agreement with the DEP regarding easements, and retaining railroad rights of way in creating a recreational trail. DEP has long stated that either rail or trail will be permitted, but not both, and when the county decided on a recreational trail, DEP supported the decision. In fact, DEP contributed $2.5 million toward construction of the trail, and plans to build and operate three trailheads. Roth’s group, meanwhile, also believes questions remain over the rail line’s ownership.

“Ownership of the line is critical, who actually controls it, and who has been complying with the Surface Transportation Board regulations that apply,” says Roth.

Roth says U&D believes the region is best served by a restored rail corridor with a trail alongside when compatible. He says leaving open the possibility of rail transportation along the line is important. County officials have said that it would be impossible to re-establish rail operations along the entire 38-mile corridor due to decades of severe deterioration and damage. And Roth speaks to why U&D is filing the petition now.

“We acted as soon as we could. We did not actually find out about this until several weeks ago,” Roth says. “And, believe me, we had no desire to let any of the track be ripped up. We wanted to stop that long before that happened.”

It was after years of controversy that in December 2015, the Ulster County Legislature approved and County Executive Mike Hein then signed a resolution creating a “segmented rail and trail” compromise policy. The policy permits tourism railroad operations to continue in the City of Kingston and Mount Tremper/Phoenicia segments. It also allows previously unused segments of the nearly 39 miles of rail corridor from Kingston to Highmount, home of Belleayre Ski Center, to be converted into a public recreational trail.

U&D hopes the Surface Transportation Board will grant a restraining order to halt rail demolition until the Board decides on the petition. An STB spokesman was looking into the matter but unable to respond in time for this broadcast.

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