LETTER: Ulster’s tourist railroad is unique asset with deep history
Sunday, May 24, 2015
Photo by Tony Adamis The Catskill Mountain Railroad's Kingston-area tourist train is shown at the east end of Kingston Plaza, where its trips start and end.
There are over 75 miles of rail trail in the Hudson Valley, many in Ulster County. There is only one tourist railroad, the Catskill Mountain Railroad.
The CMRR pays its own way and pays rent to Ulster County. It is one of the most successful tourist railroad operations in the United States. Most survive on subsidies. The Delaware & Ulster Railroad, just across the border in Delaware County, requires several hundred thousand dollars a year to offset its losses.
A trail could cost as much as $40 million dollars according to union members hoping to build it. In addition, the trail will require an ongoing annual subsidy to cover operation.
The railroad also draws a group of tourists different from those drawn by trails and other existing attractions in Ulster County.
The railroad also is an important living piece of Ulster County’s history.
Rondout was the terminus of the famous Delaware & Hudson Canal, a modern engineering marvel when built in 1828. Drawn to Ulster County by the canal was Thomas Cornell, who, in 1837, purchased a sloop and went on to build an empire which dominated Hudson River traffic for nearly a century — the Cornell Steamboat Co.
America’s very first steam locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion, passed through Rondout on its journey from England to Honesdale for its trial run.
Cornell, a D&H board member, saw the railroad as a way to feed cargo to his fleet of boats plying the Hudson. Following the Civil War he built Ulster County’s first railroad, the Rondout & Oswego, intending to stretch all the way to Lake Ontario. That railroad followed lines originally surveyed by Jay Gould, originally of Roxbury, N.Y., who went on to have his own fame and success with railroads.
Today, we can still follow the route of the Rondout & Oswego, beginning down on the Hudson, coming past the Trolley Museum and up the hill and through a tunnel and into the heart of Kingston, before striking out across the Esopus plains to penetrate the Catskills.
Some of this railroad is already gone forever because the rails were scrapped and the right of way lost.
But it is still possible to go by train westward from Kingston into the mountains along the Ashokan Reservoir on a railroad which was conceived, built and operated by the people of Ulster County.
Demolishing this railroad in favor of trail would be tragic and irreversible. But that is precisely the course being charted by the recent actions of the Ulster County Legislature and County Executive Mike Hein.