02.19.13

SCHUMER URGES FEDS TO EXPEDITE APPROVAL FOR ULSTER COUNTY TO CONVERT UNUSED RAIL TRACKS INTO SCENIC CATSKILL MOUTAIN RAIL TRAIL PLAN WOULD SPUR REGIONAL RECREATION TOURISM

brbrSchumer Calls on the Fed Surface Transpo Board to Approve Development of Ulster Delaware Rail For Scenic Hudson Rail Trail Approval is Key Hurdle in Plans to Create a Recreational Trail for Hiking, Biking and More Between Ashokan Reservoir and Walkway Over the HudsonbrbrIf Feds Allow Ulster to Railbank These Tracks- Which Were Transferred to Ulster in 1979 But Never Officially Abandoned by Rail Road; The Trail Will Help Spur Tourism Recreation Throughout Ulster Dutchess and Preserve The

 

Today at Kingston Point Rotary Park, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to swiftly approve Ulster County's request to "railbank" the abandoned Ulster and Delaware Rail Tracks between Ashokan Reservoir and the Walkway over the Hudson, to allow Ulster County to create the scenic Catskill Mountain Rail Trail (CMRT). This federal approval is the lynchpin for the project to move forward and create a beautiful recreational rail trail that would eventually pass through New Paltz, Kingston and Rosendale along the way. Schumer called on the STB to provide this key approval so that Ulster County and local advocates can begin the process of building out the rail trail, which they own but have not been officially abandoned. The first development phase of the CMRT will link the City of Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir, will then tie into the O&W and Wallkill Valley Rail Trails and upon final completion will connect to The Walkway Over the Hudson and Greater Dutchess Rail Trail. As connections are completed to and along those trails, the CMRT would further expand the connections between Ulster, Dutchess and Orange Counties. Schumer will also reiterate his commitment to ensure that state and local officials do their part to keep the development of this unique tourist attraction moving forward.

Schumer aims to help Ulster County build upon and expand the Hudson Valley's regional network of rail trails and eventually link the Ashokan Reservoir to the Walkway over the Hudson and recreational trails in Dutchess and Orange Counties. The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail will provide a muchneeded connection between neighborhoods in the City of Kingston and open spaces and scenic vistas in the Catskills. This new rail trail will enhance the quality of life for local residents and significantly expand recreational opportunities for families throughout the Hudson Valley. The CMRT is also expected to promote economic development and new job creation in Kingston and throughout the Hudson Valley, as well as encourage outdoor recreation for local youth.

"The federal government should immediately get on track with Ulster County's plan to develop the Catskill Mountain Rail Trail, which would propel the Hudson Valley's economic engine while attracting tourists from all over the country," said Schumer. "For Ulster County to move forward, it needs approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board to 'railbank' historical tracks in the region, which will allow the project to move full steam ahead and begin converting the railway into a scenic tourist destination that would connect the Ashokan Resevoir with the Walkway Over the Hudson. Not only would this project boost economic development in Ulster County and ultimately the entire region, but runners, hikers, and cyclists, from near and far, would be able to better access the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley."

"We appreciate Senator Schumer's commitment of assistance and support for this regionally significant effort to create a worldclass tourism destination," said County Executive Hein. "We particularly appreciate the Senator's advocacy in support of the County's railbanking application to the federal Surface Transportation Board." County Executive Hein also reiterated his gratitude to Governor Andrew Cuomo for providing the first funding commitment for the Catskill Mountain Railroad and thanked both the Senator and Governor for their vision in supporting this transformative project for the benefit of New Yorkers."

The first phase of the CMRT project will convert 8 miles of underutilized rail bed into a multiuse recreational trail from midtown Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir, and subsequent phases of the project will extend the Trail along the full length of the Ashokan Reservoir. The CMRT could also connect to seasonal tourist railroads and extend well into Delaware County. Schumer noted that Ulster's proximity to transit access through the MetroNorth would open up access to New York City, and this expanded trail network could increase significantly the number of visitors coming to the region. However, this initial work all hinges on the Surface Transportation Board's approval of plans to "railbank" the tracks a key approval in allowing the project to move forward. In simple terms, "railbanking" is a method by which corridors that would otherwise be abandoned can be preserved for future rail use through interim conversion to a trail. This arrangement can be very beneficial to the railroad company because it's able to sell the entire corridor, instead of pieces, therefore reducing transaction costs, and allows trail organizations, whose acquisition of the corridor might otherwise be vulnerable to ownership challenges. Under the  National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), the STB is given an administrative role in assisting carriers who wish to railbank their corridors as an alternative to a complete abandonment of the line, thus preserving the rail corridor for possible future use.

The trail will border two historic railroads, the trolley and railroad museums, restored historic sites, numerous parks and a multipurpose trail. The trail will run about 38 miles through the Hudson Valley, which can be used for running, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding for much of the year. In the winter, segments of the trail will be used for ice skating, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Additionally, the Ashokan Reservoir will be used for canoeing, tubing, kayaking, and fishing. Schumer highlighted that the Catskill Rail Trail could also boost future economic development in the region through attracting more hotels, restaurants, and gas stations to open up with the expanded tourism industry along the trail.

The railway boasts 150 years of rich history. It was originally named Rondout & Oswego Railroad, but eventually it was taken over by New York, Kingston and Syracuse Railroad. By 1875, the Ulster and Delaware Railroad purchased the railway, to carry vital freight cargo and passengers to and from the Catskills. Ulster County purchased the railway in 1979, from the bankrupt Pennsylvania railway. By 1983, part of the railway was leased out to the Catskill Mountain Railroad to run a scenic train between Mt. Tremper and Boiceville. After years of underuse, Schumer hopes his push will allow the Catskill Rail Trail to commence fullsteam ahead.

Schumer highlighted that Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park has already proven itself to be a powerful engine for economic revitalization. Connecting the Walkway Over the Hudson, which has drawn 1.2 million visitors since opening, with the Ashokan Resevoir would make this biking and walking trail a premier New York state tourist and recreation spot. The Walkway over the Hudson has already pumped $30 million into the local economy through direct spending from visitors, and Schumer noted that this economic benefit to the Hudson Valley will only grow by linking these tourist spots. That economic impact has helped create more than 383 new fulltime jobs and has brought nearly $780,000 in new tax revenue for the region each year. Merging Walkway Over the Hudson with the Ashokan Rail Trail promises to augment the overall economic impact in the Hudson Valley as even more tourists and recreational enthusiasts visit this new pathway. The new rail trail, connecting urban Kingston and the downtown waterfront business communities and residential neighborhoods to the rest of Ulster County will also increase the health and quality of life of residents of the entire Hudson Valley. The rail trail will also connect to downtown Kingston, allowing residents and business owners alike to leverage tourism destinations in New Paltz and Gardnier alike and allow them to draw on new opportunities for their businesses and families.

A copy of Schumer's letter to the STB appears below:

Dear Chairman Hersman:

 

I write today to urge your assistance in expediting a Public Use Condition and Trail Use request filed by the County of Ulster for a stretch of municipallyowned railroad tracks that run from Kingston for approximately 39 miles along the Ashokan Reservoir all the way to the Delaware County border in the State of New York.  As you know, under the National Trails System Act, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), the Surface Transportation Board is given an administrative role in assisting carriers who wish to railbank their corridors as an alternative to abandonment of the line, thus preserving the rail corridor for possible future use.

 

It is my understanding that the County will be submitting its formal request to start the railbank process as soon as this week.  This line was originally purchased by the County from the bankrupt Penn Central Transportation Company in 1979 for $1.5 million.  Since that time, the County has allowed a lessee to operate limited recreational and tourism service on the line.

 

The County's vision is to build upon and expand the Hudson Valley's regional network of rail trails and eventually link the Ashokan Reservoir to the Walkway over the Hudson and recreational trails in Dutchess and Orange Counties. The Catskill Mountain Rail Trail (CMRT) will provide a muchneeded connection between neighborhoods in the City of Kingston and open spaces and scenic vistas in the Catskills. This new rail trail will enhance the area's quality of life and significantly expand recreational opportunities for low and moderate income families. The CMRT will also promote economic development and new job creation in Kingston and throughout the Hudson Valley.

 

The County looks forward to working with the STB with the hope of the agency promptly issuing a Notice of Intended Trail Use.

 

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

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