Railroads in the Catskills busy this Memorial Day weekend

Ben rounds, Catskill Mountains, new york, trains, upstate new york

With CMRR’s Great Train Robbery event, DURR’s first Rip Van Winkle charter run of the season and the new Rail Explorers USA opening weekend in Phoenicia, both Ulster and Delaware Counties proudly demonstrate to visitors the rails are the place to be this holiday weekend.

DURR Rip Van Winkle Flyer charter run on Thursday, May 24.

In Delaware County, although the official opening weekend was held up due to weather induced track repair, Delaware and Ulster Railroad (DURR) ran its first revenue train of the season, a private charter. Folks were all smiles on the beautiful 75 degree Thursday as they gently rocked through the mountains on the the Rip Van Winkle Flyer. A round trip from Arkville to Roxbury and back passes through the quaint hamlet of Halcottsville and provides passengers with bucolic views of Wawaka Lake, the Round Barn and several farms along the way.

June 2 is the official kick off for public rides. Get your tickets at DURR.org. Pricing is:

• $18.00- Adults

• $12.00 – Children (ages 2-12)

• $15.00 – Discount Adult (Senior/Military/Veteran)

• Dogs are free!

In Ulster County, you can participate in the creatively curated Great Train Robbery on Saturday, May 25. This is my personal fav. The website describes it as follows:

“Board our exciting journey back in time as the Catskill Mountain Railroad celebrates the legend of the Great Train Robbery – the classic 1903 silent movie by the same name – shot on the New York state rails. This interactive adventure will kick off at the Westbrook Station in Kingston, NY and travel up the Hurley Flats. Expect the unexpected as this excursion includes a stop at a local festival with live music and vendors serving up some of the best local flavors in town. Seating is open, so it’s suggested you arrive approximately a half hour early and pick your spot in one of our covered flat cars or inside one of our historic coaches. Please make our crew aware in if someone in your party may have difficulty navigating steps and require additional assistance or enjoy and alternate detour.”

The Ben Rounds Band will be waiting for you as you break along the way, playing their recognizable mix of country and rock covers. Ben is a major supporter of saving the rails in Ulster County and has played several fundraisers contributing to the cause, and his music never disappoints!

This is an event for the whole family and not to be missed. Visit CatskillMountainRailroad.com for more details and to purchase tickets. Pricing is:

• $18.00- Adults

• $12.00 – Children (ages 2-12)

• $16.00 – Discount Adult (Senior/Military/Veteran)

•  $0.00- Toddler (Under two on lap)

If you have a little more coin, and energy, you can ride the new Rail Explorers USA rail bikes through scenic Ulster County. Boarding takes place at the historic Phoenicia station, aka the Empire State Railroad Museum.

Rail bikes lined up for their inaugural run following the Rail Explorers USA Catskill Division Ceremony this past Wednesday. Please ask permission for photo usage.

In fact, trail without rail advocates, UC politicians Mike Hein and Kathy Nolan, who some consider to be the driving force behind the currently segmented (interrupted, compromised, decimated, however you choose to view it) rail line, stood on this hallowed ground on Wednesday during the ribbon cutting ceremony for Rail Explorers. Paul LaPierre, on the board  of  the ESRM*, in an unexpected gesture, wholeheartedly welcomed them, thanking Ulster County for its assistance in cleaning up the museam property and for the promise of a permit to keep equipment and cars on the property for repair and display purposes.

I digress.

My point is, if you miss riding along the mighty Esopus, as the CMRR has not been able to operate there since the loss of their lease in 2016, you can still do an eight mile round trip pedal through Mt. Tremper, across Rt. 28, stopping just a mile shy of where the tracks now end. Bring plenty of water and snacks. The beautiful tour, though electric motor assisted on the way back, is still a workout, so eat your wheaties! Bring your rain gear too, as Rail Explorers operates in mild to moderately inclement weather.

For all details and to book, go to RailExplorers.net. Pricing is:

• $42.50 pp (2 persons on Tandem Rider)

• $37.50 pp  (4 riders on not Quad Explorer)

• 10 % Discount for groups of 10 or more

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Please stay tuned for full, objective coverage of the Rail Explorers USA Ribbon Ceremony. In the meantime, enjoy this weekend safely, be thankful for every moment given to you and those you love, never forgetting the price paid by those who fight for our country, and their families.

*Please note a previous version of this article referred to Paul LaPierre as “head of the ESRM”. He has since brought to attention he is only a member of its board.

Old Man Winter Delays Train Season

#HardHatReporter, Catskill Mountains, trains

By Rebecca Andre – May 10, 2018 10:54 pm – Arkville, Delaware County, NY

If you are wondering why the May opening of Delaware and Ulster Railroad has been pushed to June 2, you can thank Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, who have once again conspired to hold off precious spring and summer in the Catskills.

DURR Train

Platform in Arkville will be filled with riders starting June 2

Despite best intentions to have track work complete, problems left over from winter weather derailed hopes of a Mother’s Day Weekend opening.

Namely, frost heaves and cross elevation.

As explained by Wes Coates, General Manager of DURR, the cinders used in the building of the railroad hold moisture, especially in the lower-lying areas, and freeze, pushing the tracks up and out of place.

Efforts were made to avoid this issue, including plowing the tracks for the first time in 40 years to open them up to the sun quicker.

A larger railroad would have a simple fix, using a track stabilizing machine to force the tracks back into place.

“We are a little country railroad,” explains Coates, so this has to be done the old fashioned way: by running a passenger-free train over the tracks back and forth to stabilize them.

Durrr Train

#5106 sits patient on the tracks

Crews have already installed 100 tons of ballast (gravel/stone) and almost 1,000 new ties. Work is being done in both directions from the station in Arkville, including towards Highmount. Word is the visiting steam locomotive planned for June and September could cross the trestle over the Bushkill.

Vic Stevens, Chief Engineer, and Coates are both extremely disappointed by the hold up. “But we need to make sure the tracks are safe,” says Stevens.

***

Go to DURR.org for full schedule and ticket information. Be sure to check for updates on Facebook as well. 

DURR

‘Tie Inserter’ machine

DURR ties

New environmentally conscious ties treated with copper naphthenate  instead of creosote, which has been classified as harmful to the environment as it can leach from the ties when heated by sunlight and allow a petroleum residue to seep into ground water.

temp 3

The ‘Ballast Regulator’ is used to spread the ballast out for the ‘Tamper Machine’

 

Winds of Change Blow from Polar Vortex to Polar Express

Catskill Mountains, climate change, trains

The winter blues and snow race to pile up at my door step. Worry accumulates. Writing usually makes things better, but sometimes even that becomes a chore. When coming up with a captivating blog post takes longer than shoveling out from three feet of snow, I know I’m in trouble.

Time for a little help from my friends. I have never included someone else’s writing in my blog, I just don’t reblog. Lately, though, I have come to admire the writings of a certain accomplished gentleman. I gobble up his press releases and wish I owned a newspaper just so that I could print them. Larry Roth’s most recent correlation  between what is happening to our climate and what is happening to our rails stopped me in my tracks. Ahem. Pun intended. Please read his insightful words below.

The 21st Century is not going to be like the 20th. The sooner we face up to that fact, the better.

Two unprecedented March Nor’easters in rapid succession (with a possible third on the way) have caused millions of dollars in damage, left hundreds of thousands without power, and disrupted transportation up and down the east coast. Ulster County and New York State are choosing policies that will make matters worse.

These storms are what climate change looks like. Researchers attribute the strength and timing of the storms to the disruption of the Polar Vortex, changes in wind patterns that have left the Arctic much warmer than it should be this time of year because of global warming. Extreme weather events are increasingly likely in the years ahead.

Main Street Margaretville, NY March 3, 2018 after winter storm Riley. Photo by Rebecca Andre (Use of photo without permission is prohibited)

New York State is changing land use laws to make it easier to turn railroads into trails. Ulster County is turning a rail line that parallels a major transportation corridor into trails and disconnected rail segments. Trails will take no trucks or cars off the roads. They will do nothing to reduce carbon emissions. This is a policy catering to the short-sighted gratification of special interest groups, not prudent governance.

Over a quarter of the energy expended in the US goes to transportation, moving people and goods. Carbon emissions from that contribute significantly to global warming. Railroads are the most energy-efficient means of land transport — but the US has invested heavily in car-centric transportation for decades. We are now experiencing the consequences of that choice.

Railroads increase resiliency by broadening the economic base beyond tourism — trails can’t.

The importance of two Adirondack tourist railroads and one in the Catskills in dealing with climate change may seem insignificant — but enough small steps taken everywhere can and will make a difference. The rail lines in question once moved freight and provided passenger service to their regions. The only thing preventing them from doing so again is a refusal to recognize the world has changed and a reluctance to make the necessary investments. They can be much more than an amusement for tourists in ways a trail never can.

Rails recently scrapped in Ulster County photo by Rebecca Andre (use without permission is prohibited)

The Netherlands operate their trains with an electrified rail system running on 100% wind power. Biodiesel, hybrid locomotives, even hydrogen fuel cell trains all offer immediate ways to reduce carbon emissions. The rest of the world is investing in rail systems — only America is ripping up rail corridors for trails while still subsidizing everything that competes with railroads. It is a recipe for disaster in the face of changing global climate.

Railroads offer resiliency, vital in a world increasingly subject to climate disruption. When airplanes are grounded, when roads become dangerous, trains can keep running. When mudslides blocked a critical commuting route in California in January, Amtrak and other passenger rail carriers added trains and ran longer trains; the alternative was a 275 mile detour by road.

Meanwhile, our planet burns while Ulster County and New York State fiddle {with trails}.
*****

Visit UDRRCorp.com to learn more about the future of our rails and how you can contribute.

Please address all inquiries to:

Larry Roth, Media Relations

U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation

P.O. Box 503 Phoenicia, NY 12464

udrrc.media@gmail.com 518-965-5246

Disappearing Rails: why give a damn?

Catskill Mountains, trains, Travel, upstate new york

– by Rebecca Andre

Updated 12/5/17 – On November 12, 2017 “Disappearing Rails – A Plea To Lawmakers” was released on Facebook. It has accumulated 5,489 views and 223 shares.

Disappearing Rails Plea To Lawmakers from Mountain Girl Photography… on Vimeo.

Above: Still from “Disappearing Rails”, photo credit: Larry Roth

On Monday, November 13 and 14, 2017, all Ulster County legislators received a copy of the Official Release on Vimeo, along with a password. This was so stats could be recordered and number of views would be accounted for.

In the email, they were made aware views were being tracked.

Only 25 people had access to this link: producers, Ben Rounds and myself, along with the 23 Ulster County Legislators.

Views before November 14, 2017 legislature vote: 2

Views up to December 5, 2017, when video password was removed: 6

The lawmakers had made up thier mind. By a majority vote they decided to go forward with the resolutions that brought the demise of 11 miles of Ulster County tracks, forever  severing the Catskill Mountain Rail Corridor.

Was the video was an exercise in futility? That remains to be seen. Pay-offs so far are the introduction of myself as a documentary filmmaker hopeful and the thousands of inevitable listens received  of “Train Used To Run” by Ben Rounds

IMG_3471

Stats page for Disappearing Rails views on Vimeo with password. Proof is in the pudding.

An almost accurate record of that meeting and vote that night can be found at this Daily Freeman article.

My candid record of that meeting, including intimidation tactics, Richard Parete’s vote change and Kathy Nolan’s attempt to change my own mind can be found on this facebook post.

Until the rails are removed, the fight will go on. Until. Please visit the Ulster & Delaware Railway Revitalization Corp website and donate to their legal fund and the final efforts to  Save The Rails.

Change the words “trees” to “trains” and how appropriate are the words of Dr. Suess:

“But now,” says the Once-ler, “now that you’re here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”

*****

Original Post 10/16/2017

Viscose #6 Steam Engine fall run on the DURR

Viscose #6 Steam Engine fall run on the DURR

So you are wondering why you should care about the railroad of Upstate New York when California and Montana are burning and Florida and Texas are drowning. I get it. I sometimes wonder the same thing myself. Then I make a donation to flood or fire victims and move on with my day.

After all, we can’t fix it, right? The state of our country, politically, physically and morally is so precarious right now. I would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend like none of it is happening until a flame or a flood actually reaches my doorstep, or until the insurance drops my family.

Then I will get angry and all kinds of scared.

In the meantime…there is something I can do, we can do. Like donate to the local food pantry, raise money for animals waiting for adoption or vote on a local level believing this vote will actually count.

Also, I can pitch a fit to keep the Ulster County rails in place. At least until I actually see the steel being carted away. I do this not only because I am in love with trains. I do it because of the incredible blow it would mean for our economy and loss to our future generations if these rails were to be permanently deleted from our landscape.

“Future generations?” you ask. And “Who needs train travel? We have planes, and smart cars, etc. Why not just go back to horse and buggy?”

“Economy?” you ask. “Rail upkeep costs money!”

Trains and minimalism go hand in hand.

Well, to address the former, Millennials are reverting back to foot and pedal travel, and car-sharing. The throw-away culture of my generation is becoming a thing of the past.   The core hipster mentality is sweeping the nation: Minimalism.

I can back up the above statement . I’ve traveled Amtrak all over the country. Most recently, between NYC and Baltimore. The amount of young people hopping the train to get out of the city boggled my mind. One vintage Woolrich-clad group was particularly vocal about the horrors of bus travel and the expense of renting a car.

But the train only takes one out of the city into the Hudson Valley. After all, it can’t travel along the west shore of the Hudson. Oh, wait, yes it can. Proof positive this past weekend, Oct. 14 & 15, when the Amtrak Autumn Express found its way tunneling under then crossing over the Hudson, for a sweet and well-spent $169.00 a ticket. I know of a train enthusiast that was flying out from California and spending two nights in a NYC hotel to make this historic run.

Back to logistics. If you want to travel via train to actually visit or stay in the Catskills, you better hope you have a friend you can presume upon to pick you up at Rhinecliff. But you probably don’t, so you will be one more scale on the snake of vehicles slithering along Routes 17, 87 and 28. And, thanks to AirBnB, a house-sharing phenomenon, this congestion is only going to increase exponentially over the next few years. (I am surrounded by AirBnB rentals. Four to six cars in the driveway of a house that sleeps six to eight people is the norm.)

Wait, I’m getting ‘off track’ here…entering into the reduced environmental impact trains afford us…Have you seen the amount of cars overflowing the trail head parking areas?

To quote Steve Porter and Ken Anello, co-chairmens of the U&D Railway Revitalization Corp  (UDRRCorp)in their February 7, 2017 letter to Gov. Cuomo, “A revitalized railway has the possibilities of increasing the usage of the area by the most number of visitors with the least carbon footprint.

But the Govenor has yet to respond to this letter he received from UDRRCorp, a non-profit organization with a mission to “preserve and protect the entire Ulster and Deleware railroad corridor.”

“Rail travel is far from dead and being old fashioned.” writes Steve Porter in ‘Why Trains Are Good For Ulster County’. “More areas are starting to use trains to provide options for transit. No, it’s not going to replace the auto. But our culture is changing and cities and communities are going to be connected by more than just roads and bike trails. At least the progressive communities will.”

As the UDRRCorp would say, “Imagine the possibilities.”

Imagine less cars.

Imagine if the AirBnB-ers could car-share to Kingston and travel by train to innumerable destinations in the Catskills? They could plan to spend the week in one town, or if they want to explore, they can put on their hiking shoes.

Imagine climate-conscience youngsters hiking from Pinehill to Roxbury finding it’s just too long of a trek for them. They could, theoretically, take a train, do dinner at some overpriced, hand-cut-ice-serving-boutique restaurant and head back to their AirBnB one county over.

Imagine skiers leaving Kingston, destination Belleayre. This is not a far-fetched stretch (well, maybe the completion of the proposed resort is). In our not so distant past, trains used to carry vacationers to the doorsteps of Catskills’ resorts. Even Amtrak sees the positives of a rail line heading up country to deliver riders with the new and highly successful  Winter Park Express weekend train between Denver Union Station and the high-country ski resorts.

Imagine in vogue upstate nuptials taking place on the train. Considering the weddings exploding all over the Catskills, imagine photo shoots, rehearsal dinners or even bachelor parties on the train. Imagine all the intoxicated wedding-goers having a safe option for commuting.

Imagine none of this happening if the rails are removed.

It won’t happen tomorrow, next year, or 50 years from now. Because once the rails are ripped up they will never be re-built.

Thank you to George Bain and Ken Anello, Co-Chairman of UDRR Corp for these numbers I used for these beautiful shareable MEMEs!.

“The real problem would be the permits,” says George Bain of the UDRR Corp. “A railroad does not need a permit to maintain or repair itself unless it involves the waterways nearby. [Re]building a railroad would require permits and planning that would take decades.”

Another issue holding up all we can imagine for the rails (for example Rail Explorers) is the FEMA repairs Ulster County has yet to make after the severe flood damage between Shandaken and Phoenicia that Irene left in her wake.

I’m sure Thomas Cornell, the businessman responsible for the commencing of Rondout and Oswego original railroad construction in 1866  is restless in his grave. As are the many men who sacrificed blood, sweat, tears and even their lives to build these rails only 150 years ago.

The rails connect to the past while they serve the present, and can connect to the future. -Larry Roth, UDRRCorp

Should the rails be ripped up, I will have to tell my daughter, who was blessed with the travel bug and an adoration of trains like her mother, that the rails going through her town may not be there one day. That the precedent being set by removal of this seemingly unimportant set of tracks is that rail travel will soon be obsolete. That maybe when she, or her own daughter, is 21, soul-searching and forced by her inherited wanderlust to travel West, she won’t be able to cross this country on a train.

My daughter on CMRR’s ever popular Thomas the Train a few years ago.

Trains and sustainable tourism go hand-in-hand

Now to address the economical positives of keeping the rails in place, I mention my personal favorite: sustainable tourism. This article ’38 Reasons To Save The Rails’ is much more detailed than these few paragraphs, and compiled by experts, so please be sure to click on the link and read.

Even with only heritage rail companies running on sections of the Ulster and Delaware corridor, the amount of money being brought to these towns served is indisputable. Here are CMRR numbers for their last full season, 2015.

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Remember the traffic jam in Arkville, Delaware County the October weekend the Viscose steam engine came to DURR?(pictured at top of this article)

If you are reading this and don’t know where Arkville is, well, that’s my point. There are small towns all up and down the state funded Scenic Byway (Rt. 28)  where regular, working people live. People who own shops, cafes, real hotels, etc., that would only benefit from a train delivering hundreds of potential customers to their doorstep. Folks that never see the tourist dollars spent in Kingston.

This is what I mean about economy.

This is what I mean about making a difference locally. It really is not that complicated.

So you can’t damn the floods, or put out the fires, or fix a Texan’s home. But you can vote for rail/trail supporting legislators. You can attend a rally and make some noise. You can even contribute to the cause by actually buying a ticket for one of the train excursions still offered, and encouraging your friends to do the same.

By the way, The Polar Express is back!  Thanks to a temporary permit procured by CMRR for short excursions out of Kingston that began this fall. That’s a mere 25,000 person guaranteed increase in ridership during the months of November and December.

To take a train ride in Ulster County, click here.
To take a train ride in Delaware County, click here.

If you are so inclined, you can even reach deeper into your pockets and show a little love for the big undertaking that is my first documentary: Disappearing Rails. A short film to raise awareness about the importance of of keeping Upstate New York heritage rails in place for our economy and future generations.

Filming for this documentary, the brain child of Ben Rounds, local musician and major proponent of the railroad, begins this Sunday October 22 during his Whistle Stop Tour. We hope to include footage form this tour along with original Ben Rounds music to produce a small teaser of the film before year’s end. But time is of the essence, and so is money!

The reporter in me will make sure the film addresses both sides of the issues. Historians will be interviewed, along with rail/trail activists and trail-only supporters. Politicians will be given an opportunity for an on-camera interview. If they decline, that will be documented as well.

And if the rails are ripped up during production, well, it will be on film. For all the world, or at least the State of New York, to see, and to know, who is responsible. I am not being dramatic here, Ulster County’s opening of bids to remove rails was slated for October 12 and has been moved to October 19.

IMG_3307

If you would like to show your immediate support for the rails, here are details of the Whistle Stop Tour. Show up! At one, or all stops. Your presence will make a difference.

Whistle Stop FINAL simple

If you are more of a behind the scenes supporter, or a business owner directly affected by the fate of the rails, consider being a sponsor. Ben and I are funding the teaser on our own, but the film itself is going cost too much money without outside contributions.

All sponsors will receive thanks plastered throughout our promotional campaign and spending will be transparent in readily available reports.

And don’t forget the contribution to the Karma Jar. 🙂

What is written here is just the tip of the iceberg. If you really want to educate yourself about the possibilities in store as long as the rails are kept in place, please go to:

http://udrrcorp.com/wordpress/about

http://www.udrrhs.org/html/udhistory.html

http://savetherails.org/wordpress/

Chasing trains

Catskill Mountains, trains, Travel

Steam and Diesel locomotives side by side DURR

I was a virgin train chaser until this weekend. Now I am an addict.

It is not every day a steam locomotive and diesel engine share the same track in a small upstate New York hamlet.  Train chasers travel all over the country to capture a shot like this. I needed only to drive down to the bottom of my hill.

If you are not a rail fan, you most likely will not understand the adrenaline rush and pure joy that comes from chasing trains.  No, I am not talking about traveling along a stretch of highway parallel to the rails, speeding up or slowing down to stay in synch with the train. This is dangerous.

The safer form of chasing trains entails researching and choosing a train you wish to photograph, mapping out strategic stops for photography ahead of time, and following the train from its departure station to its arrival station and back.

I was a virgin train chaser until this weekend. Now I am an addict.

It all began while location-scouting for an upcoming documentary project (about trains, of course.) I got wind that the local tourist train, Delaware and Ulster Railroad, had rented a steam engine this weekend for a “Haunts of Rip Van Winkle abbreviated rail tour. The steamer would come to my town, “turn around” and head back to the station.

Twice this weekend, overlapping departure times of the usual 116 diesel pulling the silver liners  all the way to Roxbury, NY from Arkville, NY caused these two historic locomotives to pass each other like two ships in the night.

Above is the money shot, a still taken from the video footage I captured of the event.

But true passion is never satiated, and I was not going to head back up the hill to my house. I rushed out to Rt. 30 (adhering to speed limits, of course) and hurried up and waited until the steamer rounded the curve with the Round Barn as its backdrop.

Running back to where my car was parked, across the tracks and across the road, I worked off the morning’s pancakes.

My next stop was at Kelly’s corners, and I kneeled down, prayer like, camera resting on the guardrail, and snapped shot after shot of the steamer crossing the bridge over the East Branch.

By the time I got to the parking lot at my last stop, the motley crew of chasers I had inadvertently joined had grown. A friend I wasn’t expecting to see was there. We hugged. The sun was shining. The whistle floated towards our ears, the scent of coal teased at our nostrils, we all took our places. We waited.

The wait climaxed into 10 or 15 seconds of the train’s approach, sun on her nose, brakes screeching, steam filling the cloudless sky, and following her cars with my lens.

Most of my footage from today is being kept under wraps for the above mentioned project. I really can’t wait to share it with the world. The world of rail fans that is!