Facebook Page

The Catskill Railroad Trips 6/13/2015

by Chris Guenzler

Robin and I arrived at Mt. Tremper, picked up our tickets and went to the grade crossing on New York 28 where I met the railroad's flagman. Robin soon joined me and about fifteen minutes later, here came the Catskill Mountain Railroad Esopus Creek Scenic Train reversing down the track.

The train had a consist of Catskill Mountain 35 ton switcher 1 "The Duck" built by Davenport in 1942, coach 701, coach 702 and an open car.

Catskill Mountain Railroad History

In 2007 the railroad began track repairs in Kingston to fulfill the "ski lift" concept championed in the ALTA Engineering study for railroad operation from Kingston to West Hurley. The railroad worked hard to restore tracks in Kingston, with service opening to Washington Avenue in December 2008. In late 2009, the railroad opened more track west of Washington Avenue and offered additional seasonal service throughout that year. By December 2009, nearly two miles of track had been rebuilt in Kingston, from Cornell Street to the foot of Bridge C9.

For three years, the CMRR worked to complete the rehabilitation of Bridge C9 over Esopus Creek in Kingston. The bridge was opened for service on December 7, 2012, and allows for further expansion to the west, with Route 209 being the first destination. Route 209, MP 5.42, was reached on September 21, 2013, and Hurley Mountain Road, MP 5.94, was reached on November 16, 2014. The track is now open to MP 6.23 west of Hurley Mountain Road. The first passenger train to Route 209 ran on October 19, 2013 and the first to Hurley Mountain Road on November 21, 2014. Ultimately, this run will be extended to West Hurley to fulfill the ski lift concept envisioned in the Alta study.

West End Expansion

Through 2007 and 2008, work also continued on opening the 0.6 mile Cold Brook Extension. The first train arrived at Cold Brook Station on July 4, 2008; the first regularly scheduled passenger train to arrive at the station since 1954. Because Cold Brook station remains privately owned, the railroad maintains no agency there and there are no facilities to board or discharge passengers. In 2009, the CMRR repaired track another 0.8 miles to the Boiceville Bridge at MP 21.3 for work trains only.

By 2010, the physical limit of track restoration was reached on the "western" end of the operable railroad. To the west of Bridge Street in Phoenicia is a major washout preventing any serious restoration work beyond without sufficient outside funding. Volunteers have rebuilt tracks up to the limit of Bridge C30 (Boiceville Trestle), but Hurricane Irene washed away the entire trestle.

Work equipment and hi-rail trucks can traverse nearly the entire length of the railroad from Kingston to Phoenicia, however, and brush is cut and weeds are sprayed along the out-of-service segments regularly. The railroad has not relented in its efforts to negotiate for funding and other forms of assistance to rehabilitate Bridge C30, that would allow continued expansion east.

Hurricane Irene

On August 28, 2011, CMRR was devastated by the effects of flooding as a result of Hurricane Irene's attack. Flood waters inundated the yard at Phoenicia, scouring the right-of-way and threatening the depot. A significant washout occurred at Campground Curve similar to the situation encountered in 1987. All operating equipment had been moved to safe ground at Mt. Tremper, east of Campground Curve. Additional damage had been incurred where damage from a previous washout was already underway. In the non-operating segment east of Cold Brook station, the most significant damage was the loss of three of the four spans of Boiceville Trestle (Bridge C30) to rising flood waters. There was no significant damage to the restored trackage in the Kingston area.

The CMRR resumed operations on September 10, 2011 on a shortened length of track near Mount Tremper. The washout at Campground Curve was repaired in late 2011 except for reinstallation of track. Operations west of Mt. Tremper commenced on August 5, 2012. In November 2012, the County informed the CMRR that several repair projects had been approved by FEMA. The CMRR found out that seven projects, including restoration of the Boiceville Trestle, were approved for $2.3 million. However, the County has informed the CMRR that it will not release this funding until the CMRR agrees to terminate its lease from Kingston to the Ashokan Reservoir.

On August 3, 2013, the CMRR started reconstruction work of track on Campground Curve as part of returning to Phoenicia. This was done assuming that the County would never release the FEMA funding allotted for this repair.

On January 24, 2006, when the Kingston Daily Freeman announced "Trail Plan Could Mark End of Line for Railroad", trail advocates began promoting a plan to convert segments of the county-owned railroad corridor into a recreational path, which would permanently limit the length and location of the tourist excursions. ALTA Engineering was hired to devise a rail-with-trail plan for the line in Ulster County. The final report stated the following:

The future vision of the Ulster & Delaware Rail + Trail is a significant opportunity for local communities, Ulster County and the region. The combination of two historic tourist railroads, the trolley and railroad museums, restored historic sites, and a trail for multiple uses will complement the tourism and recreation economy of the Catskill Mountain Region. The project can become a model of sustainable transportation and cooperation between a wide range of public, private, and nonprofit partners."

On October 4, 2012, Ulster County Executive Michael P. Hein announced in his 2013 budget a plan to dismantle 32 miles of railroad in Ulster County to be replaced by a trail, leaving the Phoenicia-Cold Brook segment, and ending Kingston operations. He planned to start scrapping the railroad in 2013, using $642,000 in scrapping revenues to provide revenue for his budget. The budget was adopted by the Ulster County Legislature on December 4, 2012. The CMRR's lease, however, remains in effect until May 31, 2016. However, there is no reference to scrapping the railroad in the proposed 2014 Ulster County Budget.

Three days after the 2013 budget was approved, the CMRR opened Bridge C9 in Kingston for passenger train service, and began bringing passengers across the bridge for the first time in over 50 years.

On February 19, 2013, CMRR published a rail with trail study for MP 3 to 11 in response to a request from the County made on October 15, 2012. The rail with trail plan was rejected without review by the county on March 7, 2013.

On June 12, 2013, CMRR was served with a Notice to Cure. In a meeting with the Ulster County Executive, held on June 24, 2013, the CMRR was asked to vacate the line from Kingston to the Ashokan reservoir, and told that unless it complied its lease would be terminated on July 12. CMRR filed a Yellowstone Injunction on July 9 and was granted a TRO prohibiting the county from terminating the lease pending the outcome of a court decision on August 6. The Yellowstone Injunction was granted on November 6, 2013. Ulster County issued a notice of appeal on December 17, 2013.

On December 11, 2013, the outgoing New York City DEP commissioner announced a plan to support a trail along the U&D right of way from MP 10 to MP 21.6.

On December 8, 2014, the Ulster County Executive announced that at least two miles of tourist passenger train service would remain in Kingston, from the eastern end of Kingston Plaza, MP 3.6, to Hurley Mountain Road, MP 5.94.

Operations Phoenicia-Cold Brook

The CMRR operates a tourist excursion train from Phoenicia Railroad Station, Phoenicia, MP 27.5 to Cold Brook Railroad Station, MP 22.1. Its trains originate from the former U&D station in Phoenicia, which is also home to the Empire State Railway Museum. Passengers may board trains at Phoenicia or Mount Tremper Railroad Station, MP 25.2.

Initially, service was provided by track cars hauling trailers between Phoenicia and Mount Tremper. Realizing that the future lies in conventional railroad equipment hauled by locomotives, two flatcars were rebuilt as open air bench cars to accommodate passengers. A Porter 50-ton switcher was enlisted to haul the expanded consist. A 1922-vintage wooden caboose (former Delaware and Hudson 35952) often brought up the rear and offered additional capacity.

In early 2004 the caboose was taken out of service and replaced with a restored coach of Lackawanna heritage. This coach greatly increased the capacity of each train and also helped offer "all-weather" service. In late 2004, service was extended to MP 22.7. It was extended further to Cold Brook Station, MP 22.1, on July 4, 2008.

A second coach was put into service on October 2, 2010, just in time for the Fall Foliage trains. Work trains generally consist of transfer caboose 697 (former Conrail 18015) and "The Duck", a small Davenport switcher. Equipment restoration and maintenance takes place at the railroad's open-air facilities. The original Phoenicia section house is undergoing a multi-year restoration, and is used by the railroad to store tools and supplies for the track gang. CMRR work trains venture as far east as the Boiceville Trestle at MP 21.3, which will continue to be the eastern limit for Phoenicia operations until the trestle is replaced. On May 6, 2010, Phoenicia operations acquired a new locomotive, former LIRR/SIRY Alco S1 407, which was placed in service on May 7, 2010. It has been the workhorse engine for Phoenicia operations since the start of the 2010 season.

In 2011, construction of a new switch and siding began at MP 24.75, to park maintenance equipment and give the work train a place to alight. It was completed on May 25, 2012.

For the 2012 season, the train ran initially from Mt. Tremper west to MP 23.3 where subgrade repairs are necessary. On August 5, 2012, after repairs were made at MP 25.5, the passenger train began running west to the next damaged section at MP 25.8, one half mile west of Mt. Tremper, where repairs to the subgrade need to be completed. The line will gradually be reopened to Phoenicia and Cold Brook as repairs to damage from Hurricane Irene are completed.

Kingston-West Hurley

CMRR also has a yard in Kingston, referred to as "Cornell Street Yard". In 2009, a new siding was constructed to expand the yard facilities to allow for the storage and restoration of passenger cars for expanded tourist train operations.

Since November 2006, volunteers have re-opened track in Kingston. The current operable section stretches from Cornell Street (MP 3.0) to past Route 209 (MP 5.52).

On December 6, 2008, the railroad inaugurated seasonal tourist runs between Downs Street (MP 3.2) and Washington Avenue (MP 4.37). A small ticket office and loading platform was constructed off Westbrook Lane (MP 3.78) opposite Kingston Plaza to support passenger operations in 2008. Trains are powered by Alco RS-1 401 and consist of converted flatcar 278 and refurbished caboose 675). The critical Washington Avenue crossing was reopened for limited use in 2008 and the track was opened to Bridge C-9 (MP 5) on November 15, 2009. As of August 2009, the regular operating section was extended across Washington Avenue to the Holiday Inn (MP 4.6) (now Garden Plaza), and service was extended all the way to Bridge C-9 (MP 5) on December 5, 2009 for the 2009 Kingston Holiday Train.

Repairs to Bridge C9 started in September 2011 and were completed on December 3, 2012. The bridge was certified on December 7, 2012, and the first passenger train ran across the bridge on December 8. Track rehabilitation to the west of C9 is ongoing.

On September 21, 2013, CMRR workers completed track rehabilitation up to NYS Route 209 (MP 5.42). The next day, work began on the next extension past 209 to Hurley Mountain Road (MP 5.94). Rolling stock was removed from the west side of the crossing in order to continue expansion of the railroad west. Track is now open to MP 6.0.


CMRR's third base of operations is at MP 16.4 at Shokan, New York, at the site of the former Ashokan Railroad Station. Currently, the operating equipment there consists of a self-powered crane, flat car and an ex-Susquehanna caboose (privately owned). Shokan also serves as a base for the CMRR's track car crews, who are now charged with maintenance of the section of the line currently inaccessible to full-sized equipment from Route 209 at MP 5.4 to bridge C30 at MP 21.3. A main line switch is being installed in Shokan, part of a future run-around, so that the equipment stored at Shokan can be moved off the main line.

Long-term goals Kingston-Phoenicia

The CMRR's long term goal is to run tourist trains on the entire 25-mile run from Kingston to Phoenicia, which will include lengthy views of the scenic Ashokan Reservoir, and a stop at Ashokan Railroad Station. Track rehabilitation has until recently stopped at two bridges - Bridge C9 at MP 5 and Bridge C30 at MP 21.3.

With the recent restoration of Bridge C9 to service by the CMRR in late 2012, track restoration will be continued east up to West Hurley (MP 10.2) and beyond.

However, bridge C-30 (the "Boiceville Trestle") at MP 21.32 was washed away by Hurricane Irene on August 28, 2011. FEMA funding for its repair was approved in November 2012 but until that repair is completed, no more track expansion east can be done. When C30 is restored, track rehabilitation will continue to Shokan (MP 16.2) where a new terminal for the railroad will be built.

Washouts at Hurley Flats (MP 5.53) and Butternut Cove (MP 18.6) also need to be repaired before the Phoenicia operation can be linked with the Kingston operation. Nearly the entire line from Phoenicia to Kingston is navigable by track cars and light maintenance equipment.

West of Phoenicia

A major washout at Bridge C34 (MP 28.8) west of Phoenicia effectively severs the CMRR. Many washouts and landslides between this bridge and Shandaken (MP 33.5) need to be addressed before more damage occurs to the right-of-way. Bridge C42 over Lasher Road needs to be restored to its original location; it was removed and set aside after the end of Conrail service to allow for greater vertical clearances. Volunteer crews continue to cut brush and keep the tracks clear all the way to the connection with the DURR at Highmount.

The DURR has also expressed interest in resuming service between Arkville and Highmount, and continuing south/east over the CMRR through the horseshoe curve at Pine Hill; possibly all the way to Big Indian (MP 36.4). With the recent developments in regards to Hurricane Irene, restoration of any track between bridge C34 west of Phoenicia and Shandaken (MP 33.5) appears to be an ever more remote possibility.

Our Trip

The power for our trip, 35 ton switcher 1 "The Duck", ex. Illinois Railway Museum, exx. Matthews Company, exxx. United States Air Force 7563, nee United States Army 7563 in Fort Chaffey, Arkansas, built by Davenport in 1942.

Catskill Mountain S1 407, ex. Staten Island Rapid Transit 407, nee Long Island Rail Road S1 407, built by American Locomotive Company in 1946.

Catskill Mountain Esopus Scenic Train Trip

Robin and I boarded the open car.

My train ticket.

We left Mt. Tremper station and started our trip on the Catskill Mountain Railroad Esopus Scenic Train.

The railroad's sign out along US Highway 28.

The train was getting ready to cross US Highway 28.

Our flagman stopped the traffic on the eastbound lanes. No working crossing arm extends across the eastbound lanes but the westbound protection works fine.

We left Mt. Termper behind and headed into the forest.

US Highway 28 is left behind the train.

The forest canopy shades the train on our journey this afternoon.

Robin visits with our conductor.

Heading eastbound down this railroad.

At some grade crossings there are many vistas to see along US Highway 28.

A rural forest grade crossing protected by the crossbucks.

We came to Pennsylvania Railroad caboose 477672 on a siding.

Catskill Railroad 50 ton switcher 29 "The Goat", ex. United States Navy 65-00329, nee United States Navy Portsmouth Yard 8 built by Porter in 1942 and is out of service.

Leaving the caboose and switcher behind.

The sunshine peaks through to the tracks every so often.

The train crossed this little bridge on our route.

The tracks are straight and true in places on this railroad.

Esopus Creek can be seen in this view.

A family enjoying Esopus Creek this warm afternoon.

Someone must use this chair for fishing.

Our route is running above Esopus Creek.

But the trees block most viewing of Esopus Creek.

Robin and our conductor today.

Running by a rock outcropping.

Stone milepost K24.

Two views behind the train heading through the forest.

Rapids in Esopus Creek.

A peaceful trip through the woods on the Catskill Mountain Railroad.

The geology of the Catskill Mountains.

Our conductor keeps a watchful eye of our train.

We were closing in on our turnback spot.

This is our turnback spot at which time I went inside to ride in the coach back to Mt. Tremper.

The train returned to Mt. Tremper. A special thank you to the Catskill Mountain Railroad for having us here today. From here we drove back into Kingston and took a wrong turn but were rewarded with this below.

New York Central caboose 642, nee New York Central 19xxx built by the railroad and lettered as Ulster & Delaware to honor the heritage of the nearby railroad. We then drove to our next train ride of the trip.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!