What's new
What's new

Catskill Mountain Railroad


Thank you for taking the time and interest to try to 'save the rails". A LOT has transpired since this thread was started a few years back. Namely:

-we ultimately lost 12 miles of track to the rail trail.
-we increased our operation out of Kingston, NY and are running trains from Kingston west, and have actually regained use of some of the track that was
not in the new agreement with the county.
-we are trying to increase our operating track to run from Kingston to the "Glenford Dike", which is the eastern head of the rail trail.
-business, despite the pandemic and all else, is quite good
-the county exec who was hell bent on killing the Catskill Mountain RR was called up to Albany (NY State capital) by then-governor, Andrew Cuomo as payback
for delivering the votes, and it was Cuomo who pushed the county exec to have a 'signature project' so he (the exec) could be advanced politically. This 'signature
project' was the rail trail. Cuomo got his, and resigned in disgrace (good riddance, long overdue), and the former county exec was found to be incompetent and doing
nothing in his new position in state government. The result is the lieutenant governor (who took over when Cuomo left office) fired the former county exec. Every
dog has his day.
-we have a much more favorable political climate with the Ulster County legislature, albeit the same people who tried to kill the Catskill Mountain RR are still hard at
it. They lost a lot of traction, and we can muster a super-majority in the legislature to override vetos by the new county exec (who seems to be in the spell of
trails people).
-we are making money, drawing business to the local businesses, and seemingly in a much better place than we were when 'Save the Rails" was active.
-I resigned from the board of directors of Catskill Mtn RR a good few years ago as the politics at the county and state level were eating me alive and affecting my
family and work. I am kind of a peripheral member, mainly on tap for engineering work. The whole flavor of the RR has changed from a club of good old boys (and
girls) struggling to keep our railroad alive and working with next to no budget. We became a 'going business' and the old 'club' atmosphere is gone. I do not
know most of the new crop of employees (yes, we are paying people to work on our railroad) and volunteers (yes, we still rely on them as well). I am mostly out of
touch with the Catskill Mtn RR, so this response is something of an overview.
-we lost the operating rights over the trackage at the western (Phoenicia) end of the line. This portion of the track is now leased to "Rail Explorers", a separate
entity which has these pedal/battery powered track cars. They are doing a very healthy business, with countless people paying hefty fees to ride on what
amounts to a go-kart, pedal powered with battery/motor backup. We see these city types in their fancy sports clothes pedalling and taking selfies, or the
overweight ones using the battery power feature on the track cars. These people ride the pedal track cars rain or shine, seem to invariably be seen taking
selfies, and no shortage of them. The cost to pedal a track car is a lot more than we ever charged for a train ride. Meanwhile, that portion of the line's track is
continuing to deteriorate without real maintenance, since the pedal track cars put next to no load on the rails/roadbed. If we were to regain operating rights
on that portion of the line, we'd have to put a few hundred thousand dollars into bringing the track back to condition to run trains over it. Most of the ties are
rotted (we used re-lay ties back when we did maintain that portion of the line), the ballast has settled or washed out in places, so there is no way a locomotive
and train could safely make it over that track.
-the good news is that the trail people seem to love the pedal track car people, so that portion of the track seems safe from being taken for more rail trail.
-with the Covid pandemic, the already-changing demographics of our region really went into an accelerated change. We are seeing massive influx of 'covid refugees'
in the form of people from NY City and its environs who are buying up everything and anything in the way of real estate. Some move up and work on-line. Some
declare residency up our way, but turn properties into Air B and B's. Either way, these are well-heeled ultra liberals who are convinced any sort of industry,
mechanization, hunting, logging, and anything that went on around here before their arrival is bad news. They are making it increasingly complex and difficult
to do building projects and much else. Real estate prices went into the stratosphere. These people elect the ultra-left candidates who are against the railroad and
much else that pre-existed their arrival here. At the same time, they tool around in their Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Porsche Cayenne's, BMW and Mercedes SUV's and drive like maniacs and jam the roads. It's not the small town environment with sense of community we knew when we first came here over 30 years ago.
-Tubing the Esopus Creek used to be the main recreational activity in summers, and the Village of Phoenicia was filled with 'tubers'. That is also history, no more
tube rental companies as the last of them (and the stalwart/founder of the tubing industry here), Town Tinker Tube Rental, has retired. The new breed of
people vacationing or owning homes here shows no interest in resuming the tubing. SOme kayaking is about it for water sports in the Esopus.
-It's just a different world, and it changed fast. I am hammering our railroad's president to start burning veggie diesel in the locomotives and 'out green' the 'greenies'. Who knows ? Now that the railroad is run as a real business, maybe it's time to have a VP of Sustainability, and hype the notion of burning veggie diesel (recycled
cooking oils). This will take the wind out of the windbags who claim the railroad is exposing the world to deadly diesel fumes.
Joe -

Glad for the update and more power to you. I'm sure glad we are just enough further west that so far we have not seen the impact of the 'city refugees'. Town I live in (and most of this county) still has no zoning. I can just imagine the improvements that would be proposed if we were to be invaded.

Keep up the good fight.

A lot of time has passed since this thread was started. I do not know how many years, but a lot has happened during that time. Notably:

The politics with the rail trail debacle was taking too much out of me and affecting my family. The rail trail had the (then) NYS Governor, Andrew Cuomo, behind it, along with plenty of well-heeled special interest groups. I knew I had fought it as long as I could, and knew the Catskill Mountain RR would survive in some form or other.

I had lined the railroad up with a firm of attorneys in Albany, NY, the state capital. They succeeded in getting an injunction to let us keep what was left of our 25 year lease in place, and stalled the rail trail for a couple of years. The attorneys also succeeded in keeping a major chunk of the RR. The legal bills ran over $600,000.00. CMRR had never had that kind of money. Our new president is a civil engineer and Harvard MBA who knows how to maneuver in this sort of thing. He grew the railroad in one season from a sleepy little club-like operation to a business and CMRR grossed over $1 million that first season with him at the helm. Legal bills paid in full. Ulster County had to retain outside counsel from down in Westchester County (high rent district), no telling what their legal bills were. We had won a victory.

I resigned from CMRR's Board, knowing the railroad would survive and was in good hands. Meanwhile, the County Exec who had been one of the driving forces behind the rail trail, was given an appointment in NY State Government by Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo had to resign due to his own misconduct. The lieutenant governor, Kathy Hochul, took over. She discovered the former Ulster County Exec was not doing his fancy job, and fired his ass. Every dog has his day, but the damage to the railroad was done.

The new county exec was a bit more favorable to the railroad, but the rail trail people and special interest groups soon turned him around on that issue. Meanwhile, the county legislature built a solid majority in support of the railroad, and things have been looking a bit brighter.

Along the way, the County decided to split the remaining trackage into two separate entities with two separate leases. The rail trail people pushed hard and got "Rail Explorers", an outfit which charges about 40 to 60 bucks a head for people to sit on what look like go-karts. The patrons of this pedal along the tracks at the western portion, between Phoenicia and Cold Brook. There is a descending grade in one direction, so people do appear to be pedalling. The ascending direction, while not steep, is too much for most of the customers. The result is Rail Explorers had to equip their 'pedal track cars' with batteries and motor drives. We see city slickers riding these pedal track cars, mostly on the battery motor, taking selfies. Apparently, Rail Explorers has reached a market that has no shortage of customers willing to pay 40-60 bucks a pop (the cost per head is determined by how many people take one pedal track car, some are 2 seaters, some 4 seaters, and I believe some 6 seaters). They are doing little to no track maintenance up at their end of the line, just keeping up with brush cutting. The track up at that portion of the line has deteriorated to the point where it would take a major expenditure to replace a LOT of ties and bring the ballast roadbed back up to grade. The pedal track cars are so light that the deteriorated track is not an issue (yet).

At the Kingston end of the line, CMRR is running trains with great success. Often, trains are sold out. This past Christmas, they ran Polar Express for the first time in a good few years. The trains run up the line west out of Kingston, ending somewhere near where Route 28A crosses the track. There is another mile or so of track that is in limbo. It runs to the Glenford Dike and the eastern trailhead of the new rail trail. CMRR is trying to get rights to rebuild and run over this remaining track. There is real estate at the Glenford Dike trailhead area where there was once a run-around siding, water crane and station. CMRR has proposed building a new station with a dual purpose, serving the trailhead as well as the railroad. They have also proposed hauling bicycles and riders up out of Kingston to the trailhead. Whether this idea progresses beyond a few architectural renderings and business studies remains to be seen.

The railroad has a large number of volunteers and paid employees, most of whom have come on board since I retired from the railroad. It is a different crowd, not the group I ran with and worked with when the railroad was a hardscrabble outfit with next to no money. We started with equipment that was one shade from junk (or junk) and used more junk to salvage parts and materials to build up maintenance of way equipment , locomotives and rolling stock. Things have come a long way, and the railroad now hires contractors to come in with state of the art maintenance of way equipment. The days of our using a worn out Deere backhoe, picks, bars, track jacks and spike mauls are old history.

I have no idea who the new ridership base is. I retired from the NY Power Authority in 2013, and promptly got busy doing consulting engineering work as well some welding inspection and machine shop work. Work found me. Catskill Mountain RR stays in touch and will occasionally ask me about engineering matters. I see cylinder heads from the ALCO 539 series engine in the RS-1 (ex Green Mountain RR number 401) show up in my buddy's machine shop for rework. I sweated and strained thru a few cylinder head jobs on the 539 series engines on the S-1 ALCO up in Phoenicia as well as the RS-1 down in Kingston. I have no desire to work on another Alco cylinder head job. CMRR has no shop, not even a secure railroad yard as the County took that for a linear park in Kingston. Working on a cylinder head job alongside a locomotive on track accessable to the public and out in the weather is something I did once too often. They are running the RS-1 and a GE center cab locomotive down in Kingston, pulling trains often run as 'theme trains'. It's where the money is in this sort of railroad operation. The era of retired railroad men and people who would show up and remember a relative who'd worked on the railroad, or how a train passed their home daily, is long gone. The word is the era of "nostalgia" is over, and surviving tourist railroads need to be 'in the entertainment business'. That is not something I care to be a part of.

As some members of this 'board know, I had a bout with cancer in 2021. Thank God, I am at full strength and full activity levels and then some. However, the cancer episode has caused me to realize that I got either additional time or a new life (depending on how a person looks at this sort of thing). It made me realize that every moment I have left in this life is a blessing, and must be used wisely. I knew I'd made the right move retiring from the railroad some few years prior to the cancer episode. A new generation has the railroad now. I've got the same work and activities I always had prior to the cancer. I do mechanical engineering for steam locomotive boiler work, which is what my real "meat and potatoes" always was. Getting embroiled in politics and legal battles, wondering if worn out equipment would get us thru another season, and similar is a good thing to have put behind me. I devote time to my family, to our congregation, to Hanford Mills, to jobs I know I can finish, and jobs that are just plain fun to be doing. CMRR survives, and whether they ever get back up to running out of Phoenicia is very unlikely. The president, with his MBA, has said the operating revenues and overall business model running just the Eastern section (out of Kingston) are so much better than the Phoenicia end, that it simply does not make fiscal sense to try to regain that portion of the line. That was the portion of the trackage where I was most at home and where we started the CMRR. It was a different time, and it's done with. Running trains to celebrate things like the Great Pumpkin or the Easter Bunny is just not something I have any enthusiasm for. But, it does bring in a nice revenue stream. New generation, new ways of running the railroad.
Does this railroad connect with any other tracks. Very hard to shut down an interstate railroad. I doubt the ICC prefers to force a going railroad to shut down. Any chance of hauling some military cargo?
BilL D
Unfortunately, CMRR did not opt for "common carrier" status when they first leased the trackage some 30+ years ago. There was a connecting switch to the (then) PennCentral yard tracks in Kingston, NY. Due to a lack of interchange use, this switch was removed quite some years ago. To add to the matter, Ulster County, with their rail trail, owning the trackage up to the removed switch, took up the rails. A 'linear park' and walking trail now occupy that land.

No chance of hauling military cargo, and when we tried to line up freight customers (while the track was still in place), we were unsuccessful. One possible customer wanted to setup an intermodal transfer station for carloads of building lumber. This would have been in Kingston, given an economic boost, but the County was in the grip of the trail advocates and very much against industrial/railroad development.

Meanwhile, our position with the County has taken a remarkable turn for the better and we stand in good stead with them. The 'trailheads' and 'greenies' and other lefties are all lined up complaining about diesel exhaust. An Alco RS-1 locomotive does lay down some smoke when started from cold in winter or even in warm weather, and can lay down a smoke screen with load changes on the engine. We commtted CMRR to reducing diesel exhaust emissions and cleaning up our stacks. To do this, I have found a local source of bulk biodiesel. This is a NY State based industry. Soybeans are grown as a feed crop out in the Western part of NYS. These are ground and pressed to make cattle feed. The soybean oil which comes off in the pressing is loaded into tankers and brought downstate to a locally owned biodiesel plant. Can't get better than that. Aside from the move to biodiesel, I am designing preheat systems for the coolant in the locomotives. One design I favor uses nothing more than a home heating boiler and circulator pump, mounted up in the nose of the RS-1 locomotive. The oil burner gun can burn the same biodiesel. Otherwise, it would require something like an 11 Kw electric coolant heater (Kim Hotstart makes an engine preheater for this size diesel engine).

I had resigned from the CMRR Board of Directors and retired from CMRR a few years back. However, my buddies at CMRR got me off the bench as something of a consulting engineer. I get involved with some of the repair and retrofit work, do a bit of machinist's work, engineering, but am otherwise 'retired'. It's a nice place to be at, and we seem to have a good crew of young volunteers willing to do the heavy and dirty jobs as well as to learn in the process. With our move to biodiesel and 'going green', we are going to beat the County and the trailheads and greenies at their own game. Those groups talk it up, make policy, but can't get off dead center as far as actually switching County vehicles, equipment, and building heating systems to biofuel. CMRR is actually doing it, rather than talking and planning.
Our local switching railroad converted their diesel switchers to a more modern setup. They yanked out one giant engine and replaced it with three caterpillar? engine generator sets. For empty I believe they run on one engine , two engines for light loads and three or engines for heavy loads.
I bet the state, and greenies, would pay you to convert to electric locomotives.but keep steam for special occasions. Can you say GG2? They can rebuild the connecting tracks to get the new electric locomotives in as well.
Bill D
Photo at top of website is local engine. is it a 70 tonner?
Last edited:
Our local switching railroad converted their diesel switchers to a more modern setup. They yanked out one giant engine and replaced it with three caterpillar? engine generator sets. For empty I believe they run on one engine , two engines for light loads and three or engines for heavy loads.
I bet the state, and greenies, would pay you to convert to electric locomotives.but keep steam for special occasions. Can you say GG2? They can rebuild the connecting tracks to get the new electric locomotives in as well.
Bill D
Photo at top of website is local engine. is it a 70 tonner?
You just don't get it. These people are not going to pay to ride behind a POS genset locomotive that a class one railroad dumped because it is a POS. Riding behind an eighty year old ALCO has some mystique and history. Riding behind a crap that flopped right out of the gate won't quite have that.
Electric? What are you smoking? To electrify that line (or any other) costs MILLIONS per mile. You would need a very profitable train every 30 minutes to break even, not two carloads of tourists viewing the foliage twice a day.
Steam? I don't think they have one but if so it requires basically a disassembly and inspection of every rivet every 1472 days of operation. Special occasions won't feed that bulldog.
The genset loco in the Railpower website is not rated in tons. It is rated by horsepower which is fallacious since the horsepower is not available all the time.
Remember this shit never ends. Those gensets were sold for use in the Peoples Republic of California. They now have 9 years left to convert everything to electric. Not even remotely possible.

You are correct: the public loves our old Alco RS-1. It has its own sound. We also have a GE 50 ton center cab locomotive in service. This is a 1943 loco, and has side-rod connected drive wheels on the trucks. People enjoy seeing those siderods in motion.

I am well familiar with what it takes to put a steam locomotive into operation, let alone in compliance with the US Federal RR Administration. I have done the engineering on well over 24 steam locomotive boilers in terms of calculations to determine maximum allowable working pressure based on ultrasonic thickness gauging and hard measurements, as well as design and calculations for numerous alterations and repairs to those boilers. As much as I love steam power, I am realistic enough to know CMRR really could not support running its own steam locomotive.

I joke that we ought to get a smaller geared locomotive like a Shay or Climax, fire it on wood, and call it a renewable green fuel. In truth, my buddy does own a Davenport 0-4-0 saddle tanker, standard gauge, weighing maybe 20 tons. It's a cute little "lokey". Early history of it is unknown, but for many years, it worked at a wood charcoal/wood chemical plant in Pennsylvania and was patched together until about 1972. It got a new boiler (rivetted construction) in 1948. My buddy has this lokey in pieces on his property, wanting to convert it to an 0-4-4, on the lines of a Forney locomotive. I am not holding my breath for starting work on this project, but I suppose even 'senior citizens' ( I am 73, he is 82) should not stop dreaming and doing. When CMRR does run steam, it is done by hiring Scott Symans and his "Viscose Number 6", a tank engine that is trucked in on Scott's lowboy. That little tank engine is kept in great shape by Scott, water chemistry is kept up, and aside from the rental, we only need to get a load of coal and a source of water on hand.The little tank engine draws crowds.

CMRR's big money maker is "Polar Express". It is a whole production, licensing fees, contract requiring a certain amount of branded merchandise be taken on for sale at the events, and a theatrical production. I am plainly happy to be uninvolved as being a part of what amounts to a rolling theme park is not for me. Something over 35,000 people rode CMRR's 'Polar Express'. Drawn by an Alco RS-1 diesel, using ex Long Island Railroad P-72 commuter coaches, the bulk of the trains were sold out, full to capacity.

There is some talk in the long range plans for CMRR to convert some of the diesel locomotives to hybrid power. I think this is out in the distant future, and will likely take a non-running RS-1 Alco carbody and frame for that purpose. Keeping an RS-1 with original 539 engine thumping away, albeit fueled on biodiesel, seems the easiest and best course of action. The 539 series is a solid engine, designed in May of 1939, hence the designation. Totally different sound than an EMD, and certainly a whole lot nicer sound than a modern high speed diesel like 'Cat or Cummins.
I wonder what the federal rr rules are for a steam locomotive with a compressed air tank and no boiler would be like. Most of the public would not know the difference.
Bill D

Last edited:
Compressed air dont take you far .......maybe 100yds for a loco .........there were locos that used high pressure steam in a storage tank (fireless) ,but for that you need a factory with HP steam on tap to fill the tank
compressed air engine has a VERY limited range. They were mostly used in hazardous environments like ammunition plants. They cannot travel far enough for the CMRR service without a recharge of the air reservoir. This is at air pressures of 500 psi or so.
I remember my dad made a steam tank engine. I never saw fire in it. We ran it on compressed air maybe once or twice around a 10' diameter circle track per charge. Should have had a tank car attached with a scuba tank and regulator.
My brother ha d model railroad tank car labeled liquid Hydrazine rocket fuel. I bet that would make a locomotive go. Of course the fumes would kill everyone downwind for miles until it blew up and killed any upwind still breathing.
Bill D
The US Federal Railroad Administration has regulations for locomotives, rolling stock and track. The largest sector coming under FRA rules are the revenue railroads (CSX, Union Pacific, etc), followed by short line operators (freight), and somewhere down the ladder come the 'tourist' railroads, historic railroads, and similar. I believe that if track is 'interconnected' to mainline railroads, or passengers are carried, the railroad operation comes under FRA regulations. I know the Catskill Mountain RR is no longer interconnected with CSX, and the track is landlocked, as is the Ulster & Delaware RR up the line from CMRR. Both of these railroads operate tourist trains and theme trains on a seasonal basis. Both of these railroads come under FRA regulations, inspections, and train crews must pass exams per FRA.

My reason for stating the above is that any locomotive in the USA hauling passengers for fares paid likely comes under FRA. A fireless locomotive, or a compressed air storage locomotive, if hauling fare-paying passengers, would likely come under FRA.

On the subject of compressed air locomotives: in the late 19th century, Mannesmann, in Germany, developed compressed air storage traction. I use the word 'traction' because Mannesmann applied it to streetcars (trams). Mannesmann used heavy-wall air receivers under the floor of the streetcar to store very high pressure (for those times) compressed air. A coil of air pipe ran thru a heater to stop icing which would otherwise block the exhaust of the engine cylinders. I remember reading a brief summary of this many years ago. In the USA, compressed air storage locomotives were used in some underground mining operations. Possibly this was done in coal mines where methane was likely, or was done prior to electric mine motors coming into use.

As for the Catskill Mountain Railroad, CMRR got a DOT grant to pay for a locomotive meeting current exhaust emission standards. Just before the grant was formally announced, I located a local source of biodiesel called Netzero Fuels. Netzero is within 40 miles of CMRR. In the western part of NY State, large amounts of soybeans are grown for cattle feed. At the feed mills, the soybeans are ground and pressed. Soybean oil comes off during the pressing and is of no use to the feed mill. Netzero Fuels takes this soybean oil by the semi tanker load and converts it to biodiesel. In NYS, the new law requires all home heating fuel oil to have at least 5% biofuel oil blended. We are Netzero's first real diesel customer. I met with the owner of Netzero, and we set up a filling of the fuel tanks on the Alco RS-1 in Kingston. The Alco is running on a blend of biodiesel + remaining oil diesel. With topping up of the locomotive fuel tanks, this will wean the locomotive off oil diesel and onto biodiesel (99% blend, 1% oil; diesel for some taxation reason). I have designed preheaters for the fuel for winter operations, and we are adding an engine preheater and prelube pump. The preheater consists of a 150,000 btu home hydronic heating boiler with oil burner gun and circulator pump. The burner gun will be fired with the same biodiesel as the locomotive uses in its engine. As we head onto straight biodiesel we will begin adding treatment to provide lubricity in the biofuel. These old diesels were designed to run on high sulphur diesel oil. Sulphur provided some additional lubricity for the pumps and injectors. Bio diesel lacks this lubricity, so an additive is needed. Pure canola oil is sometimes used for this purpose.

I am also working on a bid spec for the new locomotive. This seems to be a new build on an EMD 1500 HP end cab hulk. Cummins has developed a 1500 HP 'power package' for repowering older locomotives. A V 16 Cummins engine drives a Kato AC generator. This AC is rectified to supply DC to the existing traction motors. I've been on a learning curve as I develop the bid spec. Cummins works with a few vendors who do the conversions of older EMD locomotives. The locomotives resulting from these repower/rebuilds are state of the art with more bells and whistles than we would ever need (being setup for multiple unit operation or remote control operation). I never imagined I'd be talking to 'real' vendors about buying a new locomotive for CMRR. Previously, CMRR ran with hand-me-down motive power, with the newest Alco locomotive dating to the early 1950's, and the GE center cab locomotive dating to 1943. Now we are talking about locomotives with microprocessor controlled functions, touch screen controls in the cab, and electronically controlled fuel injection and electronic engine governing instead of the Woodward UG 40.
It's a jump to "Star Wars' technology.
FYI: Monterey California railroad was shut down around 2000. No more army base traffic, no canneries, very little passenger use. Now you can rent a handcart and see the sites. My father joined the army in Monterey right before WW2 in Monterey for some reason not near Berkeley where he was living. When he was discharged the army gave him a train ticket back to Monterey. He got out in Oakland instead.
Bil lD