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Catskill Mountain Railroad

Joe Michaels

Apr 3, 2004
Shandaken, NY, USA

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.


Nov 4, 2005
Upstate NY
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.