The Catskill Mountain Rail Road (CMRR) was founded as a corporation (for the enhanced protections thus structure brings to railroads) in the early 1980s. This is no large corporation though. No one is being paid. The all volunteer staff leased the old New York Central railway tracks from Ulster County 27 years ago after the tracks were abandoned. CMRR is 27 years into a 30 year lease – a lease that both won’t be renewed in 2016 and will potentially be terminated within days due to political dirty tricks.
CMRR is currently running seasonal tourist trains on 2 sections of the tracks, in Kingston and Mt. Tremper. Tourist ridership on these trains is around 3000 riders per year and thus far is experience significant growth this year. The revenue from the trains goes to pay for continuous track work and maintaining the right of way. No taxpayer funds are required. In fact, the railroad pays a percentage of its revenue to the county to cover the lease and more. This lease has provided the county with several thousand dollars in revenue, and the county actually stands to make significant money off of the railroad over time. You read that correctly: Ulster County makes money off CMRR and doesn’t have to spend a dime of tax payer money in order to do so.
For some reason though, this win-win situation is no longer ideal in the eyes of some ulster county politicians. In early 2012, CMRR met with Ulster County “executive” Michael Hein. At the time he stated he fully supported the railway. A few months later he unexplainable turned against the railroad and announced plans to convert it to a trail. CMRR learned of this plan through the press – Hein’s administration never consulted with CMRR or had the guts to tell them about their plan to their face. Since then, Hein and his cronies have begun a smear campaign against the railroad, outright harassing them and straight out lying to the press.
Hein and his cronies have begun a smear campaign against the railroad, outright harassing them and straight out lying to the press.
These lies have included:
The RR has not maintained the tracks, in violation of the lease
False – volunteers have cut brush and fixed tracks to extend their rail rides. They also rehabilitated a bridge at a fraction of the cost that the county estimated.
True, some portions of the railroad are in bad shape – an entire bridge was washed away during Hurricane Irene – for which 2.3 Million dollars in FEMA funding was allocated and is currently being held hostage by ulster county officials. At some point if the FEMA money is not spend to repair the right of way, it all goes back to the Feds. In that case, everyone looses.
The railroad doesn’t have insurance.
False. This allegation has no basis in realty. The RR’s lawyers have repeatedly given the county proof of insurance.
A trail will bring more tourists. A study shows it will create 44 jobs.
False. The study was ‘conducted’ by a big money trail advocacy group. Other trails through NY state have not become large tourist draws. The study has no basis in reality.
The Poughkeepsie bridge walkway is often mentioned as a highly successful trail without the context of its extremely unique characteristics. It is like comparing NYC’s High line to the practically abandoned Willow Lake trail: one is in a trendy area and has a unique structure on a bridge – the other is in out of the way area with limited public transportation and no dedicated funding sources.
The addition of a trail to the Kingston area really doesn’t add any value in the long term, with no public transportation from NYC to Kingston, a trail will never have the draw that a uniqueness tourist railway has. It also adds a maintenance item to the county budget that taxpayers now have to pay for – instead of generating actual revenue off the train ride along with all of the riders that visit the area.
I conducted my own study of the recently ‘reopened’ Willow Lake Trail: On the weekend after it reopened, it drew a ‘crowd’ 15 visitors through the day (June 8, 2013). Economic impact to the area? $0. Jobs created? 0 (trail maintenance is handled by the NYC parks department, which has next to no funding to repair or maintain the trail).
Willow Lake trail was abandoned for 20+ years. A quick look at other area trails shows a complete lack of maintenance: the Hook Mountain / Nyack Beach train has been severed in half from damage from Hurricane Sandy, and the Jones Point trail near Iona Island slowly going back to nature.
Don’t get me wrong – I love trails. But New York State barely maintains the trails it has – why on earth should we be adding more? Who is going to fund their maintenance? That’s right: No one.
So why would you force a company maintaining county property for free, and returning money to the people via rent, out of business? To be replaced with… nothing?
Political Dirty Tricks
Thus far Michael Hein and his corrupt allies have played numerous dirty, dangerous, and downright illegal tricks on CMRR in recent weeks.
Parking a vehicle on train tracks is a violation of New York State law, and is a class D FELONY. Gallo seems to believe he is above the law though. He was recently caught on tape threatening a city worker with physical harm (making such threats is also a crime – aggravated harassment) Gallo has made it clear through his own secretly recorded words that he believes he can assault city employees. If this is how he treats employees, I would hate to be a citizen living under this criminal dictator. This man doesn’t deserve to be in office – he should be in jail – right now. (If a common citizen pulled either of these stunts, I have little doubt they would be arrested – why is Gallo still in office?)
If a common citizen pulled either of these stunts, I have little doubt they would be arrested – why is Gallo still in office?
Placing the dump truck on the tracks places Gallo in such fine company as Bridgett Dixon, a drunken resident of southwest Pennsylvania who parked her car on some train tracks because she was sick of hearing train horns. Dixon was arrested and charged with one felony count of causing or risking a catastrophe, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
Unfortunately, CMRR does not employ a police officer (as is permitted under federal law) who could be sent to arrest the mayor. Had Gallo pulled this stunt with the much larger railroad that runs through Kingston( CSX), you can bet CSX would have filed charges and perhaps arrested him with their own federally empowered law enforcement officers. His dump truck would potentially have been destroyed by a 432,000 pound locomotive and the tax payers would be stuck with the bill. Bullies like Gallo though only pick on little guys – and CMRR is very much a little guy.
2) Ulster co. Exec Michael Hein refuses to release FEMA money allocated towards the rebuilding of the railroad after severe damage caused by hurricane Irene. The only possible reason to not put this funding to use is a politically motivated desire to claim the railroad is in violation of the maintenance clause of the lease. He has stated to CMRR that they won’t release the funds unless CMRR agrees to leave Kingston – which is their largest growth market and base of operations.
3) And now Hein and his goons have mustered the NY State Dept of Labor against CMRR – stating that they are a corporation illegally abusing volunteer staff. If relying on willing volunteers is a bad thing, maybe Ulster County needs to ban volunteer fire departments too? You know – because heaven forbid someone VOLUNTEER to do ANYTHING these days.
For over 25 years this volunteer group has peacefully gone about the business of rebuilding the railroad. Minding their own business and assuming the quality of their work and the tourism and revenue they generate would be more than enough to keep their lease. Their work has resulted in a slowly thriving enterprise that generates revenue for the county at no taxpayer expense.
Unfortunately, it is 2013. In the years since CMRR signed their lease with Ulster County, a new breed of politician has come into power: they don’t give a damn about their constituents. New York State is now known for deep political corruption – from the state senators demanding mafia style kickbacks all the way down to small town mayors doing the same. On a national level, New York State is known for its knee-jerk ammunition clip ban (which basically outlawed all none-revolver guns) and NYC’s psychologically unstable mayor and his attempts to ban sodas, salt, and automobiles.
This all begs the question: who is really behind the all out war against this volunteer group?
The answer it seems are large money outsiders. The Rail to Trails Conservatory actively seeks to convert abandoned railroads into trials. This Washington DC based group of lobbyists has over 6 million dollars in backing – and likely the capability to drum up loads more for campaigns. It amounts to big outside money that can be promised to flip-flopping politicians like Michael Hein. CMRR may actually be a test case to remove an active railroad. If the well funded trail advocates win, it sets a scary president: all railroads operations on tracks they don’t directly own could be forced out of business, one by one across the country. The Adirondack Railway further upstate is finding itself under a similar attack – and they are a much more established tourism railway.
Meanwhile, tourist railways already account for significant tourism in many parts of the country. The stratsburg railway and Pennsylvania railroad museum represent major tourism draws to the Lancaster area.
Unfortunately for this nation’s small tourist railways, they have not yet organized their own Washington DC lobbyists to collect economic impact data and defend their right to exist. It seems insane that anyone has to employ DC lobbyists to defend their right to exist, but this is what we’re coming down to.
Kingston Pays the Price
Kingston could have developed similar attractions, given time to grow and good will from non-corrupt politicians. CMRR’s ridership and active track grows with every season. Their current equipment is already top notch, and they haven been expanding their fleet smartly (most recently with the acquisition of a former LIRR S2 locomotive (Made in NY) and coach). A potential longer term plan could include connecting to the nearby trolley museum. A true Hudson valley history trifecta could be achieved if the old Hutton Brick factory were to be converted to a privately held museum as well. CMRR went out of their way to produce a study showing that both a trail and the railroad can coexist and thrive. This study has of course been ignored by Hein & co.
A simple trail alone will not attract tourists or significant economic activity.
Building something grand takes time and effort. While volunteers are busy putting their blood sweat and tears into building a tourist attraction with their bare hands, our new breed of politicians rather spit on their efforts than help them out. For the likes of Hein and Gallo, it’s all about who will give them the most money – and not what will pay off in the long run. The America we all once knew and loved is being stolen from us by these selfish pricks, and sold to the highest bidder for their own personal gain.
With a little luck, the residents of Kingston and Ulster County will wake up and send these criminal politicians packing.
Update: Dec 2015.
Hein unfortunately won re-election, though Gallo lost rather hard. Meanwhile, CMRR is posting 2700 riders in a single weekend – largely visitors from outside Ulster county. They have already had record ridership this year. Hein apparently still wants to get rid of the railroad, destroying a proven, growing tourist attraction. Our tax dollars at work.