PHOENICIA – A small fleet of motor-assisted, pedal-powered, railroad car contraptions at the Empire State Railway Museum in Phoenicia, were rolled out on Wednesday. The new recreational and tourist attraction brings 30 jobs plus thousands of potential tourists to the Hudson Valley.
New way to ride the rails in Ulster County
Ulster County Executive Mike Hein was on hand – and foot – to welcome the new business venture, named Rail Explorers. He was joined by county legislators and other local dignitaries, including Shandaken Town Supervisor Robert Stanley.
All took turns riding on the rolling four-seated buggies, which have the appearance of a go-cart on steel rims. Local residents and others cheered as the test pilots pulled out of the station, disappearing down the old Ulster & Delaware Railroad line.
Memorial Day weekend is sold-out with over 2,000 reservations are booked, noted company co-owner Mary Joy Lu. The eight-mile round trip costs $80 for two passengers or $150 for four.
The cars travel south from Phoenicia, towards Mount Pleasant, where train tracks cross Route 28. Riders have right-of-way but are advised to use extreme caution – and hand brakes – when crossing the highway. Each car has one designated brake operator – who must be over 18, and sober.
For the return trip, a small electric motor helps push the rigs back uphill against the slight 1.5 percent grade.
Hein said he had to learn what rail bikes were in the beginning. Now he said it is an exciting opportunity for families to get together and enjoy the great outdoors.
The attraction is “a game-changer” for the western part of the county, he said.
“We have seen at Hunter Mountain what zip-lining has done. It’s been transformative,” said Hein. “This is exactly that kind of change for our community, and I couldn’t be more excited. It’s not just a business. Like a pebble in a pond, there’s a ripple effect, for the entire community, and a place just like this Railway Museum.”
The Empire State Railway Museum, located on Lower High Street, a national historic landmark, was recently restored into a perfect replica of a turn-of-the-century train station, with a gift shop for tourist souvenirs, postcards, books, model trains, and more.
The train platform outside hosts the Rail Explorer attraction. A quaint hamlet with restaurants, B&Bs, river tube rentals, and an upstate opera, is within walking distance.
Ken Ronk, chairman of the Ulster County Legislature, said his family regularly takes their summer vacation in Phoenicia, and can’t wait to bring the kids.