Railroad advocates blow whistle on trail resolution

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Roth: “… the county may have gotten bad advice …”

KINGSTON – Members of the non-profit Ulster & Delaware Railroad Revitalization Corporation (UDRRC) opposed two resolutions pending in the Ulster County Legislature, up for vote tonight, funding over $17 million in trail development.
Resolutions 301 and 307 call for a combined $17.7 million in trail funding, which rail buffs believe fills a sudden loss in federal funding caused by recent court rulings. They hope to use the opportunity to push for railroad restoration along the old right-of-way.
A complicated 13-page news release distributed on Monday attempted to explain recent decisions by the Federal Surface Transportation Board, determining whether the U&D railroad is considered abandoned. The federal board ruled on June 19, that U&D became abandoned in 1977, and therefore ineligible for federal funding, railroad corporation advocates claimed.
Additionally, a separate case in State Supreme Court, in a July 9 ruling by Justice Julian Schreibman, denied further relief to the group, which attempted to stop removal of the rails.
The UDRRC supports railroad use for the entire 38.6-mile U&D corridor that runs from Kingston to High Mount. The County of Ulster, which owns the land, only allows an antique steam engine to operate for two miles in Kingston, named Catskill Mountain Railroad.
Controversy between railroad advocates, and hiking trail supporters, embroiled the Ulster County Legislature from 2011 until 2016, until a settlement was reached. CMRR since that time has been bound by a gag order and cannot speak with the media.
Primarily dedicated to exclusive hiking, biking, and equestrian use, the rail trail network now serves as the centerpiece for tourism efforts by the administration of Ulster County Executive Michael Hein. Uninterrupted connecting trails lead from Manhattan all the way up to Canada.
Larry Roth, a spokesman for the UDRRC group, called Railroad Law is an arcane subject.
“Even other lawyers find it impenetrable; it takes a lot of work to stay on top of it,” Roth said.  “We suspect that the county may have gotten bad advice at some point. It was never a possibility to get rail banking money, while pursuing abandonment.”  
The Surface Transportation Board, previously known as the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), formed in 1996, when President Bill Clinton disbanded the ICC. Common carriers, including railroads, were regulated by the ICC from 1886 to 1996.
Railroad companies, generally speaking, merged throughout the 20th Century, into the New York Central, then into the Penn Central, until going bankrupt in 1966. Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) was created by Congress in 1973, to pick up the pieces, for freight, under the Regional Rail Reorganization Act (3Rs). CSX and Norfolk Southern purchased Conrail in 1997. The heavily subsidized national passenger train service is called Amtrak.