Misinformation Casts Doubts About Railroad Supporters’ True Goals – Setting the Record Straight

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 11, 2014

Misinformation Casts Doubts About Railroad Supporters’ True Goals:
Kingston Land Trust Rail Trail Committee Weighs In To Support Rail Trail Compromise

Kingston, NY – For more than two decades, a public debate about rails versus trails has played out on the County-owned corridor that was once home to the Ulster and Delaware Railroad. Over that time, a number of clarifying studies and reports have been released that have helped elevate the debate. On the other hand, a series of mis-statements and misrepresentations made recently by Ulster County Legislators Donaldson, Greene, Belfiglio and Wawro should be viewed by casual followers as a sign of their true intention – to maintain an unacceptable status-quo of neglect and underutilization on this valuable piece of public infrastructure.

“It was particularly disheartening to me that Legislator Donaldson, my own representative, is still insisting that the railroad should retain access to the section of tracks in Midtown,” said Tim Weidemann, co-chair of the Kingston Land Trust’s Rail Trail Committee. “That’s a backwards step and a non-starter from our group’s perspective, since the Catskill Mountain Railroad has committed verbally to moving out of Midtown and has no legitimate claim on that section,” Weidemann added, referring to the CMRR’s un-permitted occupancy of the rail yard in Midtown. “Residents and businesses in Kingston recognize that a tourist train can provide welcome visitor spending,” he adds, “but they also know that the trail is a critical part of our city’s broader redevelopment efforts, with tremendous economic and health-related benefits.”

The Rail Trail Committee has partnered with the City to develop the Kingston Greenline, a system of trails, complete streets and walkways that would serve as a hub for the County-wide rail trail network. The group has advocated an uptown trail plan that would convert the tracks to a rail trail that provides a non-motorized transportation route to Uptown and links Kingston to recreation opportunities along the Ashokan Reservoir and the O&W Rail Trail.

The group embraces the County Executive’s new plan, which accommodates continued tourist train service from Kingston Plaza to Hurley Mountain Road, while preserving the vital trail link. “The plan really goes to great lengths to find a workable trail and rail solution,” explains Andi Turco-Levin, Chair of the Kingston Land Trust’s Board of Directors and a member of its Rail Trail Committee. “But some people, Legislator Donaldson among them, are already twisting this proposal to downplay the challenges and extra cost it entails. To say that this compromise is proof that we can have both is simply misleading. The very reason the compromise involves only short stretches of rail-with-trail is because that sort of configuration is prohibitively expensive over any duration.”

In playing up their claim that a rail-with-trail all the way to the Ashokan Reservoir is feasible, Legislators Donaldson, Greene, Belfiglio and Wawro point to recent trail work completed near Kingston Point. The comparison is flawed on several levels though, according to Gregg Swanzey, Economic Development Director for the City of Kingston and co-chair, with Weidemann, of the Rail Trail Committee.

According to Swanzey: “First, there are no railroads running on those tracks. The tracks are leased and used by the Trolley Museum of New York, which runs six to nine streetcars per week during its nine-month season. According to federal regulations, streetcars are not subject to the same standards as trains when it comes to physical separation from pedestrian facilities.”

Regulatory requirements make rail-with-trail impossible on portions of the Ulster and Delaware corridor.

Federal regulations make rail-with-trail impossible on large portions of the Ulster and Delaware corridor, since pedestrian improvements next to active railroad tracks require setbacks.

Swanzey continues: “Second, the footpath being installed alongside the tracks is not designed to the standards required for a true shared-use pathway. It’s primarily intended for passengers of the trolley. As a result, it will not be open for bikes and will not be eligible for certain funding that could otherwise help with construction and maintenance.” Instead, according to plans for the Kingston Greenline, a primary route for bicycles and a more accessible route for pedestrians would be installed along North Street and Delaware Avenue to Kingston Point.

“The work being done at Kingston Point is simply not a rail-with-trail, and it would never be sufficient to provide users with the type of experience that’s envisioned on the trail from Midtown to the Ashokan Reservoir,” adds Swanzey. “That trail has to be universally accessible, so that visitors and residents of all abilities and ages can be encouraged to move freely between Midtown and Uptown and to take longer trips that connect our County’s beautiful rural rail trails.”

The factual errors and misleading photographs included in a recent press release from Legislators Donaldson, Greene, Belfiglio and Wawro serve to perpetuate a misunderstanding of basic trail design standards and regulations and reveal an apparent lack of familiarity with ongoing local trail projects. “The end result is confusion and disagreement on this important issue, where we should all be doing our homework to come to sound conclusions that move our community forward,” adds Weidemann.

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About the Kingston Land Trust and the Rail Trail Committee – The Kingston Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to the protection and preservation of open space, historic sites, wetlands, scenic areas, and forests in the City of Kingston and the surrounding region to include the Town of Ulster and the Town of Kingston. The Rail Trail Committee is dedicated to planning, development, utilization, and proper maintenance of rail trails and other non-motorized linkages in the City of Kingston. More information is available at kingstonlandtrust.org.

About the Kingston Greenline – The Kingston Greenline is a proposed system of trails, bikeways, promenades, paths and “complete streets” that provides residents and visitors with healthy, active, non-motorized ways to connect to the City’s vibrant commercial, cultural, historical and recreational assets and weaves together the County’s emerging trail network via an amenity-rich urban trail hub. More information is available at kingstonlandtrust.org/greenline or facebook.com/kingstonrailtrails.