MICHAEL FALCO Publish Date: 09 November 2018
“Hey, Mike! Was that YOU attending the first-ever “Great Mountain Flyer” railroad event? I think I heard you were there!” Indeed, it was me along with an entire bus filled with railroad enthusiasts. Last Saturday the eagerly looked forward to event took place operating out of Kingston, NY. Kingston – for a historically good reason. Believe me when I tell you I learned a great deal of Hudson Valley railroad history last Saturday. We (collectively) gathered at 8:30 a.m. at the loading area for the increasingly popular Catskill Mountain Railroad. We were bused over portions where railroad tracks have been ripped out. Ripping out railroad tracks is a politically ‘salty’ topic in Ulster County as we would hear repeatedly over the course of our day.
Historically you would travel from Manhattan or from Albany with the mighty Hudson River as your starting travel point. Can you begin to imagine booking overnight accommodations on the boats slowly delivering you along the Hudson from Manhattan to Kingston? You could also book an overnight stay in Kingston so as to be fresh for the first train out the next day. For the tour I attended we begin at mile zero – Kingston Point. Here the great boats of the era unloaded volumes of passengers. Ultimate destination – for many the great Catskill Mountain Hotels.
The trolley system to Kingston Point is operating to this day – thanks to a hard-working group of dedicated volunteers. We would learn volunteers are involved in every painstaking mile of keeping the railroad operating (and now we’re back to the politically ‘salty’ topic of volunteers VS. Ulster County government.) The Kingston Trolley Museum is a delightful day-trip. How many realize a real-live trolley is operating here in the Hudson Valley? The trolley would have brought you from the Hudson River to the former Kingston Train Station. ALL ABOARD to the Catskill Mountains!
We took the trolley on what remains of those tracks, got back on our bus, and were driven past the site of the old train station and then got onboard The Catskill Mountain Railroad. It is fascinating how much money is currently pumped into Kingston’s economy out of tourists and rail enthusiasts enjoying The Catskill Mountain Railroad. What is wrong with a government that appears hell-bent on ripping out track? But I digress.
This historically would have been the start of a railroad journey all the way to Oneonta, NY. Over 100 miles of tracks. Rail enthusiasts (and they are legion) hope the ripped out tracks will one day be restored and a new generation will discover the (uninterrupted) rail-trails blazed in the 1800’s. In the day – a railroad siding left these tracks to take you, if you desired, to the hotels in the magnificent Hunter Mountain area. We went as far as we could on the current Catskill Mountain Railroad (dang that government) boarded our bus and were driven (for lack of continuous railroad tracks) to our next train ride.
What a beautiful series of classic railroad passenger cars awaited us! It’s the Ulster & Delaware Railroad. The train is waiting for you! This piece alone represents an extraordinary day-trip. The programs that were handed out to each of us on this day features original artwork from the mid to late 1800’s “Ulster & Delaware Railroad – Only All Rail Route to the Catskill Mountains.” The train includes a real dining car, extensive kitchen (yes, you can opt to dine on this train, stairs leading up to an observation dome (talk about scenic views), handsomely upholstered lounge car (care to sip a cocktail while you travel?) and a car with another bar and full of tables – should you care to engage in a rousing card game. I suspect my future holds continued entertaining rides on this train!
Among so many items learned on this extensive journey: During the 1870’s efforts to build railroads through the Catskills began. At its peak, the river and rail connections saw thousands of visitors travel to the Catskills to an abundance of grand hotels. They provided the farms and industries of the region with a way to ship their goods to market. They were the backbone of the economy that saw the region bloom during their heyday. This first-ever Great Mountain Flyer Tour traces what remains of that era along 60 miles (you begin to realize why we didn’t get home till after dark) of what was the Ulster & Delaware Railroad corridor heading west to a present terminus at Roxbury, NY.
It was my honor to ride and to learn on this “Great Mountain Flyer Rail & Bus Tour.