Beacon’s Dormant Railroad May See New Life

MTA calls for proposals to develop abandoned line

By Michael Turton

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Metro-North Railroad have issued a “request for expressions of interest” for the development of the abandoned Beacon Line, 27.6 miles of track that run from the city to the Dutchess-Putnam county line.

The Beacon Line cuts through Fishkill at Route 9, then travels west past Glenham and through the heart of Beacon, where it closely parallels Fishkill Creek. It ends at the Metro-North line south of the Beacon station. The unused line offers scenic views of the creek, the Hudson Highlands and Mount Beacon, along with interesting glimpses of Beacon’s industrial past. The last train rode the line in 1993, and Metro-North purchased the railway in 1995.

The unused rail line cuts through the heart of Beacon. (Photo by M. Turton)
The unused rail line cuts through the heart of Beacon. (Photo by M. Turton)

The MTA says proposals should support economic development and public use, preserve the line for possible rail operations and generate revenue for Metro-North. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 18.

Beacon Mayor Randy Casale said he’d like to see the line used for a light-rail passenger service and recreation. “It would be a real boost to the economy,” he said, adding that developing the line for passenger service would also reduce the need to expand local roads.

The rail line offers scenic views of Mount Beacon and the Hudson Highlands. (Photo by M. Turton)
The rail line offers scenic views of Mount Beacon and the Hudson Highlands. (Photo by M. Turton)

Casale said he thinks light-rail and recreational uses can share the railroad right of way, and that ideally the Beacon Line could connect with the Dutchess Rail Trail that runs from Hopewell Junction to the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, and also to the Westchester County rail trail system.

Converting the Beacon Line to a rail trail would be in sync with a decades-long trend around the country. According to the Rails to Trails Conservancy, there are now 19,998 rail-trails in the U.S. covering 22,476 miles. New York State has 102 trails that total 1,034 miles. Another 62 ongoing projects will add 671 miles to the state total when complete.

The line winds its way from Fishkill to Beacon. (Photo by M. Turton)
The line winds its way from Fishkill to Beacon. (Photo by M. Turton)

Since 2012, funding has been available for rail trail and similar projects through the Transportation Alternatives program overseen by the Federal Highway Administration. In New York, these funds are distributed by the state Department of Transportation with grants ranging from $250,000 to $1.6 million.

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12 Responses to "Beacon’s Dormant Railroad May See New Life"

  1. Anthony Merante   October 23, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Many years ago, Conrail had no interest in the line and let it go to The Housatonic Scenic Railway for $50,000. When that outfit went belly up, Metro-North came in and bought it for millions.

    It is a true link from the Hudson River Valley to Brewster in the Harlem Valley, then on to Danbury, Conn., and on to New Haven, Conn., on the New Haven line. So it connects all three northern metro lines, and its potential is immeasurable. For those commuting to White Plains and elsewhere across the region, it has unlimited potential. Working at the Brewster shops years ago, we had to move broken-down equipment to Danbury, and had to do it at a speed-restricted 15 mph. But the line was there and not converted into something else.

  2. David A. Gianna   October 23, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    It turns out that the Beacon Line in fact runs all the way to Danbury, Conn., where it joins a freight line.

    Although not in regular use since 1993, several excursion trains have used the Beacon Line in the mid-to-late 1990s, as well as into the early 21st century. Some rare freight trains have used the line for things such as delivering a large transformer that would be difficult by truck. In fact, a heavy freight train detoured over the line when a derailment in Massachusetts blocked a line for days, sometime in the early 2000s. Getting the freight over Stormville Mountain proved to be difficult and inefficient, and was not repeated.

    Since then, a bridge somewhere in Putnam County was damaged and was never repaired, since any kind of train is extremely rare — and as a result the line has never been used again. The line could easily be used and could restored, but doing so would be very expensive. And as seen elsewhere in the Hudson Valley, the use of tracks by trains tends to conflict with the needs of the Rail Trail. Neither would be easy to accomplish simultaneously.

  3. Ken Kinlock   October 24, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    I have submitted a “Request For Expression Of Interest” to Metro-North/MTA. I have proposed a HYPERLOOP between Beacon and Southeast.

    It’s Elon Musk’s idea, but Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is trying to make this “pipe dream” a reality. Hyperloop is a new way to move people or things anywhere in the world quickly, safely, efficiently, on-demand and with minimal impact to the environment. The system uses electric propulsion to accelerate a passenger or cargo vehicle through a tube in a low-pressure environment. The autonomous vehicle levitates slightly above the track and glides at faster-than-airline speeds over long distances. We eliminate direct emissions, noise, delay, weather concerns and pilot error. It’s the next mode of transportation.

    It would fit in to Metro-North constraints for the line. Provide Metro-North with income for its investment in line and provide something useful for residents along Beacon Line. It will provide transportation from anywhere on the Beacon Line to Metro-North stations for rapid transit to NY City.

    I have worked with design for a Louisville to Chicago Hyperloop. Louisville is biggest American city with no Amtrak service.

  4. Pete Houskeeper   October 24, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    I did two excursions from Poughkeepsie to Beacon to the Danbury Rail Museum around 2003. Still have the flyers. Great roundtrip ride. Stopped in Hopewell, then up Pawling Mountain, through Brewster to Danbury. Flaggers were there at the main crossings like Route 9. I hope this line reactivates as a working railroad.

  5. Stephanie Fogarty   October 27, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I personally would like it to happen if it made a stop at Beacon Metro-North station and then East Main and Main at the dummy light. From there I could walk home instead of driving to the Beacon Station. It also would be nice to take the train to Danbury and New Haven, instead of driving there.

  6. Matthew Robinson   October 27, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I would love for the Beacon Line tracks to be used by someone! We could connect Fishkill and Beacon for cycling and walking, or Beacon to Hopewell to connect with the Duchess Rail Trail. I agree with Beacon Mayor Randy Casale’s vision in seeing the line used for a light-rail passenger service and recreation.

    I live on the Matteawan side of Beacon, which because of its intact brick row and Howland Cultural Center is a great place for visitors to arrive. They would be able to work their way back to the Hudson and the walk could be more of a loop. Once the greenway project is complete we can all enjoy going for a run on a safe path from the new Hudson Valley Brewery area to Long Dock.

    My wife and I were married at Kingston Point Park, where they run a vintage trolley back and forth for a small fee (tmny.org). It adds to the charm of the village and can be a mode of transport to the waterfront. In Beacon it makes even more sense because of the layout of our city. We do not always walk from our home to the waterfront area nor shop in that part of town because it can require a car. I love the idea of a constant running light rail with a clear posted schedule that we could use on weekends and weekday evenings.

  7. Levi Reavey   October 27, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    I have for a very long time wished to see this line converted into an extension of the existing rail trail. Beacon is fairly bike-friendly but realistically it’s not safe for families to be biking or jogging on the street. Would be excellent to be able to bike safely from Beacon to Fishkill to Hopewell to join up with the Dutchess rail trail. I’m a long time light-rail supporter and would not mind if a trolley shared the path somehow, but I’m not sure that would work out. This trail would provide more much needed green space for folks to get out and safely exercise on. I’m sympathetic to the commuters’ plight, but having an accessible bike trail to use sounds way more fun to me.

  8. Patty Villanova   October 28, 2016 at 9:19 am

    Once again, we see how enlightened the political leaders of Beacon are, notably Mayor Randy Casale. What a magnificent idea and one that will further enhance business, tourism and economic development in our area.

    Every time I read another article like this about the great things that are going on in Beacon I am very jealous as I compare that city to the benighted Village of Cold Spring. Unlike the people who run our Village, the politicians who run that city have figured out that it is to everyone’s benefit to encourage a vibrant Main Street and downtown area.

    Yes, Cold Spring is a small village, but there is so much more that could be done to boost our economic development by promoting tourism. It is very sad that Merandy & Co. are too arrogant and/or incompetent to take even the most basic initiatives and use the resources that are available including government funding from the various agencies that exist for these purposes.

    All you have to do is just look around to see where Cold Spring is headed. More vacant stores, businesses leaving, tourism discouraged at every turn, decaying infrastructure — the list goes on and on.

    Please note that there is a fine line between “shabby chic” and “shanty town.” The opportunities for growth that exist today may not be there tomorrow.

  9. Suzanne Ball   October 28, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    Bike rail … please!

  10. Carl Gutowski   November 2, 2016 at 9:08 am

    My concern with running trains there is the potential noise it will bring. As someone who regularly presents concerts at the Howland Cultural Center, the noise from traffic along Main Street is already a constant problem. The last thing we want to hear during the middle of a concert is a train whistle or the rumbling of an engine. There are also homes and hotels that would be affected by the noise.

    A bike/hike trail would be ideal since it would give a path for out-of-towners to get from Metro-North to the Dutchess Rail Trail. People regularly take Metro-North to Breakneck for hiking and to Poughkeepsie for the Walkway and to Beacon for Dia, but there’s no way for people to get to the Rail Trail from any train station. If developed into a trail, we could draw tourists to Beacon to bike and hike the Rail Trail and do it without negatively impacting the quality of life of our residents. While this wouldn’t “preserve the line for possible rail operations” it would generate revenue for Metro-North through increased ridership, and do so without Metro-North’s need to maintain new rails, bridges and trains.

  11. David Eberle   November 2, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Combined use as a scenic railway and bike path would be great. It can be done.

  12. Anthony Merante   November 4, 2016 at 10:04 pm

    The rail line has been there for more than 100 years and has not been abandoned, which is why it is under consideration for use now. There is a real potential for this line since it connects all three of Metro North’s East of Hudson lines and could be an invaluable resource for transportation needs in this growing area. There are many rail trails, some unfortunately could have served some other transportation purposes, but so be it. I hope the railroad gives it some long hard thought and not abandon it to more hiking. To say that “the noise from traffic along Main Street is already a constant problem,” makes me question the priorities in this matter: periodic concerts or the everyday lives of people in the community. They can both exist but don’t undermine something, that once done, cannot be undone.