Next stop on unused line: Feasibility study
By Jeff Simms
Officials in Dutchess County and at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plan to assess whether a trolley and a bike/pedestrian path could run along an unused railroad line in Beacon from the Metro-North station to the east end of Main Street.
The idea isn’t new. But this may be the year it finally gains traction as part of a safety initiative called Dutchess Complete Streets, said County Executive Marc Molinaro in a statement.
The project would build on the popularity of two rail trails — the Harlem Valley Extension, under construction in Columbia County, and the Dutchess Rail Trail. Redeveloping the idle Beacon Line would create “a green and scenic alternative to get from one end of Beacon to the other and enable people to enjoy all Beacon has to offer,” Molinaro said.
The Beacon Line, also known as the Maybrook Branch, runs east through Fishkill, Hopewell Junction and Stormville before connecting with the Harlem Line in Putnam County north of the Town of Southeast. It has been closed since the mid-1990s and in some places in Beacon is overgrown and covered with debris.
The agreement with the MTA will allow Dutchess County to study whether the line could be used for a trolley and pedestrian trail that begins south of the Beacon Metro-North station and loops past residential neighborhoods along Fishkill Creek before turning toward east Main. (The unused track continues from there for 12 miles to Route 9, and then toward Connecticut.)
Beacon Mayor Randy Casale has pushed the idea of reviving the Beacon Line since he was elected in 2011 and said on Thursday (March 7) that the study can’t come fast enough. He said he envisions a rubber-wheeled trolley that could travel on or off the track, veering in spots toward Main Street, and creating a new way for residents and visitors to reach the city’s boutiques, restaurants and galleries. A parallel trail would run along the tracks and accomodate hiking, biking and walking.
In October 2016, the MTA and Metro-North issued a Request for Expressions of Interest to develop the abandoned line. Beacon and neighboring municipalities suggested a project that would have run to the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, but the agencies said they were only looking for ideas, not proposals.
In 2017, the city included another idea for a trolley in the update of its comprehensive plan, calling for a series of pocket parks along Main Street to create “nodes of activity” that could be stops along a trolley line that ran to the waterfront.
A restored line could bring more shoppers and hikers to Beacon because of its accessibility via Metro-North, Molinaro said during his State of the County address on Feb. 27.
If the project comes to pass, it will become one of several efforts to expand trails in and near Beacon. The Fishkill Creek Greenway and Heritage Trail continues to grow around and through new developments, while Scenic Hudson is leading the effort to create the 7-mile Fjord Trail linking the city with Cold Spring. There’s also talk of another path toward Fishkill on Beacon’s west side.
A Tour of the Beacon Line
In 2017 photographer Emily Moser traveled the abandoned Beacon line. Below are a few shots she took along the way. To read her impressions of the line, and view more photos, see her blog post at HarlemLine.com.
Although not currently in service, the Beacon Line is not abandoned. Metro-North bought the rights to it, and because it connects Metro-North’s Danbury and Harlem lines, it might actually be used for trains in the future.