Could be converted to join rail trail network
Metro-North earlier this month announced its intention to discontinue use of a 41-mile segment of the Beacon line, a dormant railway running from the city to the Connecticut border.
If the commuter railroad’s request is granted by the federal agency that regulates freight rail, it could open the door for transforming the inactive railway spur into a publicly accessible trail, joining not only a growing network of walking paths in Beacon but perhaps connecting to the newly opened, 750-mile Empire State Trail, as well.
Metro-North plans to submit its application to discontinue use of the line within the next month, according to a notice filed Feb. 8.
A paved trail already runs parallel to more than half of the Beacon line — the Maybrook section from Brewster to Hopewell Junction — and has been incorporated into the Empire State Trail, which stretches from lower Manhattan to Canada, or, if you head west, to Buffalo.
Trails advocates have long eyed the Beacon line as a key piece in establishing regional connectivity, and now, with the Empire State Trail open, a connection between Beacon and Hopewell Junction, where the Dutchess County Rail Trail (also part of the Empire State Trail) begins, could be a natural fit. Right now, bikers traveling the 11 miles from Beacon to Hopewell must ride on narrow shoulders along Routes 52 and 82.
“There’s a lot of potential there,” said Thomas Wright, the chair of Beacon’s greenway trail committee.
Railroad companies have abandoned thousands of miles of track since the Great Depression of the 1930s as Americans and manufacturers became less reliant on train travel.
In its notice, filed with the federal Surface Transportation Board, Metro-North noted that no trains have moved on the Beacon line in at least two years, although a company called the Housatonic Railroad Co. has the right to use the tracks under an agreement that dates to 1995.
The filing indicates that when Metro-North acquired the Beacon line, also in 1995, the Interstate Commerce Commission exempted it from most of the regulations that come into play when a line is abandoned. It is requesting a waiver from its contractual obligations with Housatonic.
Housatonic, in its own filing on Feb. 12, said that it would oppose Metro-North’s application to abandon the line.
In 2016, Metro-North put out a call for proposals to develop the nearly 28 miles of rail from Beacon to the Dutchess-Putnam county border. At the time, then-Mayor Randy Casale said he hoped to see the line used for light-rail trolley service and to connect with the Dutchess Rail Trail.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou said this week that he thinks the Beacon-to-Hopewell stretch is best suited for trail usage. He said city officials met with Metro-North last year to discuss the railroad’s plan to abandon the line. If it’s approved, the mayor said he’s hopeful that Dutchess County will assist the city in creating the Beacon-to-Hopewell connection.
“This is a really natural addition” to the state’s public trails system, Kyriacou said.
On the other side of Beacon, city officials are also working on the Beacon Hudson River Trail, a path of just over a mile that would connect the Metro-North station to the pedestrian lane of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. From its southern end, the Hudson River Trail would be a short walk from the Beacon-to-Cold Spring Fjord Trail, which is scheduled to begin construction this year.
Wright, the city greenway committee chair, presented a preliminary design for the Hudson River pathway to the City Council on Jan. 25.
The trail would pass through a wooded area and offer “dramatic views of the river and the bridge overhead” before emerging at West Main Street, near the train station, Wright said. “This is an exciting time for trails in Beacon.”
He proposed that the city pursue grants for further design while recruiting volunteers to create an informal “social trail” running from the bridge to a bluff overlooking the Hudson, or about half the length. The plan would require obtaining an easement from the New York State Bridge Authority, Wright noted.
When the Beacon Hudson River Trail was conceived in 2015, the Town of Fishkill planned to connect it from the north side of Interstate 84 to its own trail system, but those plans are on hold, Wright told the council.