Metro-North To ‘Abandon’ Beacon Line

The Beacon line

The Beacon line rails run through the city and continue east to Connecticut. (File photo by J. Simms)

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. 

10 thoughts on “Metro-North To ‘Abandon’ Beacon Line

  1. Rails to trails? A nice idea. However, even if we all convert to 100 percent electric, zero-emission vehicles, we’re still going to need some sort of mass-transit system to move people and good around. Trains and trolleys are inherently more efficient means of doing so. Why not preserve the “rails” instead of tearing them up to create “trails” only a few hardy souls will take advantage of? Trails are fine, but not at the expense of losing more rails.

  2. The article doesn’t mention that there is already a significant trail construction project associated with the tracks and right-of-way underway right now. This is a separate project that leaves the tracks intact and adds a pathway alongside.

    In the last week, dozens of trees have been taken down and the new pathway is being graded adjacent to the tracks on the north bank of the creek, immediately west of the 9D bridge. (It’s easily visible from across the creek on Simmons Lane.) I believe this is the Beacon Greenway being extended to connect the Madam Brett Park trails with the two existing blocks of the Greenway that currently begin at East Main Street.

    So, if the tracks are ultimately going to be torn up and also turned into a paved path, maybe there will eventually be two paths, one for each direction?

  3. Please keep the rails! This will benefit both sides as a mean of tourism and also the elderly who cannot walk or bike. A trolley of some sort would be able to transport people and visit different towns.

  4. How can we get involved? Is there contact info for anyone mentioned in the article?

  5. The Housatonic Railroad currently uses a 90+ mile route from Danbury to Lee/Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The alternative would be to use the 30-mile Beacon/Maybrook Line. Abandonment of the Beacon/Maybrook rail line could eventually force this railroad serving Western Connecticut out of business. The Housatonic is tied in with the Providence and Worcester-Genesee and Wyoming Railroad, which is an international transportation powerhouse (see the G&W website-port of Rotterdam, Holland, trucking, intermodal terminals, railroads). The Housatonic and G&W will strongly oppose this action. G&W is aware that the Norfolk Southern, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific now are lined to Orange County just across the Hudson River from Dutchess County.

  6. Here’s an update on connecting the Norfolk Southern from Buffalo, Canadian Pacific from Binghamton, Canadian National from Syracuse via the NY Susquehanna and Western Railroad in Orange County with the CSX Railroad in Newburgh and Cornwall.

    See the YouTube video, Let’s Find the NY Ontario and Western Railroad, Part 2: Cornwall to Campbell Hall. This railroad right-of-way ran adjacent to the Stewart International Airport property.

    A mini-port could be established for international maritime container traffic between Orange and Dutchess counties connected by barge to the Port Authority international ports of Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Port of Albany is already connected by barge using the Hudson River as a water highway to these two major ports.

    The Hudson Line could be connected to the CSX River Line for passenger service using the Bear Mountain Bridge. The Appalachian Trail crosses the Hudson River at this point. The Manitou, east side of this bridge is in Westchester County and is owned by the Army National Guard/Camp Smith. The west side of the Bear Mountain Bridge is the Bear Moountain State Park.

  7. Why not reroute the Beacon/Maybrook Line around the City of Beacon using the New York State Correctional Facility property from the Town of Fishkill/City of Beacon line to Interstate 84? This new route would bring the rail line connection under the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and just North of the Beacon Metro North RR station. It would also connect Dutchess Stadium to the Hudson Line and offer a large commuter parking area.

    Why not have the Beacon/Maybrook line be rerouted follow Interstate 84 from Stormville to Brewster North? This is what France did to save money when they constructed their high speed train lines using existing super highways. This new route would avoid most of the Empire State Recreation/Rail Trail in Dutchess and Putnam Counties.