To the editor:
As Ulster County reviews proposals and considers contracts of tourist rail vendors for expanded rail operations in Kingston and Phoenicia (Shandakden), County officials have a legal and fiscal responsibility to scrutinize all proposals and companies carefully including the one from the Catskill Mountain Railroad Company (CMRR) if there is one.
In the final two years of its 25-year lease of the U&D corridor CMRR showed that themed train events can be successful in Kingston. But CMRR also has a well-documented history of flouting and ignoring contractual agreements with Ulster County. This includes both the terms of the 1991 Lease and now apparently the recent Litigation Settlement Agreement as well.
Recently, CMRR ran passenger trains (euphemistically called "non-revenue inspection trains") on two separate occasions over 3-4 miles of defective, rotting ties and track - including into sections of the U&D corridor CMRR had just agreed it would not operate on- commercially or for maintenance operations. Shouldn't elected and appointed county officials be wary of CMRR for endangering riders and defying agreements?
That this occurred sends up monumental red flags. And it was done before the ink on the settlement agreement was even dry. (3 days later); without prior notice or consultation with the County; and coincided with a publicity campaign to pressure County officials to give CMRR a new lease and to undermine the3 Legislature's U&D policy. Lastly, it occurred while CMRR was in the midst of submitting a proposal responding to the tourist train RFP.
Curiously, the press did not report on these "inspection" trains (filled with passengers eating pizza and listening to fiddle music) that were posted on multiple social media sites. But, let's say, for arguments sake, these inadvisable train rides had resulted in an accident and injuries. Who would be to blame and who would be targeted if a legal claim resulted? The operator (CMRR) or the owner, Ulster County whose legal agreements forbade this.
A convoy of motorized "track" cars filled with people, observed traveling the corridor from Kingston and into Ashokan Reservoir lands AFTER the lease (and presumably insurance) had expired, raises similar legal and liability red flags, further calling into question the trustworthiness and integrity of CMRR and its officials
County officials and the public should be considered forewarned, and should exercise great care, as only now is the County beginning to exercise full and proper oversight of the U&D for the first time in 25 years. Protecting the taxpayers' assets and interests, and ensuring the public's safety must be paramount.