Catskill Mountain Branch



Post card view of Big Indian. Balsam Mountain is in the distance.
This card is from my collection which I found in St Joseph, Michigan.


Much of our Catskill Mountain WebSite was written over 20 years ago. A lot has happened with rail rides, tourist trains, etc. We will be updating shortly.


Catskill Mountain Branch — The Whole Story

New York Central’s Catskill Mountain Branch (originally the Ulster & Delaware, bought by NYC in 1932) ran from Rondout (Kingston Waterfront) to Oneonta, with a branch from Phoenicia over Stony Clove Notch to Hunter and Kaaterskill.

The Hunter and Kaaterskill branches were abandoned by NYC in 1940.

The main line was cut back to Bloomville by NYC in 1965.

It lasted through Penn Central, and operated for about 6 months under Conrail, then was entirely abandoned in 1976.

Ulster County bought the portion from the West Shore main to the Delaware County border (Highmount/Grand Hotel); the City of Kingston bought the portion from the West Shore down to Rondout; and the 7 towns through which it ran in Delaware County bought the portion from Highmount to Bloomville.

The Trolley Museum operates the Rondout portion; track and possible bridge issues have prevented regular operation up the grade west of their main building. They are attempting to address the problems, but it ain’t cheap or easy.

There is rail in place on virtually the entire right of way through Ulster County, but there are plenty of washouts, and no tie replacements for 30 years means almost everything has to be completely rebuilt before any operation. Catskill Mountain RR has a lease on this whole portion. They have operated for many years from Mt. Pleasant to just west of Phoenicia; after years of trying, they have finally got permission to cross Rt 28 at Mt Pleasant, and hope to operate an additional 4 or so miles this summer to Cold Brook, near Boiceville, where a bridge problem will stop them for now.

West of Phoenicia, the Woodland Valley Creek bridge was indeed washed out several years ago, and subsequently removed by the Ulster County Highway Dept, who feared it would get carried into one of their road bridges by the next flood.

Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride operates from their Arkville base both east to Highmount, and west to Roxbury. Rails between Roxbury and Grand Gorge were indeed removed for sewer and water mains, but this has a major silver lining: The right-of-way deal required the town to regrade afterwards in a way suitable for tracklaying, and restoration of this stretch definitely remains on the DURR agenda. Biggest problem is engineering a new highway crossing just west of Roxbury, where the old highway overpass was removed and the highway laid on the old right-of-way — tricky, but probably possible. That, and money.

Grand Gorge west to Bloomville is a rail trail maintained by DURR’s parent organization.

A few miles from Oneonta east was operated as a tourist line by the Delaware & Otsego in the late 1960’s, until condemned by the building of I-88 – this is where Walter Rich got his start in railroading. It’s probably forever gone because of the Interstate, and restoring a through route to Oneonta would be extremely difficult.

A few of us real dreamers would like to restore the whole thing from Kingston as far as West Davenport, and connect there with the old Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley (most of the grade still extant), to the modern day CACV tourist line, for through service from Kingston to Cooperstown. (There’s a highway underpass under I-88 in almost the right place, that would have room to sneak a railroad through.) THERE would be a tourist line! Only $80 – $100 million, a drop in the bucket if we can get some unified support together behind it — Ulster County is spending that much just on a new jail!



Bloomville: End of the Line….Sort Of!

The Catskill Mountain railroad was built in stages and later abandoned in stages. In 1870 it only ran to Shandaken, by 1872 it reached Roxbury and made it to Stamford by 1875. Hobart was reached in 1884. Bloomville became the end of the line in 1891. Oneonta, the final goal, was reached in 1900. In 1965, the 21 miles from Oneonta to Bloomville were abandoned first. Regular service after 1965 only extended to Stamford, with service to South Kortright and Bloomville only on an “as needed” basis.

A feed store at Bloomville which was owned by GLF, later The Catskill Mountain railroad was built in stages and later abandoned in stages. In 1870 it only ran to Shandaken, by 1872 it reached Roxbury and made it to Stamford by 1875. Hobart was reached in 1884. Bloomville became the end of the line in 1891. Oneonta, the final goal, was reached in 1900. In 1965, the 21 miles from Oneonta to Bloomville were abandoned first. Regular service after 1965 only extended to Stamford, with service to South Kortright and Bloomville only on an “as needed” basis.




Bloomville: Sort of Famous Creamery
The Bloomville Creamery even had a bit of noteriety! Not only that, they made those New York State markers there too. As well as the creamery and sign company, Bloomville had a turntable, station, feed mill and passing tracks! Check out an
old U&D employee timetable. This site is interesting too.


The Catskill Mountain Branch

September 28, 1976 saw the end of service on the Catskill Mountain Branch of the Penn-Central. Formerly the Ulster & Delaware, it became part of the New York Central during the Great Depression when it went “belly up” financially. The last train ran 74 miles from Stamford to Kingston with GP38-2 no. 8098 leading 36 cars and a caboose. Thus 106 years of life that had begun May 23, 1870 ended when Conrail said “no” to a shippers group.

In downtown Kingston, the switch with the West Shore has been removed but the tracks still head west parallel to Broadway. The building of the West Shore had been a beneficial event for the Ulster & Delaware. Without it, the railroad would have had to depend on the Wallkill Valley and the Erie for connections to New York. The tracks run through fenced in parking lots but are in a deep cut by the time they reach Albany Avenue.

Earlier, the Ulster & Delaware had crossed the West Shore and gone down the hill to Kingston Point (Rondout Station). Kingston Point had been a river boat landing in the late 1800s. Other out-of-service and abandoned rail lines in the area are the Wallkill Valley Branch (former Erie; former New York Central) and the New York Ontario & Western’s Ellenville & Kingston Railroad. The climb to the city of Kingston is 190 feet in three miles and had the railroad’s only tunnel. Except for a trolley museum, most of this trackage is out of service. When I visited Kingston on a below-zero February day, the trolley museum was closed, but it was evident where it ran in good weather. In the 1986 season, it was running a Brill car from the museum to the Hudson River. The museum is located on the site of the Ulster & Delaware shops. It is near the Kingston Maritime Center which hopefully is helpful in gathering tourists. I was really surprised that my usually-accurate JIMAPCO map of the area did not disclose the trolley museum. Some of their equipment (Staten Island Rapid Transit cars, etc) is stored in the North Kingston yards of the West Shore (Conrail).

Leaving Kingston, the Catskill Mountain Branch follows Route 28. Climbing a hill just west of Kingston to West Hurley, there is no sign of activity, but the roadbed is clearly evident. That hill just west of Kingston must have been a tough one in the days of steam. Between 1911 and 1913, eleven miles of track were relocated due to construction of a dam on the Esopus ten miles west of Kingston. Several towns once served by the railroad are now covered by the waters of the Ashokan Reservoir. The new station at West Hurley was the only modern building on the railroad.

At the top of the hill about 10 miles west of Kingston, near the Ashokan Reservoir, I spot a motorized section car labeled “Catskill Mountain Road”. Near Shokan is an old caboose used as a visitors center. This area of the line near Phoenicia is used in the summer as a “tubers trolley”. A very popular sport on the Esopus River is tubing down the rapids near Phoenicia on large rubber tubes. The “trolley” is simply the motorized section car, or “track speeder”, pulling trailer loads of tubers back up the tracks which run alongside the river so they can tube back down again. The whole thing is only 4 or 5 miles long and runs between Phoenicia and Mount Pleasant.

The railroad, with tracks still intact, runs through Shandaken and Grand Hotel Station. Grand Hotel Station at 1886 feet above sea level is the highest elevation on the line. Grand Hotel itself was owned by the U&D. At one time, narrow gauge railroads ran 21 miles from Phoenicia through Hunter and Tannersville to Catskill Mountain Station. These roads, the Stony Clove & Catskill Mountain and the Kaaterskill Railroad, eventually merged with the U&D. They became standard-gauge before the turn of the century and were abandoned in 1940.

In the 1880’s, several large hotels were built and the railroads from Phoenicia served them. They were also served by a line from Catskill. When the Hotel Kaaterskill burned in 1924, the U&D lost its largest customer. There were convenient connections with New York City via the West Shore. The area served by the U&D had over 20,000 rooms for tourists. Today, the Catskill Mountains are not what they once were. The old hotels are all gone. Campers fill campgrounds but city dwellers don’t take trains to the mountains.

Fleischmann’s marks the beginning of the Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride. The station there is freshly painted and there is an old boxcar next to it. The real hub of the rail ride is Arkville. Arkville was once a real rail junction where the Delaware & Northern connected with the Ulster & Delaware. The Delaware & Northern was a bridge line to the Ontario & Western at East Branch. A lot of interesting equipment has been trucked here. There is an ex-Western Maryland GE 44-tonner. There are three Pullman green ex-Pennsylvania MP-54 “owl eye” m.u. coaches and two open air flat cars with benches. There is also some maintenance-of-way equipment, an engine house, station and snack bar. An ALCO S-4 switcher is a recent addition. There is a Brill Rail Car built in 1928 which is diesel-powered and pulls a trailer coach. This is similar to the “Red Heifer” which ran over the Delaware & Northern. The ex-New York Central “doodlebug” M-405 is painted Cornell red and has gold lettering. Bellayre ski center, which is operated by NY State, is located near Arkville. Can’t help but think ski trains from New York (Hoboken?) wouldn’t make a lot of sense. This area once had several large hotels. Now, small motels are the rule. At Arkville, we turn on to Route 10 and head to Roxbury. In this area are many new vacation homes, many of them log cabins. Roxbury was the early home of Jay Gould. His daughter contributed a significant amount of money to this community.

From Grand Gorge, the roadbed follows Route 23 to Stamford.

The station in Stamford is freshly painted and has a baggage cart outside it. There is also a coal tower and an Agway store nearby. Stamford is 19 miles to Richmondville, 21 miles to Delhi and 27 miles to Oneonta. At Stamford, the tracks follow Route 10 to Bloomville. Originally, the railroad was to go to Oneonta through Harpersfield instead of through Bloomville. Six miles of grading from Stamford was actually done. The rail line from Stamford to Hobart was originally built as a “branch”.

Next stop on the line is Hobart where a Sheffield Farms processing plant which is long gone used to be the major industry. Further down the line an old Sheffield Farms creamery remains. Milk from this area went into New York City by train. This plant is between Bloomville and South Kortright and is now a garage. The railroad lost its milk business as highways were improved and glass-lined milk trucks carry milk in bulk shipments. In Bloomville, an Agway marks the end of most-recent train service. The Rail Ride owns the right-of way to Bloomville.

I then took a 9-mile detour to Delhi to visit relatives. The Ontario & Western ran a branch here from Walton until its demise that served a dairy plant. A line to Andes and on to Margaretville from Delhi was never built, but the intended roadbed can be seen in several spots.

Rejoining the U&D roadbed at Bloomville, I follow a county road to East Meridith. The nine miles down the Kortright Creek valley to Davenport Center drop 600 feet. Davenport Center was the terminus of the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley. This road was completed in 1890 and had as its prime goal the transportation of hotel passengers to Cooperstown. When the U&D only reached Bloomville, stages connected the two lines. After 1903, when the D&H absorbed the C&CV, passengers changed at Oneonta and service from Cooperstown Junction to Davenport Center was discontinued except for freight which lasted until 1930.

West Davenport and the former junction with the D&H at Oneonta which is covered up by construction from I-88 round out my tour of the Ulster & Delaware. Even with stops, I had beaten the four hours that the timetable of 25 years ago allowed to travel the 104 miles from Kingston to Oneonta. At that time, the prevailing speed was 30 MPH.

The railroad was built in stages and later abandoned in stages. In 1870 it only ran to Shandaken, by 1872 it reached Roxbury and made it to Stamford by 1875. Hobart was reached in 1884. Bloomville became the end of the line in 1891. Oneonta, the final goal, was reached in 1900. In 1965, the 21 miles from Oneonta to Bloomville were abandoned. A 2.6 mile section at the far end was sold to an Oneonta group for use as a tourist line. When Interstate 88 was built, this trackage was in its path. The tourist line then acquired the D&H Cooperstown branch and remains today as the Delaware Otsego Railroad. Regular service after 1965 only extended to Stamford, with service to South Kortright and Bloomville only on an “as needed” basis.

The state of the line past Bloomville has deteriorated greatly since abandonment, but trestles are still up. An old bridge is used by a farmer to cross his cows over a creek. He has installed gates on either side of the bridge.

It is hard to believe that the deserted railroad was such a hub of activity in the early part of this century. There were almost forty locomotives at that time, the last one being added in 1907. While the railroad owned only a few passenger cars, it was able to carry 338,000 passengers in 1903 and 676,000 in 1913 by renting New York Central cars in the summer. Likewise, the railroad’s relatively few freight cars (peak was 270) could never have carried the load that ran between Kingston and Oneonta. Anthracite coal traffic was the biggest item of revenue freight and the U&D didn’t have to provide cars for this. Excessive dividends before 1923 coupled with failure to provide for repayment of bonds caused financial troubles for the railroad in the late 1920’s. Decrease in both passengers and anthracite coal traffic spelled doom for the railroad. In 1932, the Interstate Commerce Commission “twisted the arm” of the New York Central to take over the Ulster & Delaware.

In 1986, the Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride was unable to run trains because it could not obtain liability insurance. The Rail Ride is owned by the seven towns along the right-of-way. The supervisors of these towns (included in both Delaware and Ulster counties) are members of the Catskill Rail Committee which controls the Rail Ride. Ironically, the directors of the first railroad company organized in 1866, the Rondout & Oswego, were representatives of some of these same towns which had pledged money towards its construction. Until a recent non-profit corporation was formed, insurance coverage was dependent upon the towns themselves. Now the Rail Ride, operating under a State charter, actually owns the property and can more easily obtain insurance. The right of way past Arkville needs a lot of tree cutting. A large supply of rails is stored in Arkville. Could this mean expansion? The Catskill Rail Committee aims high, they want to run from Bloomville to Kingston again.



Gilboa Dam
Part of New York City’s Water Supply.

This system runs throughout the Catskill Mountains.

New York City Water Supply

In 1842, Croton water arrived in the city, superseded the use of springs in Manhattan.
1927 saw the completion of the Catskill system plus city tunnel #1
1965 marked completion of the Delaware reservoir system
Today there are three watersheds: Croton, Catskil, Delaware; covering 2000 sq miles.
The system consists of 18 reservoirs
Three tunnels connect the city to the reservoirs (3rd tunnel under construction)
Water takes about 1 day to reach the city (flow velocity: 5 miles/h)

Throughout this century, the New York City water supply system has been the envy of virtually all major drinking water supply systems around the country and throughout the world. This system is one of the engineering marvels of the modern world. Ninety-seven percent of the water supplied to the city travels by gravity, meaning changes in electrical energy costs do not affect the cost of water. The supply tunnels and aqueducts that feed water to New York City are amazing in themselves.

Read more about New York City water supply.









Why New York Central acquired U&D

The NYC controlled the Big Four and the Michigan Central though majority stock ownership, but up to 1930 the companies were operated as separate railroads. NYC wanted to lease the properties and operate them as part of the New York Central System, essentially a merger but not an outright purchase.

The ICC appears to have approved the leases contingent on NYC also purchasing or in some way assuring continued operation of the Ulster and Delaware. The CCC&StL and MC leases became effective early in 1930, but there was considerable difference between the offering and asking price for the U&D. Finally the U&D trustee and the NYC agreed on $2,500,000.00, the amount recommended by an arbitrator for the ICC, and the deal was effective on Feb. 1, 1932.

Remember, at that time the U&D was a Class I Railroad!! The criteria for inclusion in that exalted category were much lower in 1932.

The rest of the story, related by Gerry Best in his U&D book and which corresponds with records I have seen, is the nasty little “secret.” Apparently, the U&D had a funded debt represented by a series of mortgage bonds, and there was a sinking fund of cash that would have been adequate to redeem the bonds on maturity. The cash is said to have come largely from transactions and settlements with the City of New York over takings and delays associated with construction of the Esopus Reservoir.

It appears that the Coykendall family, almost the only stockholders of the U&D, decided to take the sinking fund and use it instead for one whopping dividend in the middle 1920’s. They essentially stripped the railroad of its cash. Revenues were dropping and expenses were climbing, so they probably decided to bail out while the money was still there. The bonds missed a payment and lost their value, and thus ensued the mechinations with the receivership and sale.

Lawsuits continued, and eventually the creditors did fairly well considering the depression.

Another great contribution from Gordon Davids


1955 Freight Schedules in Kingston

The Wallkill Valley wayfreight made a round trip 6 days per week to Campbell Hall, with some local traffic (like cattle feed) and a lot of empties to interchange to the New Haven. Sometime he handled more than 50-60 cars to Campbell Hall.

The Catskill Mountain Branch wayfreight ran to Oneonta Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and returned the next day. Sometimes he had 30-40 cars, mostly cattle feed, for stations west of Arkville. Very little interchange at Oneonta with the D&H – usually a few loads of anthracite for local stations, and an occasional car of house freight or Cadillacs for Oneonta.

The Catskill Mountain Branch Yard Engine worked the former U&D yard, and spent all day, six days per week, serving local industries with all sorts of stuff in 1955. The track to the Colonial Sand and Gravel Co. cement mill hadn’t been built yet (1958) but when it started up it took 20-35 cars of bituminous coal per day from the CMB Yard job. The West Shore crews also had a Kingston yard engine that served local industries as well as switching in the yard.

There were north end and south end drop trains running on the West Shore main out of Kingston, and the Alsen Switcher out of Kingston was good for 40-60 cars of cement and coal on a good day.


Gordon Davids tells a great story about snow plows on the branch:

The first 8000’s I saw on the CMB were the 8000 and 8004. They were MU’ed on the snow plow extra that ran to Oneonta on February 20, 1958, and derailed on the return at South Gilboa on February 21. They were close to brand new at the time.

I don’t think they were randomly selected from power on hand at Kingston, and they might have come from Selkirk for that assignment. That job was set up as a trip to “Terra Incognita,” with two complete train crews. They had the plow (if forget the number, but it was a right-handed double-track Russel plow – big mistake – the two engines, the Kingston flanger and two cabeese. I’m pretty sure that they were particular to give it the best power they had available, because the operation was sponsored by A.E. Perlman himself in response to requests by several high-ranking New York State politicians to provide for the starving cows.

The plow and the 8000 derailed trying to push snow up the wrong side of a side hill cut behind the Blue Silo Farm between South Gilboa and Stamford. The cut had drifted full after they opened it the night before. I worked my first day for the New York Central, February 21, 1958, on the Oneonta Section Gang shoveling out the plow and the engine.

After that, the 8000’s ran to Oneonta on very rare occasions for several years, and then they became more common. By the way, when the plow derailed, they brought up the Selkirk wreckers to rerail it with the X-21 crane. That train had two FA-1’s on it, lead by the 1032. According to scuttlebutt at the time, that was the first time the CMB had ever seen a cab unit. They also pushed a Jordan spreader, and they had to re-open the track from Grand Gorge to the wreck before they could go back to Grand Gorge and get the crane.




Strange Places on the Catskill Mountain Branch

Snyder Hollow Switch (between Phoenicia and Shandaken)was a single spur about 650′ long near MP 29

The ski trains were in the 1930’s, but the spur shows up on the 1916 Valuation map and also appears in the 1906 U&D films from the Library of Congress. In the film the spur is lined with stacks of what appear to be slabs of blue stone. There is a box car on the spur and it looks like they are loading the car with the stone. There must have been a quarry nearby.

Its where “Muddy Bushkill” runs into Esopus creek. The siding was for the ski area there. This was one of the very first ski areas in the US.

“Hanford’s Switch” (between Kortright and East Meredith). Hanford’s Switch was about one-half mile east of East Meredith (Station No. 98A). It was later the site of Pizza Brothers’ Feed Mill, the successor to Hanford’s Mill and the site of the present museum.
There were quite a number of dairy & creamery turnouts along the entire line.

Cold Spring MP56;

Delaware Valley MP61;

Keators Milk Switch MP62;

Dairyman’s League MP81;

Smiths Creamery #1 MP83;

Sheffield MP86; and

Smith’s #2 MP94.


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