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TOD Reset: time to get serious on the Beacon Line

Now that the mayor and the city council have pushed the reset button on the TOD, a move which I and many others applaud, I respectfully call upon the city council and the mayor to include use of trail space along the Beacon Line as a demand in any new talks with the MTA, as a condition before the TOD moves forward again.

This is our Highline in Manhattan, this is our Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie. This is what the Beacon Line can do for Beacon:

(Note that this map only goes to Churchill Street, because no traffic crossings are necessary up to that point. But there is no reason not to go further, all the way to the Dutchess Rail Trail in Hopewell Junction, or even just Herbert Street to link up with the wonderful Roundhouse project and the pedestrian bridge they are planning to build there.)

The overarching concern with the TOD is access to Main Street. The Beacon Line is one obvious answer to that access problem. Not for residents, not for West Main. But for East Main, and for Dia tourists: yes, this is the best form of access. To slip out the back of Dia, walk alongside a nature trail with stunning views of the highlands and a glorious waterfall, then arrive at East Main to eat and shop: this really is the best way to get to main street, from a tourist perspective.

Active rail-with-trail is an established legal concept, but the city, and Scenic Hudson, have encountered nothing but folded arms when asking MTA and CSX in the past for use of the Beacon Line as a rail with trail. We have had no leverage over the MTA and CSX in the past. Approval of the TOD is our leverage now.

Yes, the Beacon Line is still used. 1-2 times a year. When it is used, the police must man rolling road blocks for the trains. The police could therefore shut down the trail during those very rare times, they have ample warning. But even if they didn't shut down the trail, the Beacon Line is a giant curve, so trains can't go faster than 5 miles an hour as it is. Furthermore, the Klara Sauer trail, running between Dennings Point and Beacon train station, already passes within two feet of the Beacon Line for a distance of half a mile. This is as close as the rail-with-trail needs to be the entire length of the Beacon Line, and apparently that proximity is already acceptable to the MTA and CSX for the Klara Sauer trail. So there should be no real dispute here in terms of feasibility.

There is no need to pave over, bury, or in any other way touch or interfere with the tracks. In fact, this should be what is proposed to the MTA/ CSX: the tracks stay, the tracks don't get touched. The Klara Sauer trail is apparently nonthreatening to the MTA/ CSX, so we should underline the fact that what we are proposing is no more threatening to their hegemony:

The Beacon Line is an industrial relic which must be repurposed to serve the city of Beacon, as many other industrial relics in our city have been successfully been repurposed to fuel our rebirth. The Beacon Line could become a tourist draw in itself, passing the beautiful falls in Madam Brett Park, giving excellent views of the Hudson Highlands, and letting Scenic Hudson connect its Long Dock, Dennings Point, and Madam Brett assets. Additionally, a backdoor trail to Dia (on a historical rail bed that runs off from Dennings Avenue), and connections to the Beacon Institute on Dennings Point, all meeting up with the train station on one end and scenic East Main on the other, makes use of the Beacon Line a no-brainer and obviously beneficial initiative, requiring very little capital, zoning, or grading to get up and running (but one big serious political concession).

City council, Mayor Gold: thank you and I applaud your leadership on the TOD issue. When dealing with the MTA in the future on the TOD issue, please place front-and-center the issue of the Beacon Line, and insist that the MTA and CSX grant Beacon a simple controversy-free rail-with-trail concession on the Beacon Line, to move this city further forward.

Ben Royce

Views: 315

Tags: beacon line, dia, east main, roundhouse, scenic hudson, tod


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Comment by Ben Royce on August 9, 2010 at 1:05pm
john, mary, go here and scroll to the bottom of the page, the google satellite map showing the little rail spur:

this is my mothballed page arguing for what you guys are arguing for

this little spur is still in existence, and you can follow it as it juts off from the beacon line, and goes all the way to the east parking lot of the train station. the rails are just sitting there, buried in the leaves and weeds and trees, visible from above and if you look very carefully on the ground

you'd have to revive and resuscitate that line, because i wouldn't want a dinky tram crossing mta/ amtrak lines to get to the beacon station

and to revive that old spur, you'd need $$$. you'd also need lots of mta concessions. and all sorts of legal bs

completely doable, completely valid, and in fact, my original intention with however, i've mothballed the effort because of the economic situation. hey, if gas goes to $8/ gallon or the economy picks back up, yeah: we can get light rail in beacon, to fishkill and hopewell junction

but right now, it's just not economically feasible
Comment by john fasulo on August 8, 2010 at 6:24am
I have to jump in here even though I'm on vacation. In the last two weeks, I have been on surface trams, the TGV, Thalys and other forms of rail transport.. Europe makes the US look like its in the stone age when it comes to public transportation. To go from Brussels to Koln Germany took me about 1 hour 45 min with stops along the way.. Speed, about 150 mph.. we won't do that for 10 years if ever.
THE BEACON LINE. A number of years ago, I first proposed the use of the Beacon Line as the obvfious way to move people to Main Street. An operator of some type of historic rail vehicle, steam, diesel, electric could be found if we try. There are two busines's in the states, one I think in Pa, that build new and recondition old rail vehicles. An LPG or electric tram is not out of reach. Like the Incline Railway on Mt Beacon, this tram could be operated by a private provider and would be both a way to get peopel to Main Street and also a tourist draw. It might have a number of stops enroute. Starting near the station or DIA, it could let peopel off at Dennings Point, then at Madam Brett Park, then 9D so peopel could walk to the Incline or hiking trails and then East Main Street.. with possible future runs to Fishkill and Hopewell Jct.
Comment by Mary Fris on August 2, 2010 at 1:04am
Charlie, I think your bicycle business would benefit greatly from having a rail trail, but I don't think most businesses on Main would reap much benefit. It would be nice if everyone was young and fit enough to ride a bike or walk a mile up to Main Street, but it isn't very realistic. I've walked along that railroad many times and its quite a hike on foot (try it sometime with tired, cranky children!). I wouldn't want to do anything but sit, once I got to Main Street, let alone go shopping and carry packages around. And what about the winter months, or when it is muddy and wet? I think ultimately, you need a quick, clean, attractive way to ferry passengers to and from DIA and/or the train station.

A trolley car would do that and more. Is there a cost analysis of it lying around somewhere? Could the city do one?

I know there is "no money" currently, but I believe, like Mark said, that where there is a will, there is a way! Maybe this is something the developer of the TOD could do for us instead of a bus shuttle? We really need to see some facts and figures so we know what we are dealing with.
Comment by Ben Royce on July 30, 2010 at 4:45pm
mark: my original site was all about light rail, as you can see on my mothballed page

i wanted light rail, that's what motivated me. i still want light rail

i'm just reading the writing on the wall: no one's got the money for it

so until then, bikes and tourists it is, and that's not a bad thing. it's a worthy goal that will aid beacon, and the tracks aren't going anywhere in the meantime

so when the time comes when the wider area goes up 50% in population, and gasoline goes to $7/ gallon, light rail is coming to beacon, no doubt about it. the scary thing is, that's not too far away

beacon has a bright future. its all about how our historical compactness and good transportation options means that this little city will continue to grow (smartly, compactly) as the traditional suburbs look less and less attractive because of energy and transportation challenges
Comment by Mark Roland on July 30, 2010 at 4:29pm
This can't be done, that can't be done. Baloney. Where there's a will there's a way. There is money. It is feasible. It does make sense. We need to switch gears--fast. It's not about doing things the way we've been doing things any more. Paradigm shift.
Comment by Ben Royce on July 30, 2010 at 4:08pm

the whole central issue with the TOD is parking and traffic on 9D. because everyone comes to beacon to take the train. if the TOD never even happens, there will still be pressure on beacon to widen 9D, so everyone can get to the train station. yes, they are trying to get more people to take the shuttle bus, but people will still clog 9D and sneak park on side streets. the whole area is growing, beacon train station will just get more and more clogged no matter what anyone does

so the most elegant solution is if people could actually catch the train at east main or glenham or fishkill or hopewell junction. then there's no reason to park at the beacon station, no need to take a bus, no need for a big parking lot, no need to widen 9D, no need for more traffic on beacon roads, no need for a TOD ;-)

unfortunately, we are decades away from getting a commuter train on the beacon line

here's my mothballed proposal page:

it's just too dang expensive, we can't get around that. it's just not going to happen

it would be awesome to get a trolley or a train on those tracks. but everyone is broke: the mta, the city, the state, and the feds. obama is hot for rail, but all that money is going into high speed rail

so until then: bikes and tourists on the beacon line it is ;-)

and the feds DO have money for that:
Comment by Mark Roland on July 30, 2010 at 3:54pm
Mary, your idea for an actual train is a good one. It has been brought up a number of times. Regarding the station I suggested a while back that the city purchase the east main station with federal funding if possible, and use the top floor for the historical society, the bottom for a public station.

The problem I have with bike trails is they keep bicycles off the road. This perpetuates the belief that they don't belong on the road. "Hey cusshead, get on the sidewalk where you belong!" The more bicycles that mingle with traffic, the more drivers learn to expect them. Bicycles also act to calm traffic behavior. Until we reach a critical mass, bikes will always be marginalized and not taken seriously.

I'm not against a recreational bikeway if it can be done alongside the tracks.

Between the roundhouse, the living and working spaces at tallix and the groveville housing and lofts on 52 and the 2 other developments planned for fishkill creek and the commuters in fishkill and the beacon rivers and estuaries and the edgewater and tod projects, and the long dock hotel, a single railcar would be a most appropriate way to encourage people to use public transport in Beacon. It would also be a big tourist draw.

Comment by Ben Royce on July 30, 2010 at 12:25pm

there is an alternate route which i was considering walking around the area. there's a way to string together scenic hudson's already established trails, some abandoned road by the demolished factories, and some city land, and go all the way to east main by

1. crossing the rail lines once. crossing them perpendicularly in one spot far from any roads
2. going over a small piece of land in the woods that the mta owns that is 500 feet from any existing tracks (from the days of wiccopee junction, we're talking lines that haven't existed since the 1800s)
3. sliding up to alongside the tracks like the klara sauer trail for a short distance of only 30 feet in one spot: just to go under route 9d, sharing the tunnel

what do you think about that in terms of mta concessions?

your railbanking idea is awesome. however, the idea here is to propose the least instrusive concessions on the mta. railbanking is just a huge concession for the mta/ csx to consider
Comment by Tom Church on July 30, 2010 at 12:03pm

They currently allow that because the Beacon Line is not an active line. They have something called an envlope around the tracks. The trains hang 2-3 feet over the edge of the rail. The minimum emvlope of pedestrians and equipment beyond that is 3 feet. I highly doubt that MTA will do what they did wtih that trail again.

Putnam county is working along this same line (Beacon Line intersects the Maybrook Line in Hopewell and heads to Brewster) and they are having problems with this. MTA 1)will not issue an easement, only a revocable land use permit and 2) is requiring at least 8' clearence from the centerline of the tracks. Putnam County has been forced to put the entire trail prject on hold because of this. They have found that there is not enough room to fit the path next to the tracks in many areas due to this requirement. They are required to stay out of wetlands (NYSDEC regs) and there is not enough room over the bridges.

A paved or hardpack path is what we need. Something like the Walkill Valley Rail Trail or the Putnam Bike Path. What we want is for people to be able to travel to Beacon from other areas on a smooth surface on foot, roller blade or any type of bicycle they want. To accomodate this, the path needs to be 4-6' wide.

I would suggest that the tracks from Beacon to Hopewell be Rail-Banked. This means that they still own the Roght of Way but we get a revocable permit/right of way to construct and maintain a pedestrian/bicycle path. The tracks can be left in place but filled over with hardpack material, sort of like the river trail or the Walkill Valley Rail Trail. It would be best for it to be paved but that can come later. The path should be 4-6' wide which will allow for traffic in both directions and will allow faster traffic to pass.

Actually Scenic Hudson is having some trouble right now. And MTA has blocked them multiple times. They would def be someone to speak with though.

I suggest you take a ride up to the Walkill Valley Trail or the Harlem Valley Trail or the Putnam County Path to see some examples of what I am hoping to achieve. These parks are so busy that they are having trouble building enough parking near by!!
Comment by Ben Royce on July 30, 2010 at 10:34am
tom: scenic hudson's finances, they may still have a healthy endowment. scenic hudson has long stated it is their intent to connect madam brett park and denning's point and long dock: this is their obvious solution

building something like the klara sauer trail alongside the tracks is the cheapest, most nonintrusive solution, and the MTA still gets use of the tracks

does railbanking forbid the mta from using the tracks? we only want an easement alongside the tracks, not on the tracks. railbanking may be the only legal way to proceed with an easement, but there may be an even less legally onerous and less intrusive solution than railbanking, since we don't have to touch the tracks at all

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