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Amtrak backtracks on proposed fencing project

C-GM file photo Amtrak has withdrawn its proposal to install 8,200 feet of fencing along the Hudson River.
January 20, 2019 10:15 pm

Amtrak announced Friday it was planning to withdraw its application to install fencing along the Hudson River in Columbia and Dutchess counties in order to revise it.

The original proposal was to install 8,000 feet of fencing along the Amtrak railway, citing safety concerns for pedestrians as the reason for the fencing. If the current proposal is passed by the Department of State, several towns in Columbia and Dutchess counties could see limited or restricted access to the waterfront.

The fencing was proposed in Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant in Columbia, and Rhinebeck and Tivoli in Dutchess.

The decision was jointly made by Amtrak, the state Department of Transportation and the state’s Department of State after hosting collaborative meetings over the past few months, according to a statement from Amtrak. The plan will be revised in conjunction with a five-year corridor plan to improve safety along the company’s Empire Service Hudson Line.

Amtrak plans to work with the affected communities, town officials and state agencies to develop the revised plan, according to the company. Public informational meetings will be held before a new application is submitted to the Department of State.

“At Amtrak, the safe operation of service for our customers, employees, and the public is top priority,” according to Amtrak. “We will continue to work towards providing the safest, reliable, and most efficient passenger rail service along the Hudson Line.”

The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee is grateful to Amtrak, the Department of Transportation and the Department of State for listening to residents’ concerns on maintaining access to the river, member Billy Shannon said Sunday. “We’re super happy and very grateful to Amtrak and to the state agencies,” he said. “It sounds like it was a joint agreement between the three.”

Nothing was mentioned by Amtrak specifically about allowing sustained access to the river as part of its revised plan, but the committee will be keeping a close eye on it, Shannon said.

“We’re going to be staying right there to see what’s proposed next,” Shannon said. “I’m not sure what the Amtrak plan is proposing. I’m excited to hear more about that.”

The committee will reach out to state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, and state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, who were exploring state laws that encourage of a rails-with-trails system, Shannon said. The system provides safe transportation networks for pedestrians and bicyclists which run alongside railroad tracks.

“We’re going to follow up with them,” he said.

The committee meets every month and will continue to spread the message of having access to the riverfront, Shannon said, adding a planned Jan. 29 meeting about the project has been cancelled. The prospect of Amtrak listening to feedback before having another go at its project is encouraging, Shannon added.

“That’s really promising,” Shannon said. “They’re going to do more public informational meetings down the road.”

Other projects the committee is looking to tackle include mitigating a worsening water chestnut problem along Germantown’s southern river shore, stabilizing the shoreline at Lasher Park to avoid erosion, and turning a half an acre plot of town-owned land, known as Ice House Landing, along the river into a boater’s campsite, Shannon said. Former Gov. George Pataki initially pledged a goal of having campsites for kayakers and other river travelers every 20 miles along the river.

“There’s only two or three official boaters’ campgrounds...we’re hoping to do our part to realize that goal,” Shannon said. “That’s something else we’re absolutely looking at.”

The fencing wouldn’t have cut off riverfront access in Stockport because residents can get to the river via the Stockport Creek, but views would have been altered, Stockport Town Supervisor Matt Murell said Sunday. Residents on Station Road, which leads to the river, weren’t happy with the proposal.

“Some of the reason they moved down there was because of the location and the views,” Murell said. “It would definitely impede the views.”

The county would not have been involved in the matter, Murell said. He also serves as the chairman of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors.

“It was more of a town-by-town issue,” he said.

To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.