GERMANTOWN — U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-19, is among a trio of officials in Washington calling on Amtrak to preserve community access to the Hudson River when a controversial fencing project moves forward.
Plans have been in the works for two years to upgrade fencing around local Amtrak rail crossings to prevent vehicles and pedestrians from crossing the tracks. The project, as it was originally proposed, would also block access to portions of the Hudson River and the shoreline for hunters, fishermen and other recreational users.
Planning for the project, according to Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams, has been on hold since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.
Delgado joined with U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-20, and Sean Maloney, D-18, in penning a letter to William Flynn, president and chief executive officer of Amtrak, asking that the company retain access to the river while maintaining safety along the tracks.
The letter acknowledged that Amtrak officials have met with local officials, but asked that more be done to address the issues of river access raised by several local communities.
“We remain concerned that Amtrak should do more to address local officials’ concerns regarding the past, ongoing and future loss of shoreline access,” according to the letter. “We are interested in seeing a cooperative effort that maintains, and ultimately increases, shoreline access throughout the corridor. And we believe, as Amtrak has done in other parts of the country, that this can be achieved while appropriately managing the level of risk.”
The proposed project was first introduced in 2018 to install locked gates and fencing surrounding areas with waterfront access, according to the letter. The letter also asks that the project remain consistent with policies in the New York State Coastal Management Program, as well as Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs.
“The Hudson River is essential to our way of life across the Hudson Valley, and that includes access to this critical landmark in our community,” Delgado said. “I joined my colleagues in urging Amtrak to come to the table and find a balance that improves the safety of our Amtrak Empire Service and ensures that the towns and villages across New York’s 19th District can access the Hudson. It is critically important that we keep our communities safe, and while doing so, we can strive to maintain the beauty of our landscape and access to the river.”
Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation are still in the planning phases and the cost of the project has not yet been determined, Abrams said. The project has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and a new timeline for the planning process is in the works, he said.
The fencing proposal is aimed at improving safety, Abrams said.
“Railroad property is private property and it is against the law and considered trespassing to enter onto railroad property at locations that are not public access areas without proper permission,” Abrams said. “Not only it is illegal, but it creates a serious safety hazard to not only the public but also to the train operations and the passengers and employees on board the train. Fencing along private railroad property will improve the safety of the train operation and the public.”
Several towns in Columbia County would see fencing installed if the project moves forward, including Germantown, Hudson and Stockport, Germantown Town Supervisor Robert Beaury said. Opponents to the project in Germantown have been critical since officials first learned of it in 2018.
Three sites in Germantown would be impacted, including Lasher Memorial Park, Cheviot Park and portions of Main Street. Fencing would also be installed between the two parks.
“A lot of people have been fishing and hunting along that stretch. They have been doing that for many, many years, and Amtrak wants to close off access to that in both directions,” Beaury said. “They also want to put roughly 700 feet of fencing on lower Main Street, which I believe we were successful in getting from eight-feet-tall to four-feet-tall.”
Opponents in Germantown have held rallies, done letter writing campaigns and secured support from local and federal officials, he said.
“It is my continued hope that our cherished waterfront will not be fenced in or gated off by Amtrak,” Beaury said. “For the last two years Amtrak has failed to demonstrate a need for such draconian measures in Germantown, offering instead the vague statement, ‘we have identified areas of concern.’”
Fencing would also limit river access in the city of Hudson.
“Our community relies on the Hudson River for fishing, recreation and commerce,” Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson said. “Consistent with our Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, I want to increase access to the river and give more people the opportunity to take advantage of this important resource.”
Environmental advocacy group Scenic Hudson also called for access to the river to be maintained, which is a goal of the state’s Coastal Management Program, Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said.
“Working with Amtrak, we can find common sense, 21st century ways to reduce risk without losing already scarce river access,” Sullivan said.
Amtrak took responsibility for the Hudson Line in late 2012 under a lease agreement with CSX, which owns the property, Abrams said.