It used to be a railroad -- 09/20/11

So, writing up yesterday's entry recounting our Saturday excursion in New York City and our stroll along the High Line, three stories above the streets of New York, made me think about other interesting repurposing of old railroads.

The obvious one is the South County Bike Path -- which I have mentioned countless times here over the years (frequently with photographs). The bike path follows the former roadbed of the Narragansett Pier Railroad which, once upon a time, ran passenger (and freight) service between the Narragansett Pier (tourist area) and Kingston station on the mainline between New York and Boston (during much of the 20th century that was the New York, New Haven, and Hartford railroad). Kingston station is now Amtrack, but the Narragansett Pier Railroad has been gone for decades. The bike path runs from Kingston station, past the Great Swamp (scene of the Great Swamp Massacre in King Philip's War that I've mentioned before), past Teft Hill (yes, as in Joshua Teft, the only man in colonial America to have been hung, drawn, and quartered on charges of treason), past my neighborhood (well, about a kilometer if you are biking or running), down through the village of Peace Dale and then across the Saugatucket River and through the village of Wakefield (what amounts to our "downtown" area)... and, finally this summer, a new section that extends it into the Town of Narragansett. It's going to take a while before the final piece of it is done -- among other problems, they've reached a point where the old railroad right-of-way no longer exists and people are arguing about the routing of the last couple of miles. (I'm with the faction that thinks it should end at Canonchet Farm (site of the South County Museum and a nature preserve, etc.). That is really close to the Narragansett Town Beach and not that far from other places people might want to ride bikes to, such as a variety of restaurants in Narragansett (less than half a mile to the Narragansett Towers).

But this summer -- just a bit over a month ago -- we had a chance to walk across the Hudson River (and back) on the Walkway Over the Hudson, an old railroad bridge converted to a pedestrian walkway.

The railroad bridge had been talked about from a few years after the Civil War, but it took two decades for it to be built and begin carrying trains across the Hudson River. I believe that when it first went into service it was the longest bridge in the world (obviously since surpassed by many bridges). At its highest point of use -- during World War II -- it carried more than 3500 rail cars per day -- every day -- across the Hudson. In the decades following the war, rail traffic diminished and, following a fire in 1974 that severely damaged the tracks, it was decided that it was not worth repairing. Almost two decades later, a non-profit group -- Walkway Over the Hudson -- was formed. It took them years of lobbying and persuading and finding sponsors and supporters, but they did succeed and the bridge was repaired and paved and in October of 2009 it was opened to the public

This is the view looking south -- downstream from the pedestrian bridge -- toward the Mid-Hudson Bridge -- the highway bridge across the river

This is a view northward -- upstream -- from the pedestrian bridge. This also gives a feeling for how high up you are. When walking across the river, you are 202 feet above the surface of the river. The land goes uphill fairly steeply on both sides of the river (close to the water on the west short, further back on the east shore). The river is about half a mile wide at this point but the bridge itself (anchored on the highlands on both sides -- in fact, the town on the west shore is named Highland) is 1.28 miles from one end to the other. (I grew up on this side of the river about 15 or 16 miles upstream.)

This is the view of the east shore of the river -- the outskirts of the City of Poughkeepsie. Sorry about the fence wire in the way -- this end of the bridge seems designed to ensure that nobody drops anything over the side of the bridge. If you look up the railroad tracks toward the top of the picture you will see the Poughkeepsie train station (this is for both Amtrack trains and the Metro-North commuter railroad).

And here's Nancy and me with the Mid-Hudson Bridge in the background.

This was all the weekend of my high school reunion -- Kingston (NY) class of 1961. Nancy and I stayed in a delightful bed & breakfast in Rosendale (Creeklocks B & B -- absolutely fabulous -- wonderful hosts and the most delicious breakfasts you can imagine!) and she had mentioned wanting to see if we could find this pedestrian bridge that her sister Cathy had talked about. So, on Saturday, after Nancy & I had hiked around Minnewaska State Park & she crashed back at the B&B for a nap, my brother and I set off to the bridge. It seems he wanted to walk it too because he often crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge (on his way to & from IBM Poughkeepsie) and could see the pedestrian bridge. So we walked almost to the far side and then came back (I had to get ready for the Saturday night part of the reunion) -- but then on Sunday, on our way back to Rhode Island, Nancy & I stopped and walked all the way (the whole 1.28 miles) and back -- and then headed off for home.

So that's three different repurposings of old railroads -- The Walkway Over the Hudson River, the South County Bike Path, and the High Line in New York City. What about in your area? Any imaginative uses for old railroads?

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