Amtrak announced Friday it would withdraw an application seeking to fence off more than a mile-and-a-half of Hudson River shoreline.
The emailed announcement ended for the moment a battle between Hudson River municipalities and Amtrak that started last winter when the federally-subsidized rail company sought permission from the New York State Department of State (NYSDOS) to erect fencing between its tracks – which hug the Hudson River’s east bank – and the mainland.
“After hosting collaborative meetings over the past few months, Amtrak, the New York State Department of Transportation, and the New York State Department of State, have jointly agreed to Amtrak withdrawing its application on the current Hudson Line Fencing Project proposal so it can be revised in conjunction with a five-year corridor plan to improve safety along the Empire Service Hudson Line,” according to Amtrak’s announcement.
“Additionally, Amtrak will continue to work with the affected communities, Town Officials and State agencies on formulating the revised plan,” the statement continued. “Public informational meetings will also be held prior to the submission of a new application to the Department of State.”
Amtrak argued in their proposal the fencing was meant to keep those trying to access the Hudson – whom Amtrak refers to as “trespassers” – off the rails for safety’s sake. The fences aimed to completely block access at certain points in the towns of Rhinebeck, Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant, and funnel pedestrian traffic to official crossings at others.
Fencing was also proposed for the Village of Tivoli, but that part of the proposal was rescinded late last year, according to Tivoli Mayor Joel Griffith.
The plan would have also erected gates blocking access to an Amtrak service road running between the tracks and the river in Germantown and Rhinebeck. The road is used by anglers, especially during the spring bass run, and other riparian enthusiasts.
Read: River Rats Resist Amtrak Plan Limiting Hudson Access
Billy Shannon, the spokesman for the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee, which coordinated much of the resistance to the plan, said he received word through Friday’s emailed announcement.
“We didn’t get any advance full notice of this, so I was very excited to see it in my inbox,” he said.
Shannon believed Amtrak would be taking “a fresh look at the plan.”
“They haven’t said for sure that sustainable access (to the Hudson) will be part of their new plan, but they have pledged…to continue to work with…local officials and state officials,” he said.
“So we’re very encouraged that we…maybe can be part of this conversation a lot earlier on in the process then we were on the first try,” he continued.
The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee challenged Amtrak’s assertion the fences were necessary for safety by releasing accident reports from the Federal Railroad Administration they received through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The group argued none of the reported incidents would have been prevented by fencing or gates.
READ: River Group: Plans to Limit Hudson Access Would Not Have Prevented Deaths
Germantown Supervisor Rob Beaury thanked Amtrak, NYSDOS and the state Department of Transportation Friday “for withdrawing the current application and agreeing to work with our communities to finalize a plan prior to submitting a new application.”
“Working together we can achieve the right balance of access and safety,” he continued.
Amtrak’s plan had been virulently opposed by the environmental groups Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper, as well as town leaders from all the communities that would have been affected.
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett and state Senator Kathy Marchione demanded Amtrak hold meetings with the public and release more details of the plan.
To this date, Amtrak has not publicly released many details about the fences, including in what towns most of the fencing would appear. Towns cited in the publicly available plans were not contacted by Amtrak, but instead learned about it from the NYSDOS, according to town officials in Tivoli and Germantown.
The original public comment period was extended past the state-mandated 15 days after public pressure. A public information session, now presumably canceled, was finally scheduled in Germantown after almost a year.
First responders also took issue with Amtrak’s plan, fearing the gates would impede access to emergencies on the Hudson.
Shannon mentioned the state’s Coastal Management Program (CMP) as a possible reason Amtrak withdraw its application from NYSDOS.
The program regulates the shores of water bodies in the state.
A report by McLaren Engineering Group commissioned by Scenic Hudson stated Amtrak’s plan infringed on three CMP policies, including two stating public access should be given to the state’s shorelines.
READ: Alternative Proposed to Amtrak’s Plan Cutting Off Hudson Access
Amtrak officials separately mentioned to Tivoli Mayor Joel Griffith and Hudson Mayor Rick Rector there would be a second and third phase to the fencing plan, but these proposals were never submitted to the state prior to the withdrawal of the first proposal.
For now, river access remains as it was before the plan was announced.
Afterword: The End or The Beginning?
I asked Billy Shannon during his interview if the anti-fence movement had “won the war, or just the battle.”… [ppp_patron_only level=”9″ silent=”no”]
My implication was this story was not over with.
And it’s not. Amtrak admits as much in their statement. Of course, when Amtrak re-engages the issue, they might collaborate with local leaders and the ‘River Rats’ to come up with a plan balancing safety with access. This may be the automated pedestrian gates suggested by the McLaren Engineering Group combined with the ‘rails with trails’ system proposed by Jen Crawford.
Or it may be some bullshit only Amtrak is happy with. Considering the utter lack of engagement with the people their plan would have actually affected, I fear this may be the case, and there will be a lot more to write on this subject.
I’m speculating of course, but Amtrak has a history of slowly constricting river access. Either way, check back for more. I’ll be on the case.