Poughkeepsie... This morning, a piece of local railroad history returned to life on the Dutchess Rail Trail, thanks to the volunteer work of some local railroad enthusiasts. Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus reactivated the original Maybrook Rail Line railroad signal at the North Grand Avenue crossing of the Dutchess Rail Trail in the Town of Poughkeepsie, joined by railroad buffs Robert Roraback of Poughkeepsie and David Williams of Poughkeepsie who had the led the restoration effort to preserve this piece of rail history.
“Thanks to the efforts of Bob Roraback, Dave Williams and others, a piece of the Dutchess Rail Trail’s original railroad history is preserved,” said County Executive Steinhaus. “Trail users, young and old, can see this railroad icon, fully preserved, as they enjoy time out on the Dutchess Trail Rail with family and friends.”
The project began when former Dutchess County Department of Public Works employee Robert (Bob) Roraback first learned about the old railroad signal when he worked as a construction inspector, doing prep work prior to the construction of Phase II of the Dutchess Rail Trail, which extends from Morgan Lake to Overocker Road in Poughkeepsie. A longtime railroad enthusiast, he offered to take on the restoration effort in his free time following his retirement from county service in June, 2009.
David Williams got involved with the project when he saw a Dutchess Rail Trail brochure that noted the signal was slated for restoration. He contacted Dutchess Rail Trail project leader Joseph Kelley with an offer to lend his time and talent to the preservation effort. Together, Mr. Roraback and Mr. Williams spent the last six months working to restore the signal.
Work included sandblasting to remove years of accumulated rust, refurbishing parts and crafting replacement components to replace pieces that had gone missing over the years. Repeated sanding and painting prepared the signal for reinstallation.
Mr. Roraback and Mr. Williams recruited help for local business owners for other assistance with the project, minimizing County expense to preserve this railroad history. Don Veith of Veith Electric donated necessary electrical panels and switches to get the signal operational and Patrick Towne of Old Towne Construction provided excavation work to bury the electrical lines beneath the ground.
According to research done by Mr. Williams, the signal served as the westbound railroad signal for the Maybrook Line of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co. The North Grand Avenue location was where the east end of Poughkeepsie passing side joined the main line track, on the west side of North Grand Avenue. This signal, made by the General Railway Signal Company of Rochchester, NY circa 1945, would indicate to westbound trains if they had to stop or proceed on the main track or the passing siding to the next signal.
When asked why he decided to take the signal restoration project on, Bob Roraback explained, “We wanted people out enjoying the trail to realize and remember the trail’s history, that at one time this was one of the most important rail lines in the country, connecting New England to the rest of the country.”
David Williams shared his connection with the Dutchess Rail Trail, “I really became interested in the rail line back in 1970 when I worked for Quinlan Gas, which utilized this rail line to transport their own propane tank cars. I got to know the train crews and even ride with them to New Haven, CT. I was familiar with the signals and couldn’t pass up this opportunity to preserve this piece of history.”
The Dutchess Rail Trail is a 12 mile multi-use linear county park which will run through the middle of the County along the former Maybrook Rail corridor and including the towns of Poughkeepsie, LaGrange, Wappinger and East Fishkill.
Currently two phases of the popular Dutchess Rail Trail are completed and open for public use. Phase I of the Dutchess Rail Trail, which opened in the fall of 2007, is located in East Fishkill and extends 1.7 miles between Route 376 (near the Whortekill Rod & Gun Club) and Lake Walton Road. Phase II opened in 2009 and is a 2.4 mile section from Morgan Lake to Overocker Road in Poughkeepsie.
Work is underway on Phase III of the Dutchess Rail Trail, which will add more than 6 miles of new trail section through the Towns of LaGrange and Wappinger and connect with completed Phase I section all the way to Hopewell Junction at Route 82. Work on bridge crossings is becoming visible to motorists over several roadways, including Rt. 376 in East Fishkill, Maloney Road in the Town of Wappinger and Titusville Road in the Town of LaGrange, with bridges expected to be installed soon. If weather conditions allow, Phase III should be open for public use by year end, with final asphalt top course work, tree planting and landscape work to be done in the Spring of 2011.
Restoring railroad signals is not the only way trail users can volunteer their time and talent to improving the Dutchess Rail Trail. The Dutchess Rail Trail Advisory Council (DRTAC) was formed to provide amenity enhancements to the Dutchess Rail Trail in order to continue to improve the experience for trail users. The DRTAC has numerous opportunities for people to get involved with the Dutchess Rail Trail including “Adopt-A-Trail” programs where volunteers can select a designated half-mile section of the DRT they will maintain for cleanliness four times a year. Volunteer gardeners are also welcome to enhance the beauty of the trail through plantings of flower beds located at five trailhead locations.
Additionally, the DRTAC is working to add various amenities such as benches, bicycle racks, trash receptacles, water fountains, comfort stations, and picnic tables. Acquiring the equipment will be dependent upon financial donations from businesses, organizations, clubs and the general public. Memorial benches with a dedication honoring or remembering a specific person or organization can be purchased online at:
http://www.communityfoundationdc.org/page30068.cfm. For more information about the Dutchess Rail Trail Advisory Council and how trail users can support the Dutchess Rail Trail, visit https://www.dutchessny.gov/ and click on the Rail trail button for more specific information or call Brad Barclay, Park Planner at 845-486-2059.
“We designed the Dutchess Rail Trail to be a true community park that people would feel connected to and we are thrilled to see that is exactly what it has become. People are eager to learn more about it and find out how they can help make it even better. The hard work and dedication of volunteers like Bob Roraback and David Williams are what make the Dutchess Rail Trail such a special community treasure,” concluded County Executive Steinhaus.
A photo gallery featuring photos of the signal before restoration as well as the reinstallation process is online at: http://www.co.dutchess.ny.us/CountyGov/Departments/DPW-Parks/18966.htm. Photos of the reactivation will be added shortly.