Thursday, January 13, 2011

A compromise scheme for the waterfront?

Alderman Sarah Sterling's proposal that the city negotiate with Holcim to purchase its waterfront industrial property was a brilliant stroke, the first fresh thinking on the impasse in a long time. Even if the proposal does not move forward as conceived, it pushes both parties to boil down their needs to their absolute essence. Workable compromises only become possible when parties are willing to let go of a few things cluttering the debate and to focus on what is most central. When that happens, the resulting compromise usually doesn't give each party 50% of what they want, but much more.

What is the quarry operators' most essential desire? To move gravel to locations beyond the city without the city's interference.

What is the city's most essential desire? To have control and use of South Bay and the waterfront for aesthetic, recreational, and environmental purposes, and to get gravel trucks off city streets.

With the above in mind, I developed the scheme below. It is based on a major assumption that if wrong would immediately void it, but I figure it is worth putting it out there. The assumption is that the quarry operators move gravel by train to points south instead of transferring it to a barge on the Hudson waterfront. I have no idea if this would be safe (would the loads be allowed on the North-South rail line?), cost feasible (what are the efficiencies of moving gravel by train versus barge?), politically workable (would CSX, whom I presume controls the lines, allow the proposed use?) or operationally convenient (do the train lines go where the gravel needs to go, or is there a railyard downstream where an intermodal transfer could occur?). But here's how it would work.

A new private rail spur would be extended from the existing north-south railroad line, travel along the existing South Bay causeway, and terminate at the existing quarry facility on the west side of Route 9. Quarry operators would load gravel there and move it by railcar to points south without transferring it to barges at the Hudson waterfront. Holcim's ownership of the northern half of South Bay and the waterfront land and port (shown in green, and extending to the east of 9G, so that both sides of 9G remain natural) would be transferred to the city.
Rail-based scheme (click on image for larger view): A new private rail spur would allow gravel to be transported to points south without bringing it through crucial parts of Hudson and without using the deepwater port.
Again, the scheme requires a big assumption. But if it holds, both parties would get most of what they most want. The quarry operators would get to move gravel more freely and Hudson would get a larger, more peaceful waterfront and no more gravel trucks through the city.

Some details would have to be worked out. The new rail line would have to cross Route 9G at grade. The configuration of the line east of 9G would have to be more complex than what I have shown so the rail cars could be loaded. Environmental regulators and the City of Hudson probably would want to limit and meter the amount of gravel moved via the new line. But these details seem solvable if the larger picture makes sense.

A final point: As I have written elsewhere, I do not wish for the greening of Hudson's waterfront to become part of a large scale eviction of industry from the city. Real industrial activity (locally owned and operated, not the conglomerate variety) needs to be accommodated and even intensified in some areas near the waterfront for the more general well-being of Hudson. It's another compromise that is necessary to give everyone most of what they most want. A topic to be expanded on another time.


  1. If it were simply an issue of using rail instead of barge then they would form an alliance to use the closer CSX/ADM freight spur off the state truck route 23B near County Route 39.


  2. Chad, the possibility of using the ADM spur for gravel transport has been raised before by others before me. One problem with this idea is that while eliminating gravel trucks traveling through Hudson, it brings more trains through the 7th Street Park. I was looking to avoid this in my scheme.

    A second problem is that the ADM-based proposal, at least as has been put forth previously, continues to presume the transfer of gravel to barges at the Hudson waterfront... therefore it would not alleviate the problems this activity brings to the area, even if the city owned the port.

  3. Don't overlook the additional train traffic off the park as a bad thing. Has anyone been asked? Also, don't think that all "gravel" needs to travel by barge. Yes, there's a "deep" water port at the foot of Hudson. Very few of these exist along the Hudson River..., so most companies ship via road and rail, far more often than what is shipped on water. Why shouldn't we?

    I think our area's companies are thinking the same thing. They know they will eventually lose the transporting by river. It's going to be road and rail. That's the problem many are currently trying to work out.

    As a separate, but similar issue is the Columbia County Airport. I bet that ten years from now it's going to be far more important than it is now.

    It's basically a problem of how you get something from point A, to B.

  4. A few "technical questions"...

    Is the conveyor indicated on the map one that is already there (but seems not to be in use, though maybe it is)? It would be good to put it to use.

    Opposite side of the coin:

    Would train traffic through 7th Street Park have anything to do with the old depot on 7th and State? Would it need to reopen? Again, it would be good to see it put to use. That said, I wouldn't be in favor of trains idling at that location; wouldn't be a step forward for Hudson. I'm in favor of a better solution, if there is one (and Matthew's idea says that there is).

  5. Thanks for the comments. Hopefully I responded adequately in my more recent post on this topic. Re depot at 7th and State, I don't think it would be affected by increased activity on the ADM line. But it's a terrific little building... I'd love to see something interesting happen with it.

  6. Actually, you're all beating around the bush.
    It turns out, that not too long ago, gravel moved by rail from that very spot!
    Check out the "Historic aerials" at, and they have all kinds of topographic and aerial photography. If you look at any point before 1956 on the aerials (1981 on topographic), you'll see there already was a railroad line to that point.
    That line was the remains of one of the Dutchess Country Railroads, which was mostly pulled up around 1935, but that short stretch remained specifically to server the quarry/cement works there.

    The right of way is entirely intact physically, and with no current landowners near there using the land, I'm sure that re-acquiring the right of way to relay track would be pretty straightforward. In fact, CSX (current owner of the railroads in Hudson NY) might still own the land as it is!

    (Sorry, I've never been to Hudson)
    I think I missed something here. Why would any gravel train from the gravel spur in question have to go east through 7th Street Park? If the gravel is headed from a loading facility to the downstate, it has no reason to traverse the line through the park.

    Crossing 9G at grade should prove no problem. It would either get lights and gates, or more likely it would be an "exempt" crossing. An exempt crossing would mean all trains would have to stop there, and a flagman dispatched from the train to stop traffic. For the mainlines, that'd be a nuisance, but as a short branch there would be no problem.

  7. I am mistaken on one detail:
    That line was not part of any previous railroad based on the aerial photography and account of a few rail historians. The line in question had pretty much always been a quarry line, and it was pulled up for the reasons that Chad brings up: redundancy.
    It was deemed costly and senseless to run a parallel line up to the mines when there was a perfectly good line that happens to run right through town, so Conrail (previous operator to CSX) pulled up the track to reduce taxes, maintenance and mileage.

    Having never been to Hudson NY (it's on the list), would there be negative effects to running trains more frequently?