HRRC/MNCR: Beacon Line Rights and Lefts

HOUSATONIC RAILROAD AND METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAIL (MTA) BRING STB INTO BEACON LINE DISPOSAL ISSUE

Editor’s Note: This article covers two related filings under STB Docket AB_1311: MNCR’s 08.February filing, and HRRC’s 12.February response. To lend clarity to our reporting of these proceedings, we begin with some particulars of the property:
MNCR owns the Beacon line, which stretches from Beacon NY at MP 0.0 to the CT/NY state line at MP 71.2, covering 41.1 route miles. The Beacon Line retains obsolete, incompatible milepost designations imposed by prior owners to the two unrelated branch lines that comprise today’s unified Beacon Line. The western portion is the ex-NYC Beacon Secondary, which runs from Dutchess Jct (Beacon NY) on the Hudson Line to Hopewell Jct NY. The eastern portion is the ex-NH Maybrook Branch, running from Hopewell Jct to Danbury CT. The portion in Connecticut is owned by HRRC, although MNCR may move trains over that portion. The connecting branch lines were merged without designating the markings, thus the existing mileposts do not denote the actual mileage. The total Beacon Line mileage is 41.1 miles.

Ownership and operation

The line does not carry revenue passenger service, but connects MNCR’s three Hudson-east commuter lines: the Hudson LineHarlem Line, and the Danbury Branch of the New Haven Line, and supports train staging, etc. for those lines. MNCR purchased the line in 1995 for $4.2 million from a subsidiary of the HRRC {Wikipedia}.

HRRC is the designated exclusive freight operator of the line between Beacon and Brewster NY, per a 1996 trackage rights agreement granting exclusive freight operating rights to the Danbury Terminal Railroad Company (DTRC) prior to 1996. In 1996, DTRC and HRRC merged and the HRRC assumed DTRC’s operating rights.

MNCR 08.February filing

08.February, Washington DC – Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company filed with the STB  seeking 1. A partial waiver of discontinuance regulations (by petition), and 2. To notify all parties of its intent to seek an adverse discontinuance ruling of Housatonic Railroad Company’s trackage rights over a section of the Beacon Line.

Upon its 1995 acquisition of the line, the Interstate Commerce Commission exempted MNCR from most of the provisions of 49 U.S.C. Subtitle IV, authorizing MNCR to abandon the line in the event of the serving carrier’s discontinuance of freight service. MNCR asserts that no freight has moved over the line in “at least two years.” For that reason, MNCR’s asserts that, in this filing, it is not seeking Board authorization for adverse discontinuance, but only notifying parties of its intent to file the application – modified per the petition for partial waiver – on or about March 29, 2021, when it will take immediate effect.

After discontinuance, MNCR will convey a portion of the existing Beacon Line ROW for use as part of the Empire State Trail, which is known as the “Maybrook Trailway,” and connects to the existing Dutchess Rail Trail at Hopewell Junction, New York and the existing Putnam Trailway at Brewster, New York.

HRRC 12.February filing

12.February, Old Lyme CT – Housatonic Railroad filed a response to Metro-North Commuter Railroad Company’s 08.Feb (combined) Petition for Partial Waivers of  Discontinuance Regulations, and notice of intent to apply for Adverse Discontinuance of Trackage Rights on the Beacon Line.

In the filing, HRRC expressed its intent to oppose MNCR’s discontinuance, once the application is filed. (Expressing courtesy toward STB application custom, and at the same time subtly invoking STB authority over MNCR’s supposition of liberty in its discontinuance effort – Ed.).

HRRC also objected the fourth (“d”) of the ten waivers petitioned for by MNRC in its 08.Feb filing:

HRRC does object strongly to the request for a waiver of the requirements of 49 C.F.R. § 1152.22(b) which section requires a description of the “Condition of the Properties”. Metro-North has been in complete control of the property since its acquisition in 1995 [since when the] the property has been exclusively the responsibility of Metro-North. The Condition of the Property … is particularly relevant to HRRC’s likely opposition to the application. [Such] waiver … is sometimes granted … because the applicant has limited knowledge about the condition of the properties. However … in this case … the applicant has had complete control of and responsibility for the condition of the property.