Passenger trains haven’t made stops at the Phoenicia train station in the Catskill region of New York since 1954, but everyday you will find groups of people there, waiting to hop aboard the tracks. These visitors aren’t waiting to board a train, but specially designed pedal bikes that glide along the historic Ulster and Delaware Railroad tracks, offering riders a unique and scenic excursion through the forest and along the Esopus river, just about a two hour drive north and west of New York City.
The bucolic bike ride takes off from the Empire State Railway Museum which is housed inside the historic Phoenicia train station. The museum had a grand re-opening on Memorial Day in preparation for its new role as the point of origin for Rail Explorer pedal-bike tours. Sitting on the tracks in front of the station, where 40 trains a day once passed, are various vintage locomotives waiting to be restored and train cars from the Catskill Mountain Railroad line. Inside the recently cleaned out and reorganized museum you’ll find original artifacts like an ornate golden cash register and typewriter that are both seen in historical photographs, displayed in the Station Master’s office and the waiting room.
Rail Explorer tandem bikes seat two to four people and have steel wheels that glide along the steel railroad tracks, eliminating the need for passengers to steer. Since the course, called “The River Run,” is partly uphill, pedaling is made easier by electric pedal assist motors. Departing from the train station, the first leg of the journey takes riders along Route 28 where you can scope out places to stop for a post ride meal, like the iconic Phoenicia Diner. Along the eight mile round-trip journey, riders are treated to sweeping views of the mountains, the Esopus River and stretches of track enveloped in greenery.
The first half of the ride ends at a picnic area along the Esopus just before Cold Brook Road. While riders enjoy a lunch or snack along the river, waving to fly fishers and sun bathers below, Rail Explorer staff lift and turn the bikes around to head back for the return trip. Once in each direction, car traffic is stopped for riders to bike across Route 28!
Rail Explorers opened shop in their Catskill location in May of 2018 after being selected by the county to use the old railroad tracks for tours. The county owned tracks were previously used by the Catskill Mountain Railroad for scenic train rides. Rail Explorers has only three locations in the country including the Catskills, Rhode Island, and a location in Las Vegas set to open next season.