That's pretty much my reaction each time I pass portions of the abandoned Air Line Railroad as it twists and turns from the rusting iron swing bridge across the Connecticut River through Portland and into the Cobalt section of East Hampton.
Growing up in the part of Portland known as Quarrytown, the abandoned railroad was my highway connecting me with the rope swing at my favorite swimming hole or the Dairy Queen. I would also explore the brownstone and granite tunnels that took streams underneath the railroad, impressed by the century-old workmanship of stone masons.
I recently returned to the area, and each time I find it harder to find the old railroad. A gravel operation has taken away another chunk of the railroad where engines once thundered past on their way to New York City or Boston. A housing development's entrance and parking lot lays where the "Ghost Train," with its white cars, passed through on moonlit nights.
The train line is still active west of the Conneticut River, but east of the river, much of the Air Line — named that because the railroad was created by drawing a straight line through the state from New Haven to Boston — is now a state park.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection purchased the railroad's right-of-way from the Portland/East Hampton line through the eastern part of the state to Willimantic, and eventually to Pomfret and the Rhode Island border. The entire 50-mile portion is open to the public. Except in my hometown — the lone eastern gap. Sigh.
Up until recently, trains still came across the Connecticut River into Portland to service Midstate Recovery, a recycling business, and a corrugated cardboard company. But the company moved and the recycling facility was destroyed during the Halloween nor'easter. So the once-active tracks now sit abandoned and rusting.
The ribbons of steel become obscured by high grass and come to an end at a former freight station near Route 66. From there the abandoned railroad lies intact and travels behind houses and a supermarket. Railroad ties still rest in the mud with rusting shopping carts and other trash on them. The railroad comes to an abrupt end at the new housing development, marked with "no trespassing" signs.
A relatively pristine section of the railroad still runs along a ridge parallel to Route 66 with scenic views across the Connecticut River to Middletown. But once again, the bed disappears behind a commercial area before crossing over Route 17. The bed briefly reappears, but is wiped clear again by gravel operations.
But from the gravel pit, much of the railroad bed remains intact for several miles into Cobalt passing over granite train trestles and between rocky ledges with views of the Connecticut River. The only things using the line, though, are all-terrain vehicles and the hikers whose footprints are in the mud.
Is there any hope of connecting the Portland section with the rest of the Air Line Trail? With much of the right-of-way privately owned, there doesn't seem to be much hope. And with each year that passes, I see chunks of my childhood highway disappearing — but not the fond memories.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times