When Benton Mackaye first proposed the Appalachian Trail (see An Appalachian Trail: A Project in Regional Planning), he envisioned a place where urban workers could spend their free time outdoors in order to recuperate from the drudgery of factory life.
However, if you read his seminal paper, he doesn’t explain how these workers and their families are supposed to get from their urban tenements to the countryside where the Appalachian Trail would be built. How to get to the AT from urban centers without a car remains a vexing problem, even today.
Even bus service between urban areas and towns near the Appalachian Trail is difficult, and hikers often have to rely on private shuttles to ferry them that last stretch from bus depot to trailhead. It’s such a hassle for section hikers, that you want to keep going and not stop once you get on the trail.
Leave it to New Yorkers then, to build the Appalachian Trail Rail Platform right on the Appalachian Trail, just 66 miles north of New York City and Grand Central Station. Located in Pawling, New York. I can still remember hiking past it on the 11th day of an Appalachian Trail section hike I did from southern New Jersey to northern Connecticut a few years ago, after spending the previous night at the famous RPH Shelter.
The Appalachian Trail stop is served by the Metro-North Railroad Harlem Line (schedule), with Saturday and weekday service, costing $21-$26 from Grand Central off-peak and on. That’s astonishingly inexpensive when compared to how much a shuttle driver would charge to drive you that distance.
The only other rail line to service the Appalachian Trail from an urban area is Maryland Rail Commuter’s Brunswick Line (schedule) between Washington DC and Harper’s Ferry.
On hindsight, the relative remoteness of the Appalachian Trail and its inaccessibility from urban areas is probably the chief reason why it’s retained some of its wilderness feel. I can’t imagine what the trail would be like today, if it was easy to get to.