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   Not all “Tales” were humorous.   The issues collected here were capsule histories of the lines that radiated from Selkirk   I wrote them because many of my co-workers were unaware of the heritage of the routes where they worked.


Tales from the River #7


   In keeping with its current reputation, the River Line was conceived as one of the biggest nuisance jobs in railroad history.  Chartered as the New York, West Shore and Buffalo, it was built to compete with the New York Central Railroad.  One of its backers was George Pullman, who bore a grudge against New York Central for using a competing company's sleeping cars on its lines.  Another backer was the New York Ontario and Western, which needed the West Shore as a connection into New York City.  Connecting at Cornwall (MP 53), this well planned route meandered through the Catskills to Oswego, not reaching a single large community that wasn't already served by another railroad!


   Construction was begun in 1881, and was completed to Buffalo in 1883.  The road was extravagantly built to high standards, and was immediately engaged in a bitter rate war with the New York Central, one of the richest Companies in the world at the time.  The ferry crossing at Weehawken and the bypassing of Albany and Rochester put the West Shore at a competitive disadvantage, and the company was bankrupt by 1884.


   As the West Shore's stock price plummeted, the stock was quietly being bought up by New York Central's arch rival the Pennsylvania Railroad.  With the Pennsy's money backing the West Shore, the rate war could continue indefinitely, so New York Central decided to get even.  The Central began construction of the South Penn Railroad, from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh.  Partners in this venture were the Reading Railroad, which needed a westward connection at Harrisburg, and Andrew Carnegie, who wanted to break the Pennsylvania's monopoly at his Pittsburgh steel mills.


   While all this was going on, the country was in a recession. J.P. Morgan, the financier, was concerned that this cutthroat competition between the two largest Companies in America could wreck the securities market. In 1885 Morgan arranged a meeting between the officers of the two railroads. Legend has it that the meeting was held aboard Morgan's yacht so nobody could walk out in anger.  A deal was struck; New York Central leased the West Shore for 475 years in return for abandoning the South Penn project.


​   While the Ravena-Buffalo section of the West Shore was fairly useless, the Weehawken-Albany portion became a valuable asset to the New York Central.  Known as the River Division, it had heavy local passenger traffic, and much freight destined for Weehawken, both for export and interchange to New Jersey railroads. The line was double track with four tracks from North Bergen to Dumont for commuter trains.


   The New York Ontario & Western, which used the River Line from Weehawken to Cornwall, quit in 1957. The last Weehawken-Albany passenger train ran in 1958, and the last commuter train to Haverstraw ran in 1959. With the loss of passenger service and declining freight traffic, the double track wasn't needed and the River Line was single track by 1962.


   In 1968 the New York Central merged with its longtime rival the Pennsylvania to form the Penn Central.  The Penn Central had the honor of making the Guinness Book Of World's Records for the largest bankruptcy. The River Line became a strategic link for Penn Central, which built the elevation between Nave and Waldo to connect New York Central tracks (River Line, North Bergen and Weehawken Yards) to Pennsylvania tracks (P&H Branch, South Kearny,  Greenville and Garden Yards).


   Prior to the mergers, yarding a train on the River division was a fairly straightforward affair.  Trains were yarded at Weehawken (The maze of tracks at CP-02 was nicknamed "The puzzle"), and after the Penn Central merger, some trains went to South Kearny.  It wasn't until the Conrail merger in 1976 that the real fun began. Conrail took over the facilities of four railroads in northern New Jersey. In addition to the Penn Central mentioned above, there was the Lehigh Valley (Oak Island Yard, National Docks Branch), the Erie Lackawanna (Croxton Yard, Northern Running, Croxton Running) and the Central New Jersey (Port Newark Yard, Chemical Coast).


   Initially, Conrail didn't do much to integrate this mess into a unified terminal, and the explosion of intermodal traffic in the mid-eighties caught the company by surprise.  The River Line suffered years of congestion and delays until Conrail could catch up with new Terminals, Tracks and CP Points. It was this "Golden Age" that gave the River Line its current reputation. Of course, things are much better today, aren't they?


Issue No 17


    The Chicago Line began as a series of short lines across New York State.  The first section was the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad, opened between Albany and Schenectady in 1831.  This was the first railroad in New York State and is also the oldest section of Conrail.  This railroad was conceived as a shortcut around the many locks on the eastern end of the Erie Canal, and cut a day off the two week trip to Buffalo.


    The westward expansion began in 1836 when the Utica & Schenectady Railroad was opened.  In 1839 the Syracuse & Utica Railroad opened.  The first railroad between Syracuse and Rochester was opened by 1843, but this was via Auburn and Geneva.  The present route was opened in 1850 as the Syracuse and Rochester Direct Railroad.  The Tonawanda Railroad had opened its line between Rochester and Batavia by 1837, and by 1843 had a connection at Attica with the Attica & Buffalo Railroad.  These two Railroads became the Buffalo & Rochester Railroad in 1850, building a direct line between Batavia and Buffalo the same year.  In 1853 the five railroads comprising the Chicago Line, plus five others, merged to become the New York Central Railroad.  Erastus Corning I (A familiar name to any Albany resident) was named president of the new company.


    In 1867 Cornelius "The Commodore" Vanderbilt, the man whose name became synonymous with the New York Central entered the picture.  Vanderbilt owned the New York & Harlem and the Hudson River railroads.  When opposing groups tried to thwart Vanderbilt's takeover of the New York Central, he waited until the Hudson River was frozen and announced that his two railroads would no longer accept traffic from the New York Central.  With no other outlet to New York City, stock prices dropped, and Vanderbilt bought his way in, merging the three railroads in 1869.  Under Vanderbilt's control, the New York Central became a major railroad.  Traffic grew rapidly and the main line was expanded to four tracks in the mid 1870's.  Tracks 1&2 on the south side were for passenger trains, and tracks 3&4 on the north side were for freight trains.  This is why all the yards are on the north side of the tracks and the passenger stations were on the south side.  With the acquisition of the West Shore in 1885 the New York Central had six main line tracks between New York and Buffalo.


    Converting a string of short lines into a four track main line presented problems, however.  In many cases the original builders simply laid the tracks down the middle of a Street, causing accidents, congestion and noise.  In Syracuse for example, the original main line ran down the middle of Washington Street.  The current route around the north side of the City was built as a freight bypass, but passenger trains ran down Washington Street at 15 MPH until 1936, when a new elevated line and station were opened.  This situation had made Syracuse a source of jokes on the Vaudeville circuit for many years.  Smaller towns like Herkimer, Oneida, and Batavia also were bypassed.


    The biggest bottlenecks on the "Water Level Route" were the grades between Albany and Schenectady and the yards at West Albany.  Every train required pushers on both grades, and the yards at West Albany were handling nearly 9,000 cars per day with no room for expansion.  In 1900 the "Hoffmann's Connection" had been constructed (between CP-RJ and CP-169) to improve connections between the Main Line and the West Shore.  In order to provide a freight detour around the Schenectady Hill, the New York Central built the Carman Branch in 1902.  But the detour around the Albany Hill was to be a much larger project. In 1913 the New York Central organized a subsidiary, The Hudson River Connecting Railroad to construct Selkirk Yard, the Castleton Bridge, and the Selkirk Branch from Unionville to Post Road (CP-187) and Stuyvesant (CP-125).  This $25,000,000 project was completed in 1924.


    The Chicago Line remained a busy passenger artery until the 1950's. In the years following World War II, the New York Central spent millions on over 700 passenger cars to re-equip its passenger trains.  This "Great Steel Fleet" proved to be a dubious investment, however, for in 1955 the New York State Thruway opened, and passenger revenues dropped more than 50%.  With massive cuts in passenger service and a decline in freight business due to a recession in 1957-1958, two of the four tracks were removed.  To help stem continuing passenger losses, the route through downtown Syracuse was abandoned in 1962, and Albany lost its downtown station in 1968.  Amtrak took over the remaining passenger service in 1971.


    While the Chicago Line remained a busy freight corridor through the years, the companies owning it didn't fare so well.  In 1968 the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania railroad to become Penn Central, which was in bankruptcy by 1970.  Penn Central and six other bankrupt railroads were merged into Conrail on April Fool's day 1976 by an act of Congress.  Under Conrail ownership, the Line has had many CP points and controlled sidings removed, but remains essentially unchanged.  But it was under Conrail that that the most important event in the in the long history of the Chicago Line occurred.   For it was in 1981 that Conrail started the long pool!


Tales From the River  Issue 63


   The lack of navigable rivers or canals put Boston at a competitive disadvantage as a seaport in the nineteenth century.  As a result, Boston's citizens lost no time in planning and constructing a railroad.  The first segment of what would become today's Boston Line was chartered in 1831 as the Boston & Worcester railroad.   The line opened between Boston and Newton in 1834, and reached Worcester in 1835.  The line from Worcester to the New York State line was built as the Western Railroad of Massachusetts.  Chartered in 1833,  the line opened between Worcester and Springfield in 1839, and reached the Hudson River in December, 1841.  The New York State portion of the line was chartered and constructed as a separate company, the Albany and West Stockbridge Railroad, which was leased to the Western Railroad.


   The Western Railroad was the first mountain railroad ever constructed, and was considered an engineering marvel (People were more easily impressed back then).  It was also the longest railroad line under a single management at that time.  The chief engineer and superintendent of the Western Railroad was George Washington Whistler, whose wife became the subject of one of the most famous paintings of all time, "Whistler's Mother".  Mr. Whistler constructed his line to such high standards that most of the original right of way and some of the original stone bridges are still in use today.


   The Boston & Worcester and the Western Railroad merged to form the Boston & Albany in 1869.  With the opening of the first railroad bridge across the Hudson River in the 1870's, the new company became a valuable connection for the New York Central, and soon fell under it's control.  The New York Central leased the Boston & Albany in 1900.  However, New England residents objected to the foreign control of "their" railroad, and hated seeing "New York Central" painted on cars and engines.  As a result, when New York Central consolidated the many railroads under it's control in 1914, the Boston & Albany remained as a separate entity.


   The Boston & Albany became a key part of the busy New York Central.  The line was double track throughout, with a "fourth iron" on the eastbound grades and four tracks between Boston and Framingham.  The western end of the Boston Line from CP-187 to Selkirk opened in 1924 as the Hudson River Connecting Railroad.  It was part of a massive project designed to eliminate the bottleneck caused by steep grades and congested freight yards at West Albany.


   In it's heyday, the Boston Line was one of the busiest railroads in the nation.  In addition to the many freight trains, luxurious streamliners like The New England States, The Southwest Limited, and The Paul Revere connected Boston with midwestern cities.  New York to Boston "Inland Route" trains as well as many local trains traveled between Boston and Springfield.  Several New York to North Adams trains ran between Chatham and Pittsfield.


   The Boston and Albany began to lose it's separate identity after World War Two.  By then, New Englanders no longer cared when new diesels and streamlined passenger cars appeared lettered "New York Central".  The new diesels' ability to be MU'ed made them particularly useful on heavy grades, and the Boston & Albany became the first New York Central line to retire it's steamers in 1951.  The Boston & Albany officially ceased to exist in 1961, when it was finally merged into the New York Central.  By that time, the only reminders of the old B&A were the peeling logos on the sides of abandoned stations and a few dozen old freight cars.


   With the decline in business in the late fifties, the third and forth tracks were torn up, the main line west of CP-187 and the Hudson River Connecting Railroad were single-tracked.  With the exception of the famous single-track "suicide bridge" over I-90 at East Chatham, the rest of the Boston Line remained a double-track, rule 251 railroad.  The old "B&A" enjoyed a brief resurrection when New York Central ordered a fleet of stone hoppers with BA reporting marks in the late sixties.


   The New York Central merged into the ill-fated Penn Central on February 1, 1968.  With the formation of Amtrak on May 1, 1971, the last two Boston to Albany passenger trains were discontinued.  Penn Central then tore up the original main line from CP-187 to Rensselaer, re-designating the Hudson River Connecting Railroad as part of the Boston Line.  Passenger service returned to the Boston Line on Halloween 1975, when Amtrak inaugurated the "Lake Shore (Late Sure) Limited".  The new train had to make a circuitous detour via the Hudson line, backing between CP-125 and CP-SM to reach the Boston Line, until the former main line was rebuilt as the Post Road Branch in 1979.


   Bankrupt by 1970, the Penn Central was merged into Conrail on April Fool's day 1976.  Conrail made a big change to the Boston Line in 1985, when they single-tracked much of the line from CP-187 to CP-33, and replaced the block signals with a cab signal system.  With the country in a recession, and the B&M and double-stack traffic a few years into the future, it probably seemed a good idea at the time  The double track between CP-33 and CP-43, was replaced a decade later as part of the MBTA's project to extend commuter service to Worcester.  On June 1, 1999, the Boston Line became part of CSX.


   The Boston Line has always been popular with railfans, not just for it's scenery but for the unique locomotives that worked there.  In 1925, the Lima company developed a new type of "super-power" steam locomotive.  First tested and operated on the Boston and Albany, engines of this type became known as "Berkshires".  In the fifties, the New York Central assigned it's photogenic but not too reliable Alco and Fairbanks-Morse diesels to the Boston Line.  In the eighties, Conrail's "B&A cycle power",  the reliable but not too photogenic C30-7A's (6550-6599) and C32-8's (6610-6619), were the only examples of their type ever built.  The neither reliable nor photogenic SD-80MAC's were the first, and so far the last, of their kind.  With new CSX power arriving without cab signals, it's a safe bet that older units will be delighting railfans and aggravating train crews on the Boston Line for many years to come!

April 15, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the most famous disaster of all time, the sinking of the Titanic.  While everyone is familiar with the story of the ship and the 1,500 souls who perished aboard her, very few know the story of..




Tales from the River Issue 111


   By absorbing competing railroads, steamships and trolley lines, the New York, New Haven & Harford Railroad enjoyed a virtual monopoly in southern New England by the end of 19th century.  In charge of this compact railroad empire was Charles S. Mellen. One of the few lines to infringe on the New Haven territory was the Central Vermont, a subsidiary of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway system.  The Grand Trunk’s general manager, Charles Hayes, was an American with a reputation as an aggressive and capable railroad man.  


   When the New Haven bought a controlling interest in the Boston & Maine and negotiated a traffic agreement with Grand Trunk’s rival Canadian Pacific, Hays decided it was time to take action.  In 1910, the Grand Trunk began work on the New England Southern Railway which was to run from a connection with the Central Vermont at Palmer, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island.  Though Mellen assumed this was a bluff, the New Haven began doing whatever it could to obstruct the project.  A “railroad war” ensued; fought in courtrooms, state legislatures and newspapers.


   Sadly, Charles Hays was aboard the Titanic that fateful April night in 1912.  The last words any of the survivors recall hearing from him was “This ship is good for eight hours yet!”  Edson J. Chamberlin was appointed the new president of the Grand Trunk in May.  The Grand Trunk stopped work on the Southern New England in November, citing the “tightness of the London money market”.  Chamberlin, however, had been an early acquaintance of Charles Mellon, and many suspected that the New Haven had paid off the Grand Trunk to stop the project.  Though indicted under the Sherman Anti-Trust act, neither man was ever prosecuted.  


   After construction was halted, John Marsch, the largest contractor on the project took the Grand Trunk to court.  When construction resumed in March 1913, it was assumed by many that the motive was prevention of a lawsuit rather than a desire to complete the project.  Work stopped for good in 1916, shortly after the completion of Marsch’s grading contract.  The Grand Trunk, bankrupted by its extension to the Pacific Ocean, became the Canadian National in 1919.  The new company had no interest in spending $6 million to complete a project that was dubious to begin with.


  There was still some public enthusiasm for the project, particularly by the citizens of Providence.  Attempts to revive the project continued through the twenties, but the depression ended any hope of completing it for all time.  Though the work had stopped, the legal proceedings dragged on.  John Marsch was awarded a final settlement of $622,785 in 1930.  In 1932, the right-of-way, built at a cost of eight million dollars, was sold at auction for $40,500.  John Marsch bought the most promising parcels for $40,000.


  The New Haven is now part of Amtrak’s northeast corridor and the Central Vermont is now the New England Central.  Though weather and construction have obliterated most of it, a few crumbling remnants of the Southern New England still exist today.  The line was to have crossed the Boston and Albany Railroad (CSX’s Boston Subdivision) twice.  The first crossing was just east of milepost 82, where a concrete abutment still stands on the north side of the tracks.  At milepost 78.8 the footings remain for what would have been the Southern New England’s largest bridge; a 1,250 foot long curved trestle 90 feet high.

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