Category Archives: Railroad History

New England Gateway, The New “Alphabet Route”

Guest article by Ken Kinlock

Over the years we covered the historic “ALPHABET ROUTES”

More recently there has been a lot of activity in creating a “New England Gateway”. Because it involves several railroads, we will call it an “alphabet route”.

Before then, rail freight into and out of New England had been mostly Conrail (now CSX) or Guilford. Another route exists that avoids these carriers.

A test train has run to Johnson City, New York (January 2006). This coal train moved via the New England Gateway Route (P&W-NECR-VRS-D&H-NS)

“P&W” Providence & Worcester Railroad (the Providence and Worcester Railroad has joined the Genesee & Wyoming family of railroads)

***********

“NECR” New England Central Railroad

***********

“VRS” Vermont Rail System

************

“D&H” Canadian Pacific Railway (was Delaware & Hudson once)

*************

“NS” Norfolk Southern

************

A coal ship arrived at Providence, Rhode Island and was unloaded to a 50-car train.

The train travels to Worcester, Massachusetts, then to New London, Connecticut on the P&W.

It switches to the NECR for travel, back through Norwich, Connecticut then Palmer, Massachusetts, to Bellows Falls, Vermont.

At Bellows Falls, it is picked up by VRS and heads to Whitehall, Vermont.

From Whitehall, D&H takes it thru Saratoga, Schenectady and Oneonta to Binghampton.

NS carries it the last leg to Johnson City.

The route has varied, the owners have varied; but this is the basic “sketch” of the route.

Advertisements

New York State; it’s Railroads, Tourism, History

There are two important WebSites for New York State. New York State is somewhat of a tourist site. It opens with a picture of the Saratoga Race Track. Then sections on New York City, followed by Cooperstown, and the Adirondacks. Followed by the Catskill Mountains and the Erie (Barge) Canal. Then Albany, Schenectady, Utica and Syracuse. Finally an article on the Hudson Valley.

The second WebSite is all about New York Railroads and the NY Central Railroad.

This WebSite starts out with short stories on the many historic railroads of New York State. It concludes with many of the New York Central properties.

We hope you enjoy both WebSites.

Vintage private railcars are mustered at Albany-Rensselaer Train Station

Rensselaer

Dome cars, lounges, observation and sleeper cars, many painted in the livery of their former railroads, gathered at the Rensselaer rail station Wednesday, preparing for a multi-day journey that will wind through the Adirondacks, the Southern Tier, the Berkshires and Green Mountains.

They’ll end up in Burlington, Vt., for the 40th annual convention of the American Association of Private Rail Car Owners.

Before then, the owners of these cars, the oldest of which dates from 1911, will see a considerable amount of the Northeast. Hauled by two Amtrak locomotives, they’ll travel to Utica and then to Thendara, back to Utica and onto Geneva, then head east to Springfield, Mass., and Rutland before arriving at Burlington.

The owners, rail enthusiasts all, can talk about the history of their individual cars. They’ve often spent years restoring them. Former association executive director Borden Black has just acquired a car from Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, which has ceased operation.

Dick Johnston of Phoenix travels in a dome car built in 1955 by The Budd Company, once a major U.S. railcar manufacturer, and used on the Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest.

Amtrak took over the route, and the equipment, in May 1971, and used it until it was replaced by newly manufactured bilevel Superliners in the late 1970s.

Coordinating a trip like this can be a challenge. Taylor Johnson, the association’s vice president of transportation, had planned a stop in Saratoga Springs and a trip via Whitehall to Rutland. But when the Canadian Pacific balked at hosting the train, Vermont rail officials and the Finger Lakes Railway stepped up with an alternate routing.

The private rail car owners support the continued operation of Amtrak, and Johnson said their train “is a reflection of American history.” The owners often make their cars available to passengers looking for a unique travel experience.

Some of the cars have private bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens, as well as showers and flat-screen TVs.

The organization hopes to draw attention to plans by New York state to remove the tracks from Thendara north to Lake Placid, a move it opposes.

Robert Donnelly, the association president, said the private rail cars often are owned by groups of shareholders.

Among the cars participating in this year’s convention is the Georgia 300, a platform observation car that once operated on the Crescent Limited between New York and New Orleans.

The car has been used by Jimmy Carter, George H.W. and George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and by Kerry/Edwards campaign, said another association member, LeAnne Feagin. The Obamas boarded it in Philadelphia, picking up Joe Biden and his wife in Delaware, to travel to the 2009 inauguration.

Albany Times Union

The NY Central Putnam Division Freight House At Lake Mahopac

Thank you to New York Central fan John Ruth for a great bit of Putnam Division history.

The Lake Mahopac Freight House, which was served by the Putnam Division and the Lake Mahopac Branch, has been repurposed as a Café. They’ve named it “The Freight House Café

The building has been relocated about 100 feet and possibly rotated. A kitchen structure was added to one side. The original roll-aside door is still in place between the main floor and the kitchen addition. (Modelers could enjoy studying this door and its hardware, which resembles barn door hardware.)

The interior is more-or-less intact. There are a few RR-related décor items and, very appropriately, an ice saw hanging on the wall. This commemorates that there was once a nearby RR-served Ice House to store and distribute the ice harvested on Lake Mahopac. (Knickerbocker Ice, IIRC.)

NYCRR fans should stop in for a look-see and a coffee. The proprietor recognizes the NYCS history of the building.

Old Station from Google

On the same trip, I observed that the Baldwin Place Freight House is still extant. These two structures appear to have been built from the same plan.

When was L.C.L. freight discontinued on the Putnam Division? That would have marked the last RR use of these freight houses, no?

May 29, 1958 – Last passenger service on the Putnam Division.

September 17, 1962 – Last freight run to Yorktown Heights.

1963 – Twenty-three miles of track between Eastview and Lake Mahopac is abandoned and removed.

1969 – Three miles of track between Lake Mahopac and Carmel is abandoned and removed.

March 14, 1970 – Last freight run to Carmel.

From “Putnam Division of the New York Central

and “Putnam Division Abandonments

Question of the day:

Who lived near the end of the long-gone Mahopac Falls Branch for many years.

Mark Tomlonson’s New York Central Dates In History

September 16, 1956 The New York Central replaces the male secretaries on the “20th Century Limited” with “Girls of the Century” – stewardesses patterned after those on airliners.

Girl Of The Century
The Century Girl, or, if you prefer…The Girl of the CenturyJoan Jennings Scalfani

Getting ready to reprise her role as a “Century Girl” for the 20th Century Limited express passenger train brought back these memories and more for Joan Jennings Scalfani.

“It was a fabulous job because I love to talk and I love to listen,” said Scalfani, 80, recalling her days in the early 1960s as a hostess aboard the historic line. “Those were happy days.”

One Century Girl was assigned to each trip.

See a YouTube presentation featuring Joan Jennings Scalfani in Grand Central Terminal

“The train was beautiful,” she said. “In the center lounge car there were love seats. … It was a very classy-looking interior. It wasn’t trainlike; it was like a living room,” Scalfani said.

It was the sort of car where Harry and Bess Truman might have stayed when she asked them during their breakfast whether they had rested well.

“The president said, ‘Won’t you join us?’ And I certainly couldn’t say no,” she said. “They were very pleasant and very down-to-earth.”

Last Steam Passenger Train In New York State

Saw the following in Mark Tomlonson’s list of important dates in New York Central history.

“September 11, 1952 The last New York Central steam-powered commuter train leaves White Plains for Dover (NY), marking the end of steam on all NYC Divisions feeding New York City. (Some sources say September 13.)”

Actually, Dover Plains, not Dover.

We already covered the last steam in New York State:
https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/last-steam-on-ny-central-lines-east/. But that was a milk train (empties) from Harmon to Utica.

The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory

We have just updated our Delaware & Hudson Railway WebSite

https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/delaware-hudson-railway/

We have added lots of new material called “The Delaware and Hudson in Recent Memory”

See some great advertising, maps, time tables and posters of the D&H

We hope you enjoy it like we do.

Train To Fort Benning, Georgia : A Recruit’s Journey

I received a letter from a follower who is writing a book on her father’s life. She is using letters home which her father wrote and had a gap on how he got from New York to Fort Benning, Georgia. Questions like what did he wear, where did he eat, where did he sleep.

Told her I would write a fictional story based on what facts I knew.

Dad’s Journey started at Albany, the capitol of New York State. Dad got “orders” in the mail to report to the Washington Avenue Armory:

Dad’s orders wanted him to appear at 07:30 hours in the morning. When he got off the Central Avenue bus he recognized several others waiting in the crowd. A sergeant who looked like a veteran of the Great War was handing out papers to be completed.

In the meantime a train had left Utica with four passenger cars. One of them was a Lackawanna car just off their Utica branch. The other three were New York Central cars off of the Adirondack Division.

Dad and the other recruits were “formed up” into a marching group, administered an “oath of office” and walked past the Capitol building to Albany’s Union Station. There was no band playing, but they were cheered on by citizens on the street.

At the Albany Station, the train from Utica had arrived and a switcher had brought three more cars and what would serve as a diner over from the West Albany Car Shop. The “diner” was loaded with box meals from the New York Central contractor, a Madison Avenue bakery.

Once the train was through New York City, the rest of the trip would be on “foreign”railroads. New York Central put good power on the train: a “Mohawk” (called a “Mountain” on other railroads……but not on the Water Level Route).

The train leaves before 11am and makes stops at Castleton, Hudson and Rhinebeck. Now the train is filled.

Next stop is Harmon to change engines to an electric one.

Now the train runs to Mott Haven then switches to a New Haven electric motor for a trip across the Hell Gate Bridge. Now they hook up a Pennsylvania Railroad GG1 locomotive headed for Washington.

In Washington DC, the Pennsyania Railroad bypassed Union Station and went directly to the huge Potomac Yard across the river. The GG1 was replaced by a modern steam engine belonging the Southern Railway (a founder of the current huge Norfolk Southern System).

Reaching Georgia, the train changed over to the Central Of Georgia Railway for it’s trip to Columbus, Georgia and Fort Benning.

Fort Benning at that time was relatively new. It had been created in World War I. So basic training housing was walking distance to the train. There was once a two-foot railroad around Fort Benning…..but the walk was easier.

Now Dad will have a better place to sleep than an old day coach

See the full WebSite on Dad’s trip to Fort Benning

The villains (and heroes) behind the subway mess

NY Post

You’re likely aware subway trains are breaking down partly because parts of the signal system date back to the 1930s. The succession of bad decisions that got you stuck in that tunnel goes back nearly as long — to the 1950s, at least. The list includes politicians and other leaders long dead or, at least, long off the public stage.

In 1952, Robert Wagner Jr., then borough president, protested any attempt to raise the transit fare from 10 cents, despite acknowledging that “the transit operating deficit” — about $500 million in today’s dollars — “is just about as large as the additional money we need this year for pensions for [city] employees.”

Wagner became mayor in 1954. Even as budget gaps grew, Wagner gave most city employees the right to collectively bargain (transit workers were already unionized, as the subways had started out in the private sector). He also massively increased social spending.

Mayor John Lindsay, Wagner’s successor, continued this strategy. That left less money for subways, which the state gradually took over from the city. The MTA spent much of the 1980s and 1990s making repairs and replacements that should’ve been done two decades previously.

In the early 2000s, Gov. George Pataki started piling on debt. He wanted projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access. The MTA also had to keep repairing and replacing tracks, train cars and the like. Pataki didn’t want to pay for it. In 1999, the MTA owed $12 billion. By 2006, it owed $23.9 billion. Pataki also restructured the MTA’s debt so that the bills would come due later — today.

The MTA’s biggest problem isn’t money. It’s that it can’t do construction fast enough. But debt costs now suck up $2.6 billion in annual spending. At some point soon, the crisis won’t just be on the tracks, but in the CFO’s office.

During the 2008 financial crisis, the MTA said the same thing about its workers as Mayor Michael Bloomberg said about city workers: They couldn’t get raises unless they paid for them through productivity increases or benefits givebacks.

A year later, under Gov. David Paterson’s tenure, a supposedly neutral team of arbitrators gave the workers two years’ worth of 4 percent annual raises and health care goodies, costing the MTA $300 million a year. (The MTA now has $3.2 billion in annual benefits costs.)

In spring 2009, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith cobbled together a middle-of-the-night bailout package that awarded the MTA what today amounts to $2 billion in additional annual revenue. Again, lawmakers missed an opportunity to reform labor and construction costs.

Contrary to popular belief, Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t run the MTA. An independent board does. Yes, Cuomo names six of those board members, more than any other politician. Yet they have a legal duty to act independently. Truly independent directors would’ve questioned MTA managers’ labor-cost strategy and operational failures long ago.

They also wouldn’t sign off on major projects such as East Side Access, which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to a station underneath Grand Central, without questioning whether it’s better to focus on something else first, like subway signals.

The board at least should’ve held off on approving East Side Access until Long Island agreed to pay a greater share, perhaps through higher property tax revenues that’ll come from better transit.

New chairman Joe Lhota, who ran the MTA five years ago, can fix this by encouraging board members to collectively assert a real strategy, rather just signing off on whatever project Cuomo feels like adding, like a $2 billion third track on the LIRR — a fine idea, but one that should wait until New York has made more progress on its aged signal system. Lhota doesn’t need this job; he has a job running a hospital. He should use that independence to push back against the governor when necessary.

MTA chairpeople are supposed to serve six years, to insulate them from day-to-day politics. But Tom Prendergast, who left early this year, was the longest recent-serving chairman and executive director — and he only served four years. Now the MTA only has an interim executive director, Ronnie Hakim, and may soon see another newcomer. (Lhota isn’t taking the day-to-day reins, only chairing the board.)

Hakim and her team should’ve considered long ago what the MTA is now thinking about: closing entire subway lines to speed up signal work. To be fair, the MTA is already planning to close the L train in two years, and the hardest work involves interlockings that control several subway lines; we can’t shut them all down.

Still, whatever the MTA is doing isn’t working. The authority has been reactive, not proactive, in experimenting with new ways to deal with sick passengers and frozen signals and record crowds.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, as he likes to remind us, isn’t in charge of the subways. Still, he hasn’t taken advantage of New York’s record revenue boom — the city will take in $6.6 billion more in local taxes than it did when the mayor took office — to benefit transit.

The state plans to invest nearly $3 billion in signals over the next five years. Why not work with the MTA to see if it can get this work done more quickly? The city could do its part by better managing the streets: carving out more space for bus lanes, bike lanes, real rideshare (with four or more people in a car) and other ways for New Yorkers to get around during shutdowns.

If the MTA can do signal work more efficiently, the mayor could offer some of these record revenues to do more. The city is putting up less than 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget over five years; it can do more if Cuomo does more. Bloomberg is guilty of the same sin; while he pushed congestion pricing, he never thought strategically about the MTA and how the city could use money as leverage to fix it.

The subway has its heroes, too. Richard Ravitch, who chaired the MTA in the early ’80s, convinced the business community to support the taxes it would need to make up for the neglect of the previous two decades.

Sam Schwartz, the city’s former transportation commissioner, has warned about maintenance cutbacks for years — and has proposed a congestion-pricing plan to fund at least some of this work.

Long before Twitter complaints from stuck passengers, Gene Russianoff, who founded the Straphangers Campaign in 1979, made sure newspapers were armed with data on whether the trains were working well.

And finally, there’s today’s generation of transit reporters and bloggers. Nearly all of them are too young to remember the last transit crisis. Their interest in the trains, and their willingness to think about everything from pension costs to fare structures, can help ensure that this crisis never gets as bad as that one.

Where does that leave Cuomo? It’s too early to tell if he’ll be known as a hero or a villain. He’s increased the MTA’s debt to more than $37 billion, without saying how he’ll pay for it. But his excitement over projects like the Second Avenue Subway isn’t silly. We do need more subway stations.

How he handles the current crisis of delays and crowding without forcing a future generation to pick up the bill will help determine his legacy.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

The history of who’s in charge of NYC subways

Bobby Cuza at NY1

The latest front in the ongoing feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio has been the question of just who is responsible for city subways. But as NY1’s Bobby Cuza explains, while the personalities may have changed, the subway system has been a political football since its inception.

Thursday, Gov. Cuomo and the MTA sought to shift responsibility for the ailing subways to the city.

“For anyone to say, ‘Not my problem; it’s the state’s problem,’ they don’t know the law,” said MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. “They don’t know the history.”

But history says the MTA is a creature of the state.

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay broke ground together on the Second Avenue Subway, but years earlier they jockeyed for control of the agency.

Rockefeller prevailed in 1968, bringing the subways under the umbrella of the newly-formed MTA.

“He had a great idea: he took over the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, with all its tolls and bridges, tossed Robert Moses overboard, and he merged the Long Island Rail Road, what was then Metro-North, part of Amtrak, and the New York City subways into the MTA,” Mitchell Moss of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.

Originally, the subway was privately-owned and operated. But the city-owned IND line opened in 1932, and under Mayor La Guardia the city assumed control of the entire system in 1940.

The problem, then and now, was that the subways lost money. Yet, raising fares was politically unpopular.

So in 1953, the subways were removed from political control and given over to a new independent entity called the New York City Transit Authority.

That governance structure — a board of political appointees — essentially remains today.

But the governor gets the most appointees, picks the MTA chairperson, and has at times exerted considerable control over the agency.

“The state is really operating the system,” Moss said. “These are unions which are under the state’s domain, and the financing is the state’s responsibility.”

The city, meanwhile, has been virtually powerless over the subway’s day-to-day operations for 50 years.

One exception was the 7 line extension, which was financed by the city and pushed through by Mayor Bloomberg, who took a ceremonial ride in 2013, well before the extension actually opened.

Cuomo, of course, put himself front-and-center when the Second Avenue Subway opened. He’s been less eager to claim responsibility for recent breakdowns.