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HISTORY INDEX ] New York Central
Historical Information

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The Original Roads Forming the New York Central

Early in 1851, a convention was held of the ten railroads that more or less end-to-end linked Albany and Buffalo. These ten included Mohawk & Hudson successor Albany & Schnectady (the name of the company having been changed in 1847). The intent of the convention was to lay the groundwork for consolidation into a single company. On Februay 12th, 1851, the convention authorized that an application be made to the New York State Legislature to consolidate. On April 2nd, 1853, the Consolidation Act was passed by the Legislature (Section 76 of the Laws of 1853) authorizing the consolidation. On May 17th, 1853, the consolidation agreement was signed forming the New York Central Railroad Company, and on July 7th of that year the agreement was filed with the Secretary of State, thus officially forming the New York Central. (For south of Albany, see below.)

The Original Railroads Forming the New York Central
Albany to Buffalo
July 7, 1853

formerly the MOHAWK & HUDSON RAIL ROAD, Apr. 11, 1826
Albany to Schenectady, 18.2 miles, opened Aug, 9, 1831

formerly the UTICA & SCHENECTADY RR, 1833
Schenectady to Utica, 78 miles, opened 1836

Schenectady to Troy, 21 miles, opened 1842

formerly the SYRACUSE & UTICA RR, 1836
Utica to Syracuse, 53 miles, opened 1839

formed by a merger of:
Syracuse to Rochester (Main Line), 80 miles, opened 1853
Syracuse-Auburn-Rochester (Auburn Road), 104 miles, opened 1842-1843

formed by a merger of:
the TONAWANDA RR, 1832

    Rochester-Batavia-Attica, 44 miles, opened 1837
    Attica to Buffalo, 31 miles, opened 1843
the BUFFALO & ROCHESTER RR, Dec 7, 1850
    Depew to Batavia, 27 Miles, opened 1850

formed by a merger of:

    Lockport to Suspension, opened 1838
    Lockport to Rochester
    Rochester to Suspension Bridge (Falls Road), 77 miles

Rochester to Charlotte, 6 miles.

Buffalo to Niagara Falls (Niagara Branch), 22 miles, opened 1845.

BUFFALO & LOCKPORT RR, Apr. 27, 1852
Tonawanda to Lockport, 12.3 miles, opened 1853

The Original Railroads Forming the New York Central
New York City to Albany

From the south, rail activity was being conducted apace. On August 25, 1831, the New York & Haarlem Railroad Company [note the Dutch spelling of Harlem] was chartered by act of the New York State Legislature to build a railroad line on Manhatten Island. The first run of the new road was on November 14, 1832. On April 17, 1832, the New York & Albany Railroad was chartered to build north from the Harlem River to Albany (backed by several of the same backers as the New York and Harlem [the English spelling quickly became common]). However, the New York & Albany never materlialized, and it was the New York & Harlem that assumed the broadened charter of the New York & Albany and built north through the Harlem Valley, by 1852 reaching the Western Railroad of Massachusetts (later the Boston and Albany) in Chatham. In 1863 this was to become the original rail line of shipping mogul Cornelius Vanderbuilt and the catalyst of his railroad empire, bringing the New York Central south from Albany to New York City. It is today's somewhat shortened Metro-North Harlem Division.

The New York and Harlem Railroad built well inland from the Hudson River to avoid direct competition with river boats, but demand from the seasonally frozen river towns -- espeically Poughkeepsie -- resulted in the construction of the Hudson River Railroad, chartered in 1846, up the east bank of the Hudson, today's Hudson Line of Conrail and Metro-North. The line opened to Albany in November of 1851, actually preceeding by several months the opening of the older New York and Harlem's inland route to Albany. It too came under Cornelius Vanderbuilt's control, following the New York and Harlem by a year. The Spuyten Duyvil & Port Morris Railroad formed a seven mile link between these two raods in 1871, and was quickly leased to the (by then) New York Central & Hudson River: in 1913 it was finally merged into it.

Vanderbuilt acquired control of the New York Central in 1867, and in 1869 the New York State Legislature passed legislation authorizing the merger of the Vanderbuild roads into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. Along with his other holdings to the west, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad between Buffalo and Chicago, and the Canada Southern and Michigan Central railroads -- an alternate Buffalo/Chicago route through Ontario -- the modern New York Central was formed.

The Boston & Albany

Here are just a few notes.

Joining with the New York and Albany in Chatham, N.Y., the Western Railroad of Massachusetts (organized in 1836, completed from Worcester, Massachusetts to the New York State Line in 1841) was a key link in the original rail line of Cornelius Vanderbuilt and the catalyst of the nascent New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road. The Boston and Albany was Chartered on Nov. 2, 1870, and was formed by the merger of the Western Railroad of Massachusetts and the Boston & Worcester Railroad. In 1880 the B&A was acquired by the New York Central during the development of the J. P. Morgan-era "communities of interest." It was formally consolidated with New York Central & Hudson River Railroad in 1900.

The Boston and Albany had its own roundhouse in Rensellear, next to the New York Central facilities on the sight of the present Amtrak shops. Although the United State's Supreme Court's Northern Securities decision of 1904 (ordering the dismantling of James J. Hill's Northern Securities Corporation) spelled the end of railroad consolidations -- mergers, acquistions, and their informal cousin, "communities-of-interest" -- for generations to come, and in fact, together with the ICC's investigation of E. H. Harriman -- finding that his combination of Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and Illinois Central was a restraint of trade not in the public interest -- began active divestures, some holdings remained intact: the Pennsylvania retained ownership of the Long Island and the Norfolk and Western, while the Central held onto a number of its small roads, such as the Walkill Valley and the Ulster and Delaware in the Catskills and -- through the Berkshires -- the Boston and Albany. Today, Conrail's Selkirk yardmaster's may still be heard referring to trains to or from the Boston Line as "the B&A."

For additional information on the B&A try the Boston & Albany Page.

Track Pans on the New York Central

by Ernie Johnson

Back in the days when the predominant motive power on the railroads was the steam locomotive, several railroads, including the New York Central and the Pennsylvania, installed track pans at various locations to permit a locomotive to refill its tender without stopping.

In the final design of these pans on the New York Central, each pan, placed between the rails at the center line, was 24 inches inside width and contained water 7 inches deep. The length of the pans varied from 1400 feet at Schenectady, East Palmyra, and Wende, to 2500 feet in freight tracks 3 and 4 at Rome. The top of the pan was 1 inch below the running surface of the rail. The pan was formed of sheet metal and a 1-1/2 inch angle was applied to the top of the pan on each side, facing inward. A ramp was built into each end of the track pan, together with a safety rail extension beyond each end, as a protection against premature or late operation of the water scoop. Track pans were steam heated in the winter to prevent freezing.

Most locomotive tenders used in main line road service were fitted with a remotely operated water scoop. In later years the scoop was operated by an air cylinder which in turn was actuated by a magnet valve to provide prompt lowering and raising of the scoop. The scoop was adjusted to dip 5 inches (5-1/2" maximum) into the water. As the locomotive approached the track pan, the engineman would signal the fireman as they passed a lunar white signal at the beginning of the pan, and the fireman would lower the scoop by operating a valve or pushing a button on the front wall of the tender. Another signal from the engineman as they passed a blue or purple signal at the other end of the pan, and the fireman would raise the scoop.

In modern days this operation was called "scooping water". Back in the last century, when the technique was new, it was called "jerking water." Hence the name "jerkwater town," which probably implied, among other things, that the train didn't stop there.

On the New York Central main line in 1948, there were 19 pan locations between Harmon and Chicago. Placement of them was largely determined by the locomotive design and the tender capacity. A note regarding the design of the tenders is appropriate. As the design of the steam locomotive became more sophisticated, the requirements for water supplies and other facilities changed. The number of track pans, for example, could be reduced, and their length increased. Scooping speed increased gradually from 30 miles per hour at the turn of the century to 60 mph before World War II. Scooping speed was limited by the ability of the tender to retain the water that was scooped without overflowing and spraying any train that was on an adjacent track. Later designs added vents and an expansion tank, and redirected the water as it entered the water space of the tender. This allowed an increase of the maximum scooping speed to 85 mph.

The material for this article was taken from The Central Headlight, Second Quarter, 1982, a publication of the New York Central System Historical Society, Copyrighted © 1982 New York Central System Historical Society.

The New York Central Main Line

by Ernie Johnson

On page 8 of Vol. 31 No. 3 of the Call Board, there is a photograph of a westbound freight between Albany and Buffalo on the second track from the north on the four-track line. The average railroad enthusiast, when looking at that photograph, could reasoably assume the westbound freight train was on track no. 1, the passenger track. Not so! The assumption would have been valid at a four tracked location south of Albany or west of Buffalo, but the main line between Albany and Buffalo had a unique track arrangement. The tracks were numbered from the south and were used as follows: No. 2, eastward passenger; No. 1, westward passenger; No. 3, westward freight; and No. 4, eastward freight. The most logical explanation for this setup apparently goes back to the 1800s. In Syracuse, the original main line passenger tracks were located in the middle of Washington Street for 1-1/2 miles, from Beech Street at the east end of town, to the passenger depot at Fayette Street in the downtown section. (The speed limit was 15 mph.) It was obviously impractical to add two freight tracks to Washington Street, so they were routed to bypass the city to the north. This was the case until 1936, when a new station and elevated trackage were placed in service. After 1936, freight traffic continued to bypass the city on the city's north side. I can only guess at the reason for the left handed operation of the freight tracks, but it must have been for safety reasons, possibly to minimize the number of trains passing in opposite directions on adjacent tracks. So the freight train in the photograph was actually on track 3.

diagram of NYC Tracks Albany westward

The above arrangement undoubtedly influenced the track layout between Selkirk and Hoffmans, where the operation was also left handed. It should be noted that, in later years after Selkirk yard was opened, track 3 was removed between Central Avenue in Albany and tower 7 at the top of the hill in Schenectady, and between Sand Bank Yard in Scotia and Hoffmans. Track 4 was used for local freight traffic in both directions.

The Carmen Branch: The Schenectady Detour Project

By Dick Barrett

The Schenectady Detour Project, also known as the "Carmen Cut-Off", involved the construction of a 3.61-mile segment of new line between the vicinity of Carmen Station, at the top of the grade east of Schenectady, and the West Shore line near South Schenectady. The detour project was undertaken in 1902 by the New York Central with two principal objectives in mind: avoiding the heavy grade on the mainline eastbound out of Schenectady and reducing the number of trains which would pass through Schenectady at street level and encountering numerous urban grade crossings.

Prior to construction of the detour, eastbound trains on the mainline would climb a maximum grade of 0.76% between Schenectady and Carmen as they left the Mohawk River Valley and passed onto the plateau going toward Albany. This 2 1/2-mile grade required the use of pusher locomotives on heavy trains. The grade had become more of a problem as the weight of trains increased and the volume of traffic increased, as well.

In 1900 the "Hoffman's Connection" was completed. This new route connected the New York Central mainline at Hoffman's, seven or eight miles northwest of Schenectady, with the West Shore line, which was located on the south side of the Mohawk River. All freight trains between Weehawken, NJ and NYC mainline destinations to the west were carried over this new connection so as to avoid the pusher grade east of Schenectady and the traffic congestion that might be encountered by traveling through West Albany and downtown Albany before heading down the west side of the Hudson River to join the West Shore line.

Since the "Castleton Cut-Off" through Selkirk (and over the bridge spanning the Hudson River) was not to be built for another 25 years, freight trains to and from New England over the Boston & Albany passed through West Albany and encountered not only the 0.76% Schenectady grade but also the severe 2.5% West Albany grade. The "Schenectady Detour", therefore, benefitted eastbound freight trains headed for New England and Albany by eliminating the need for pusher locomotives and keeping all freight traffic in both directions, other than local service, out of downtown Schenectady. Except for a half-mile stretch of 0.40% grade between Hoffman's and Central Junction, where the Hoffman's Connection joined the West Shore, no grade on the Schenectady Detour exceeded 0.25%.

An analogy can be drawn between the "Schenectady Detour" (and later, the "Castleton Cut-Off") and the Interstate Highway System constructed in the 1950's, '60's and '70's: Both diverted inter-city traffic out of the downtown areas and both minimized the grades encountered in order to improve traffic flow.

Some small sacrifices were made, however, in constructing the new route around Schenectady. The detour route was 1.16 miles longer than the New York Central mainline. The alignment of the new route increased the curvature by 173 degrees, compared with the mainline. In spite of these disadvantages, the savings afforded by elimination of the pusher grade more than justified the project.

The relative importance of the Schenectady Detour (Carmen Cut-Off) declined after the Castleton Cut-Off was constructed and Selkirk Yard opened in about 1925. After this time, through freight trains to and from New England no longer needed to follow the route between Albany and Schenectady. The Schenectady Detour is still intact and can be seen today, including the base of the tower at Carmen.


The Railway Age, December 22, 1900

Railway Gazette, September 19, 1902

West Albany Hill

by Ernie Johnson

The ruling grade on the New York Central's main line was West Albany hill, a 3 mile grade with a maximum gradient of 1.63%. The Hudsons and the Pacifics in use before and during World War II did not have the tractive effort necessary to move the trains, often weighing more than 1000 tons, up the hill single headed. A 1000 ton train behind a 400 ton locomotive and tender meant that gravity was resisting the train's motion up the hill with a force of 45,640 pounds. So the trains were assisted up the hill with specially equipped class U 0-8-0 switchers used as pushers. The front coupler operating levers were equipped with an extension to allow the coupler to be released from the cab. The air brake hose between the train and the pusher was not connected. The switcher was coupled to the train at Albany station. As the train approached the bridge over Central Avenue at the top of the hill at 25 miles per hour (the speed limit for the switcher), the engineman at the head end allowed the slack to run in, the crew in the switcher pulled the pin, the switcher uncoupled "on the fly", and the train went on its way. The first time I saw this I was in the observation car of the train, and it was a new experience to see the pusher slowly drift away from the train for its return to Albany station.

Some friends who worked on the Central told of one time many years ago when there was some kind of communication breakdown. The pusher did not get uncoupled, and train and switcher headed across the pine plains toward Schenectady at 80 mph! When the train reached tower 7 at the top of Schenectady hill, the customary air brake test at the top of the hill allowed the slack to run in, and the switcher was able to uncouple. The roundhouse foreman at Sand Bank yard in Scotia told me many years later that they towed the engine to Scotia, and every bearing in the locomotive was burned out. The crew was very lucky that nothing failed during that trip!

The 5270: West Albany's Last Steam Locomotive

By Dick Barrett & Tim Truscott

Edited by Steve Sconfienza, Ph.D.

Nearly a century of steam locomotive history ended on September 25, 1952 when the last steam locomotive to be repaired there, J-1 "Hudson" No. 5270, left the New York Central's West Albany Shops after being given a sendoff by the crew of machinists, steamfitters, boilermakers and others who worked on it. While there were approximately 190 employees working at the West Albany locomotive shop at the time, only a comparative few saw the 5270 leave.

The crew of 190 still working at West Albany at the time of the 5270's departure was a far cry from the locomotive's peak employment level of 1,400-1,500. As a consequence of the layoffs at West Albany, employees who stayed with the railroad were spread far and wide through transfers to other shops. Some, such as Tony Poleto and Ed Sedguick, began commuting to Harmon Shop each day. Others, like Jack Hickey, moved to Beach Grove, Indiana.

Thirty more employees were laid off after the 5270's departure, with 160 retained for approximately another month to "clean up" the shop. After October, 1952, approximately 100 were left to repair steam cranes and the heating boilers of electric passenger locomotives used in the New York City area and at Cleveland Union Terminal. At the time about 800 employees were left in the West Albany car shop. The opening of the New York State Thruway about two years later and the consequent plunge of passenger traffic resulted in the closing of the West Albany car shop.

The end of steam locomotive work at West Albany had been foreseen for several years as dieselization progressed across the New York Central system. In spite of the introduction of the "Niagara" locomotives with their advanced steam technology, the diesel locomotive rapidly became preferred to steam on the Central as well as other U.S. railroads.

Before launching into a full dieselization program after World War II, the New York Central undertook extensive studies comparing diesel motive power with both steam and electric. In one of these studies during 1946, the performance of six 4,000 horsepower two-unit diesels on three eastbound and three westbound passenger trains were compared with six "Niagara" locomotive-powered passenger trains between Harmon and Chicago. Needless to say, diesel out-performed steam in these and a number of other tests.

In addition to the performance factor of diesel versus steam, the diesel was dramatically less labor intensive in its service needs. Clearly, dieselization was bound to result in excess shop capacity on this basis alone.

Dieselization on the New York Central began in the east and progressed toward the Midwest. Initially, surplus steam locomotives were either scrapped or moved west of Buffalo. The best diesel motive power was assigned to the "name" passenger trains and the "Niagara" steam locomotives were "bumped down" to lessor trains.

The Central's dieselization program soon led to a shift in the assignment of work to its shops. In 1948, the Harmon, New York and Collinwood, Ohio shops had been selected as the New York Central's principal diesel servicing facilities. The rationale for this selection was the experience that personnel at both shops had with electric locomotives: Harmon with the electrics operating into Grand Central Terminal and Collinwood with the Cleveland Union Terminal electrics. Beach Grove, Indiana became the railroad's principal steam shop, ostensibly because it was the newest and had the capacity to accommodate the large "Niagaras". Also, since steam power was being pushed west, as mentioned above, Beach Grove's location near the west end of the system was a logical location for the principal steam shop.

In any event, Beach Grove did receive some modifications to accommodate the "Niagaras". Both the east bay and the west bay of the shop were equipped with 120-ton capacity cranes. Since the "Niagaras" without tenders weighed in at 471,000 lbs, neither of these bays had sufficient lifting capacity for the large engines. To rectify this situation, the 120-ton crane was moved from the west bay to the east bay so that there were now two 120-ton cranes in that bay which were twinned with a special lifting beam. Presumably, this arrangement resulted in a lifting capacity of approximately 240 tons (480,000 lbs.), slightly greater than engines they were supposed to lift. Another 120-ton crane was later installed in the west bay once again where heavy tender maintenance was performed.

If the New York Central had continued with its great "Niagara" steam locomotives, West Albany would have required extensive, and expensive, modifications to accommodate this huge steam locomotive. This new generation of steam was far different from the "Hudsons", which had been common to West Albany for many years, or the "Mohawks". Among the equipment and facilities which may have required modification were the cranes (because of weight) and the shop machinery. The cranes in the West Albany locomotive shop had a capacity of only 120 tons.

Even though West Albany was not designated for continued steam work or diesel repair, it did become a collection point for retired steam power. As a consequence, literally hundreds of steam locomotives of assorted types could be viewed at West Albany as dieselization progressed in the late 1940's. Many railroad enthusiasts came to West Albany to view for one last time their favorite steamers.

In early April of 1951, 85 employees were furloughed in the Albany area, including 14 in the West Albany auxiliary stores department.

The Central, in a massive layoff, gave notices on Tuesday, May 8, 1951 to 1,060 workers at the West Albany shops effective Friday, May 11. This date came to be known to West Albany employees as "Black Tuesday". In an effort to stave off this furlough, some politicians requested an investigation by the state Public Service Commission. The rationale for such an investigation was that there had been two major train wrecks in New York State within the previous 15 months resulting in a number of deaths and personal injuries and that the Commission had a duty to investigate and protect the public interest.

Despite the general understanding that the layoffs at West Albany were the result of the Central's dieselization program, the new management of the New York Central headed by Robert Young and Alfred Pearlman said that was only a partial cause. The railroad's announced rationale for the large layoff was that its business was down and that economy measures were necessary; once business returned to higher levels, workers would be re-hired. Furthermore, the steam locomotive shop would be converted to a diesel repair shop, and that all of the approximately 1,000 workers laid off would be eventually returned to work.

On Friday, May 11, 1951 the New York Central laid off another 85 workers from its Albany area operations, bringing the total number of idled workers to 1,230. This layoff affected 33 at the Rensselaer roundhouse and 52 at the Selkirk roundhouse. Those laid off from Rensselaer included nine machinists and nine machinist helpers, four boilermakers and four boilermakers helpers, two sheet metal workers and two helpers, two laborers and one electrician.

Mayor Erastus Corning met with New York Central officials on July 23, 1951 in an attempt to keep as much work as possible at West Albany. Railroad officials attending the luncheon meeting, which took place on a company business car in the Albany passenger yard, were Augustus Hart, General Manager of the New York Central east of Buffalo, Fred Dawson, Vice President of Operations, Kenneth Stone, General Counsel for the Central, Frank Mitchell, equipment manager and Frank A. McNamee, local counsel for the railroad. At the meeting, Corning urged the officials to keep as much work as possible at West Albany.

But were there any reasons other than dieselization for West Albany's demise? While the diesel was the principal culprit, there probably were other reasons: West Albany became "off the beaten path" to freight locomotives in 1925 when Selkirk Yard opened and through freights no longer routinely passed through West Albany. Furthermore, as passenger traffic on the railroad plunged in the early 1950's, West Albany's passenger car shops were essentially excess.

In summary, West Albany's life mirrored the life of the steam railroad in the United States, which lasted about a century: the 350-acre West Albany site was acquired by the newly-formed New York Central in 1854 and finally closed in 1954. During this time it was responsible for building the west end of the City of Albany, and for feeding, clothing and housing several generations of railroad families.


Railroad Motive Power, by P. W. Kiefer, June 1947. Published by Steam Locomotive Research Institute.

Albany Times-Union, May 8, 1951.

Knickerbocker News, May 8, 1951.

Albany Times-Union, May 9, 1951.

Knickerbocker News, May 9, 1951.

Albany Times-Union, May 10, 1951.

Knickerbocker News, July 23, 1951.

Albany Times-Union, July 24, 1951

Albany Times-Union, September 26, 1952

Paul Brustman (Mohawk & Hudson Chapter member and former New York Central employee)

Norman Taylor (former New York Central employee, Beach Grove, IN)

The West Shore: A Brief History and My Experiences

By Charles L. Ballard,
Past President,
Mohawk & Hudson Chapter, NRHS.

Edited by Steve Sconfienza, Ph.D.

Why was the West Shore built in the first place? To explain that I will have to delve into some of the practices of the Railroad industry prevalent in the period of great railroad growth from the end of the Civil War to the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. Railroads had established supremacy over then existing transportation modes by the end of that war and a period of unparalleled growth lay ahead. However, this period of expansion was not without its corruption, discrimination and unbridled competition. All of this was dragging the industry downhill until partially controlled by the original Interstate Commerce Act (1887).

This period was also one of a great many mergers of smaller lines into what later became seven or eight large railroad empires covering the United States. Each of these was presided over by its respective railroad baron. (Some have called them "Robber Barons"). One of the corrupt competitive practices of the time, and this is the one that led to the construction of the original New York, West Shore & Buffalo, was as follows:

Once a railroad baron was established in a particular territory, another one who wanted to compete with the first one would build a purposely parallel railroad in the same territory even though such was not needed. Once the parallel line was built the competing baron would start a rate war with the first baron's railroad. A rate war meant the slashing of rates by whichever competitor started the war in order to capture traffic from the other railroad. The other line had to meet the lower rates or lose traffic. Once the lower rates were met the originator of the war would slash them further causing a downward spiral to the point where passenger and freight transportation was almost being given away and the railroads involved were seeing their losses mount.

The object of building the purposely parallel line was for the invading railroad baron to force his line on the baron whose territory he invaded at an inflated price to stop the nuisance of the cutthroat competition. This is exactly why the original West Shore was built. The Pennsylvania RR under successive presidents Tom Scott and George B. Roberts invaded the territory of the New York Central which was then headed by William H. Vanderbilt. The West Shore was chartered in 1881 to build a line on the west side of the Hudson paralleling Vanderbilt's property all the way to Buffalo.

The original West Shore started at Jersey City with stations at Hoboken and Weehawken before continuing north. It ran its first passenger train to Newburgh on June 4, 1883 and by the end of that year was running all the way through to Buffalo. Naturally, Vanderbilt retaliated. He started to build the South Pennsylvania RR purposely to parallel the Pennsylvania RR's main line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. To show how nasty the situation got, the West Shore received financial aid from George M. Pullman who hated Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt, it seems, would not use Pullman sleeping cars on his line. He used Wagner Palace Cars instead.

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, was aided in his South Pennsylvania RR endeavor by Andrew Carnegie who did not like the Pennsylvania's RR's monopoly in Pittsburgh. The cutthroat competition between the West Shore and Vanderbilt's New York Central caused the West Shore to flounder first. It went bankrupt in June 1884. However the financial damage the West Shore was doing to the New York Central alarmed J.P. Morgan, a friend of Vanderbilt's, and he decided to intervene.

In July 1885 Morgan invited Roberts of the Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt of the Central to a meeting on his palatial yacht to try and arrange a truce while slowly cruising the East River and Long Island Sound. Morgan succeeded and in return for control of the bankrupt West Shore, Vanderbilt agreed to stop any further construction on the South Pennsylvania RR which had been graded and tunneled, but on which track had not been laid.

Much of this unused right of way later became the Pennsylvania Turnpike including the tunnels. The size of many of these required the highway be reduced to two lanes, about the width of a double track railroad. Some may still be two lane. J.P. Morgan, by the way, received fees estimated at between one and three million for arranging this "deal" between Roberts and Vanderbilt. New York Central kept the `West Shore' name on its rolling stock, tickets and timetables for years.

The growth of the suburbs on the west bank of the Hudson and the Catskill resorts caused the West Shore passenger traffic to flourish during the period prior to highway competition. There were also through sleeping and parlor cars to such places as Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis via connecting lines west of Buffalo.

A portion of the West Shore was even electrified (Utica to Syracuse) using the same type of under-running third rail that still exists today between Harmon and New York City. Utica-Syracuse electrics were operated by the Oneida Railway which was part of a larger system called New York State Railways controlled by the New York Central. Large wooden, arch-windowed interurban cars were used on about an hourly service. Trolley poles and overhead wire were used to get from the centers of Syracuse and Utica through city streets to the West Shore right of way where third rail took over.

The shift to autos and busses, the opening of the Hudson River bridge and tunnels, plus the inconvenience of getting to the Weekawken Terminal by ferry from Manhattan, reduced the passenger traffic and the service shrunk in frequency and distance. It became limited mostly to the stretch between Weehawken and Albany with the Albany end consisting of a branch running in from a little above Ravena.

There were also shorter runs out of Weehawken for commuters to such end points as West Englewood, Dumont, West Haverstraw and Newburgh. A couple of trains terminated at Kingston leaving Albany with the least service. The electrified Syracuse-Utica service quit in 1930. The last passenger service west of Ravena was a gas-electric car from Ravena to Utica which quit in the early 1930's. Passenger service from Weehawken to Albany ended in late June, 1958.

The Weehawken ferry made its last trip on March 20, 1959 and the remaining Weehawken-West Haverstraw short haul commuter service without the ferry ended in December 1959. Thus the old West Shore, or what was left of it, became freight only trackage. Much of it west of Ravena had been dismembered into chunks with jump overs to the paralleling NYC main line or had been abandoned.

Today the old NYC River Division from Selkirk Yard down is an important freight line for Conrail as is the trackage from Selkirk Yard west to Rotterdam Jct. and across the Mohawk River to the former NYC main line. Other than the Rochester by-pass and Rotterdam Jct south, just about all the rest of the old West Shore is gone. Its main shops when it was an independent railroad were at Frankfort.

My first trip on the West Shore was in 1937 from Weehawken to Albany on train #25, a local express that was due out of Weehawken at 1:55pm and into the lower level of Albany Union Station at 5:25pm. I was accompanied by my mother (now deceased). In those days we lived in Westchester County and came up frequently by train to visit relatives in Poestenkill. We rode the Hudson Division to Albany many times but at my urging we also looked for other routes to vary (my) train riding experience. The West Shore was one of them. We would take the New Haven RR from Mt. Vernon to Grand Central, the 42nd St. Cross-town to the 42nd Street ferry, thence to Weehawken and up the West Shore.

We learned on our first trip that there were railroad ticket offices at both the Manhattan and Weehawken ends of the ferry. On that first trip the ticket clerk at the Manhattan terminus wanted to know why we wanted to go to Albany, that way arguing that we should use the line from Grand Central as more direct. That certainly did nothing to promote the service. After that I found out the secret of purchasing a ticket to Albany without an argument was to pay a nickel and ride the ferry to Weehawken and buy the ticket there. Thus I rode the West Shore many times doing just that.

In those days Pacific's ruled the line on short haul commuter trains to Kingston and Albany. They were even used in freight service to some extent. As the New York Central received more Mohawks and Niagaras, some of the original 5200 series Hudsons were bumped over to the West Shore from the mid-1940's to the end of steam. Diesel passenger service on both the commuter and longer haul Kingston-Albany trains was with the familiar RS-3. They even tried RDC's from Albany to Kingston on a few runs for a time connecting with RS-3 hauled trains from there to Weehawken. This arrangement did not last very long however.

Towards the end of passenger service to Albany there was only the one daily round trip which made every stop and took over five hours each way. As had been true for years even when the service was better, it was more convenient for people living on the west shore to cross the river to a corresponding Hudson Division station and take the train to New York from there. To them the West Shore was the `Wrong Shore' and the last Weehawken-Albany schedule really clinched the matter.

The West Shore Railroad and The Pennsylvania Tunnels: Competition to the South

From various sources, including The Pennsylvania Turnpike Web Site

Edited by Steve Sconfienza, Ph.D.

The Selkirk Branch, which runs between the Hudson Line at CP-125, near Schodack, N.Y., on the east bank of the Hudson River, and the Chicago Line at CP-169, near Hoffmans, N.Y., on the north bank of the Mohawk River, actually runs between some very interesting history as well. The branch is a remnant of the Pennsylvania Railroad's foray into New York Central territory, the New York, West Shore, and Buffalo railroad, what we remember today as the "West Shore" and, in the Hudson Valley, today's River Line. The New York Central's similar foray into the land of the Pennsylvania Railroad, while never producing a railroad line, did produce a number of tunnels through which the Pennsylvania Turnpike ultimately ran.

William K. Vanderbilt and Andrew Carnegie dreamed of building an east-west railroad across southern Pennsylvania to compete with the Pennsylvania. Vanderbuilt headed the New York Central Railroad. Carnegie was the industrialist who precipitated the great strike and riot at the Homestead Steel Works (near Pittsburgh), where members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers battled -- and ultimately defeated -- Pinkerton Guards brought-in by Carnegie's manager at Homestead, Henry Clay Frick. (Frick himself was the subject of an assassination attempt by Alexander Berkman, the Anarchist and long-term companion to Emma Goldman.) Carnegie later formed The United States Steel Corporation.

The effort at competition on home-grounds between the Central and the Pennsylvania threatened to become ruinous. Ultimately each agreed to withdraw, the Central getting the West Shore and the Pennsylvania getting the tunnels, which it never used. This was all brokered through the intercession of J. P. Morgan, banker to railroads generally and the the Central in particular, who did not wish to see his major properties destroy each other. In 1886, over $10 million dollars and 26 lost lives later, the unfinished project was halted with the Morgan's "Corsair agreement," named for Morgan's yatch, on which the agreement was negotiated while cruising the Hudson River.

Serveral of the nine tunnels which were partly completed during construction of the ill-fated South Penn Railroad went on to a new life. The Laurel Hill Tunnel near Donegal was one of the nine. Workers had bored through 813 feet of solid rock at the Laurel Hill site and had built some of the approach grades when work stopped. Over the next 50 years, the site became a nesting place for snakes and rats as water partly filled the tunnel. To the east, the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels were similar remnants of the New York Central's Pennsylvania project that found future use.

After Pennsylvania Governor George H. Earle signed an Act on May 21, 1937 establishing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, the Laurel Hill Tunnel got a new lease on life. A contract for $1,578,493.00 was awarded to Hunkin-Conkley, Inc. of Cleveland, Ohio and the tunnel was extended another 3,555 feet. Traffic began flowing through Laurel Hill when the Turnpike opened on October 1, 1940. Again, however, the tunnel's useful days were numbered. On August 7, 1962, the Latrobe Construction Company began cutting a new four-lane bypass through Laurel Hill and on October 30, 1964, the tunnel was again abandoned.

The Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels were similarly utilized, but by the early 1960's, the York, Pennsylvania engineering firm of Buchart-Horn was called upon to study the traffic bottleneck at the two tunnels and recommended a 13.1 mile bypass that included reconstruction and relocation of the Breezewood Interchange and construction of a new east-west service plaza (Sideling Hill).

The Sideling Hill By-pass, completed at a cost of $17,203,000, opened on November 26, 1968, sending both the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels into retirement. Portions of the vacated highway and the tunnels themselves still exist today and are used by the Turnpike for testing and research.

Additional information on the Pennsylvania Tunnels and the South Pennsylvania Railroad is available at

revised 10 May 2001 mailto:e-mail TOP ]

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