The Connecticut Railfan All About Railroads in Connecticut

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Historical Sketch of the New Haven Railroad

The New York New Haven started in 1844 and was completed by 1848. It was the nucleus of the New York, New Haven Hartford. It started westward from New Haven. The young railroad had to make a $5,500 payoff to the Westchester Turnpike Road Company at the New York State border.


Next, it obtained a perpetual easement and right of entry into New York City. This amounted to one of the best real estate deals ever because it included a share of terminal profits. New Haven commuters reached Grand Central on New York Central tracks (the New York Harlem was leased to the New York Central in 1873 for 401 years).

The New Haven joined the New York Central from a flying junction at Woodlawn Cemetery.

The NY NH was passenger only until 1851. There were already railroads from Bridgeport up the Housatonic Valley and from Devon up the Naugatuck Valley. The Housatonic extended beyond Danbury to the Massachusetts line. Another railroad ran to Pittsfield. The Naugatuck served Waterbury and Winsted.

The New Haven competed with steamboats on Long Island Sound.

The Hartford and New Haven went to Springfield in 1844. All its traffic went to steamboats in a deal to keep them off the Connecticut River.

The New Haven (headed by Robert Schuyler — a descendant of General Philip Schuyler of Revolutionary War fame) leased the New Haven and Northampton Railroad which ran parallel to the Hartford New Haven to Plainville. His threat to build to Springfield forced a merger. He also leased the Shore Line Railway from New London to New Haven.

In 1872, there was still no route under single management from Boston to New York City.

The Northampton Branch, usually referred to as the Canal Branch because it was built alongside an old canal, remained a sleepy branch with usually only local freight service until the end of the New Haven. It is now run by the BM except for several miles washed out a few years ago. It started at the Water Street yard in New Haven and ran right through the city of New Haven in a cut made by the old canal. It ran past the Grove Street Cemetery where Noah Webster.

Lyman Beecher. Eli Whitney and Samuel F. B. Morse are buried. Along the line were munitions plants with A poles at the entrance to sidings.

An A pole is similar to a whistle post except that it has the letter A instead of a W. It means that before entering the siding with a cut of cars the air must be coupled on.

In 1882, the New Haven leased the New Haven, Middletown Willimantic from New Haven to Boston. This was later called the Boston New York Airline and had heavy grades and sharp curves. It was necessary because the New London drawbridge was not built until 1889.

Still a part of the Northeast Corridor today is the roadway of the Boston Providence built in 1834. The Neponset River presented a problem to the builders of this early road. Originally the builders had thought they would use a system of inclined planes and winches to cross this valley.

Instead they built the Canton Viaduct which is in use today carrying 80 ton F40s instead of 10 ton 4-4-0s.

The shore line is one of the most beautiful scenic routes in the country and has the distinction of having more drawbridges per mile than any other railroad. The New Haven had 19 drawbridges — twelve of which affected New York-Boston trains. The busiest bridge was at Mystic — it was opened 758 times in June 1945.

There are three types of bridges. (1) bascule such as Cos Cob or Devon; (2) swing such as South Norwalk or Mystic; and (3) verticle lift such as Cape Cod Canal (which was government owned and had open as its normal condition and only closed when a train came).

Southern New England had 203 separate railroads at one time. By 1892 they were grouped into: (1) The New Haven which ran to Providence after leasing the New York, Providence Boston in 1892. It also leased the Providence Worcester and the Housatonic on 1892. (2) The Old Colony which ran from Boston to Cape Cod, Fall River, Newport and New Bedford and also had its own steamers to New York. (3) The New York New England which ran from Hartford to Beacon, NY. (4) The Central New England Railway and the Hartford Connecticut Western.

Charles S. Mellen became president of the New Haven in 1903. In an effort to thrust real or imagined competition, the New Haven spent the early part of the century buying up New England trolley lines and the coastal steamers from New England into New York City. They also lost a bundle of money on the New York, Westchester Boston Railroad.

The Mellen and J.P. Morgan regime was controlled by the Corsair Agreements (a series of meetings which took place on Morgan’s yacht).

Between 1901 and 1917 the Hell Gate Bridge and Harlem line to Penn Station were built. This 977 feet long and 135 feet high architectural landmark was the last link in an all-rail Boston-Washington route. Main line electrification set the pattern for the country.

In 1907 wires were energized from Cos Cob to New York City. It was seven years later that electric locomotives first hauled trains right through from New York to New Haven. By 1945, passenger and freight trains operated over 642 miles of electrified track using 128 locomotives and 198 multiple unit suburban cars.

Those that operated into Grand Central were required to be able to take power from either 11,000 volt alternating current trolley wire located anywhere from sixteen to twenty-two feet above the rails; or from a 600-volt direct current third rail which might be located on either side of the track or, in some instances, from an overhead third rail above the tracks. The switch from AC to DC or back again was made while trains were in motion.

A 1911 downturn in the economy caused trouble paying the dividend. The railroad made loans to subs to pay their dividends and deferred maintenance which caused wrecks.

In 1913 Morgan died and Mellen was out of office. By 1914 the road was near bankruptcy. It had to dispose of holdings.

It was rescued from bankruptcy by the government taking over railroads in 1918-1920.

In the 1920’s local freight was hurt by trucks and local passenger traffic was hurt by the automobile.

During 1928-1931 there was a brief recovery. In 1935 bankruptcy hit finally. The 1938 hurricane washed out tracks and opened the door to air service.

The theme of the Company’s advertising by 1946 was when you’ve got to get there, take the train. Already, there was an upcry about expenditure of public funds to subsidize air travel. Once in the 1940’s, the phone rang in the stationmasters office at South Station. Someone requested four gentlemen who were supposed to be taking the Merchant’s Limited to New York to be paged and to call East Boston 4100. The clerk recognized the phone number as one of the airlines and asked the caller why they were being paged.

The reply was that these men now had reservations on the next flight to New York.

During this time, the OW, Rutland Old Colony were also bankrupt. The OW was in trusteeship until 1937. The New Haven’s Rutland holdings were sold. It was finally torn up in 1964.

In 1938 piggybacks were inaugurated between Boston and Harlem River terminal.

East of New Haven, standard passenger power was Pacifics built by Alco. In 1937, ten streamlined Hudson’s from Baldwin turned out to be the New Haven’s last steam. By 1941, Alco DL109s began dieselization. By the late 1940s, passenger runs were mostly using PAs. The road also bought 10 2400 h.p.

C-Liners from Fairbanks-Morse. The Comet was an articulated diesel lightweight built in 1935 by Goodyear for Boston-Providence service. Modern passenger equipment arrived in 1934 with Pullman’s American Flyer coaches.

Electric locomotives in service in 1945 are shown below:

Class No. Built Maximum Tractive Effort Service

EP-1 10 1906-8 19,600 Passenger

EF-1 37 1912-13 50,000 Freight

EF-2 5 1926 50,000 Freight

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EF-3 5 1942 90,000 Freight

EF-3A 5 1943 90,000 Freight

EY-2 15 1911 42,000 Switcher

EY-3 2 1926 42,000 Switcher

EY-2B 6 1927 42,000 Switcher

EP-2 27 1928 47,500 Passenger

EP-3 10 1931 68,500 Passenger

EP-4 6 1938 68,500 Passenger

WWII was a boom and the railroad was out of bankruptcy in 1947. The trustees in 1946 were headed by Howard S. Palmer.

In 1948 Frederic C. Dumaine took over assisted by Patrick B. McGinnis. In 1951 he turned over the presidency to his son Buck who was good and spent on maintenance. Realizing how difficult it was to make a buck in passengers, he ordered a large fleet of rail diesel cars (RDCs).

He also ordered new M.U. cars (washboard electrics) to replace cars some of which dated to 1907.

In 1954 Dumaine was ousted by McGinnis. He also took over the BM, slashed maintenance, and was finally ousted by the George Alpert regime. The electric fleet fell on hard times under McGinnis.

Unfortunately, the diesels were also nearing retirement age. He was eager to find light-weight, high speed passenger trains but did not have the cash to do much more than buy samples: a Pullman built/Baldwin powered Train X:; a Fairbanks-Morse Talgo; and a Budd Hot Rod RDC.

1956 was the last year with a profit. In 1958 the Connecticut Turnpike opened. Alpert scrapped the electrics and bought FL-9s. He also bought 60 road switchers.

By 1961 the railroad was back in reorganization where it remained.

By Ken Kinlock at kenkinlock@gmail.com

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