Hudson River’s earliest heritage began with the tiny Warwick Valley Railroad organized on March 8, 1860 to build a line between Greycourt and Warwick, New York, a distance of about 10 miles. It opened for service on April 1, 1862. Since the system was envisioned to connect and interchange with the New York & Erie from Greycourt it was designed to the NY&E’s broad gauge standards of six feet (also known as “Erie Gauge”).
Eventually, the NY&E’s broad gauge was ignored in favor of the standard 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches which the Warick Railroad adopted after a few years of operation. Interestingly, the little system held its own footnote in history by being the first to utilize refrigerated cars (reefers) in the transportation of liquid milk. Until the intervention of highways and automobiles during the early 20th century, dairy products were big business for railroads. Many companies operated dedicated milk trains that were sometimes the most important on the entire system running very fast schedules to ensure on-time delivery.
After its 1882 creation the L&HR extended further north through a subsidiary known as the Orange County Railroad, chartered on November 28, 1888. This little line ran about 9.5 miles from Greycourt to Maybrook where it interchanged with the Central New England Railway, later acquired by the New York, New Haven & Hartford (New Haven). The CNE’s key asset was the nearby Poughkeepsie Bridge spanning the Hudson River, which opened on January 1, 1889.
Even this little bridge road could not stave off growing losses by the 1960s as new highways and a growing trucking industry pulled away evermore freight tonnage. The situation was magnified in the Northeast and New England where there were was no longer enough business to warrant so many rail lines. Then, the PRR and NYC elected to carry out a doomed marriage in 1968 that immediately hurt every smaller system which depended upon the new Penn Central for interchange.
PC was in bankruptcy by 1970 and most other area railroads followed its lead, including the Lehigh & Hudson River, which entered receivership on April 19, 1972 (the only bankruptcy it had ever experienced). Much of the L&HR’s issues dealt with its Maybrook connection and the Poughkeepsie Bridge. On January 1, 1969 New Haven joined Penn Central.
On May 8, 1974 the gateway closed forever when the structure burned and PC refused to make repairs. The loss of this connection cost nearby Erie Lackawanna more than $17 million in annual lost revenue and all but eliminated the purpose of the Lehigh & Hudson River. Realizing the severity of the Northeast’s situation the federal government stepped and setup the Consolidated Rail Corporation, which comprised the skeletons of several bankrupt carriers.
March 31, 1976; the eve of ‘C-day’, when most railroading in the Northeast became Conrail.
In the early evening, the nightly NE-3 (the ‘Phillipsburg turn’) awaits its Form 19 authorization to depart Warwick.
When the crew returned to Warwick, after midnight, they were Conrail employees; the Lehigh and Hudson River Railway had passed into history after more than a century of service.
With the completion of the Maybrook extension the LHRR became an important interconnect between the Pennsylvania Railroad with service south to Washington, D.C., and the New York and Erie with service to New York and New England. When the railroad bridge at Poughkeepsie, NY was completed in 1888 the LHRR became part of the “Poughkeepsie Bridge Route” from Washington to Boston, and for many years the famed Federal Express trains of the Pennsylvania used this route. In 1972 the LHRR filed for bankruptcy when the Penn Central road decided to stop using the bridge at Poughkeepsie. In 1976 the road was merged into Conrail, and largely abandoned. Today its northern portion is still intact and in use to service some industries in the Sparta and Franklin areas.
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