Not So Long Ago

In number of years, the late 1940’s were not so long ago; but in respect to the changes in railroading, they are quite distant.

In the summer of 1948, a railfan could pick and choose from a multitude of events, few of which are possible today. For $6.75, a special milk train trip ran from New York to Scranton, Pennsylvania on the New York, Ontario & Western. It left Weehawken at 8:00 am and arrived in Scranton at 8:00 pm. The trip from Cadosia to Scranton was on a combine “rider” (an old wooden jalopy). In 1987, milk trains are gone, the NYO&W is gone, combines are gone and $6.75 would barely get you an hour from Weehawken (if passengers still left from there).

The next day, a chartered bus (cost $1.75) let you visit the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western shops at Scranton, the Delaware & Hudson roundhouse at Carbondale and the Erie shops at Avoca (car shop and engine terminal). All you had to do was be at the Hotel Casey in Scranton at 8:00 am with your $1.75. How much would YOU pay to see this today??? As well as five steam railroads, Scranton boasted the electric Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley Railroad. Known as the “Laurel Line”, it offered an interesting side trip to Wilkes-Barre.

If you were in Boston that weekend and had to miss the Scranton trip, all was not lost. There was an unusual train ride on the New York, New Haven & Hartford. Leaving South Street Station at 9:30 am, you would travel via Needham Junction, Medfield Junction, Walpole, Cedar, Valley Falls, Providence and Worcester. You would see both the southbound and northbound “East Wind”. You could visit the South Worcester enginehouse. Return was via Blackstone, Franklin, Readville and Dorchester freight branch by 5:30 pm. The cost of $3.85 looks like a decimal point was misplaced.

A few weeks later, Erie fans could fork over $4.75 at Jersey City and ride 236 miles in one day. They would cover the Graham Line, Moodina Viaduct (over and under), Port Jervis enginehouse and the Newburgh Branch to the Hudson River.

A Fall foliage trip to the Berkshires and Hoosac Tunnel left Boston’s North Station and turned at Mechanicville. Tours of both the D&H and B&M roundhouses were available. 380 miles of scenic travel cost only $5.00.

How about a five hour tour of Grand Central on a special gondola car trip limited to 50 persons? There was an opportunity to see a New Haven streamliner inside, outside and underneath. Four towers (A, B, F and MO) were included. You could see GCT equipment, including an all-electric wrecker.

Long Island buffs could go on a circle trip from Penn Station in modern air-conditioned double-decked cars. Some of the points covered were the “seagoing” Jamaica Bay line and the Morris Park Locomotive shop.

Interested in the New Haven? How about a 250-mile trip from New Haven over the freight-only Maybrook route? Trip included Poughkeepsie Bridge crossing and a tour of the classification yards at Maybrook.

There were special events for juice fans. A New York City “Triboro Trolley Tour” departed Park Row and Brooklyn Bridge on a “modern, streamlined PCC car”. After visits to the Fresh Pond and Box Street depots, you ended up in Long Island City.

A New York Central-New Haven tour used New Haven open-end M-U cars over the Port Morris Branch and New York Connecting (freight line). Stops were scheduled at Van Nest Shop (home of NH electric power and a few tea kettles), Oak Point and Harlem River freight terminals. Your $2.25 cost even included a photo stop atop the Hell Gate Bridge.

If you didn’t want to take part in an organized railfan activity, there were many other “regular” trains that can no longer be found. How about a trip to the Adirondacks? Trains ran daily to Lake Placid from New York City. The consist included a diner and sleepers and was hauled by oil burners (4-6-2 Pacifics). How about something really unique? Stay on the train at Lake Clear Junction (where the branch to Lake Placid on ex-D&H trackage began) and end up in Malone. The line even continued to Montreal. From Syracuse, there were trains to Massena. Trains from Utica went to the Thousand Islands. The branch from Rome to the Syracuse-Watertown line still ran.

Want to go to New York City from Albany? No, I don’t mean the Hudson Division which still exists under Amtrak. You could try something easy like the West Shore Division or get a little more involved. How about the Delaware & Hudson to Binghamton and try for a connection with the DL&W, Erie or Lehigh Valley? Graceful and fast Delaware & Hudson ten-wheelers covered 142 miles in just under five hours. Another alternative was to take the Boston & Albany. You could change for New York City at Chatham,West Stockbridge or Springfield.

Boston & Maine did not have the traffic from Boston that the Boston & Albany had because nobody wanted to change trains at Troy, but they did offer four daily-except-Sunday trains, two Sunday-only schedules, and the daily 4-1/2 hour “Minute Man”.

Even mainline railroading offered experiences no longer possible. Coach fare, including reserved seat, use of lounge cars and diner, on the “Pacemaker” was only $34.60 round trip to Chicago from New York. At the end of 1947, 2855 railroad passenger cars were on order. Of these, 366 were for New York Central, 290 for Pennsylvania and 200 for New Haven. New York Central’s Niagara 4-8-4 locomotives were exceeding 25,000 miles/month as a result of being used on long, fast through runs.

Since some of this material came from Trains magazines from the 1940’s, I would like to be able to take advantage of one final advertisement – a lifetime subscription for $50!

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RailroadTrackMileage

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Let’s Suppose: A fictional plan (from the 1980’s) for mass transit in the Albany, New York area

Although I primarily write non-fiction (even though some readers may have discovered some factual inaccuracies in my work), I sometimes feel the urge to delve into the world of the unreal.

Let’s suppose I was appointed director of the Capital District Transportation Authority and had an unlimited (within reason) budget. I suppose that being a railfan and not a bus fan would severely prejudice my thinking. But let’s continue to let the busses do the job they are now doing and build a rail commuter network in addition!

Even though my funds are “unlimited”, I would plan to build on the existing rail network wherever possible. I’ll make Rensselaer the center of my system and start by instituting frequent rail service to Hudson and Amsterdam. By close coordination and cooperation with AMTRAK (another literary license like having an unlimited budget), running on the same route as AMTRAK would actually increase their traffic to New York and Buffalo in the process. By adding station stops at Castleton, Colonie (near the former AMTRAK station), Rotterdam (at the West Shore connector), and Scotia (at the former New York Central Sunnyside Road yard); I would serve as a feeder to AMTRAK. Obviously, some double-tracking of existing lines would be required to handle an increased volume of traffic.

I would add service to Chatham (over Post Road Connection) with at least two intermediate stops for “park and rides”.

I would add service to Clifton Park and Saratoga. This service would proceed North to Troy, cross the river and go through Green Island and Cohoes over abandoned or little-used D&H right-of-way. A new bridge south of the Congress Street bridge in Troy would be required as well as elimination of many grade crossings (using overpasses or underpasses). In the future, a light-rail line might be constructed through Troy connecting to this line and following the abandoned B&M roadbed to North Troy. From Waterford, I would use the D&H tracks to Mechanicville and rebuild on the abandoned right-of-way to Saratoga. Between Northway exits 11 and 12 would be an ideal location for a large park and ride station. This station would be accessible from either exit 11 or 12 and have ample parking.

Now that all kinds of service is available to Rensselaer, what will I do with my riders who want to go into downtown (or uptown) Albany? How about a subway? It sounds dream world and technically difficult but what better a way to provide quick, efficient service to a growing and crowded metropolis? The technical drawback is that starting in Rensselaer, my subway must already be at sufficient depth to cross under the river. Once crossing the river, it must climb rapidly as the elevation of the terrain rises. I would design it to loop through downtown Albany and stop at:
1. new Norstar Bank headquarters;
2. new civic center; and
3. the Empire State Plaza.

Once I have solved all these extremely difficult technical problems (including an obviously very deep station under the Empire State Plaza) it would be silly to stop here. Why not continue down Madison and Western Avenue? Construction at this point could be simply “cut and fill”. I would continue past the State Office Campus to Crossgates Mall with intermediate stops at the State University and Stuyvesant Plaza. At Crossgates Mall, the subway could continue above ground into the populated areas of Guilderland. Since I need a connection with the existing rail system, I would plan to climb above-ground at some point on the Post Road Connection. This would present an interesting option of electrifying trackage as far as Chatham and being able to run through without a train change.

Other area I would consider for expansion would be a line to Cobleskill (using D&H trackage) and to Catskill (double tracking the CONRAIL River Line). These lines could terminate in downtown Albany and passengers could transfer to the subway at the Norstar Bank headquarters.

Utilizing both electric and diesel push-pull equipment, I would need a maintenance facility adjacent to the electrified trackage south of Rensselaer. Many options exist for both diesel and electric equipment. I would recommend state-of-the-art equipment already running in other cities. (We already are doing enough pioneering without debugging new equipment!)

A spur could be built from the Albany-Schenectady trackage to the Albany County Airport. This line would serve Wolf Road and could operate either as a shuttle or with through trains to Albany and Schenectady. Because of the built-up area, this line would have to operate either elevated or in a deep cut.

I would use AMTRAK stations where possible and improve the Albany/Rensselaer station with crossover pedestrian bridges and high level platforms (wouldn’t it be nice to unload a crowded AMTRAK train from New York by all doors instead of only two?)

The proposed 220-mile system would consist of:

· Share existing rail lines:
· Albany to Cobleskill (45 miles)
· Rensselaer to Troy (6 miles)
· Green Island/Cohoes to Mechanicville (12 miles)
· Ballston Spa to Saratoga (7 miles)
· Rensselaer to West Albany (3 miles)
· Rensselaer to Hudson (28 miles)

· Double track existing rail lines:
· Albany to Catskill (32 miles)
· West Albany to Amsterdam (30 miles)

· Electrify existing rail:
· Rensselaer to Chatham (22 miles)

· Subway to be constructed (tunnel):
· Rensselaer to midtown Albany (3 miles)

· Subway to be constructed (cut and fill):
· Midtown Albany to Crossgates Mall (3 miles)

· New above-ground electrified:
· Crossgates Mall to Guilderland (3 miles)

Troy to Lansingburg (light rail) (5 miles)

New non-electric construction:
Albany/Schenectady to airport (3 miles)
Troy to Cohoes (5 miles)
Mechanicville to Ballston Spa (13 miles)

The population density of the Capital District is increasing and I have targeted the growth areas for service, but at what point could this expenditure be justified? Much more research must be done before this, or any other, suggestion could begin to be considered. As well as cost, such subjects as running times between stations, rail times versus auto times, load factors, train densities, parking, construction times, etc must be fully investigated.

Is it realistic to believe we could justify these costs?

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AlbanySchenectadyPowerStation

More Fantasy

The building pictured here used to be the power station for an interurban that ran between Albany and Schenectady. Imagine if we still had it today! Route 5 was just a double lane and the interurban had a private right-of-way. Could have added two more lanes on the other side of the tracks and have the interurban run down the median. But then: the Albany and Schenectady local systems went away!

Have been lots of tenants in the building after the interurban closed. Radio Station even made an postcard to advertise themselves.

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Left: Albany Union Station; top right: State Education Department: bottom right: Scheectady railroad station.

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Locating Old Railroad
Workers

The best source of information about former railroad
workers is the US Government’s
Railroad Retirement Board. https://www.rrb.gov/index.php

They track all rail workers after 1935.

There isn’t really any other definitive source and most
active railroads and railroad historical societies will direct you here.

BUT, You might get lucky and find something on a
genealogy site like Ancestor.com,
but we can’t really recommend anything definitive.