NY Central Lines 1921 Article

An article in “Transportation World” by Charles Frederick Carter provides the basis for this historical sketch of the New York Central.

In March and April of 1921, Charles Frederick Carter published an article on the New York Central in “Transportation World”. Carter was noted for writing popular interpretations in books and magazines of the big statistical, technical and scientific facts of the transportation industry. His lifelong studies had given him a remarkable familiarity with all phases of transportation. Two of his books were “When Railroads Were New” and “Big Railroading”. His 1921 article on the New York Central accomplished a literary feat in condensing into a few pages his exhaustive studies which would require many volumes to fully describe.

Mr. Carter in his survey and analysis is impressed mostly by the advantages of strategic position of the New York Central Lines in the territory of largest population and greatest industrial activity. He felt this position assured continuously increasing traffic and consequent prosperity of the system.

The 12,550 miles of the New York System were the cradle of inventions and the initial proving ground of many notable improvements in the progress of transportation. For instance, the first important change from steam to electric operation was installed. As with any other New York Central publicity of that era, prominent mention was made of Dr. Plimmon H. Dudley, inventor of “flawless rail”. He had made a career of the study of steel and had invented a number of unique instruments for measuring rail stress and detecting inequalities.

The New York Central Lines of 1921 represented what were originally 315 separate companies. The New York Central Lines did not become known as the New York Central System until 1935. The principal component was the New York Central Railroad which represented 186 predecessor companies. Its main line between New York and Chicago was officially completed in 1914 when the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern was consolidated. The 6,075 main line and branch miles of the New York Central Railroad swelled to 12,550 by the leased, controlled and subsidiary lines.

Some of these lines were:

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie

Boston & Albany

West Shore

O Michigan Central

The Big Four (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway)

Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo

Detroit was the headquarters of the Michigan Central Railroad until the line became part of the New York Central in 1930. The Michigan Central also included the Canadian Southern. The Michigan Central’s Detroit River Tunnel was opened in 1910. It connected with Windsor, Ontario and was 8,390 feet long. The twin tubes were electrified until 1953.

The History of the Boston & Albany went back to the early 1830’s. It was leased by the New York Central in 1900 and was finally absorbed into the New York Central System in 1961. Although it connected with the “Water Level Route”, the B&A had some mountains to cross. The westbound ruling gradient is 1.63% while eastbound is 1.52%.

Some roads were fully consolidated into the New York Central Railroad but still seemed to hold a “corporate identity”. One of these was the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh which was originally leased in 1891 and fully consolidated in 1913. Another was the West Shore. Some of what finally was known as the New York Central System had not yet been acquired in 1921. One example was the Ulster & Delaware.

The twelve states in which the system operated had 50.3% of the nation’s population and turned out 64% of the manufactured goods. New York City handled 43 per cent of all the foreign commerce of the United States. The New York Central handled one-fourth of this over its own piers or on its fleet of 306 harbor craft. Boston and Montreal were two other leading seaports which were important to the New York Central.

The New York Central had a notable advantage by being the only railroad having freight tracks and terminals on Manhattan Island. The freight station at St. Johns Park was in the heart of the wholesale dry goods and grocery district. Other freight stations were at Thirty-third Street, Sixtieth Street and at One Hundred and Thirtieth Street. This line was, of course, available when weather conditions impeded navigation of New York Harbor. Plans for reconstruction of this line, not actually completed until 1934, were already made in 1921. In addition, the West Shore had terminals and wharves in New Jersey at Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City.

The New York Central carried one-third of all freight from New York to the west. 40 percent of New York City milk was delivered by the Central.

World’s speed record setter, engine “999”, was still doing active service after 33 years. The “Dewitt Clinton” was on exhibition in the East Gallery of Grand Central Terminal. It was really a replica built at West Albany in 1892 and is currently owned by the Ford Museum in Michigan.

The New York Central Lines hauled 11.73 per cent of the tonnage hauled by Class I railroads (at an average charge of less than nine-tenths of a cent per ton per mile). Two-thirds of all automobile manufacturing in the United States in 1921 was in cities served by the New York Central Lines. While not considered a “coal road”, the system hauled 100,000,000 tons plus another 18,000,000 tons of anthracite. Much of this was over the P&LE which was famed as “the biggest little railroad on earth” because of its phenomenal records in handling traffic.

Of the 687 cities in the country with a population over 10,000, 24 per cent were served by the New York Central. The New York to Chicago main line held cities and towns comprising 11 percent of the population of the entire country.

57,000,000 annual passengers were carried on 800 daily trains. Through travel between New York and Chicago was so heavy that 12 trains a day each way were required to handle it. This was fifty per cent of the traffic, with the remainder split among six other railroads.

Before modern signaling, multiple trackage was very important. Of the total of 6,075 miles of main line operated by the New York Central, 698 miles were four-tracked, 783 miles were three-tracked and 2,175 miles were double-tracked. The entire length of the West Shore was double-tracked. Of the 1862 miles operated by the Michigan Central, 663 miles were double-tracked (including Buffalo to Chicago). The Big Four operated 2,408 miles, of which 663 miles were double-tracked.

No other railroad could boast a water level route for so great a distance. Only the three mile westbound grade at Albany required pushers. The Castleton Cutoff would open in 1924 and forever change railroad operations around Albany.

The system owned 21,376 buildings. Of the 64,131 locomotives owned by Class I roads, 6,374 belonged to the New York Central (including 74 electric locomotives). Suburban passenger trains were operated by 205 motor cars. Nationwide, 52,048 passenger cars included 4895 passenger cars of the New York Central. 2,380,096 freight cars included 269,353 operated by the Central.

The financial health of the Central was excellent. Its security analyst rating was so good that West Shore 4% bonds due 2361 were the longest-term securities ever issued.