Ontario & Western

ontariowesterndiesel

HISTORY OF THE O&W
Three years before the Golden Spike was driven at Promontory Point, a group of businessmen from such diverse locations as
Norwich, Utica, Oswego, Walton and Middletown banded together to form a railroad known as the New York and Oswego Midland Railroad. Later to be known as the New York, Ontario & Western Railway, it went into operation in 1871. Its first passenger train was a small affair consisting of three coaches and a mail/baggage car. The locomotive, a 4-4-0, sported a tall smokestack and a prominent cowcatcher.

Numerous reorganizations occurred until 1879 when the road got a new name – implying the hope of a ferry connection across Lake Ontario and a continuation to the West. Since that day, the New York, Ontario & Western Railway (better known to its admirers as the O&W) sent a continuous stream of engines, passenger cars, freight cars and cabooses over its 541 miles of track from Weehawken, NJ to the port of Oswego on Lake Ontario. In the early 1950’s, the railroad faced foreclosure and eventually bankruptcy through the action of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. 1957 saw the end of the O&W. It had always been a feeder line instead of a trunk line and couldn’t compete with the like of New York Central.

In 1881, when the NY & Oswego Midland became the O&W, things looked brighter. The bluestone industry was in full flower throughout the area served by the railroad and there was no truck competition. To tap important coal regions in the Scranton area, a 54-mile branch was built from Cadosia in 1889. This opened up the O&W as a mover of anthracite coal to New England and to the New Jersey ports. The mines failed in the late 1930’s, forcing a 1937 reorganization.

Branch lines were built to Kingston and Port Jervis. At Scranton it connected with the DL&W and the Central of NJ. At Maybrook, the O&W connected with the New Haven and there was an important connection at Oneida with the New York Central. There were branches to Delhi, Port Jervis and Monticello. A branch to New Berlin was sold to the Unadilla Valley in 1941.

As the mainline wound its way through out of the way places towards Lake Ontario, it spun off a branch from near Hamilton to Utica. As this branch went through Clinton, another branch went to Rome. The Utica, Clinton & Binghamton Railroad was owned by the Delaware & Hudson, leased to the O&W, and finally sold to the O&W in 1942 for $250,000. The Rome & Clinton Railroad was sold by the D&H to the O&W in 1944. The D&H owned these disconnected lines as a result of an 1873 loan to the NY & Oswego Midland that was defaulted. The D&H had made the loan in hopes that it would bolster coal traffic over the D&H.

One of the incorporators of the railroad joked that the O&W would run at right angles to the mountains. The road dug several tunnels and many bridges and trestles to keep the grade from too steep a pitch. It is said that, for its size, the O&W had more causeways, bridges and tunnels than any other Eastern road. By the turn of the century, the railroad served over a hundred stations.

As industry gradually moved out of central and southern New York to more westerly places, the railroad came into a new means of maintaining itself. It began to serve as a fast, dependable freight service to and from New England. This route to New England, via the New Haven Railroad, eliminated delays moving through the clogged New York Harbor gateways. By the 1950’s, this was the railroad’s chief source of revenue. The road brought in fresh vegetables and other produce, and in exchange took New England manufactures for distribution to westerly points.

With its growth, the O&W saw a succession of powerful locomotives. In steam days, there was everything from bell-stacked 4-4-2’s to the huge mountain 4-8-4’s used for hauling long lines of freight over steep grades. 4-6-0 Camelbacks, 2-8-0’s and 4-8-2’s saw much service in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A “sort of streamlined” 4-8-2 hauled the “mountaineer”, a 1937 attempt to capture back passenger traffic to the Catskills. “Sort of streamlined” meant the railroad didn’t, as usual, have enough money to do a superb job. Designer Otto Kuhler did what he could for $10,000. 1945 was a turning point as nine new diesels were purchased. Each one of these engines developed 2,700 horsepower and weighed, fully loaded, 458,000 pounds. These mechanical workhorses were soon proved to be far superior to the old coal-burning locomotives. Dieselization began in 1941 and 1942 with five GE 44-ton switchers. Electro-Motive FT’s followed, with one pair financed by Standard Oil in exchange for detailed operating performance data. The company, which had been in receivership since 1937, decided to completely modernize. In 1948 they cast aside all the coal-burners and bought 28 more diesel-electric locomotives The O&W came into New York as a tenant of the West Shore subsidiary of the New York Central. O&W tracks from Middletown ended in Cornwall-on-Hudson. From there, O&W trains used the West Shore south for over fifty miles to Weehawken, NJ. There the railroad had an engine terminal, yard trackage and coal piers. It shared the passenger terminal with the West Shore and riders used the New York Central ferry boats to reach Manhattan.

Nothing unusual ever happened on this quiet line. Most notable were two wrecks in Hamilton, New York. In 1926, a fireman was killed as a locomotive flipped over. In 1955, four crewmen were injured when a two-unit diesel engine leaped more than 90 feet off the end of a trestle.

Near the end the railroad was mainly a freight line. It did provide passenger service during the summer to the Catskill vacationlands. The 1944 timetable showed two trains each way into Weehawken. Local passengers couldn’t ride between West Shore stations, but those going beyond Cornwall to O&W stations could flag at Little Ferry or West Point. Some 150,000 passengers were transported an average distance of 100 miles, and on some days as many 11,000 passengers were moved. There were numerous children’s camps in this region and the O&W annually provided special trains to them.

In 1953, Cadosia freight yard was busy because it was the connecting yard between the main line and the Scranton Branch. A telegraph key was still in use. The yard held 350 cars and held many gravel and sand cars for the new highway between Deposit and Hancock. About 70 men were dependent on the railroad – two yard crews and two section gangs.

World War I saw numerous troop trains roll through Cadosia, but World War II was all freight, but three trains a day did run to defense contractor Scintilla in Sidney. The tunnel at Cadosia was a long, curved one, and a signal tower was used to ensure two trains didn’t meet in it.

Middletown was the nerve center of the railroad. All major repairs were made at the locomotive and car shops there. Light running repairs were made at Scranton and Norwich. Also at Middletown were machine shops, blacksmith shop, woodworking shop, paint shops and other supporting facilities. The line had two coal piers in Weehawken and 35 acres of lake front at Oswego.

This line with 37 locomotives, 541 miles of track, freight yards, brakemen, etc was doomed to disappear from the New York scene. The line on which hundreds of families were dependent and which numerous businessmen moved their merchandise became extinct.

During its history, the road was owned by the New Haven for several years beginning in 1904. The New Haven almost re-purchased it in 1952 but had to back out because of its own money problems. The New Haven interest in the O&W was because of the 145-mile Scranton to Campbell Hall bridge carrier role. Campbell Hall was the beginning of the New Haven’s Maybrook Line to New England.

Passenger service dried up as well as a lot of freight. A booster organization was formed but not greatly successful as little freight originated on the line. Towns on the O&W protested abandonment because of unpaid back taxes. New York State proposed a $1 million aid bill but it didn’t fly. The federal government recommended liquidation – and that is what happened on March 29, 1957. Most everything but the diesels was scrapped. This included a dozen old passenger cars, a hundred and a half freight cars, and over 70 assorted pieces of equipment. Nothing now remains except traces of the roadbed and an active following of fans.

owmap

The O&W reached from New York City to the Great Lakes

Main Line

The line is still in use in Middletown (about 2 miles?) Also the Fulton to Oswego trackage, and some of the Oswego yard trackage which still is operated by Conrail’s successors. I think that is a little in excess of 13 miles. Another piece just recently torn out by Conrail was at Oneida. It ran under the old NYC mainline and connected with that old main on the south side of Sconondoah Street. It then ran down to the Agway just north of Walnut Street…maybe half a mile. Walnut Street (north side) was the location of the turntable that lasted to the end in ’57. The New York Central took it over Fulton to Oswego in 1957 and the track is still used today to serve industries in Fulton and Oswego. The O&W freight house still stands in Oswego near the port although the tracks to it were removed years ago. Other NYO&W right-of-way in Oswego County has been converted to a motorcycle/snowmobile/hiking trail. In addition, Oswego has a lot of dead end tracks on the lakefront, an abandoned RW&O bridge over the river and canal, and the DL&W line has been turned into a walkway.

Rome and Clinton
Regarding passenger service, From the 1893 Official Guide, there were two trains in each direction between
Rome and Clinton. By 1911, the frequency was up to three. By 1929, it was back down to two and by 1934, passenger service had ended but I don’t know exactly when. Freight in 1956 took three to four hours to run from Norwich to Rome. Aside from Rome and Clinton, all of the switching was done between Clinton and Norwich. In Rome the old Rome Main is still in place for about .8 miles from the Canal on the south, to the connection with the old NYC. I think this is out of service since taken over by the MA&N and the relocation of the Glo-Gas business. In Clark Mills, the local industry was Hind & Harrison Plush Co. which operated until about 1947-48. The O&W had a spur into the plant [a large complex of buildings – 2 of which are still standing] to deliver coal and other mill supplies. Shipments would have been rolls of plush material headed for the auto factories in Detroit, etc. They serviced the industry right up until its demise. At Clark Mills, there was an interchange with the West Shore which apparently was removed about the time that the plush company closed. NYC took out the rails and the holding “yard” trackage and upgraded the interlocking about 1950. There was also an iron foundry in Westmoreland that was serviced by the Old Woman; Westmoreland Malleable Iron. There would have been coke and ore deliveries, along with outbound casting shipments. There were no industries in either Dix or Bartlet.

 

Utica Branch

Track is left at Utica (actually New Hartford) from the crossing of the West Shore into Mohawk Containers. This comprises about a mile of the Utica branch mainline MP NY-272 still sees passing trains! There is about 1/2 mile of industrial spur. Also in Utica is about .75 miles of the Utica main, later what the EL called the Fay Street spur. It leaves the Lackawanna (NYS&W) at the former diamond of NYOW/DL&W and runs north towards the old canal (now Oriskany Blvd.) deadending several hundred feet short of the Blvd. It was left to serve the Fay Street Warehouse, but has only seen one NYSW train in 1982. Track was still there at my last visit.

 

Kingston Branch

Freight service was still being handled on the Kingston Branch right up until the ax fell on March 29, 1957. Passenger service on the branch definitely was gone before the last main line service died at the end of the 1953 Summer Season. It appears to have ended sometime between 1934 when there were two trains a day in each direction and 1939 although there appears to have been some summer service, at least during World War II. The 1944 Official Guide indicates that summer service would be available as far north as Accord. In 1956, freight from Kingston to Middletown was about a four hours trip. In a way the Kingston Branch lasted beyond the end. There is a photo in the book “The Final Years” showing the NW2’s being delivered to the NYC there after the Central had bought them.

 

Track Removal

We all know that the NYO&W was abandoned in early 1957. When were the actual rails removed? I have seen an account where someone took a 1959 Chevy on flanged wheels and “toured” the line in the late ’50s or early 1960s. Was the O&W “railbanked” in hopes that some future operator would assume operation? Also, at the time of abandonment, rumor had it that the Salzberg or Pinsly railroad groups were interested in purchasing all or part of the O&W for future operation. Was there any fact in that, and could a truncated version of the O&W survived? As I understand, the rails were sold to different salvage companies, and some scrapping began about 1958 on the Southern Division; continuing through 1959 on the Northern Division. It wasn’t immediate and the Lyon Brook Bridge went in 1966.

Could the O&W have survived in some form? The 30 some volumes of the bankruptcy proceedings, which represents some tens of thousands of pages contain the incredible effort of Judges Hulburt and Conger to sell, save or make profitable the railroad in the face of changing economics (coal and milk were gone) stronger rail competition, stronger truck competition, the inability to develop the Port of Oswego, bridge restrictions, tunnel restrictions, labor issues, poor roadbed, poor rate divisions, lack of originating traffic, increasing operating cost, bondholders looking for their due etc.

There were plans to sell to Salzberg, Pinsley, the New Haven, and Sam Rosoff. Nothing happened for a variety of reasons. Much had to do with bondholders interest in the reorganization, and the authority of the court as outlined legally. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. There were also plans to cut the Monticello branch, the Kingston Branch etc. as early as 1940/41. However, objections were initially raised that it was the NYO&W and Ontario, Carbondale & Scranton companies that were in bankruptcy, NOT the Pecksport Connecting, Utica, Clinton & Binghamton, Port Jervis & Monticello (can’t recall the legal name exactly) and the E&K (Ellenville & Kingston). Therefore those with financial interest in those companies protested to Judge Hulburt that the court had no authority to sell or scrap those lines.

The New York, Susquehanna & Western and the New York, Ontario & Western were both part of the same scheme at one time in the 1870’s. The early NYS&W’s ancestors were building west from Hawthorne, NJ while trying to decide where the eastern terminus would be. They were aiming for the Pennsylvania coal country which would make them about the eighth railroad there. The NYO&W predecessor (New York & Oswego Midland Railroad) was looking for an eastern terminus also having only laid out their line west from Middletown, NY. They convinced the NYS&W’s people to lease their line to the Midland Railroad and the companies built as the Midland RR of NY and the Midland RR of NJ. A branch from the original alignment of the NYS&W was built from Beaver Lake, NJ northward to Middletown, NY. As the NJ line still didn’t have an eastern end, the trains went down the Montclair Railway’s New York & Greenwood Lake line to the Erie terminal at Jersey City. Through passenger service was run for a time all the way from Oswego to Jersey City by this route, but the Panic of 1873 pushed the Midland scheme into bankruptcy and the NJ stockholders regained control of their line, became the NYS&W, and built to the coalfields after all. They also built the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern after several years of using the DL&W in PA.

The line from Beaver Lake remained the NYS&W’s Hanford Branch to the state line; between there and Middletown it became the Middletown and NJ (it had been a separate railroad before the Midland came along) while the New York company got involved in another scheme: the war between the Pennsylvania RR and the New York Central. The Pennsy tried to build the New York, West Shore, and Buffalo to compete with the NYC while the NYC was building the South Pennsylvania RR to fight the Pennsy. When peace was declared, the South Penn was abandoned, way later to become the Pennsylvania Turnpike; the West Shore became a NYC property and was completed; and the NYO&W acquired a line from Middletown to Cornwall and the West Shore, reaching Weehawken, NJ opposite midtown Manhattan. The NYO&W had coal facilities at Cornwall for ship loading, and used the NYC’s ferries for passengers to reach NYC.

The NYO&W shut down on March 29, 1957. There are several sections of its line which still exist but the main line is gone. Because the original Midland attracted money from towns empowered to float 100-year bonds, many communities on the former right-of-way were still paying for it into the 1970’s.

With the removal of the former DL&W/O&W connector in Norwich, there is no remaining O&W track in Chenango county. ROW and some old bridges and stations are visible on the old main from Sidney to Norwich and up to Hamilton and beyond. Also, same is visible on much of the old Auburn branch. As for the O&W track. The DL&W and EL used the track in town for awhile to serve the Champion Mill with coal and a silo company. After the early 60s when the school was built, all O&W track was removed. The “river” track ended next to Briggs Lumber on Hale Street. This was the interchange track to the O&W. This has been removed to accommodate Prentice St. They do however use ex-O&W track in New Hartford, complete with a milepost!

The “Old Woman” did not have an interchange with the Erie at the West Cornwall crossing; it was easier to do this at Maybrook yard where both lines interchanged with the NYNH&H. There was no O&W traffic from NY City to connect to the Erie – the agreements that let the O&W use the West Shore prevented that (no local passengers between West Shore points either). There was no interchange at Campbell Hall – all interchange was done at Maybrook. Practically, the O&W didn’t have a resource base south of Cornwall – just mainline trackage rights to Weehawken: passenger terminal and O&W facilities (coal trestle & storage yard). All customers along the West Shore were served by NYC. Almost all the loaded O&W freight traffic was south – some Erie traffic may have been included but I doubt much came north. O&W freight traffic south of Cornwall in the early 1950s was limited to a small local.

The New Haven had an interest in the New York, Ontario and Western (early 20th C), and the bridge was the connection. The NY, NH&H was attracted to the Pennsylvania coal from the NYO&W territory near Scranton. The New Haven was somewhat involved with O&W management from 1904 until bankruptcy in 1937. After that, trustees ran the line until the final abandonment. The O&W’s line between the Pennsylvania coalfields and Maybrook was much more important to the New Haven than the marginal freight operations to central New York. When the coalfields started getting played out in the 1940’s, the NH lost interest in much of the operations; however it almost re-purchased it in 1952 but had to back out because of its own money problems.

From 1881 to 1957 the New York, Ontario & Western Railway (better known to its admirers as the O&W) sent a continuous stream of engines, passenger cars, freight cars and cabooses over its 541 miles of track from Weehawken, NJ to the port of Oswego on Lake Ontario. In the early 1950’s, the railroad faced foreclosure and eventually bankruptcy through the action of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. 1957 saw the end of the O&W. It had always been a feeder line instead of a trunk line and couldn’t compete with the like of New York Central.

In 1881, when the NY & Oswego Midland became the O&W, things looked brighter. The bluestone industry was in full flower throughout the area served by the railroad and there was no truck competition. To tap important coal regions in the Scranton area, a 54-mile branch was built from Cadosia in 1889. This opened up the O&W as a mover of anthracite coal to New England and to the New Jersey ports. The mines failed in the late 1930’s, forcing a 1937 reorganization.

Branch lines were built to Kingston and Port Jervis. At Scranton it connected with the DL&W and the Central of NJ. At Maybrook, the O&W connected with the New Haven and there was an important connection at Oneida with the New York Central. There were branches to Delhi, Port Jervis and Monticello. A branch to New Berlin was sold to the Unadilla Valley in 1941.

As the mainline wound its way through out of the way places towards Lake Ontario, it spun off a branch from near Hamilton to Utica. As this branch went through Clinton, another branch went to Rome. The Utica, Clinton & Binghamton Railroad was owned by the Delaware & Hudson, leased to the O&W, and finally sold to the O&W in 1942 for $250,000. The Rome & Clinton Railroad was sold by the D&H to the O&W in 1944. The D&H owned these disconnected lines as a result of an 1873 loan to the NY & Oswego Midland that was defaulted. The D&H had made the loan in hopes that it would bolster coal traffic over the D&H.

With its growth, the O&W saw a succession of powerful locomotives. In steam days, there was everything from bell-stacked 4-4-2’s to the huge mountain 4-8-4’s used for hauling long lines of freight over steep grades. 4-6-0 Camelbacks, 2-8-0’s and 4-8-2’s saw much service in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A “sort of streamlined” 4-8-2 hauled the “mountaineer”, a 1937 attempt to capture back passenger traffic to the Catskills. “Sort of streamlined” meant the railroad didn’t, as usual, have enough money to do a superb job. Designer Otto Kuhler did what he could for $10,000. 1945 was a turning point as nine new diesels were purchased. Each one of these engines developed 2,700 horsepower and weighed, fully loaded, 458,000 pounds. These mechanical workhorses were soon proved to be far superior to the old coal-burning locomotives. Dieselization began in 1941 and 1942 with five GE 44-ton switchers. Electro-Motive FT’s followed, with one pair financed by Standard Oil in exchange for detailed operating performance data. The company, which had been in receivership since 1937, decided to completely modernize. In 1948 they cast aside all the coal-burners and bought 28 more diesel-electric locomotives

The O&W came into New York as a tenant of the West Shore subsidiary of the New York Central. O&W tracks from Middletown ended in Cornwall-on-Hudson. From there, O&W trains used the West Shore south for over fifty miles to Weehawken, NJ. There the railroad had an engine terminal, yard trackage and coal piers. It shared the passenger terminal with the West Shore and riders used the New York Central ferryboats to reach Manhattan.

Portions of the abandoned O&W were used in the reconstruction of NY Route 17. Shown below are the O&W stations and the towns which are in the proximity to Route 17: (from East to West, an over-80 mile segment; originally double-track but one track taken up and CTC installed in late 1940’s)

 

Burnside

Goshen

Campbell Hall

an ex Central New England station open until 1957. It burned in the 1970’s. O&W connected with the New Haven, with the Erie’s Graham Line, and with the Lehigh and New England.

Stony Ford

Middletown

a large station built in 1892. Site of the famous “10-minute meal stop (in lieu of diners). Junction with the Erie from Port Jervis. Also junction with the shortline Middletown & Unionville (also known as Middletown and New Jersey). This was the O&W headquarters.

Winterton

Highview

Bloominberg

at this point, Tower “BX” guarded a tunnel

Mamakating

the depot remains as a VFW hall

Summitville

the Port Jervis to Kingston line intersected here. There was passenger service to the hotels at Ellenville.

Mountaindale

 

Woodridge

Not on road maps

Fallsburg

 

Luzon


Ferndale


Liberty

beginning of a grade which climbed to 1840 feet at Young’s Gap (now used by Route 17).

Parkerville


Livingston Manor


Roscoe

was the limit of most passenger service in later years. Route 17 goes right over the site of the station.

Cooks Falls


East Branch

connection with the Delaware & Northern to Arkville (D&N roadbed now mostly under the Pepacton Reservoir)

Cadosia

junction of Scranton line with the main line which continued to Walton, Sidney and on to Oswego

There are a few good books on the O&W which usually show up in “antique” bookshops. One is a hard cover by Borden Helmer. The other is a soft photo book from Carstens Pubs by Christ & Krause (I think). William Helmer’s book “O&W” gives a chronological history of the line, including its start as the New York, Oswego Midland. “The Final Years of the New York, Ontario & Western” by Krause & Christ, is an excellent survey of line the final 20 years or so. “To the Mountains by Rail”, by Manville B. Wakefield, travels town by town through the southern part of the O&W documenting the hotels & businesses served by the railroad. “Memories of O&W Power”, is essentially one person’s recollection of the O&W. “The O&W in the Diesel Age”, by Robert Mohowski, is an excellent discussion of the business aspect, including traffic density maps. Also, rare color photographs (including the Mountaineer by Mr. Lubliner). The four diesel types used by the road are discussed in detail with insets by guest writers.

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uticabirdseyeviewfrenchroad

New Hartford Tracks in use 2010. Over 50 years since the end of the O&W and the tracks still see trains! Susquehanna train heading from Utica towards New Hartford. From a BING Birds Eye View.

See a Sanford Map from the 1920’s showing the O&W tracks along Campion Road (was Whitesboro Street) in New Hartford, NY.

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REFERENCE SECTION
The Unadilla Valley Railway
Ontario & Western Directory
Ontario & Western Steam Locomotives
List of New York Railroads

The Railroads of Port Jervis by Raymond Pinglora
New York, Ontario & Western Historical Society
See the final locomotive roster of the New York, Ontario & Western

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Where did the O&W Diesels Go:

GE 44-Ton Switchers 101-105 Sold between 1950 and 1952 to four different short lines. 104 and 105 are still around.

NW-2 111-131. 17 of them (114-131) sold to NYCRR in 1957. Most if not all were delivered to the NYC at the U&D interchange track in Kingston. 111 operated on the Unadilla Valley RR for a while.

FT A-B (A and B coupled with a drawbar, each set had only one number). 601 (paid for by Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey as a test bed), 801 thru 805, and 808, sold to Harold Gottfried in 1957, who intended to sell them to Mexico. Never happened, and they sat on the Erie in Croxton A Yard until 1968. You could see them from the south side of PRR trains on the High Line to Penn Station.

NYC bought them from either Gottfried or the bank in 1968 and traded them in to EMD. Some of the components had value, like truck sides and engine blocks. EMD policy of “getting the dogs off the road” ensured their quick demise, with usable material coming out the gate in new locomotives. I don’t think EMD had any interest in them until they were traded in.

FT A-B 806 and 807 went to the B&O via National Metal and Steel Corporation. 807 always had a crumpled nose from a grade crossing accident, and you could see the creases even under B&O paint. B&O traded them to EMD in 1962.

F3 A 501, 502, 503 were single A units, with footboards on the pilot and air signal lines. They went to the Sacramento Northern, a Western Pacific subsidiary.

F3 A-B 821 and 822 (A-B sets joined with one number, AAR couplers joining them). All went to the Erie in 1957. Became Erie 714A, B, C, and D, an A-B-B-A set, then EL 7141, 7142, 7143 and 7144. A units were traded to EMD in 1965. O&W 822 B was in the Erie-B&O head on at Sterling, Ohio in 1966, and it was scrapped with the 821B that year.

The above from “New York, Ontario and Western in the Diesel Age” by Bob Mohowski, which I highly recommend for its good data and interesting insights.

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Way back when, Utica had three railroads besides the New York Central. Until 1957 these three railroads ran through, and crossed each other in the South Utica/New Hartford area: Ontario & Western, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, and West Shore (really a part of New York Central). Even the municipal borders varied. Until 1925, what is now South Utica was a part of the town of New Hartford. See the full story on the three other railroads of Utica, New York

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For you that don’t know the Old Woman, some people say the road should have never been built. Every thing was built for a reason. We hope you enjoy this minature world of the O&W in N scale.

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sylvanbeachrails

Ontario & Western in Sylvan Beach, New York
This resort was once served by the O&W Rome Branch

sylvanbeachstation

Ontario & Western station at Sylvan Beach, New York

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Scranton and the O&W

I enjoyed reading the several recent articles about the Scranton area, especially Graham Lobb in September 1995. Far from being an expert on the area, I tried to at least do a little research. I picked 1964 because it was after the demise of the O&W (Ontario & Western) and the Erie-Lackawanna merger but before Penn Central and Conrail. It also happened to be a year for which I had both an OFFICIAL GUIDE and several Employee Timetables.

By 1964, the NYS&W only extended as far as the connection with the Lehigh & Hudson River at Sparta Junction. Interestingly, the L&HR map published in the OFFICIAL GUIDE showed the Susquehanna still going to Stroudsburg [actually, Hainsburg Jct.] (the same map still showed the Lehigh & New England still in place). It was interesting to me that the NYS&W used the DL&W from Stroudsburg to enter Scranton since the NYS&W had close Erie ties. The NYS&W presence in the Scranton area was the Wilkes Barre & Eastern which was leased and operated by the NYS&W until it was abandoned about 1939. At that time, they retained a presence in the area with two very short, isolated branches. The Winton Branch gave access to some coal mines and was last used by the O&W. The Suscon Branch was operated by Erie, E-L, Conrail, then Pocono Northeast.

The Erie-Lackawanna still operated New York/Scranton/Binghampton passenger service. Some effects of the merger were showing as the ex-Erie line from Lackawaxen had been cut between Hawley (Honesdale) and Gravity/Lake Ariel. Maps I’ve seen seem to indicate there were THREE different routes between Hawley and Scranton. The Erie’s Susquehanna to Carbondale to Scranton service for freight-only still existed. E-L connected with D&H at Plymouth Junction.

Central RR of New Jersey (CNJ) still served Scranton but passenger service ended at Allentown. It’s affiliate Lehigh & New England Railway still operated 34 miles of track although the real L&NE went out of business in 1960.

The Lehigh Valley went through Wilkes-Barre which was also served by the Pennsylvania’s road from Sunbury. The Pennsylvania’s Wilkes-Barre branch paralleled the Erie-Lackawanna Bloomsburg Branch going to Northumberland, across the river from Sunbury. One rail line still puzzles me: The Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley Railway. This appeared to be a 19-mile freight connection between the Erie-Lackawanna at Scranton and the Lehigh Valley at Wilkes-Barre. I also surmised it to be owned, at least partially, by the E-L. Lehigh Valley and D&H connected via the CNJ until CNJ bailed out in 1972. At that time, a connection was established at Dupont.

Between Carbondale and Scranton, the D&H roughly paralleled the NYO&W running through Jermyn, Archbald, Olyphant, Throop and Providence. Originally the D&H ran over the Erie between these two points but bought this line from the Erie. On a somewhat related topic, between Scranton and Wilkes Barre, the D&H ran over the D&H, the CNJ, then back to the D&H. Likewise, the CNJ ran over the CNJ, the D&H, the CNJ. Timetable operation did not seem as complicated to the uneducated eye as the joint operation in New York State with the B&M. Included in this area were Plymouth, Conyngham, Spring Brook, Vine Street and Racket Brook branches. Then too there was also the Wilkes-Barre Connecting Railroad which was owned jointly by the D&H and Pennsylvania RR and connected with the Pennsylvania.

Most that is written of the Ontario & Western relates to the Catskills, but the road went as far as Oswego, NY. The only existing O&W trackage still used today runs from Fulton (northwest of Syracuse) to Oswego. The New York Central took it over in 1957 and Conrail uses it today to serve industries in Fulton and Oswego. The O&W freighthouse still stands in Oswego near the Port although the tracks to it were removed years ago. The NYO&W right-of-way in Oswego County has been converted to a motorcycle/snowmobile/hiking trail. In addition, Oswego has a lot of dead end tracks on the lakefront, an abandoned RW&O bridge over the river and canal, and the DL&W line has been turned into a walkway.

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Link to Stewart Air Base?
stewartairforcebase

Branch was first discussed in a letter dated June 1942 and it was to be from Denniston to Stewart Air Base @ 1.8 miles with another 1 mile being constructed on the base. Also, there was concerns about crossing the Catskill Aqueduct. Then on June 18, 1953 it was discussed as still a possibility and finally on Jan 8, 1954 it was tabled.

Too bad…. if it had been built there probably would have been a right of way for the proposal to build commuter operations into Stewart Airport today.

A 2003 study recommends several routes for linking the airport to the Port Jervis line at the Salisbury Mills station. They only range from three to five miles, but they involve taking private property and skirting New York City’s Catskill Aqueduct.

The study also raises the prospect of acquiring more property to build a second track between Salisbury Mills and Suffern – avoiding the Moodna and Woodbury viaducts and, to the extent possible, the wetlands along the Ramapo River.

Regardless, the projections assume that a low-cost carrier will locate at Stewart and that passengers will embrace a two-seat ride to Pennsylvania Station via the Secaucus transfer pending the availability of a one-seat ride to Grand Central Terminal via the Tappan Zee corridor.

Metro-North’s own plan, to take Port Jervis-line customers through the Tappan Zee corridor to Grand Central, is less advanced and far less certain. Adding commuter rail to a new Tappan Zee Bridge could boost the project’s cost to as much as $14.5 billion.

In fact, a Stewart rail link was part of the Tappan Zee review until the New York State Thruway Authority cut it loose and Metro-North got the money for the 2003 study. A rail link was also part of the $1.5 million study of one-seat ride possibilities that Metro-North did to counter Orange County’s complaints about commuter rail service in 1990 – and that went nowhere because of the multibillion-dollar cost.

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I’m sure everyone here knows that the New York Ontario & Western Railway never could have continued as a contiguous railroad post-1957, but what if it had been broken up (a la Ma Bell) by the bankruptcy court instead of liquidated?


Does anyone think that certain sections of the line could have been kept intact and operated by “baby” O&W spin-offs and remained viable at least through the Conrail formation?

The section from Sidney to Norwich probably could have been a decent Binghamton bypass connecting the DL&W/EL and D&H. There was still plenty of industry in Norwich at the time that could have made use of a direct D&H connection.

Oriskany Falls had some industry that utilized the connection to the NYC at Utica too. Perhaps the section between Oriskany Falls and Utica could have soldiered on independently?

I think the cold hard truth as to what could have survived post March 29, 1957 is what in actuality DID survive. The Fulton to Oswego portion to the NYC, a short segments in Rome, Norwich, Middletown, Scranton / Mayfield, Firthcliff, Utica, couple of sidings in Sidney and probably a few I missed.

The DL&W looked at Norwich to Utica as a way to get around Paris Hill and also cut down on street running in Utica by using the O&W Fay Street alignment rather than Schuyler Street. Indeed there was a healthy stone business in Oriskany Falls but I suspect low revenue and the cost of maintaining track would have meant additional capital beyond acquisition at a time when DL&W didn’t have it. It is interesting that they did get major portions of the Norwich-Clinton business by transload including customers from Smyrna, Earlville, Hamilton, Bouckville & Oriskany Falls. Good deal to get the business without having to acquire the tracks.

I don’t see an advantage to Sidney to Norwich. I believe the UVRR looked into that, maybe even had an option for it but it didn’t make much economic sense. Most of the traffic was terminating and division of rates would not have been wanted by the carriers already handling it. The DL&W had the lions share of the Norwich business and took over the tracks from the interchange in the “Lower Yard” up through town to Crane Silo I believe. This served the Norwich Knitting Mill with coal and a few other businesses. All was gone by sometime in 1960. No reason for the D&H to come over the hill and deal with Lyon Brook Bridge … again for much of the business that was terminating.

Much of the O&W business was just too thin and spread out and certainly there were no where near enough customers to support a stand alone Middletown to Cadosia railroad to no where.

I think that Governor Harriman urged very strongly that the Erie look at all or some of it very seriously but that didn’t go very far; access to the Pine Bush branch north of Middletown. No one could see any use in the Kingston Branch either.

The Rome Branch at Westmoreland could be served off the NYC (Westshore) and Rome itself by acquiring about a mile of O&W by NYC RR from the interchange near James Street to the Canal.

DL&W picked up all of the Utica – New Hartford trackage but saw no sense in extending to Clinton, nor grabbing the Rome Branch for a share of that traffic.

Of course NYC RR got a good buy picking up the Fulton business and going into Oswego and that tied in well with there existing line north of Syracuse to Fulton.

I don’t see room for another carrier be it existing shortline like UVRR, newly created shortline, or other Class 1 like D&H. What almost did come to pass ca. 1952 was a NYNH&H purchase. Apparently the New Haven eventually came to their senses and perhaps recalled their last entanglement with O&W that ended with the O&W filing Section 77 in May 1937.

A small piece in Oneida also went to the NYC.

You probably could have taken any of those individual segments and set up an industrial railroad on them, maybe even handled a few more miles and customers than what did survive, but a lot of what did survive is gone today or sits OOS with no customers. Even the Fulton-Oswego segment is pretty quiet these days.

I seem to remember reading someplace some ruminations that the D&H considered buying enough of the O&W to give them a route into New York City, but ultimately passed it up.

Possibly if the O&W became a “shortline” or ran with a shortline mentality post 1937 they could have lasted for a while but probably not beyond the mid-1960’s or the Penn Central creation. There was possiblity that a sale could have been executed to Pinsley in the early 1950’s but the bankruptcy judge stated he had no authority to sell the railroad, that was a matter of the refunding mortgage bondholders. It got real messy after that with the bondholders presenting a reorganization plan (1956) but eventually they decided to hold out for liquidation ($10 million dollars I f I remember).

Don’t forget the NYS&W and the NYO&W discussed merging in the early 1940’s. They even had a name picked out: New York, Susquehanna & Ontario.

It was built on the premise that Oswego would turn into a major Great Lakes port. This did not happen. The railroad was built by “subscription” and served whatever communities that purchased stock. The railroad did not spur development in these sparsely populated areas, so on-line traffic never amounted to much. The railroad then wisely turned to coal, building the Scranton extension. This helped the railroad limp into the 1930s, but the Depression dealt a knockout punch. There was a traffic spike during World War II, but postwar development of better roads and more private automobiles sped the decline of the O&W. Even if the railroad could have shed the Northern Division, the Scranton-Maybrook bridge traffic was not enough to survive on (and competed in an already saturated market). Milk traffic disappeared, passenger traffic was nearly nothing, local freight was not enough, and through traffic was nearly non-existent.

When you have more miles than steady customers, you don’t have much of a railroad at all.

Some more things that contributed to its downfall: It had competetion from other railroads in nearly all of the major areas that it actually did cover ie/ Rome, Utica, Oneida, Scranton, Middletown, Norwich and Campbell Hall. The railroad was expensive to operate in the days of steam and even after it was diesel operated it took more locomotives and fuel to move a ton of freight on the O & W than on most of the other railroads in this area. Could they have made it under today’s operating conditions with radio, two person crews, no caboose etc, I doubt it, all of the other railroads have the same benefits and they have reduced their operating costs as well. I agree that building the line to Scranton probably prolonged the life of this line, Scranton to Maybrook was not a bad bridge route but the others again were shorter and with less grades to contend with. It just wasn’t meant to be.

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faystreetwarehouse

In September, 2006: The NYSW has issued a public notice listing the following rail lines which it “anticipates will be the subject of an abandonment or discontinuance application to be filed within three years:”

1. NYSW Utica Main Line between Chenango Forks & Sangerfield in NY, MP202.62 – MP 263.50.

2. Fay Street Branch in Utica, NY, MP 284.80 – 285.22.

The Fay Street branch runs north from Oswego Street, parallelling the Rt 12 / 8 / 5 arterial. The only industry that it serves / served is the USDA bonded warehouse on Fay St. The last time it was served was back around 1986 – 1988. The switch point was pulled up about 4 years ago. The Fay Street Branch is NYO&W vintage. After the demise of the O&W the DL&W served this side till it was absorbed into Conrail.

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oandwlocomotive

The last Ontario & Western milk came, most likely, from Pleasant Mount (Dairyman’s League)on the Scranton Division, ca. 1952. The “Long Milk” operated from Oneida to Weehawken but was gone by the 1940s. Honneckers’ Dairy shipped on the O&W from Sherburne Four Corners, NY, in specialized containers on modified flat cars developed by the O&W and Motor Terminals, Inc., of Middletown, NY, to N. Bergen, NJ; — a distance of 278 [timetable] miles.
Contributed June, 2006 by Mal Houck

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