Snow and Railroads



Lackawanna steam engine Richfield Springs branch Southbound at Dugan Road


The Richfield Springs branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railway extended through Bridgewater, where it connected with the Unadilla Valley Railroad, a shortline that served Edmeston and New Berlin, to Richfield Springs on Canadarago Lake, once a rather fashionable resort. Here, from 1905 until 1940, the DL&W had a passenger and freight connection with the Southern New York Railway, an interurban to Oneonta. Milk and light freight were the chief sources of revenue on this branch. Delaware Otsego subsidiary Central New York Railroad acquired this branch from Richfield Jct. to Richfield Springs, 22 miles, in 1973. Enginehouse was at Richfield Springs. Became part of NYS&W northern division after NYS&W bought the DL&W Syracuse & Utica branches from Conrail in 1982. Traffic on line gradually dropped off. Line east from Bridgewater embargoed in 1990. Abandoned and track removed in 1995, westerly 2-3 miles left in place for stone trains. In 2009: This old railroad is now owned by the Utica, Chenango and Susquehanna Valley LLC in Richfield Springs. They also own the 1930 Newark Milk and Cream Company creamery in South Columbia.


During/after heavy snowfalls who was responsible for snow removal and keeping the pits clear? B&B, track dep’t?

How many bed and breakfasts did the New Haven RR own that they could muster up crews to clear the snow and keep the pits clear at the roundhouses? Okay, I know you meant the bridge and building department, but, I held off as long as I could.

I’d be surprised if the New Haven had to shovel turntable pits even after a major snow storm.  The bottom edge of most turntables was relatively high off the pit bottom and wouldn’t pose a problem in snowstorms.  Moving the bridge should keep the snow from retarding movement even when snow is heavy.  Badly drifting snow could pose a problem but I have never seen or heard of a New Haven turntable being immobilized but maybe someone has some evidence to contradict me. I visited the Charles St. roundhouse in Providence a number of times after major snow storms, including the storm that brought out J-1 2-8-2 3020 and the snowmelter, but don’t remember that the turntable pit was a problem.  On the other hand, on the Southern Pacific, where snowsheds protected much of the line in the mountains, there was at least one turntable that was in a shed for protection from snow.  I also recall a covered turntable on a Colorado Narrow gauge line and a modern engine house in Canada that had a turntable within the building. Roundhouses in the early days often enclosed a turntable but I doubt that style was built to keep snow out of the pit.
Following is a photo I took at Charles Street after a major snow fall — the turntable can be seen and as far as I know it didn’t require shoveling.


I would suspect that any of the ‘armstrong’ type turntable pits might be shoveled after the first attempt to turn the locomotive met with too much resistance for the number of arms present. Then I doubt if the crew waited for a B&B gang to arrive. It was probably a call to all those in the vicinity to either help push, dig out the pit, or both. This is supposition on my part. As far as the motorized turntable pits, I figure Mr. NH746EJO makes sense because of both the weight of the locomotive, the plow effect of the turntable itself, and the power of the motor to turn the wheels on the turntable’s track. However, I haven’t seen a sander on the diagrams of the turntables, nor spots of sand along the turntable tracks. If the turntable lost traction, did the operator or roundhouse crew throw sand under the wheels? Or, would someone from Mr. Abramson’s original question be assigned to the roundhouse to take care of those details during winter weather? Or, would it be necessary when the roundhouse had a steam boiler and a steam hose could be aimed into the pit to melt the snow and ice with the water draining out through the pit’s own drains?

Pardon my generalization, but I think snow is more a factor in the present automobile age than it was at the peak of New Haven operations.  Here in North Carolina schools are closed at the first sign of a snowflake and highway traffic stalls as soon as roads are dusted by flurries.  New Haven territory was not for the most part anything like the Sierra mountains where snow amounted to several feet.  The New Haven had plows but the need was generally not extensive although there were areas where drifts were serious, especially in cuts.  However, the depth of snow was not the major problem in most cases.  Freezing temperatures and ice were major problems.  Compacted snow or ice in switches and flangeways could derail equipment (water and ice can’t be compressed).  Flangers rather than plows were most useful. Moreover, water and steam lines freeze, cars might get frozen to the rails in yards, switches can’t move, men can’t get around to service equipment or move trains, etc.  Station platforms need to be cleared which can be more of a problem than snow on the rails, especially if there is no place to put it.  In short, a two foot snowfall, which was rare on the New Haven might make a turntable difficult to move (traction for a motorized turntable would be adequate with the weight of a locomotive) but other problems might have been greater.  Consider a roundhouse door; snow could keep it from opening.  At Charles St. some doors moved to the side which could be better in snow and the New Haven used a lot of roll-up doors — other roads used doors that opened inward.

I always enjoyed seeing J-1 2-8-2 3020 and it was the threat of snow that kept her intact for so long.  However, as far as I know she only got to work once because there was not enough snow to warrant firing her up.  I did see her the one day she provided steam but even during that major snowstorm, the roads were cleared and it was easy to get to Charles Street for a last look at a New Haven engine in steam.

Pardon my generalization, but I think snow is more a factor in the present automobile age than it was at the peak of New Haven operations.  Here in North Carolina schools are closed at the first sign of a snowflake and highway traffic stalls as soon as roads are dusted by flurries.  New Haven territory was not for the most part anything like the Sierra mountains where snow amounted to several feet.  The New Haven had plows but the need was generally not extensive although there were areas where drifts were serious, especially in cuts.  However, the depth of snow was not the major problem in most cases.  Freezing temperatures and ice were major problems.  Compacted snow or ice in switches and flangeways could derail equipment (water and ice can’t be compressed).  Flangers rather than plows were most useful. Moreover, water and steam lines freeze, cars might get frozen to the rails in yards, switches can’t move, men can’t get around to service equipment or move trains, etc.  Station platforms need to be cleared which can be more of a problem than snow on the rails, especially if there is no place to put it.  In short, a two foot snowfall, which was rare on the New Haven might make a turntable difficult to move (traction for a motorized turntable would be adequate with the weight of a locomotive) but other problems might have been greater.  Consider a roundhouse door; snow could keep it from opening.  At Charles St. some doors moved to the side which could be better in snow and the New Haven used a lot of roll-up doors — other roads used doors that opened inward.

I always enjoyed seeing J-1 2-8-2 3020 and it was the threat of snow that kept her intact for so long.  However, as far as I know she only got to work once because there was not enough snow to warrant firing her up.  I did see her the one day she provided steam but even during that major snowstorm, the roads were cleared and it was easy to get to Charles Street for a last look at a New Haven engine in steam.

Early January and the snow hits Western Michigan!


Trains continue to roll past my house with little problems though. The snow continues. On Friday night I hear a whistle in the middle of the night. Three CSXT engines, running light, head westbound past my house. Guess they are keeping the line open. Around 7 a.m. a westbound CP freight passes. Before 9 a.m., on a trip uptown, I spot a westbound CSXT freight stopped by the grade crossing just before the St Joe bridge. Two hours later he is still there on track 2. Track 1 sees no signs of any movements either. The snow continues. Later in the afternoon, he is still stopped on track 2. I walk up there; two new GE AC motors are idling with nobody around. The crew must have “died” hours before. In the meantime, no traffic on track 1 as evidenced by the ever-increasing snowdrift just before the crossing. (the explanation, I found out later, was a derailment in Indiana: CP freight X504 derailed five cars on Conrail at Porter, causing delays to CSXT and Conrail trains. Two CP trains were detoured Chicago-Garrett-Walbridge-Detroit). Finally, Sunday morning in the wee hours, I hear a whistle. Normally, I don’t notice whistles too much because we are used to sometimes over 20 trains a day; but when they stop, its different. I look out the window and finally see the two GE’s heading west. Sunday, I take the dog out to explore. Track 1 is still drifted over with no traffic yet. Then I hear a whistle from an approaching eastbounder. CP 5726 comes off the St Joe bridge, rounds the turn, and hits the afore-mentioned drift at about 15 m.p.h. Snow flies into the air to the height of the roof, but he doesn’t even slow. 5726 is leading two HLCX leased units and an 80-car mixed load. On the way home, two more trains pass. One was a little unusual in that it had both a CSXT locomotive and a CP locomotive and was solid tank cars.

Everything was OK now. I wondered what might appear on “my” line if it ever got really blocked. I never heard of CSXT having rotary plows – they always seemed like a “southern” road. Before C&O, this line was Pere Marquette. They must have had, at least, some wedge plows. Wonder if any are still around? Should I just be expecting something like a Jordan Spreader if I ever hear about a “plow extra” approaching?

When I think of snows, I always think of the old New York Central Adirondack and St. Lawrence Divisions. They even have a place called “Snow Junction”. That’s a term that really conjures up an image of winter. Snow Junction, near Remsen, where the Adirondack split from the St. Lawrence (later the Lyons Falls Branch) was the product of a 1960’s elimination of about two miles of parallel tracks.

The “snow belt” that runs through Boonville and Lowville is nationally known. Originally built as the Utica & Black River, the railroad through this area became part of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg which, of course, merged into the New York Central. The segment from Lyons Falls to Lowville was abandoned in the 1960’s.

Remsen to Montreal also sees a lot of snow. This railroad was begun in 1890 by Dr. W. Seward Webb, son-in-law of William H. Vanderbilt. He began construction of a railroad from Herkimer (on the New York Central mainline) to Malone and on to Montreal. This touched off a battle with the D&H which then considered building from North Creek to Malone. It did not because it would have had to cross public forests and could not obtain the necessary permissions. The New York Central acquired control of the Mohawk & Malone from Webb in 1893 and shifted its southern terminus to Utica. At its greatest extent, the Adirondack Division (sometimes still called the M&M) ran 224 miles from Utica to Adirondack Junction (nine miles south of Montreal).

Tourists, lumbermen and developers followed the advance of Webb`s railroad. Branches were built to Old Forge and Raquette Lake. This physician-turned-financier was one of the leading forces in the development of the Adirondacks. He ended up selling most of his land holdings to NY State and just kept his large estate at Ne-ha-sa-ne. Although shown on the timetables, this was a private station (87 miles from Utica) and not just anybody could use it. Trains needed prior permission to stop. Webb’s sale agreement with the New York Central provided that the railroad would not sell a ticket to Ne-ha-sa-ne unless the purchases could prove he had an invitation from Webb.

In addition to Utica-Montreal freights, Adirondack Division freights ran to Tupper Lake from Remsen, between Tupper Lake and Malone, and between Adirondack Junction and Malone. In 1910 freights ran six days a week. By 1915 there were two freights daily each way between Tupper Lake and Malone, as there were south from Tupper Lake to Remsen. Over the years, service dwindled. In 1956 trains 2 and 3 went from Utica to Lake Placid. 4 & 5 to Montreal connected with 104 and 105 to Lake Placid. Also, there was Utica to Ogdensburg service then. Service between Lake Clear (north of Tupper) and Malone ended in 1960. Malone was then reached by trackage rights over the Rutland and later over the Canadian National. Stations remained only at Remsen, Thendara, Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Passenger service was only Utica to Lake Placid trains 164 and 165. At the end of passenger service in 1965, only one freight a week ran between Remsen and Lake Placid. By 1965 Tupper Lake was the only station still open. By the time Penn-Central ceased operation in 1972, a lone peddler freight ran every other week. The line had a brief revival around 1980 in time for the Winter Olympics. This venture failed, but now a tourist railroad operates a portion of the line.

The territory that the railroad passes through was very scenic and beautiful. It was also thickly forested and subject to fires. Being part of the State Forest Preserve Territory, much care had to be exercised by train crews and maintenance employees. Employee timetables gave very specific instructions on what to do in the event of spotting a forest fire. As late as 1956, tank cars for fire protection kept at Remsen, Thendara, Tupper Lake and Malone.

Diesels on the division were usually ALCO road switchers. Before dieselization around 1950, Class K Pacifics (4-6-2) were the predominant power.

Shown below is a table of some of the more interesting points on the Adirondack Division:


Miles from Herkimer Station Description
35 Forestport flagstop in 1946
42 White Lake (later Woodgate) mail stop only beginning of Purgatory Hill: 2 miles of 1.87% grade
53 Minnehaha beginning of current tourist railroad
58 Fulton Chain Station (later Thendara) Shops of 1980 Adirondack Railroad.
Fulton Chain RR branch ran to Old Forge until 1932.
64 Clearwater (later Carter) Raquette Lake railway there until 1934
35 car siding in 1956 which was gone by 1961
69 Big Moose highest point on line
87 Nehasane Webb’s Park
106 Childwold Station Grasse River RR till 1957
49 car siding in 1956 which was gone by 1961
old railbus on the property into the 1950’s
113 Tupper Lake Junction Hurd’s NY & Ottawa was here
132 Lake Clear Junction Saranac Lake branch went to Lake Placid
72 car siding in 1956; down to 25 car by 1961
terminal of Paul Smith’s Electric RR till 1930 nothing left by 1961 except a spur to Gabriels
(normal position of the switch was moved to Lake Placid instead of Malone.
141 Saranac Lake Former D&H junction
148 Lake Placid Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980
153 Plumadore 1940 connection to D&H Chateaugay Branch to eliminate duplicate trackage to Saranac Lake
173 Malone Rutland RR junction


While it is sometimes assumed that the New York Central (or a predecessor) built the line to Lake Placid, it may surprise many readers to learn that this line was operated by the Delaware & Hudson as an 83 mile branch from Plattsburgh between 1903 and 1946. The New York Central had trackage rights between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. In 1940, the segment of the D&H line between Plumadore and Saranac Lake, which closely paralleled the New York Central was abandoned. A connection was built at Plumadore so D&H trains could use NYC trackage from there to Lake Clear Junction and on to Saranac Lake. In 1946, the D&H cut back its branch as far as Lyon Mountain and sold the 9 miles between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid to the New York Central.

That section of track which Webb originally connected to the New York Central became the Herkimer, Newport & Poland RR. It was a branch line till Conrail. Remsen (Prospect Junction) to Poland was cut in 1943. Middleville was 8.7 miles from Herkimer; Newport was 13.1 and Poland 16.5. There was a Borden plant in Newport. From the ‘50’s on, the speed was 15 mph to Poland.

Speed from Remsen to Lake Clear Jct was 40 mph and Lake Clear to Lake Placid 40 mph in 1956 but down to 30 by 1965. On the while division, snow plows could go 35 forward but 30 backward. Jordan Spreaders were limited to 25.

In 1897, the New York and Ottawa Railroad Company was formed by a group of investors allied with the Delaware and Hudson. Acquiring the Northern New York Railroad from Moira to Tupper Lake, it built from Moira to Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River. The Northern New York began construction in 1883 as the Northern Adirondack Railroad Co. and was completed in 1889. It was headed by a John Hurd who had a large mill in Tupper Lake. It built two bridges (the first collapsed in 1898) and reached Ottawa. The intent was to reach the D&H at North Creek, but the Forest Preserve Board never let this happen. This forced the road into bankruptcy and it was bought by the New York Central in 1904. In 1913 the New York & Ottawa was merged into the New York Central as the Ottawa Division. The Ottawa Division contained numerous logging branches. One of the largest concentrations of “forest-related” industries was St. Regis Falls (12 miles south of Moira). At its busiest time from 1909 to 1912, the line had two passenger runs each way daily plus the freights. By the 1930’s, passenger service had dwindled to once a day and a freight served the line three times a week. Service was cut between Moira and Tupper Lake in 1937.


XML in Your Weather


Last year I developed a list of Ten Unique Ideas, Facts and Uses for XML. I just recently realized another one that impacts all of us every day. METAR is the most popular format in the world for the transmission of weather data. It is highly standardized through International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which allows it to be understood throughout most of the world. The name METAR has its origins in the French phrase “message d’observation météorologique pour l’aviation régulière” (“Meteorological observation message for routine aviation”) and would therefore be a contraction of MÉTéorologique Aviation Régulière. A METAR weather report is predominantly used by pilots in fulfillment of a part of a pre-flight weather briefing, and by meteorologists, who use aggregated METAR information to assist in weather forecasting. Although the general format of METAR reports is a global standard, the specific fields used within that format vary somewhat between general international usage and usage within North America. Note that there may be minor differences between countries using the international codes as there are between those using the North American conventions.



Long Island Railroad Snow Plow at Riverhead



The Québec Gatineau Railway (QGR) uses this spreader to plow their yard and industrial trackage in Saint-Jerome, Quebec



NY Central rotary snowplow.

Beacon Historical Society collection

When clearing the Hudson Line the plows could conveniently throw the snow in the river in many places.



1945 blizzard in Buffalo

(Photos clipped from an old New York Central Headlight)







X659Rotary Snow Plow

X659 got renumbered under CONRAIL

The X-659 Rotary was kept at Watertown during NYC days, and later moved down to the main line.


It was built by Cooke Locomotive Works in Paterson, NJ in 1889. It was operated by the Bridge and Building Dept. The Rotary was used only if absolutely necessary, because once the snow is so deep that the rotary is needed, nothing else will move snow out of those cuts. It was slow and expensive to operate. edge plows were preferred for normal heavy snow removal. Some were single-track plows, and some were double-track plows that threw snow only to one side. Some were right-handed and some left-handed. They were often operated along with flangers, which moved the snow from between the rails to prevent ice build-up under the rail and to prevent high snow from parting air hoses and fouling traction motors. Flangers were often operated without a plow. Jordan Spreaders were used to open yards after a heavy snow, and sometimes on branch lines if a wedge plow wasn’t available. A spreader could extend its wing and move snow off an adjacent track. That was handy if a yard track had cars on it, because the spreader didn’t have to occupy the track to clear it. The jet snow blowers were developed by NYC at the Collinwood Lab. The first ones were expired engines from airline service that were fine for this application. They were mounted on flat cars with a cab on one end, and pushed by a locomotive with a tank of jet fuel between the engine and the jet. Contrary to popular belief, they really didn’t melt the snow, but used the high-speed blast to make it go elsewhere. They were used to clear snow out of switches and retarders, but not generally on open track except for the few times they ventured onto the Electric Division to clear the third rail.
Thanks to Gordon Davids for some help here.



Snow plow at Coney Island. NY City MTA
In the late 1960’s

My first trip there!


It was Winter 1978 beginning at 3:00 P.M. when the worst blizzard to hit the New York area since late 1947 dumped 18 inches of snow. The blizzard continued on and on until 2:00 P.M. on Tuesday, February 7, 1978, and caused major disruptions to most subway lines. The first casualty of the blizzard was the Sea Beach line from 7:00 P.M., Sunday, February 5, to 3:00 P.M. Wednesday, February 8, with trains skipping Avenue U and 20th Avenue due to icy track conditions. At first, N trains ran via West End, then terminated at Whitehall Street-South Ferry. Brighton M local trains ran express from Prospect Park to Kings Highway on Monday, February 6, in the P.M. rush hour, then D trains terminated at Prospect Park and M trains at Broad Street or Broadway-Myrtle until 2:30 P.M. Wednesday, February 8. But then a snow-caused short circuit blast on R-40M car 4452 at 7th Avenue in the P.M. rush hour knocked out all service from DeKalb Avenue to Prospect Park with D’s running via Sea Beach and trains FROM Coney Island terminating at Prospect Park. The Franklin Avenue Shuttle was out during the same period as the Brighton. Sometime after 8:30 P.M on Monday, February 6, the West End line was completely shut down, was restored as far as Bay Parkway by 4:30 P.M. on Wednesday, February 8, and at 7:30 P.M. to Coney Island. Tuesday, February 7, saw Culver as the only subway line running to and from Coney Island but at 8:30 A.M., an F train stalled at 4th Avenue and service was cut back to Jay Street-Borough Hall until 11:30 A.M. GG trains then terminated at Church Avenue. Far Rockaway service was suspended with A trains reportedly servicing Rockaway Park but that soon quit. A trains ran to Howard Beach-JFK Airport with shuttle buses providing service from there to the Rockaways. The IRT Livonia Avenue line was shut down at 2:30 P.M. on Tuesday, February 7, when winds and snow drifts threw debris onto the tracks at Junius Street, near Van Sinderen Avenue. Dyre Avenue was out Tuesday, February 7, was briefly restored and then again suspended. By Thursday, February 9, service was back to normal on all lines with scattered delays and the 7 Flushing Express, B to 168th Street-Washington Heights, and QB didn’t run with many trains being “snowed in” in the yards. It was also understood that the AA didn’t operate and the A ran local during the blizzard.

Staten Island Rapid Transit operated one train of R-44’s powered by a diesel locomotive due to icy third rail and the cars had no heating and lights.

The Long Island Railroad put its “Operation Recovery” into effect on Monday, February 6, 1978, but the blizzard wrecked havoc on various branches. Tuesday, February 7, saw no service on the following branches: Port Washington (flooding near World’s Fair grounds), Port Jefferson, Ronkonkoma, West Hempstead, Oyster Bay, and Woodside-Penn Station. By Thursday, February 9, LIRR service was 50% below normal on all branches with bad overcrowding. The blizzard put most of the Metropolitans (M-1’s) out of service.

Hudson, Harlem, and New Haven Division trains were hit by a power failure at 8:30 P.M on Monday, February 6, 1978, but it was restored by 11:30 P.M. A Saturday schedule was operated on Tuesday, February 7, with some scattered delays, but generally these lines operated better than the LIRR.

PATH trains, like the TA, started the rush hour early on Monday, February 6, 1978, but Newark service was out from 8:00 P.M. that evening to 3:00 P.M. on Wednesday, February 8.


NYCFishFinish09 (1)

New York Central tunnel ice breaker.

Beacon Historical Society collection

This modified hopper car was used on the Hudson Line to break ice that formed around the tunnel ports along the river. In warm weather you could often find it parked south of Beacon.


Snow 2006


In Metro North territory, lots of snow days. Even electrics have no problem with a foot of snow. Other than the plows on the engines MNCR, has no plows or flangers left, just the MofW flangers or ballast regulators. As far as preparedness they cover the couplers with those yellow coupler condoms and make shure shoe fuse boxes are covered. The third rail show scrapper shoes are applied in fall and used entire winter.

Big engine-mounted plows aren’t really effective until there is about a foot of snow – remember, the rails are about six inches high. Hourly MU trains will blow enough snow off the tracks to keep them clear. Drifts are the only real problem with SNOW storms. Our real problems are with the freezing rain storms we often get instead.

NJ Transit locomotives wear their plows all year long; cab cars have ‘small’ plows at the cab end. Lots of junk gets onto the tracks even in the summer, and they also do clear some snow at grade crossings.

The usual problems on the New Haven, NJT and Amtrak involve ice on the catenary while the Long Island RR has problems with ice on the third rail. Everyone seems to have some problems with frozen switches despite the many kinds of heaters used.



The station in Troy was owned by the Troy Union Rail Road. The TURR lasted from the mid 19th Century till the mid 20th Century. It was owned by the New York Central, Delaware & Hudson and Boston & Maine. Access from the South was from Rensselaer; from the West, via the Green Island Bridge; from the North was street running almost the entire length of Troy. See Penney’s blog for more information (and a great movie from the 1950’s).


Troy had lots of snow. Hard to clear too.


The New York Central had lots of track in snow country.
They made up a ” Snow Book” each year to help employees deal with the snow.



Eastbound arriving at Silvernails from Rhinecliff.


Nimke Volume 2, Page 65

Courtesy Bernie Rudberg

Click here to see more about the Rhinebeck & Connecticut Railroad.



Cooke Locomotive and Machine Works
1889 – RW&O Railroad Leslie Rotary Plow


Snow Jets on the New York Central


They took a flat car and mounted part of a wood caboose body, with cupola, on one end. The jet engine was in the middle, pointing away from the cab and it had a hydraulically controlled nozzle that could point up, down or to either side. The controls for the jet engine were in the cupola. Behind the jet car was a tank car of jet fuel, about 10,000 gallons capacity, and it was pushed by a locomotive.

Their primary use was to blow snow out of switches in the major yards. In a real mess you would use Jordan spreaders to clear the body tracks, and the jets to open the switches.

The jets were painted yellow by 1965, but it seems that I saw one or two green ones earlier. The engines were cheap, having run out their hours in either airline or military service.

Around 1965 the Railway Maintenance Company designed a self-propelled snow jet called the Hurricane snow blower. It used a smaller engine and less brute force, but it worked OK for clearing snow from switches. The self-propelled jets have completely replaced the big old jets.

They really don’t melt the snow – the air blast just blows it away. It’s not like a rocket – the air discharge isn’t that hot. They will move ballast, or at least cinders and gravel in a yard track.

NYC also had a snow melter, that used a conveyer to pull snow into a hopper arrangement where it was melted with steam coils and drained either overboard or into tank cars for disposal.

They came down the Harlem Division from Putnam Junction early one morning after a snowfall. The chief dispatcher got phone calls from police departments all along the line. People had called the police to report low flying planes and even one report of a flying saucer. Also, heard stories that they had blown off the heavy steel plates on switch machines.

The first snowblower was a project at the NYC technical research center at Collinwood. They brought several surplus jet engines that weren’t needed any more for fighters. One of these they used to make the snow blower. Later another of that batch of engines propelled the jet powered RDC.


January 1998 Snow Storm

Some of the hardest hit areas from the January 1998 ice storm in Northern New York State were those communities that Conrail’s Montreal Secondary traverses through. A relief train which had originated on the NYS&W at Utica, NY departed Syracuse for Watertown. The train was powered by a NYS&W B40-8 and a Conrail C40-8W and consisted of two Norfolk Southern coaches, three NYS&W coaches, and several Conrail gondolas. The coaches were used as a camp train for volunteer relief workers and the gondolas were loaded with much needed supplies. Massena, NY to Watertown, NY was out of service from January 8 until January 12. In the interim, some traffic had been detoured and some had been put on hold. Conrail had considered routing Canadian National traffic via the New England Central at Palmer, MA, but later opted to deliver cars to the Canadian National at Buffalo, NY instead. Equipment and supplies also moved by rail to the storm-ravaged Montreal area to assist with the mammoth repairs being carried out on the extensive damage inflicted by the ice storm. One of the items moved was utility poles, which were moved on bulkhead flats. Military equipment was also been moved on CN to the Montreal area to assist with the repairs and clean-up.

In early March, an Allegan County (Michigan) Road Commission salt truck was hit by a CSX freight south of Pullman, a few miles from St Joseph. The impact derailed 20 of the train’s 40 cars and took the three engines right off the tracks. As well as interrupting the 20+ freights a day, Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids line required bussing.

Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railroad (CSS) suffered a great deal of damage to their electrical and signal system due to a March snow, ics and wind storm. It took two weeks to completely open up the line. In other South Shore news, they have filed to abandon 1.8 miles (9,520 feet) of track near Hammond, IN. It connects to CSS’s main line between South Bend, IN, and Kensington, IL, by a switch at milepost 64.2, and is stub-ended, terminating inside the Harbison Walker Facility, the only shipper located on the track. The track has no mileposts and has never been shown in railroad timetables.


Rotary plows

Rotary plows usually run on steam power, and are also quite hard to find in still-running order, plus a water tank would be necessary and a coaling tower, all things which went the way of the steam engine. It is possible to upgrade a rotary snowplow to modern standards– have it powered by diesel, for example. Or it could be possible to build a new one with components from scrapped locomotives. A rotary snowplow does not have to be steam powered, for example, you can use standard traction motors to turn the rotary blades. That is the practice followed with the (former) SP rotary snowplows. The (former) BN’s rotary snowplows also used that system, using traction motors to turn the blades. Power for those traction motors, in the (former) SP rotaries is provided by retired EMD F series B units that were set up only to provide power to the rotary blades. Similar setup in the BN units. This arrangement is then pushed by several standard road units. So, even if it was a steam rotary, it could simply be converted to a diesel powered system. Also even if it they were to leave it steam powered, it could be oil fired, and even if it was coal, you don’t have to have a coaling tower, nor do you need a water tower for steam operations; you only have to have a source of water great enough to fill up the water reservoir in a reasonable amount of time. A fire hydrant will work fine, it will not be treated water, but it will work fine for what you want to do. Also, you can use a small pay loader to load the coal into the bunker. A wedge plow is basically just a boxcar that is pointed at one end and happens to be rather heavy. All you have to do is maintain a few bearings, the draft gear, and the equipment up in the cab, etc. In a rotary, on the other hand, it is basically a locomotive. Much more maintenance, much more cost, far more moving parts, and much more time consuming to fix if something goes wrong with it.

The BN rotaries are very much traction motor powered. They have four motors on a shaft leading to the blade, with a standard control stand in the rotary cab MUed like a loco to the power supply so things stay simple and maintainable like any other road unit. Now they have a fleet of GP 28-2 locos with snow service modifications when they were converted from GP35s or GP 9s what ever, to power the rotaries so they can get some return from the equipment while they DON’T need them the most. And when it gets deep they couple one on and throw the magic switch, and loco turns rotory slave.

Too bad there can’t be a way to make the plow operated off a power take off like a tractor, and have it removable. Attach when necessary and detach when not. But the theory about a PTO driven snow blower does make some sense. Compressed air, or maybe a hydraulic motor of some sort could possibly power the augers. The continuous screw action of the auger could prove useful in the removal of snow on the right of way, as demonstrated by the way any other snow blower works.


NDCDutchess1888Matteawan24 (1)

Main Street in Matteawan in the “blizzard of 88″.


Notice the horse drawn street car behind the snow bank. Later photos of this area show the top section of the tower was removed.

The ND&C RR (Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad) established an operation that survived through good times and bad for over 25 years until it was absorbed into the Central New England Rwy and later became part of the New Haven RR. Still later 11 miles of the old ND&C line became part of the ill fated Penn Central, next Conrail, then the Housatonic RR and currently Metro North.

After many years and many different names, these tracks are still in service and owned by Metro North MTA. There is no regular train service on this “Beacon Branch” but they are keeping the line open for possible future use.


hp photosmart 720

Geep and snowplow at Utica, NY

Snow fighting equipment in the Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern’s yard in Utica, along side the former New York Central Tower 30. Tower 30 is leased by the M,A&N from CSX with the hope of preserving it for future use.



This rotary is from somewhere in Western US. From a post card I got in 1960s. Gee! Wish I had some pictures from early 1960s. Was in Canton, NY between Watertown and Massena. Saw a rotary in action several times. It was based in Watertown.



Has the ability to run a winter railroad been lost? Look how often Amtrak or commuter rail operations now shut down in snow.


Left picture: derailment at New Canaan when train could not stop and ran through the bumper

Right Picture: snow blower truck at Stamford


Late/Cancelled Trains in the Snow

In blizzard conditions the trains may have ran slower, but they ran. The New Haven Railroad, with antiquated equipment, didn’t have a “Winter” schedule – they had a schedule.

It was amazing that back in New Haven days, the trains ran “weather or not.” Metro-North had suspended service due to snow and they are now implementing a “Winter Schedule”. Trains may have been delayed due to weather conditions on the NH, but shut down the RR? The only time I know of when the NH ceased operations was after the 1938 hurricane when the right-of-way was in Long Island Sound, after the ’55 floods affecting certain areas of the NH and temporarily after the Federal derailment. Can’t run trains where there’s no track. The Washboards didn’t have microprocessors, computers and electronic “wizardry” and they worked, as did the older MUs. The new M-8s are sitting idle in New Haven. . . “idle cold weather testing??” Perhaps the older lack of technology by todays standards was better! Something to ponder.

Heard about a trip when it had snowed, heavily in spots. Couldn’t see the tracks, or where they were supposed to be. The train ran, on schedule. Snow went flying everywhere when the engine hit a drift, but the train ran ran. The thought that a passenger train might not be able to get through would not have occurred to railroaders in those days.





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