The Southern New York Railway



Interurban Electric between Oneonta and the Mohawk Valley

Interurban electric railways existed for the opportunity for the promoters to make money, and the Southern New York Railway and its predecessors were no exception. (Unfortunately, the SNY never really achieved this goal, as it was beaten by the automobile.) It began as a two-mile long horse car line in Oneonta in 1888. In 1897, a decision was made to extend the line to West Oneonta. Renamed Oneonta & Otego Valley R.R. in 1898, three Lewis & Fowler-built horse cars were electrified. The owners also acquired five secondhand four-wheel trolley cars from Boston.

In 1901 the promoters touted it as the Leatherstocking Route (alluding to James Fenimore Cooper‘s novel) and extended 25 miles northward to Cooperstown. Finally, in 1902 they extended the line to Richfield Springs (then known as Richfield Spa) and in 1904 to Mohawk. This created a 52-mile main line from Oneonta to the banks of the Mohawk River, and left Cooperstown on a three-mile branch from Index. For several years, the D&H had an injunction preventing the electric line from crossing the steam line at the west edge of Cooperstown. Passengers were obliged to walk across the railroad between connecting electric cars.

A tower mounted on a horse car provided the road with its first line car. During construction, a steam locomotive was rented from the D&H. Once the wire was energized, electric locomotives were used to power construction trains. The principal fund raiser was Herbert T. Jennings, but he proved to be a poor operator. It was somewhat of a seasonal line and had three times the number of open cars as it did closed cars for winter use. The meager population stacked the odds against success, since most served towns were small. There were about 10,000 residents in Oneonta and only 2,500 in Cooperstown.

In its four decades of existence, the line had eight different names. The Oneonta & Otego Valley became the Oneonta, Cooperstown and Richfield Springs Railway in 1900. A 1904 receivership changed Railway to Railroad. It emerged from a 1906 auction as the Oneonta & Mohawk Valley Railroad. A 1908 reorganization yielded the Otsego & Herkimer Railroad. Jennings also promoted other ventures and was ultimately accused of improperly manipulating funds. He saw six years of the inside of the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta.

Although short on population, the Southern New York had connections with the Delaware & Hudson and the Ulster & Delaware at Oneonta; the Delaware Lackawanna & Western at Richfield Springs; and the New York State Railways and West Shore at Mohawk. The line ran across a bog called Mud Lake; the track near Toddsville remained troublesome to the end of service. Hard fill had a way of seemingly vanishing overnight. Abandoned trolleys and condemned power plant boilers were used for fill. In addition, a timber structure on a long grade north of Jordanville was protected by a permanent slow order.

In the equipment department, the line had a parlor car named Otsego, built in 1902 by St. Louis Car. Its ends were eventually vestibuled to protect the motor-man. By 1938, it had became an office car in Hartwick. Five interurbans were bought from Cincinnati Car in 1907. Three of these were sold to Iowa’s Cedar Rapids & Iowa City Railway in 1923. One more was destroyed in a 1925 Hartwick barn fire. Interurbans delivered in 1902 were fitted with a compartment for U.S. Express Co. shipments.

The road owned several electric freight locomotives. Two of these were built by Taunton Locomotive Works in 1904 and lasted until at least 1938. Two other electric freight locomotives (a steel box-motor and a steeplecab) came from the Albany Southern in 1931. Rough winters dictated strong snow removal equipment. There were two rotary plows, two wedge plows and a snow sweeper. The final roster included two box motors and a wooden express trailer.

The company built a coal-fired steam plant at Hartwick to generate electricity. Additional rotary converters were placed in substations at Henderson, West Oneonta and Schuyler Lake. (Rotary converters were used to convert high voltage alternating current from the transmission lines to low voltage direct current for the trolley wire.) Electricity sales eventually became a bigger moneymaker than trains, as was the case with several other street railways and interurbans. The company made $358 in 1912, $7,408 in 1915, $10,346 in 1916, and $28,000 in 1919. Because of the growing dependence on the profitability of power, the name of the company was changed in 1916 to Southern New York Power and Railway Company. The power business went on its own in 1926 and the line became Southern New York Railway.

When the power business split off, though, so did the profits. The first casualty was Oneonta city trolley service. In 1922 there were five round trips a day between Oneonta and Mohawk. This was reduced to two by 1930 and then to one. The 1933 abandonment of the Utica and Mohawk Valley subsidiary of New York State Railways left the SNY without Herkimer access, a New York Central connection, and interurban box motor service to Utica. Passenger service was terminated and the line was cut north of the company-owned Jordanville quarry. Electric freight service lasted another seven years. The major justification for freight service was the quarry. When the quarry closed, the Southern New York then dropped back to a three-mile long diesel freight connector with the Delaware & Hudson at Oneonta.

Much of what is written about the Southern New York comes from several accounts of an October 20, 1938 fan trip. Charter movements have always been big business for the railroad industry. Most lines had extra coaches just for such occasions. Trolleys especially encouraged weekend and off-peak charters to utilize otherwise inactive equipment. For in-stance, the Johnstown (PA) Traction Co. survived into the 1950’s because it catered to railfans.

The 1938 SNY trip featured the last survivor of the five Cincinnati cars. Since passenger service had been terminated, the seats had been removed. An undertaker rented the line 45 folding chairs for the riders. Starting in Richfield Springs, the special first went five miles north to the Jordanville quarry. One of the crew recounted a tale of the Battle of Hartwick in 1903 during a strike by construction workers. Rioting workmen trapped an interurban with blockades. It took the Otsego County Sheriff and a force of armed deputies to reopen the line.

Early into the excursion, a car ran into the trolley at an intersection. Damage was light, as the motorman quickly dumped the air. The car was owned by the mayor of Richfield Springs, who proclaimed, “There aren’t any trains on this railroad on Sunday!” He ended up joining the trip.

Also joining the trip at Index Junction was famed photographer Arthur J. “Putt” Telfer of Cooperstown. His pictures of the Southern New York portray the entire history of the line and are preserved in at least two museums, as well as in the collections of several postcard collectors. Telfer focused each print with his head beneath a black shroud over his old-fashioned (even by 1938 standards) camera with leather bellows.

The fan trip reached Oneonta, where both D&H and New York Central equipment was available for photographing. The return trip, after dark, brought attention to the lack of maintenance on the line, as each rail joint shot out sparks from the approaching train. Broken copper bonds and loose bolts in the splice bars were responsible for an obviously imperfect electric ground return.


Much of the reference material for this story was Mr. Bob Gurley, a traction fan from New Hartford, NY



The Southern New York Railway passed through Richfield Springs. This traffic signal controlled cars on historic Route 20 for many years.


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, the 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.



The D&H at one time connected with two railroads in Oneonta.

The first was the Catskill Mountain Branch of the New York Central, later Penn Central; the second was the Southern New York Railway, an interurban which ran from Oneonta to Mohawk, NY, on the Mohawk River.

Let’s first look at the Catskill Mountain Branch, which saw service end on September 28, 1976 under the Penn Central aegis. Formerly the Ulster & Delaware, it became part of the New York Central during the Great Depression when it went belly up. The last train ran 74 miles from Stamford to Kingston with GP38-2 #8098 leading 36 cars and a caboose. Thus, 106 years of life that had begun on May 23, 1870 ended as PC said no to a shippers group. Leaving Kingston, the Catskill Mountain Branch followed N.Y. Route 28, climbing a hill from west of Kingston to West Hurley. That hill must have been a tough one in the days of steam. Between 1911 and 1913, eleven miles of track were relocated due to construction of a (New York City water supply) dam on Esopus Creek, ten miles west of Kingston. Several towns once served by the railroad are now covered by the waters of the Ashokan Reservoir. The new station at West Hurley was the only modern building on the railroad. At the top of the hill about 10 miles west of Kingston, near the Ashokan Reservoir, is an old caboose now used as a visitors center. This area of the line near Phoenicia is used in the summer as a “Tuber’s Trolley”. A very popular sport on the Esopus River is gliding down the rapids near Phoenicia on large rubber inner tubes. The “trolley” had been a motorized section car, or track speeder; more recently a small industrial diesel has pulled trailer loads or gondola loads of “tubers” back up the tracks, which run alongside the river, so they can tube back down again. The whole operation is only 4 or 5 miles long and runs between Phoenicia and Mount Pleasant.

The railroad, with tracks still intact, runs through Shandaken and Grand Hotel Station. Grand Hotel Station, at 1886 feet above sea level, is the highest elevation on the line. Grand Hotel itself was owned by the U&D. At one time, narrow gauge railroads ran 21 miles from Phoenicia through Hunter and Tannersville to Catskill Mountain Station. These roads, the Stony Clove & Catskill Mountain and the Kaaterskill Railroad, eventually merged with the U&D. They became standard gauge before the turn of the century and were abandoned in 1940. In the 1880’s, several large resort hotels were built; the railroads from Phoenicia served them. They were also served by a line from Catskill. There were convenient connections with New York City via the West Shore. The area served by the U&D had over 20,000 rooms for tourists; when the Hotel Kaaterskill burned in 1924, the U&D lost its largest customer. Today, the Catskill Mountains are not what they once were. The old hotels are all gone. Campers fill campgrounds, but city dwellers can’t take trains to the mountains.

The hamlet of Fleischmanns marks the beginning of the Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride. Fleischmanns station is freshly painted and there is an old boxcar next to it. The real hub of the D&U RR is Arkville, once a real rail junction where the Delaware & Northern connected with the Ulster & Delaware. The Delaware & Northern was a bridge line to the Ontario & Western at East Branch. A lot of interesting equipment has been trucked here. There is an ex-Western Maryland GE 44-tonner. There are Pullman green ex-Pennsylvania MP54 “owl eye” M-U cars converted to coaches and open air flat cars with benches. There are also some maintenance-of-way equipment, an engine house, station and snack bar. An Alco S4 switcher is here, as is a former D&H RS3, a recent addition. There is a Brill railcar, built in 1928; it is diesel-powered and pulls a trailer coach, and is similar to the “Red Heifer”, which ran over the Delaware & Northern. The ex-New York Central “doodlebug” M405 is painted Cornell red and has gold lettering.

Belleayre ski center, operated by the state, is located near Arkville. I can’t help but think ski trains from the New York City area (Hoboken?) would make a lot of sense. This area once had several large hotels. Now, small motels are the rule. At Arkville, both the railroad and Route 10 head to Roxbury. In this area are numerous new vacation homes, many of them log cabins. Roxbury was the early home of Jay Gould. His daughter contributed a significant amount of money to this community. From Grand Gorge, the Catskill Mountain Branch roadbed follows Route 23 to Stamford. The station in Stamford is freshly painted and has a baggage cart outside. There is also a coal tower and an Agway store nearby. Stamford is 19 miles to Richmondville, 21 miles to Delhi and 27 miles to Oneonta. From Stamford, the tracks followed Route 10 to Bloomville. Originally, the railroad was to go to Oneonta through Harpersfield instead of through Bloomville, and six miles of grading from Stamford was actually done. The rail line from Stamford to Hobart was originally built as a branch. Next stop on the line is Hobart, where a long-gone Sheffield Farms processing plant used to be the major industry. Further down the line, an old Sheffield Farms creamery remains. Milk from this area went into New York City by train. The actual building, between Bloomville and South Kortright, is now a garage. The railroad lost its milk business as highways were improved and glass-lined milk trucks began to carry milk in bulk shipments.

In Bloomville, an Agway facility marks the end of the most recent train service. The Delaware & Ulster Rail Ride owns the right-of-way to Bloomville, and hopes to someday expand service in that direction. From East Meredith, the nine miles of trackage down the Kortright Creek valley to Davenport Center had a 600 foot drop. Davenport Center was the terminus of the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad. That road was completed in 1890 and had as its prime goal the transportation of hotel passengers to Cooperstown. When the U&D only reached Bloomville, stagecoaches connected the two lines. After 1903, when the D&H absorbed the C&CV, passengers changed at Oneonta and service from Cooperstown Junction to Davenport Center was discontinued except for freight, which lasted until 1930. West Davenport and the former junction with the D&H at Oneonta, now obliterated by the construction of I88, rounded out the branch line.

Even with stops, a trip I took a few years ago beat the four hours that the timetable of 35 years ago allowed to travel the 104 miles from Kingston to Oneonta. At that time, the prevailing Speed was 30 mph.

The railroad was built in stages and later abandoned in stages. By 1870 it only ran to Shandaken; by 1872, Roxbury; Stamford was attained by 1875. Hobart was reached in 1884. Bloomville became the end of the line in 1891. Oneonta, the final goal, was reached in 1900. In 1965, the 21 miles from Oneonta to Bloomville were abandoned. A 2.6-mile section at the far end was sold to an Oneonta group for use as a tourist line. When I88 was built, though, this trackage was in its path. The tourist line then acquired the D&H’s Cooperstown branch; it became the basis for the modern Delaware-Otsego System. Regular service after 1965 reached just to Stamford, with service to South Kortright and Bloomville on an as-needed basis. The line past Bloomville has deteriorated greatly since abandonment, but trestles are still in place. An old bridge is used by one farmer to cross his cows over a creek. He has installed gates on either side of the bridge.

It is hard to believe that the deserted railroad was such a hub of activity in the early part of this century. There were almost forty locomotives in use at that time, the last one added in 1907. While the railroad owned only a few passenger cars, it was able to carry 338,000 passengers in 1903 and 676,000 in 1913 by renting New York Central cars in the summer. Likewise, the railroad’s relatively few freight cars (270) could never have carried the load that ran between Kingston and Oneonta. Anthracite coal traffic was the biggest item of revenue freight, and the U&D didn’t have to provide cars for it. Excessive dividends before 1923, coupled with failure to provide for repayment of bonds, caused financial troubles for the railroad in the late 1920’s. A decrease in both passengers and anthracite coal traffic spelled doom for the railroad. In 1932, the Interstate Commerce Commission twisted the arm of the New York Central to take over the Ulster & Delaware. The New York Central used it to test diesels in 1945, strengthening bridges before their arrival. Alco S2 and Baldwin 1000 hp diesels were tested, but steam still ran until 1948. The line was not very straight: it had about 100 curves. It was hilly enough to have pusher districts at Pine Hill and Hurley Mountain. Even in the diesel era, the NYC ran paired RS2’s to avoid having to double mountains. The last steam engine ran on the U&D in 1949. At that time there were water tanks at Phoenicia, Big Indian, Arkville, Hobart, East Meredith, West Hurley and Oneonta. Alco RS1’s and S2’s ran 1948 through 1957, while RS2’s ran from 1957 to 1969. GE’s U-boats ran 1974-76, but Conrail’s only non-PC engine to run on the branch was an ex-EL U-boat. There were even some unusual locomotives on the line. In 1953 there was a BLH (Baldwin) S12 and a Fairbanks-Morse H16-44. An Alco FA ran in 1957 whi1e in 1963 an F3A and F3B went to Oneonta.

Accidents occurred in the modern era. 1958 saw two RS1’s put a plow extra on the ground at Hobart. In November 1969 a train went on ground in Glenlord and the line closed until a January plow extra to Bloomville ran; it took four days. The big (for this line) U33B and GP35 on this train even split rails.

Another neaby railroad that did not connect was the Unadilla Valley.



 The Delaware & Hudson in Oneonta

During the steam days and for some time afterards, Oneonta was a busy yard for trains both out of Binghamton and Wilkes Barre. It was also an engine change point and crew change point and had a huge roundhouse. The roundhouse fell into disuse after the Alco RS-3’s took over. Eventually, traffic patterns changed and the yard at Oneonta was more or less replaced by a rebuilt facility at Binghamton and the crews were run through between Binghamton and Saratoga or maybe Mohawk Yard in Schenectady and Binghamton. The last major activity in Oneonta was probably the car shop which after the CP takeover was shut down and replaced by facilities elsewhere.


How Interurbans Operated

The interurban electric railway typically drew its power from an overhead wire supplying about 600 V DC that was produced by rotary converters fed by high-voltage AC feeders. The equipment consisted of self-propelled cars with two two-axle trucks, where two or four axles were powered by geared, nose-suspendeded, axle-hung series traction motors of 50 to 75 horsepower. Unpowered trailer cars were often used, making a two-car train. Four-motor electric locomotives, or heavy express motors, were used for freight traffic, that became more prominent in later years. Freight trains were usually short, perhaps from four to ten cars, usually without a caboose. Motor cars were equipped with automatic and straight-air brakes, trailers with automatic brakes only. The straight-air brake operated rapidly, making emergency stops in a much shorter distance than those of a steam train, where several seconds elapse before the brakes begin to apply.

Magnetic track brakes were sometimes used. The Public Service Co. of Indiana used 26-ton cars with steel underframes and aluminum bodies equipped with magnetic brakes on its Indianapolis-Louisville line, 117.16 miles, in 1931. These cars could stop from 65-70 mph in 900′. A conventional passenger train would require 4000′. The magnetic brake shoe was pressed on the rail head by magnetic forces, using the traction supply for the exciting coils, and did not depend on the weight of the car and normal adhesion, as wheel brakes do.

Some cars had sanders, which were of most use when braking rapidly on greasy track, though of course sand would aid traction in similar circumstances. Interurban cars were not heavy enough to polish the track as a steam locomotive would, and so were susceptible to leaves on the track and frost. Photographs indicate that many cars did not have sanders.

The motorman’s controller cut in starting resistances to limit the current at low speeds, and controlled the series to parallel transition in motor connections, and field shunting. There was only a limited range of running speeds, corresponding to series, parallel and parallel-shunt connections, but this was adequate. For this reason, there were usually no stated speed limits for passenger cars. The control handle had to be pressed down against a spring when the car was running. If it was let up, the power was cut off, and sometimes the brakes were applied. Motormen often taped down the handle for their comfort, negating this safety feature.

A car generally had a two-man crew, motorman and conductor, and there was usually a second conductor for a trailer. Later, single-man cars were common, where the motorman also handled the fares. Freight trains may have added a brakeman, since it was difficult to do switching with only one man on the ground. Larger stations and termini may have had agents, but stops were usually unstaffed and every effort was taken to reduce the number of employees required, since economy was usually necessary.

Also for reasons of economy, most lines were single-track, with frequent turnouts to allow cars to meet. A siding connected at both ends was typically about 500′ long, the switches operated manually by the conductor. Single-ended spur tracks used as sidings were quite frequently found, unlike on steam railways where it was much more difficult to back a train. Each stop and siding had a telephone booth for calling the dispatcher, who was located at some central location. This telephone was essential to interurban operation.

Block signals were provided on many lines with relatively fast service between larger towns and cities. These were gradually installed after about 1917, and were quite different from the automatic block signals of steam railways in appearance and operation, since they were almost always electric light signals, not semaphores. In later years, those lines that had become essentially rapid transit operations adopted signalling like that of steam railways, but we will not consider this here, since it was not typical. The use of track circuits was difficult on interurban lines, if for no other reason than stray traction current, which made the use of a return rail and a signal rail very unsatisfactory. AC track circuits could solve this problem very well, of course, but they required such expensive apparatus as impedance bonds, and so were not used on the typical interurban. Switches operated by conductors or the trolley were used instead, or short track circuits at stations.

Interurbans developed from city street railways, where operation was simple due to low speeds, double track and regular schedules. Cars operated visually, at a speed such that they could stop in half the range of vision. Where there was single track with sidings, the meets were regular, and a car would wait for the expected car to arrive. With spring switches, there was no need for the conductor to operate the switch, facilitating one-man operation. Many of the smaller interurbans needed nothing beyond this elementary method.

See more on this subject


The Longest Interurban Trip

“The longest continuous trip one could take by interurban was, naturally, in the Northeast and Middle West. Between 1910 and 1922 it was possible to travel by interurban from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin…to Oneonta, New York…a distance of about 1,087 miles. There is no recorded instance of anyone’s taking such a trip, but in 1910…22 businessmen of Utica, New York, chartered car 502 of the New York Central Railroad’s Oneida Railway for a round trip on interurban track to Louisville, Kentucky. Traveling by day and spending nights in hotels, the passengers were royally entertained by interurban executives en route. Although long trips were taken by individual enthusiasts, this was probably the most extensive organized trip ever taken entirely by interurban. *** It was never possible to travel by interurban from Chicago to New York; gaps between Little Falls and Fonda and between Hudson and Tarrytown, both in New York, were never filled.”

Excerpted from _The Electric Interurban Railways in America_, by George W. Hilton and John F. Due, Stanford Univ Press 1960, p. 42: I think this insert was originally written by Robert Gurley of New Hartford, New York (New Hartford is a suburb of Utica; I grew up there so maybe I even know what I’m talking about)



Tramway de Nice: New for 2007

The Tramway de Nice was designed to serve most of the population of Nice, France, as the vity of over 900,000 people is situated along a seaside, the line does not have to traverse it. Instead it was drawn as a U shape, passing through the centre.

The tramcars of the Tramway de Nice are unique and have been specially designed to blend in with the Niçois architecture. A standard 5 car 1435 mm (4 ft 8½ in) standard gauge tram measures 35 m but extra carriages may be added, bringing the length to 45 m. The tram is 2.65 m wide and may carry 200 passengers at 18 km/h compared to 11 km/h by bus.

Are the trams noisy?
No. Noise created is maximum 70 decibels at 40km/h. This is much quieter than any large vehicle such as a bus.


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