Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mystery Train


Merry Christmas to all!

I have a reprint copy of the June 1893 Travelers' Official Guide of the Railway and Steam Navigation Lines in the United States and Canada.

Here is the main page for the New York and New England Railroad, showing trains on the main line from Boston to Hartford to Fishkill, and part of a second page featuring the company's two trains with "Elegant" and "Superb" accommodations.

Running southbound, the 1201 train from Boston gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Hartford, and the 1500 train from Boston, the famous White Train or New England Limited, gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Willimantic, using the Air Line route from there to New Haven. The same two services run northbound arriving Boston at 1830 and 2040. The New England Limited also has cars to and from Waterbury on the NY&NE as we can see from the first table.

What catches my eye though is the other express train— the one that runs between Boston and Hopewell Junction, leaving Boston at 1800 and arriving at 0820. It does not have a special table, but it has even fewer stops than the two trains just mentioned. What is this train?

I knew that there was around this time a through train between Boston and New York on the NY&NE and the New York and Northern, later known as the Putnam Division. Here's the NY&N through schedule from the same Official Guide.

While this does show two NY&NE connections, neither is the express train. One is a Brewster-Hartford local and the other is a Fishkill-Boston local.

The other run I know about is the railfan favorite Poughkeepsie Bridge train between Boston and Philadelphia that was run around this time. From Boston, it ran on the Boston and Maine's former Central Massachusetts to Northampton, the New Haven's former New Haven and Northampton to Simsbury, and then the Reading system.

In the early decades of the Official Guide, railroads were remarkably silent about many interline through services. The bridge train is a typical example. Below are tables of the Boston and Maine, New Haven, and Reading system.

Southbound. On the B&M it's the train leaving Boston at 1750, arriving Northampton 2040, with limited stops. On the New Haven, read up, it's the train leaving Northampton at 2045 and arriving Simsbury at 2145. On the Reading system, it originates from Hartford at 2110 and picks up the cars from Boston at Simsbury, leaving there at 2152, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0101 and Philadelphia at 0740.

Northbound. The train leaves Philadelphia on the Reading system at 1900, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0054 and Simsbury at 0400, arriving Hartford at 0435. On the New Haven, the through cars leave Simsbury at 0405— shown only in a note at the bottom of the table! The cars take probably the same one hour to reach Northampton, and at any rate on the B&M they leave there at 0510 and arrive Boston at 0820.

The interesting bit is the Poughkeepsie times. 0101 southbound, 0054 northbound. The NY&NE express train arrives Hopewell Junction at 0030 southbound and departs 0130 northbound. It's interesting because the distance from Hopewell Junction to Poughkeepsie was only 13 miles by rail, on the Dutchess County Railroad. That short line was part of the Reading system, and here is its timetable.

Trains 60 and 61 connect well with NY&NE trains at Hopewell ; trains 63 and 70 connect well with Reading trains at Poughkeepsie. But none connect anywhere near the express NY&NE trains.

I find it very tempting to think that the NY&NE ran through cars to the Poughkeepsie Bridge train. I need only believe that the cars could pass over the 13 miles of the Dutchess County Railroad in under an hour. The limited-stop NY&NE train between Hopewell Junction and Boston just seems pointless otherwise, and its times at Hopewell are wonderfully coordinated with the bridge trains.

But amazingly the two nonstop trains shown on the Dutchess County timetable take 65 minutes to travel 13 miles. That's a blazing 12 miles per hour. Was the track that bad, or the engines that weak? Does this rule out NY&NE trains running at least ten minutes faster?

I'll make the case against.

First, the Reading timetable does list a NY&NE connection for the southbound train, but it's the 1530 train running local from Norwood Central to Hartford. If you could leave Boston on the NY&NE two and a half hours later, why not show it? And no northbound NY&NE connection is shown.

Second, the NY&NE took care to show the two trains with through cars to New York. Wouldn't they also provide notice of through cars to Philadelphia? (Side note: the NY&NE map does not even show a bridge at Poughkeepsie, five years after it opened!)

Third, why wouldn't the little Dutchess County timetable show the two trains?

So, I don't think so. But it's still quite a coincidence.

I observe that the train spends one hour at Hopewell Junction, for a round trip leaving Boston 1800 and returning 0820. That's 14 hours and 20 minutes including a one-hour rest. It exceeds the federal hours of service law, but the law was not enacted until 1907. Did the NY&NE actually have a single crew work that train?

Now, two words: mail train. Back in those days, when people communicated on paper and when all long distance mail went by train, there was so much volume that railroads operated some trains primarily for mail. Since they ran at passenger train speeds and stopped at major cities, mail trains often carried passenger coaches too. You can usually spot the mail trains in timetables because they tended to run overnight. The mystery train has the hallmarks of a mail train.

And let me make one leap of speculation. Is there any chance the Dutchess County Railroad made a midnight run carrying only mail cars, connecting the Reading at Poughkeepsie and the NY&NE at Hopewell Junction, running at a breakneck speed of as much as 25 miles per hour? It would be amazing to think mail made the journey to and from Boston a few hours faster than passengers, but there could be reasons. One would be to keep the passengers on Reading rails as far as possible, to maximize ticket income to the Reading.

Who knows?

Mystery train.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Federal Express


The Danbury research (see the last two weeks) led me to the Wikipedia page for the Federal Express train, which needed some corrections and additions. And who better to do it?

The Federal was the overnight Boston-Washington train that ran around New York, not through it, before the opening of the Hell Gate span in 1917.

I didn't know that the train went all the way back to 1876, but come to think of it, I should have guessed that. The Centennial Fair in Philadelphia inspired numerous special train routings and even new rail lines. The alternate New York-Philadelphia corridor via West Trenton opened that year and vied with the Pennsylvania Railroad route for decades.

The overnight train wasn't actually called the Federal Express for a while. I have a reprint June 1893 Official Guide, and the train still ran then under generic names like Boston-Washington Express. But it had the name by 1903. I couldn't narrow that gap without spending more time researching it. But it was substantially the same train.

Originally the train left Boston on the New York and New England Railroad and came into the New Haven system at Hartford. The New Haven did not control its own line to Boston until 1893. The NY&NE was the shortest route although it had the disadvantage of missing all cities (Willimantic was the largest place on the line!). The Boston and Albany Railroad route via Springfield was the other lead contender. In 1888 the New Haven completed a long high bridge at New London, and for the first time the shore route to the Boston and Providence Railroad, now the Northeast Corridor, became competitive with the other two. Once the New Haven acquired that B&P line in 1893 it became the favored route, and I think it may have been then that the Federal was shifted to what would become its permanent routing.

At New York a trip on the Federal involved a ride past Manhattan on the special steamship Maryland. I do mean that the rail cars themselves rode on the ship. During the hour on board, you could leave the cars and enjoy the breezes, or stay in your Pullman sleeper and... sleep. The north transfer was the New Haven Railroad's Harlem River station, in (what is now) the Bronx near the Third Avenue Bridge, and the south transfer was Harsimus Cove, a few blocks north of the Pennsylvania's Jersey City terminal at Exchange Place.

I could mention that Maryland was so named because its original job was carrying the Pennsylvania's trains across the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace. Once a bridge was completed there, the unusual ship was out of work for about a decade. It was partly rebuilt in 1876 for the New York service. Here is a photograph of it on April 4, 1876, run aground at Martha's Vineyard, probably on its way to New York.

Maryland could carry six passenger rail cars or twelve (shorter) freight cars. It looks like a ferry, but in a lawsuit in 1877, the railroad succeeded in having it defined as not a ferry, to avoid regulation by the City of New York, whose officials objected to it. Maybe they didn't like seeing passengers go right past New York.

This Maryland burned in 1888, and was replaced by a new Maryland. The name had become so attached to the service that it could hardly be called anything else. I found a report from 1903 that businesses often specified freight routing "via the Maryland" rather than "via Harlem River station". In fact a railroad man admitted many shippers did not even know the name of Harlem River station, and did not know that there was a second boat in service, Exchange, usually used for freight but sometimes for passenger services as a backup for Maryland.

But none of this relates to Danbury. Here is what does.

The Pennsylvania began service to New York Penn Station in 1911, and all of the long-distance trains were rerouted there instead of Jersey City except the Federal and the Colonial. They continued to ride on Maryland for almost a year more. In October 1912 the Colonial Express was split in two, and passengers were provided a special bus service between Penn Station and Grand Central. The Federal could not be treated that way because it passed through New York in the middle of the night.

Instead the Federal was sent the long way round: via Poughkeepsie.

Running southbound, the Federal left the corridor south of New Haven and ran over the New Haven Railroad's Maybrook Line, the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad, and the Pennsylvania's Belvidere Delaware Branch, finally returning to the corridor at Trenton. The all-rail route was not faster. It just allowed retiring Maryland and the special equipment and staff involved.

The Maybrook Line is where Danbury comes in. This was the freight route that the New Haven put together from 1908 to 1911, using the former New Haven and Derby, and parts of the former Housatonic, New York and New England, and Central New England. Notice the dates. It looks like the Maybrook Line was just getting into full operation when Penn Station opened in 1911. Maybe there was uncertainty about using it for a passenger train, even an overnight one that could run closer to slow freight speeds than most.

This lasted less than four years. The reason stated was capacity on the Maybrook Line. The freight trains "congested" the line and made the passenger schedule unreliable. I wonder how bad it got before they gave up.

After about a year without overnight service, the Federal came back in April 1917 when the Hell Gate Span opened and through routing via Penn Station became possible. The Federal and Colonial were revived. But for decades the New Haven continued to run almost all of its trains to Grand Central. It was not until the Amtrak era that through service became the standard.

It's too bad there was no daylight service. The view from Poughkeepsie Bridge is said to be spectacular. It has been open as a public walkway since 2009. But the ride along the Delaware River and through the New Jersey Highlands, the Dutchess County farm country, and the Connecticut hills would be very scenic as well. Admittedly there was limited population along the entire diversion, Phillipsburg, Poughkeepsie, Danbury, and Derby being the largest towns en route. I can see why the routing was not viewed as a potential moneymaker. But it would have been fun to ride just once.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Danbury Railways revised


Last week we had an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut, and I said, why not?

This week I say: Why not do it better?

Sometimes I can't let go of something when I know I didn't quite finish it. So I blew another 12 hours or so crossing the I's and dotting the T's.

First of all, the jpg map was awful. Here are much better ones, a big PDF with the topo map background and a smaller clean JPG without.

Besides an improved appearance, these maps also have various corrections and additions. Most notably, I added a strip on the west side where I had just barely cut off the interesting area around Brewster, and I added two more partially constructed railways.

Secondly, I rewrote the Historical Sketch section into better English style, and added more details. I can write good. Or write well. Whichever.

The result so far is semi permanently enshrined at

I was especially surprised to learn that there were three partially constructed railways in the area. I had the New York, Housatonic and Northern last week, but now I've added the Ridgefield and New York and the Danbury and Harlem Traction line. These more than pipe dreams. All three companies purchased and graded many miles of property, leaving traces that can still be seen today.

As I mentioned last time, the NYH&N actually opened the small portion from Danbury to Brookfield Junction, which is still in operation today, and the company also graded another 23 miles (!) that was never operated, far into Westchester County. The Ridgefield and New York similarly graded all or most of its route down to East Port Chester (across the boundary river from Port Chester NY). The trolley line D&HT not only graded part of its route but actually laid about five miles of track and made a test run with a trolley borrowed from the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway.

Local railfans and history buffs have discussed the grades— here is a good one about the D&HT grade, although read carefully because it also references the R&NY grade and mentions the NYH&N.

I made two real finds at the U Conn MAGIC web site, the library's wonderful acronym for the Map and Geographical Information Center. They have a 1934 aerial photography set of the entire state that shows the Danbury and Harlem Traction grade very clearly. They also have almost all of the New Haven railroad valuation maps of 1915, providing enormous detail on the railroad's property and structures at that time, which was about its maximum extent.

The valuation maps, amazingly, include the entire Ridgefield and New York line from Danbury to East Port Chester, even though it was never completed. Notations show that the property from Ridgefield south was sold to the New Haven in 1906. The Ridgefield to Danbury section, which was added to the proposed road some time in the 1880s, is carefully detailed, but why is unclear, because the notes emphasize that the New Haven did not own the property.

Last time Charlie Warren commented that the New York, Westchester and Boston project included a proposed line to Danbury. I know that it was to have continued north from White Plains along a route very similar to that of the unbuilt New York, Housatonic and Northern. I haven't shown it since no work was done. However the New Haven's strange acquisition of the Ridgefield and New York property makes me wonder whether there was any idea of extending the NYW&B from its Port Chester terminal by that route to Danbury. It was already graded after all, although it would probably have needed extensive rebuilding to eliminate grade crossings and live up to the NYW&B standard.

I came across this amusing article about a property for sale in northwestern Greenwich, left over from the New York, Housatonic and Northern project. From the street you see a narrow lot (by local standards) 100 feet wide with a modest house on it, but... the property goes back almost half a mile! Type 56 locust road greenwich ct on Google maps.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Danbury Railways


This week: an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut. Why not?


My Topo

Connecticut Railroads by Gregg M Turner and Melancthon W Jacobus. Hartford CT: The Connecticut Historical Society, 1989.

Lost Railroads of New England by Ronald Dake Karr, third edition. Pepperel MA: Branch Line Press, 2010.

Tyler City Station Danbury Page

"Motor Trips" New England and Eastern New York for The New England Federation of Automobile Clubs. Hartford CT: The Guyde Publishing Co, 1923.

Atlas of New York and Vicinity by F W Beers. New York: F W Beers et al, 1868. Seen at David Rumsey Map Collection.

History of Public Bus Service in Danbury,

Official Guide of the Railways, for June 1893 and January 1910.


The base map is a mosaic of four USGS 15-minute sheets dated from 1892 to 1904, from the My Topo web site. I drew the railroads and stations and notes using the other sources listed. Eight hours.

Historical Sketch

The first railway in the area was the Housatonic Railroad, which eventually ran from Bridgeport to Pittsfield MA on a generally north-south line. The first section completed, from Bridgeport to New Milford opened in 1840, including a rock tunnel in Newtown, usually called the Hawleyville Tunnel. The railroad investors in Bridgeport wanted to connect their town to quarries, iron mines and foundries, potteries, and other industries in northwest Connecticut. Over the next fifty years, connecting and through services were operated by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad between Bridgeport and New York.

A railway to Danbury, an inland market town with a popular annual fair, had been proposed just as early, but it did not happen until 1852 when the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad opened a line between its namesake cities. Once again the New Haven Railroad provided the important connection to New York and other points, at Norwalk. The D&N ended at Danbury Main Street, with no connection to the Housatonic.

The New York, Housatonic and Northern Railroad was intended to connect the Housatonic Railroad to New York without relying on the New Haven Railroad. The first section built was also the only section opened, namely that from Brookfield Junction to Danbury, 1868. For a few months it ran to the D&N's Main Street station, but in 1869 it opened its own station at White Street and removed the rail connection to the D&N. This segment was operated by the Housatonic from 1872.

The uncompleted route of the NYH&N curved around the west side of Danbury to about the Fair Grounds and then set off as straight as possible toward New York via White Plains, passing through Ridgefield and then on into New York State. The company purchased and graded 23 more miles of route before it failed and sold off all its assets in 1875.

At the same time the Danbury and Norwalk quickly built its own branch line to Ridgefield in 1870. The former Ridgefield Station, where the branch joined the main line, was renamed Branchville, a name it still retains. Passenger service on the Ridgefield Branch ran only until 1925, and it was abandoned in 1964.

A short line called the Shepaug Railroad opened in 1872 from Hawleyville (on the Housatonic) north to Litchfield over a very twisty route. The Danbury and Norwalk again built a branch to take traffic from the Housatonic, from Bethel. It opened the same year and was operated by the Shepaug. The D&N link, which had no stations, was one of the earliest abandonments in Connecticut, 1911. From 1908 the Shepaug's trains ran to Danbury instead via the NY&NE route.

Danbury got its first through trains in 1881 when the New York and New England Railroad opened the last portion of its main line, from Waterbury to Beacon, passing east and west through the area. The NY&NE followed a route something like Interstate 84, from Boston through northeastern Connecticut, Willimantic, Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury, and Brewster.

Entering the area from the east, the NY&NE came alongside the Housatonic near the tunnel in Newtown, where the NY&NE built its own tunnel. South of Brookfield Junction the NY&NE curved over to the Housatonic's Brookfield branch line, and built directly alongside it to Danbury. The NY&NE crossed over to the north side and ran into its own White Street station next to the Housatonic's station. But then west of Danbury the NY&NE route opened new ground, running to Brewster and then north and west.

The age of consolidation began. The Housatonic acquired the Danbury and Norwalk in 1886, renaming it the Danbury Branch. The New Haven acquired the Housatonic and the Shepaug in 1892, and the New York and New England in 1895. This brought all of the Danbury area railways into one system.

The main passenger flow was north and south. The Housatonic built a connection at Danbury in 1889, closing its White Street station and finally bringing the Brookfield trains into the Main Street station for easier connections. Some through trains began to run to New York over the shorter route down the Danbury Branch, but they had to make a reverse move at Danbury because of the stub terminal. A better solution was implemented by the New Haven in 1896, after it acquired the NY&NE, namely a loop track that allowed trains to continue forward, although it meant that looping trains stopped at White Street instead of Main Street. Finally the New Haven built a new station for all Danbury services on the White Street site in 1903.

The New Haven also developed an important east-west freight link. In Orange County, New York, coal from the Lehigh and Hudson River, the Lehigh and New England, the New York, Ontario and Western, and the Erie, and general freight from the Erie, were made up into trains that ran over the Poughkeepsie Bridge (1888). From there the freight main followed the former NY&NE through Brewster and Danbury to Hawleyville, and then onward to Bridgeport or New Haven using the lower Housatonic line.

In 1908 the parallel railroads running east from Danbury were made into a double-track main line as far as Berkshire Junction, where the routes north and east diverged. There had been no junction there before. The parallel lines around Hawleyville were rebuilt in 1911. The new line followed the NY&NE through Hawleyville and then followed a new grade over the site of the old tunnels and down into the lower Housatonic Railroad. The Housatonic tunnel was abandoned, but the NY&NE tunnel was retained with a new west portal for traffic over the old line to Waterbury.

A section of the original Housatonic near Brookfield Junction was abandoned in 1940 after years of very little use. The other two sides of the triangle, Danbury to north and Danbury to east, remain in use. The Shepaug and the ex NY&NE from Hawleyville to Southbury were both abandoned in 1948, years after their last passenger services (1930 and 1932 respectively).

This left just two routes forming a cross at Danbury. The southern leg has Metro North passenger service to Norwalk and New York. Danbury and Bethel stations were re-sited in 1996, and West Redding in 1999. The other three legs have a light amount of freight service.

Danbury was for two brief periods a stop on long-distance passenger trains. The first was an overnight train between Boston and New York from December 1892 to May 1893, that ran on the NY&NE from Boston to Brewster and the New York and Northern (later known as the Putnam Division) down to the NY&N's terminal at 155th St in Manhattan. It took eight hours. The second period saw another overnight train between Boston and Washington, the Federal Express, from 1912 to 1917. The train ran over the freight link previously described, via the New Haven Railroad, the Poughkeepsie Bridge, the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It diverted from the modern Northeast Corridor from New Haven to Trenton. Once the Hell Gate Span opened to traffic in 1917, the Federal Express was re-routed via New York Penn Station.