Most futile railroads in New England

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Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Ridgefielder » Mon Mar 12, 2012 9:24 pm

The discussion of the West River Railroad in the thread on Central Vermont branches got me thinking of this topic. What would we nominate as the top 10 or 20 most futile, never-should-have-been-built railroads in New England? I'm thinking "steam" roads only here, since it seems pretty obvious that most of the trolley/interurban network was a bad idea.

I'll start with one from my own state: the Meriden, Waterbury & Connecticut River. Connected Waterbury with a Connecticut River "port" at Cromwell, on the theory that someone in Waterbury would want to ship merchandise that way. Completed in 1888 or thereabouts, leased to the NY&NE, bankrupt almost immediately. Reorganized in 1898 and leased to the NYNH&H. If I recall correctly the line wasn't even operated for a few years in the early 1890's. I believe the section to Cromwell was gone by the time of the First World War; rest of the rails lifted in the mid-'20s.

What else?
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby The EGE » Mon Mar 12, 2012 10:39 pm

I would argue with your assessment that the trolley lines were futile. The interurban-type lines were built too late (Norwich & Westerly, the closest to a true Midwestern-style interurban, opened in 1906) to survive long before private autos and buses. But the local lines started in the 1870s and lasted till the Great Depression, and before cars came about they were a valuable service in semi-rural areas. The demand patterns were very good; note how Route 1 (Shore Line, New London & East Lyme, Groton & Stonington), Route 32 (New London - Norwich line) and Route 2 (Norwich & Westerly) are still the major arteries of southeastern Connecticut.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby trainsinmaine » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:02 am

The Manchester and Keene Branch of the B&M would be a good nominee. The 30-mile section from Hancock to Keene ran through very hilly country that required the building of some massive (and impressive) trestles; the towns in-between were small, resulting in little on-line freight business, and equally little potential for any; there were frequent spring floods. The line lasted about fifty years, from the 1880s to the 1938 hurricane, at which time a trestle washed out at Hancock and the B&M decided that the branch wasn't worth the major expense of continued maintenance. The ROW is worth tracing --- many artifacts of the railroad still remain after 70 years.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Noel Weaver » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:25 am

If you look at early railroad maps of both the New Haven and the Boston and Maine you can find a number of lines that really did not need to be built. Especially the New Haven was so afraid of competetion that they saturated especially Connecticut and Massachusetts with branch after branch connecting branch after branch. The New Haven had three routes into Plymouth, Mass., six routes at one time into Hawleyville, Conn. add this up and it is no wonder that the railroads had financial problems galore. The Boston and Maine wasn't any better either with routes all over New Hampshire some of which never made any money and had no hope right from ay one. The trolley and interurban lines of the past are a horse of a different color, some had a purpose and some maybe did not but the railroad again wanted a monopoly on transportation and they pursued the trolley lines wih that idea in mind. This policy contributed to the financial problems especially in the case of the New Haven Railroad Steamships, trolley lines, bus lines, trucks and trains, you name it and the New Haven was involved.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby CVRA7 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:59 am

Regarding the MW&CR as a through route it was gone by the mid '20s and it was one of the more futile. But some of the trackage remained in use later - Meriden-Westfield CT was used by the Conn Co. east of the York Hill Quarry into the '30s, and trackage remained between the quarry and West Main St. Meriden in use into the 60's - there was a lumber yard near W Main St. IIRC. The owners of the Quarry purchased the remaining track between the main line and quarry and much of it remains but hasn't been used in well over 40 years from what I've been told. To be usable again it would take a total rebuild. West of Cheshire a trolley line paralleled the route and the trolley line outlived the "steam" route and was built to a better standard.
A similar situation existed between Rockville (Westway) and Melrose CT, a trolley and a steam road competed for scarce rural traffic.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby chrisnewhaven » Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:00 am

The Central New England between Poughkeepsie and Hartford. Ran through rural farmland, horrible grades, and every major point on it (Millerton, Canaan, Winsted) were already served by better built and purposeful lines. The only good portion was the bridge over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. Also the end of the Farmigton Branch between Collinsville and New Hartford, Ct.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Ridgefielder » Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:51 am

The EGE wrote:I would argue with your assessment that the trolley lines were futile. The interurban-type lines were built too late (Norwich & Westerly, the closest to a true Midwestern-style interurban, opened in 1906) to survive long before private autos and buses. But the local lines started in the 1870s and lasted till the Great Depression, and before cars came about they were a valuable service in semi-rural areas. The demand patterns were very good; note how Route 1 (Shore Line, New London & East Lyme, Groton & Stonington), Route 32 (New London - Norwich line) and Route 2 (Norwich & Westerly) are still the major arteries of southeastern Connecticut.

I know the trolleys were more victims of changing technologies than anything else. I guess what I really wanted to do was keep the list short and confined to lines that made little to no sense even in the 19th century. The problem with the traction lines is that were so many of them; and some operations are so obscure that only one or two people now know about them: so we'd all have to take Otto's word on whether the Danbury & Harlem Traction Company made sense, for instance ;-).
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby The EGE » Tue Mar 13, 2012 6:06 pm

I very much agree with Noel: the suburban Boston network is just ridiculous. Every town wanted a railroad, so those that didn't get one got branches.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Noel Weaver » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:10 pm

chrisnewhaven wrote:The Central New England between Poughkeepsie and Hartford. Ran through rural farmland, horrible grades, and every major point on it (Millerton, Canaan, Winsted) were already served by better built and purposeful lines. The only good portion was the bridge over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. Also the end of the Farmigton Branch between Collinsville and New Hartford, Ct.
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The only reason the New Haven wanted this stuff was to obtain control of the important Poughkeepsie Bridge and its connections. As stated the remainder was full of operating problems, stiff grades and not much traffic. Even though this area was not productive for the New Haven the lines in New York State outlasted the lines in Connecticut because of local traffic which included milk and even passengers, what few ther were. There were at one time two different lines between Collinsville and New Hartford. In the last year or two of passenger service the trains ran out of Plainville instead of Hartford and ran Plainville, Farmington, Pine Meadow (just short of New Hartfor) on the New Haven and at Pine Meadow these remaining trains were switched over to the CNE track to continue on to Winsted and points west.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby necr3849 » Fri Mar 23, 2012 6:41 pm

Can we include roads that were actually built but never ran? If so, my vote goes to the Hampden Railroad. New Haven's most infamous tag team of Charles Mellen and his banker JP Morgan wanted to connect the NH and B&M when they controlled both for a time.

"Built to high standards at the time, the line ran from Athol Junction(East Springfield) on the Boston & Albany and connected to the Central Mass a couple of miles east of Bondsville. It was completed by 1913, but NH and B&M were no longer controlled by the same players. Neither road would operate it either. It sat until 1926, never being used. A scrapper then bought the property and removed the rails and structures. The Mass Pike was constructed over about five miles of the route in Ludlow." Ronald Karr's The Rail Lines of Southern New England.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby trainsinmaine » Sat Mar 24, 2012 2:11 pm

If I'm not mistaken, the Hampden never actually connected to the Central Mass., but came within inches (literally) of doing so. When the B&M and NH were divorced, the connection was not completed.

What remains of the Hampden is impressive. The power line that was built over the ROW has kept it quite well preserved, and the bridge abutments that still exist along the route remain in amazingly good condition. There's a lot that can be seen if you take the time. Check out Google Maps or Bing Maps and you'll get an idea. It's very clear that this was intended to be a first-class operation.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Cosmo » Sat Mar 24, 2012 5:23 pm

trainsinmaine wrote:If I'm not mistaken, the Hampden never actually connected to the Central Mass., but came within inches (literally) of doing so. When the B&M and NH were divorced, the connection was not completed.

FWIU, the connection was made at both ends long enough for an inspection train to be run end-to-end, then one rail length was pulled at the CM/B&M end after the ownership changed.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby dcm74 » Sun Mar 25, 2012 8:12 am

Cosmo wrote:
trainsinmaine wrote:If I'm not mistaken, the Hampden never actually connected to the Central Mass., but came within inches (literally) of doing so. When the B&M and NH were divorced, the connection was not completed.

FWIU, the connection was made at both ends long enough for an inspection train to be run end-to-end, then one rail length was pulled at the CM/B&M end after the ownership changed.

Actually 2 inspection trains were run on the Hampden. The first was in May 1913 prior to the planned start of service. The second train was operated in November 1914 for officials of the B&M and Hampden. The Hampden officials were proposing the purchase of the road by the B&M. B&M refused and sealed the Hampden's fate.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby JBlaisdell » Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:35 pm

chrisnewhaven wrote:The Central New England between Poughkeepsie and Hartford. Ran through rural farmland, horrible grades, and every major point on it (Millerton, Canaan, Winsted) were already served by better built and purposeful lines. The only good portion was the bridge over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. Also the end of the Farmigton Branch between Collinsville and New Hartford, Ct.
C.J.V.

The CNE was an amalgamation of several other lines. The Connecticut Western (later Hartford & Connecticut Western) ran from Hartford to Canaan. From Pine Plains, there was a line to Rhinecliff, north of Poughkeepsie, with the plan to run to Oswego- the Rhinecliff & Connecticut. (The scheme's line on the west side of the Hudson became the Ulster & Delaware). South from Pine Plains, the lines ran to Poughkeepsie and Fishkill Landing- the Poughkeepsie & Eastern and Dutchess & Columbia (later Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut) respectively. These lines were built well before the first footing of the Poughkeepsie Bridge was built. Their goals were to bring traffic to the Hudson for NY City.

The CNE came about from the CNE&Western RR, which was the Philadelphia & Reading's push into New England as an outlet for coal. CNE&W morphed into the Philadelphia, Reading & New England, then the CNE Ry, which acquired the P&E, ND&C, H&CW, and the Dutchess County RR (a short connector built between Pokip and Hopewell). The line through Hopewell, under NYNH&H control, became the mainline.

You can't look at the lines as they were in their final days, but in how they came about.
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Re: Most futile railroads in New England

Postby Ridgefielder » Tue Mar 27, 2012 11:46 am

JBlaisdell wrote:
chrisnewhaven wrote:The Central New England between Poughkeepsie and Hartford. Ran through rural farmland, horrible grades, and every major point on it (Millerton, Canaan, Winsted) were already served by better built and purposeful lines. The only good portion was the bridge over the Hudson at Poughkeepsie. Also the end of the Farmigton Branch between Collinsville and New Hartford, Ct.
C.J.V.

The CNE was an amalgamation of several other lines. The Connecticut Western (later Hartford & Connecticut Western) ran from Hartford to Canaan. From Pine Plains, there was a line to Rhinecliff, north of Poughkeepsie, with the plan to run to Oswego- the Rhinecliff & Connecticut. (The scheme's line on the west side of the Hudson became the Ulster & Delaware). South from Pine Plains, the lines ran to Poughkeepsie and Fishkill Landing- the Poughkeepsie & Eastern and Dutchess & Columbia (later Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut) respectively. These lines were built well before the first footing of the Poughkeepsie Bridge was built. Their goals were to bring traffic to the Hudson for NY City.

The CNE came about from the CNE&Western RR, which was the Philadelphia & Reading's push into New England as an outlet for coal. CNE&W morphed into the Philadelphia, Reading & New England, then the CNE Ry, which acquired the P&E, ND&C, H&CW, and the Dutchess County RR (a short connector built between Pokip and Hopewell). The line through Hopewell, under NYNH&H control, became the mainline.

You can't look at the lines as they were in their final days, but in how they came about.

I agree- I wouldn't call the CNE completely futile at inception. If A. A. MacLeod's Philadelphia and Reading empire-- the Reading, LV, CNJ, and Central New England-- hadn't crashed into recievership in the Panic of 1893, you could have seen this develop into an important main line connecting Boston to the south via the B&M/Central Mass, Springfield and Hartford.
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