Poughkeepsie RR Bridge Arson?

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Poughkeepsie RR Bridge Arson?

Postby steve levine » Fri Dec 31, 2004 11:01 am

Is this just a railfan myth, or is there some basis of fact involved? I recall reading either here or on the old forum, that the PC torched it. If anyone can please send along any links to threads or other forum discussions, I would be much obliged.
Thanks & I hope everyone has a happy new year!
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A Question Likely Forever Unanswerable

Postby 2nd trick op » Fri Dec 31, 2004 10:13 pm

The demise of the Poughkeepsie bridge and the freight bridge line which justified it will probably never be documented to everyone's satisfaction, but the facts are as follows:

Until the late 1960's, the Poughkeepsie bridge formed a link between the independent New England railroads, headed by the New Haven, and several mid-Atlantic region carriers, primarily the Erie at Maybrook, but also including Lackawanna and Lehigh Valley (via Lehigh and Hudson River), the Pennsylvania (via PRR's Belvidere-Delaware Branch), and at one time, New York, Ontario and Western.

On New Year's Day, 1969, Penn-Central was forced to absorb the New Haven and almost immediately began diverting traffic away from both the Poughkeepsie gateway and the remaining New York harbor carfloat operations in favor of its major Selkirk classification yard and a routing via the former West Shore. That left only the E-L and L&HR connections, which would justify only 1-2 freights in each direction daily.

Over the next three years, trafffic declined further and flooding from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 drove the E-L into bankruptcy as well. By the spring of 1974, plans for the implementation of what would become Conrail were well underway.

Around 1:00 PM on Wednesday, May 8, 1974, an eastbound freight crossed the bridge. Within one hour, flames were clearly visible on the east end of the bridge. A fire line installed on the superstructure proved unusable because the pipe had burst in several places after it had not been drained in anticipation of the previous winter.

When it was all over, some 700 feet of the bridge's superstructure had been engaged; the rail (probably continuous-welded by this time) showed extreme kinking, but the issue of superstructural wekening was never resolved. Initial reports were optimistic regarding restoration of the bridge, but with final implementation of Conrail less than a year away, the plans evenutally fell through.

One final note: In the last days before the inception of Conrail in late March of 1976, hope was still held for creation of a "little Conrail" involving E-L/LV/Reading/CNJ/L&HR. Loss of the Poughkeepsie Bridge/gateway possibly weakened this option. The plan was reportedly scuttled in the wake of the unions' insistence on job guarantees, but regardless, layoff notices were posted on much of the former E-L within a few weeks.
Last edited by 2nd trick op on Sat Mar 25, 2006 6:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Pok RR bridge- was it torched??

Postby b&m617 » Mon Jan 03, 2005 2:11 pm

Here are some more facts, useless or otherwise:

* That bridge had fires on it all the time; friend of mine found the log book for the fire watchman in the old freight house on parker ave, and there are entries all the time for small fires.

* The fire watchman had been taken off the bridge before the fire, and the fire hydrant lines were disconnected.

* None of the firemen on either side of the bridge had been trained on fighting fires on the bridge; they found out after they had hooked their firehoses up to the lines that the waterlines were inoperable. Those guys risked their lives fighting that fire...

* Friend of mine was at the pok train station when the fire was roaring; I have pics of the fast progress of this fire. It was in such a position were getting at it was difficult. You can't believe how far it progressed in 5 minutes.

Hmmm...coincidence???

* the last train across the bridge was pure Erie Lackawanna power, believe it had 3 locomotives. Recently got a slide of that train from the photographer.

We could argue till the cows come home about whether the fire was intentional, but the result was the same. I sure do like to get some fresh facts, fire away!!!

Work safe
Derail :P
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Pok Bridge Fire

Postby Bernard Rudberg » Mon Jan 03, 2005 4:00 pm

I heard that locomotives from Maybrook were moved to the east side of the river just before the fire. Does anybody know the story ?

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Postby TomNelligan » Mon Jan 03, 2005 5:29 pm

I realize that conspiracy theories are fun, and a lot of railfans want to believe that evil Penn Central torched the bridge, but given the regulatory environment of 1974 with Conrail on the horizon, and PC's extremely fragile health, they could have just announced that the bridge was no longer safe for traffic, embargoed it, claimed they didn't have the cash to repair it, and rerouted the EL interchange (one train a day was all that was left) via one of several longer routes that were available (and were used after the combustion). As long as EL got the same rate division, they wouldn't have cared.

Plus, I always figured that if they were going to torch it, wouldn't they do it in the middle of the night rather than midday when the act might be spotted? And since a number of people would have been involved (from the management that ordered it down to the guy with the gasoline), would everybody have been able to cover up for thirty years?

There has indeed been a vast amount of discussion on this subject on various forums, and the rumors will be around forever, but I don't believe them. Brake shoes start accidental fires now and then, and I think that was one.
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Postby Noel Weaver » Mon Jan 03, 2005 5:57 pm

TomNelligan wrote:I realize that conspiracy theories are fun, and a lot of railfans want to believe that evil Penn Central torched the bridge, but given the regulatory environment of 1974 with Conrail on the horizon, and PC's extremely fragile health, they could have just announced that the bridge was no longer safe for traffic, embargoed it, claimed they didn't have the cash to repair it, and rerouted the EL interchange (one train a day was all that was left) via one of several longer routes that were available (and were used after the combustion). As long as EL got the same rate division, they wouldn't have cared.

Plus, I always figured that if they were going to torch it, wouldn't they do it in the middle of the night rather than midday when the act might be spotted? And since a number of people would have been involved (from the management that ordered it down to the guy with the gasoline), would everybody have been able to cover up for thirty years?

There has indeed been a vast amount of discussion on this subject on various forums, and the rumors will be around forever, but I don't believe them. Brake shoes start accidental fires now and then, and I think that was one.


I totally agree with Tom on this one. It was unlikely that there was any
road power based in Maybrook by that time. The one job there handled
whatever work there was around Maybrook as well as local work east to
Highland and Poughkeepsie (before the fire).
I wasn't difficult to swap out the unit in Maybrook through Kingston on the
Walkill Valley Line. Kingston had around three or maybe four engines
based there at the time. Still had a roundhouse and turntable at that time
too.
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Pok Bridge Fire

Postby Bernard Rudberg » Mon Jan 03, 2005 10:49 pm

Given the previous history of fires on the bridge, it seems pretty obvious what would happen when the fire watchman was discontinued and the water pipes abandoned in the name of cost cutting. It was just a matter of time till until another "accidental" fire finished the job.

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Postby Montreal Ltd » Tue Jan 04, 2005 12:41 am

I regularly receive reports of fires started by trains, which are much more frequent than most people realize. If they occur in a remote or inaccessible location (not uncommon on railroads) they can easily get out of control. The most common causes are sparks from exhaust stacks, traction motors, and sticking brake shoes. These were more likely on roads like PC and EL which didn't have the money to maintain their equipment adequately (not to mention failure to maintain the water pipes). I'm always prepared to entertain conspiracy theories, but unless I see plausible evidence that PC set the fire, it seems more reasonable that is was caused by the last train over. (I'd still love to see the P-bridge back in service though!)

Happy New Year to all

Don
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Pok Bridge Fire

Postby Bernard Rudberg » Tue Jan 04, 2005 2:22 pm

There may or may not have been a "conspiracy" involved. More than likely PC was just neglecting the line and waiting for an excuse to shut it down. In this case it happened in spectacular fashion and almost took the Poughkeepsie gas tanks with it.

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Postby Andyt293 » Thu Jan 13, 2005 5:53 pm

Just a couple of thoughts here. As a firefighter (and State Fire Academy Adjunct Instructor), I can tell you that it doesn't take much to set a tie on fire. A flare dropped in the right spot on a windy day can set the stage for quite a fire.

If I were to set a fire on a bridge, I would do it in broad daylight not at night when the ignition source would be less visible. That said, I truly believe Penn Central caused the fire either directly (arson) or indirectly (inevitable result of removing fire detection and protection measures and being patient).

The president of the LHR actually offered to repair the bridge using his railroad's resources that offer was declined in no uncertain terms by PC's management.

Ironically, My July 1975 Conrail Final System Map (one of many final system maps) shows the bridge as intact and part of a through route from Allentown to Poughkeepsie and I seem to recall that the route was listed as such on Conrail maps through 1978.
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Postby Maybrook fan » Sun Feb 13, 2005 10:25 pm

If PC intentionally started the bride fire will most likley never be known. But they did not want it or did they show any desire to have it rebuilt.

This forum is the 1st I have heard of the LHR offer to repair the bridge. But I do recall news reports of bills in congress for fixing the bridge being lobbied and tabled. Reports were that the lobby was PC/Conrail supported.

But even after the fire the RR had a kind of flakey sale of the bridge. I remember articles in the Poughkeepsie Journal where some guy came into town and filed a deed that he bought the structure for $1.00. And when the Journal tried to contact this guy the # he left rang a pay phone at a taxi stand somewhere in Pa. So there were many rumors as to this being a hoax setup by the railroad.

If I had the time I'd love to research this in the Journal archives. It would all be a good story for Ripley's belive it or not.
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Pok bridge fire

Postby b&m617 » Mon Feb 14, 2005 6:39 pm

A friend of mine found the old fire watchmans log book in one of the abandoned buildings; there were fires on that bridge all the time.

I gave my slide show on the bridge to the O&W society a few years ago; one of the LNE guys had inspected the bridge himself and showed me where most of the structural damage was; stand on Water st in POK and look straight up at the bridge and you will see the twisted beams.

Indeed the master plan of 1975 told a fable of a repaired bridge, upgraded track on the maybrook line with signals, and a system that included the Erie lack-of-money and Providence and Worchester,but it never flew. I have all of the newspapper clippings from the day of the fire; the plan was to fix the bridge, (think the estimate waas $550,000), but it never happened. After the establishment of Conrape, not much time was wasted in getting the bridge so it couldn't be fixed, and track removed on both sides quickly.

Looks like the old girl was doomed either way.

Fire away!!! Good discussion!!

Work safe

Derail :P
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Postby Maybrook fan » Tue Feb 15, 2005 11:32 am

B&M617 - You seem to be up to snuff on the bridge. Do you have any more of the details on the sale???

I was just a kid at the time. My intrest's were more on the trains themselves. Not the paper work behind it all. I pretty much gave all I know in my prior post. But I'm sure there is more to be told.

And I'm willing to hear anything anyone has to offer on this subject.
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Pok bridge fire

Postby b&m617 » Tue Feb 15, 2005 3:24 pm

Here's some of what in know about the sale:

Conrape was looking to get rid of the Pok RR bridge in the worst way after the fire; they had to foot the bill for stripping the debris off the bridge from the fire. The city of Poughkeepsie had to haul CR into court just to get them to remove the debris; spikes, tie plates and other junk falling off the bridge into peoples yards, thru car windshields, etc. They removed the track from washington st to the shoreline on the pok side. Done deal, no more trains ever. Think the timeframe was early 80's.

Then CR had some novel ideas about demolition. They brought up a guy from texas who wanted to blast the bridge and drop it into the river, then cut it up. fancy video, the whole works. Needless to say, the Coast Guard wasn't amused and ran this guy out of town.

A group of concerned citizens formed a "save the bridge" comittee. Some of these folks were pretty prominent people in the local area. Taxes had'nt been paid and were piling up. So, One local architect paid up the taxes for the middle section of the bridge; he wanted to build a shopping mall on the bridge.

Enter a mysterious man named (unnamed). He claimed to represent an even more mysterious group called Railway management associates. Phone number he left was a taxi stand in St. davids, Pa. Word was that this group bought the bridge from CR for a dollar. All CR wanted was proof that the group had insurance on the bridge. You could write an insurance policy on a cocktail napkin and they would accept it; heck, this white elephant is out of their hands. I'm sure there was more to the transaction than one dollar!

So, the save the bridge group wants to meet with the new owner. Then they do some digging and find out that John Doe has done 18 months in the slammer for embezzlement. Quickly the save the bridge committe does an about face and disbands.

The motive of the owners is hard to figure. at this point, the High tension wires from Central Hudson gas and electric are still on the bridge; Central Hudson saw the shenanigans and decided it would be in their best interest to remove the wires and submerge them under the River. In the year that the new owners owned the bridge before the wires were removed, CH paid the new owners $24,000 a month to have the line on the bridge. Take the money and run u say??? That would be the logical conclusion, but they never cashed the checks!!!

Bridge quietly changed hands again in the 90's to a another man who remain un named. The "walkway over the hudson" group who took the bridge while it was not theirs, finally got possesion of the bridge. Unsure if the taxes ever got paid. lawsuits up the wazoo, some of which have been lifted under a new management regime. IMHO, you will see fur growing on trout before you see this walkway go; there isn't enough money in the world to make this happen. The last regime didn't give a hoot about history and railroading; as much as a futile effort the walkway is, I hope the new group has a respect for this magnificent structure.

Hope this helps...any more info, fire away!!

work safe

Derail
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Postby JBlaisdell » Thu Nov 10, 2005 8:52 pm

When PC was forced to absorb the NH, they were also forced to route traffic from southern New England at a certain level (half of it?) over the bridge for the benefit of the EL. PC had its own line to Chicago and hated short-hauling freight out of New England to Maybrook but was legally bound to- until the bridge was severed. It was then able to keep it on its own rails and keep more of the revenue generated.

I was at a public meeting (1984?) that discussed the bridge's condition and what to do with it. Basically, the bridge needed only minor repair to bring it up to an E70 (70,000lbs per axle, I think) and was good for E50 as it then stood. The REAL expense was in the need to repaint.

Central Hudson did have lines over the bridge, and paid Conrail rent. When the crook from Pennsylvania "bought" the bridge, he jacked up the rent and the utility made plans to bury the cable under the river (which they did do).
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