Why Dewitt?

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Why Dewitt?

Postby GulfRail » Thu Jun 16, 2016 2:28 am

I've always been curious why the New York Central placed a major yard in Syracuse. Rochester or Albany seem like better locations for a large railroad yard than Syracuse because a) population-wise, Rochester was (and is) substantially larger than Syracuse and b) Albany is the crossroads between the Boston & Albany, New York Central and West Shore lines. Granted, Dewitt was eventually downgraded in favor of Selkirk, but why did the Central build Dewitt in the first place?
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby BR&P » Thu Jun 16, 2016 12:44 pm

I suspect at least part of the answer lies in the long ago, back when rail was the major mode of moving freight and Utica, Syracuse and Rochester ALL had big yards. As velocity increased, longer and faster trains made things more efficient, Syracuse was ballpark halfway between Selkirk (which "had to" be kept) and Buffalo - obviously also an absolute necessity. Keeping Rochester instead would have made a very long move from Selkirk and a needlessly short one on to Buffalo. Syracuse benefited from its location of more or less halfway.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby shlustig » Thu Jun 16, 2016 1:15 pm

IIRC, Dewitt considerably pre-dated the opening of Selkirk which was constructed to replace the conglomeration of yards at West Albany (Hudson & Mohawk Divs.), Ravena (River Div., NYWS&B), and Rensselaer (B&A) and the climb out of the Hudson River Valley on the West Albany and Rensselaer Grades.

The new railroad from Stuyvesant on the Hudson Div. to Feura Bush on the West Shore was the Hudson River Connecting RR. was constructed in the early 1920's and included the high-level crossing of the river valley.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby GulfRail » Fri Jun 17, 2016 1:00 am

BR&P wrote:I suspect at least part of the answer lies in the long ago, back when rail was the major mode of moving freight and Utica, Syracuse and Rochester ALL had big yards. As velocity increased, longer and faster trains made things more efficient, Syracuse was ballpark halfway between Selkirk (which "had to" be kept) and Buffalo - obviously also an absolute necessity. Keeping Rochester instead would have made a very long move from Selkirk and a needlessly short one on to Buffalo. Syracuse benefited from its location of more or less halfway.

That makes sense. While Rochester is a larger city than Syracuse, it's also very close to Buffalo and very far from Albany. Meanwhile, Syracuse is about halfway between Albany and Buffalo, which makes it an ideal location for a yard.

shlustig wrote:IIRC, Dewitt considerably pre-dated the opening of Selkirk which was constructed to replace the conglomeration of yards at West Albany (Hudson & Mohawk Divs.), Ravena (River Div., NYWS&B), and Rensselaer (B&A) and the climb out of the Hudson River Valley on the West Albany and Rensselaer Grades.

The new railroad from Stuyvesant on the Hudson Div. to Feura Bush on the West Shore was the Hudson River Connecting RR. was constructed in the early 1920's and included the high-level crossing of the river valley.

Correct. Selkirk opened in 1924 and replaced a number of smaller yards throughout the Hudson Valley. It was later modernized and christened the Alfred E. Perlman Yard by the Central. I believe Otto posted a Penn Central pamphlet that went into detail about the modernization of Selkirk.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby Noel Weaver » Sat Jun 18, 2016 12:41 pm

We also have to remember that way back when the New York Central was building yards there was much more local and close by business to Dewitt as well as the other points along the mainline. Dewitt made lots of sense back in the 1920's before the big improvements in the Albany area. I think a better question would bey why did Dewitt stay open as a hump yard for so long? Railroading thrives on moving freight and not having cars classified every 150 to 300 miles. Selkirk was and still is a top location for classifying cars. They come in from the west and south and get switched to trains going beyond in all directions as well as interchange to the Delaware and Hudson/CP/NS. Dewitt was not really downgraded until Conrail. It is a good location for an IM terminal which today is its most important function. Rochester does not justify and probably never did justify any sort of a major terminal, there is some local business but even back in the 1950's interchange freight could be better handled elsewhere, with the exception of the New York Central everything else in and close to Rochester was branch lines with limited facilities and limited service.
Mr. Crane was absolutely on the mark when he said we want cars moving on the mainline and not sitting around in a yard.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby shlustig » Sat Jun 18, 2016 1:35 pm

When I worked at Utica I was told by old-timers that when the HRCRR was proposed, the original intention was to expand Utica Yard and to have the B&A, Hudson, and River Division road crews work interdivisionally into Utica. The idea was that the construction costs for expansioon at Utica would be within reason as compared to new construction elsewhere. For a mixture of reasons including objections by Albany due to the potential loss of jobs and by the unions which were not in favor of the proposed interdivisional services, Selkirk ended up with the new facility.

It is important to remember how entrenched the organizations were in those days, not to mention the fact that the NYC was noted for short crew districts which in some cases accommodated the multiple divisions and seniority districts within each of the operating districts. There were actually some road passenger assignments outside of commuter territory that could work under short-turnaround passenger rules. Even into the 1950's there were passenger assignments between terminals at ROC and BUF (65 miles) while Mohawk Div. engine crews could break at Little Falls and Erie Div. crews broke at Erie between CLE and BUF.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby Noel Weaver » Sat Jun 18, 2016 3:16 pm

I still remember my 1962 rail trip to the west coast in the fall of 1962. I started out from New Haven on no.6 whoch was normally maybe a half dozen cars. This particular Saturday was the Yale Harvard game in Cambridge so the train hax many coaches and three FL-9's. I had a great ride from Boston to Chicago on the New England States and the conductor was a really nice person, he worked through from Boston to Buffalo and I thought that was a long run for anybody. He told me at that time the engine crews still changed out along the way. I don't remember if Springfield was a crew change or not. Great trip on the Central west but a couple of weeks later eaat on the Pennaylvani was a different story with grouchy crew's, dirty cars, lousy food and hours late
After that trip my opinion of the PRR went sour very fast.
More memories!!
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby ExCon90 » Sun Jun 19, 2016 2:15 pm

I rode No. 15 from New York to Buffalo about every other Sunday in the second half of 1961, and the conductors, who all worked through, were unfailingly polite and accommodating to all passengers--and those Budd coaches were great to ride in and robustly air-conditioned. It was about the same time that the PRR former Middle Division (Harrisburg-Altoona) had a reputation for grouchy and hostile conductors (from New York to Pittsburgh, crews changed at Harrisburg and Altoona).
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby GulfRail » Mon Jun 20, 2016 2:06 am

Noel Weaver wrote:Dewitt made lots of sense back in the 1920's before the big improvements in the Albany area. I think a better question would bey why did Dewitt stay open as a hump yard for so long? Railroading thrives on moving freight and not having cars classified every 150 to 300 miles. Selkirk was and still is a top location for classifying cars. They come in from the west and south and get switched to trains going beyond in all directions as well as interchange to the Delaware and Hudson/CP/NS. Dewitt was not really downgraded until Conrail. It is a good location for an IM terminal which today is its most important function.

Penn Central probably kept Dewitt open to try and keep Selkirk fluid. During its first few years of operations, Selkirk was a real operational headache for Penn Central and it probably made sense to keep Dewitt open if it meant preventing an operational snarl in Albany.

Noel Weaver wrote:We also have to remember that way back when the New York Central was building yards there was much more local and close by business to Dewitt as well as the other points along the mainline.

Noel Weaver wrote:Rochester does not justify and probably never did justify any sort of a major terminal, there is some local business but even back in the 1950's interchange freight could be better handled elsewhere, with the exception of the New York Central everything else in and close to Rochester was branch lines with limited facilities and limited service.

While I fully agree with you about Rochester's location not being ideal for a major yard (as BR&P said, it's too close to Buffalo and too far from Albany), I'm going to have to disagree with you on there being more local business in Syracuse than in Rochester. Back in its heyday, Rochester had a significantly larger industrial base than Syracuse (enclosed is a map from the Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, which was published circa. 1933). Rochester was home to five railroads, while Syracuse was only home to two. In both cities, however, the Central was the dominant carrier and the only one not to serve via. a branchline.

Image

Noel Weaver wrote:Mr. Crane was absolutely on the mark when he said we want cars moving on the mainline and not sitting around in a yard.

Those Southern boys were pretty good when it came to building hump yards. See Sheffield, Brosnan, DeButts, Norris, Spencer, etc.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby BR&P » Mon Jun 20, 2016 9:33 am

Almost any place you can name used to be so much busier than it is today. Rochester was no exception, and I think it may have actually had more local business than Dewitt. In 1967 Rochester was home to 24 regular jobs a day - plus extras, work trains, road reliefs, etc. Somewhere I have a list from an old-timer showing the Rochester jobs in 1943 and I believe it was about 70 crews a day.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby GulfRail » Mon Jun 20, 2016 3:16 pm

Really? Wow, that's impressive.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby The RR Authority » Sat Jun 25, 2016 12:49 pm

A big reason why Dewitt was built in the first place is interchange and classification. Railroads branch out in every direction from Syracuse and the cars came into Syracuse to be classified and made up into other trains. There were trains arriving and being made up for the branch to Canada, the old Chenango Valley line, the Auburn road, the main line, and there was also interchange back then between the NYC and the Lackawanna and West Shore railroads. And also back then many local industries to serve. There had to be a yard at Syracuse.
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby jbeckley68 » Fri Aug 19, 2016 8:48 am

Dewitt Yard (The first iteration) was built in 1872-1874 It was all in town of Dewitt and did not venture into town of Manlius..

1904 the yard was more than doubled. (stretching over 5 miles)

For may years, Dewitt was the largest single-system yard in the world. ( Russia claimed they had a single system yard larger during the 1920-30's)

Enola, etc claim they had title but if you look at car capacity, cars humped during many year period, Dewitt was king...

Trains magazine in the 40's showed this to be true. I recall Clearing Yard in Chicago (a many system yard) was number 1, Dewitt 2.. Enola was 3rd,4th?

When proviso, conway, etc were enlarged and Dewitt was left to stagnant, the memories of the once great yard faded away...
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Re: Why Dewitt?

Postby AgentSkelly » Sun Sep 04, 2016 3:30 am

I think I asked my grandfather this once who lets say spends too much time in history; his explanation was that the land was "given" away to one of the NYCRR predecessor railroads in 1871.
New Westminster to Amtrak 516, whats up with the extra 4 axles, over?
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