Category Archives: Railroads

The Little Village That Could

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Scotia, NYHoxsie is nothing but rail talk these days, and combine that with news about the old hometown and it’s not possible to skip this one.

What is now the Village of Scotia is actually one of the oldest places in the area, with Alexander Lindsay building a home there in 1658, three years before Schenectady was established. But as a governmental entity, it didn’t seek incorporation until the early years of the 20th century, when it chose to become a separate entity from the Town of Glenville. That would seem simple, but it got hung up in a battle with the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, which opposed the creation of the village.

In 1902, the Albany Evening Journal reported that the New York Central had secured an injunction restraining the residents of Scotia from proceeding with incorporation of the village. In 1901 there had been a special election and proposition for incorporation. “At that time an action was brought by Messrs. Maynard and Collins, taxpayers of Scotia, to have the election set aside on the grounds that the town clerk at the time he issued the call for the election was not a resident.” That action failed, and failed again, and it looked like incorporation could move forward, until the New York Central brought opposition “on the grounds that, in defining the corporation limits, the railroad was unfairly treated and a larger share of the company’s property was included for the purpose of taxation than was necessary and just.” In other words, some of the NYC tracks had been gerrymandered in to the village. Given that the village’s northern boundary was proposed to extend just far enough to include the tracks, the railroad may have had a point.

That fight went on into 1904. A 1954 Schenectady Gazette article on the village’s 50th anniversary said that then “the railroad grew tired of its fight against the persistent efforts of the villagers, and the injunction was vacated when the railroad counsel ‘took a vacation.’ The village elected Dr. Herman Vedder Mynderse, whose home is now Lake Hill House, as its first president.”

 

 

Not A Good Time To Be Named “Union Station”

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Schenectady Union Station Demolition 1971

From a photograph by John Papp held by the Schenectady Public Library, the demolition of Schenectady’s Union Station in 1971.

While there was a great hue and cry over the loss of Albany’s Union Station, the demise and demolition of Schenectady’s Union Station, happening at the same time for the same reasons, seems to have been met with more of a sense of resignation.

On the eve of the old station’s closure, on Friday, June 27, 1969, The Schenectady Gazette published an editorial simply titled “The Depot.”

“A significant event in the history of American railroading will take place at midnight Saturday. The Schenectady railroad station will close . . . It’s especially noteworthy because one of the first railroads in America (in this area we like to say it was the first) was constructed between Albany and Schenectady. The Schenectady depot bears the initials, “N.Y.C. & H.R.R.R.” for New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. When you look at the crumbling station you are reminded of the days when freight trains and passenger trains were coming and going night and day through Schenectady . . .

It is understandable that Penn Central wanted to close the Schenectady depot, for, like most railroad stations built half a century or more ago, it is a large mausoleum which no doubt impressed everybody when it was constructed but which is thoroughly impractical for this day and age, costing a mint of money to heat and to keep in satisfactory repair (which is thy there are not many people who want to buy it to make use of it as it stands).

With only a few customers, an old railroad station is like a gourd with a few seeds rattling around in it. The new station in Colonie is bitterly resented by some people, partly because it’s “out in the country” and because, as traditional railroad stations go, it’s very small. Yet, sad to say, it is probably large enough for the number of customers the railroad will have at least in the near future.”

On the same day, the paper reported that the real estate division of the Penn Central was negotiating for the sale of the station, “in keeping with the promise made to city officials two years ago at a Public Service Commission hearing.” It appeared that their big idea was to “convert the building into an opera house.” In March of that year, it had been reported that the Schenectady Light Opera Company had been negotiating for purchase of the 1908 facility, at an undisclosed price. From the Amsterdam Daily Democrat and Recorder:

“According to Light Opera Co. officials, the railroad station has great potential for development into a community theater seating about 500. An estimated cost of the necessary renovations has been set at $183,000. If the property is acquired a fund-raising campaign will be launched to pay for the building and renovations. According to Don Bush, chairman of the group’s committee to obtain a permanent home, ‘this is the best opportunity to come along in the 15 years of the group.’ The opera company is presently limited to two shows each year. With their own building, four or five shows each year would be permissible.”

Well, that didn’t happen, which may be one reason Schenectady Light Opera Company is still around today.

Whatever other talks were had about the future of Union Station came to nothing, and it was soon decided that it would be demolished. A February 13, 1971 article by the Gazette’s Larry Hart detailed its impending demolition.

“When it was opened to the public 63 years ago this month, given a community welcome with a formal dance held in the great hall, everyone was impressed with the grandeur of the interior – the great vaulted ceiling, curved mahogany benches, gleaming marble facing on all walls and the long line of ticket windows. This was Schenectady’s third station (not counting the western terminal on upper Crane Street, built for the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad about 1835) and was built and finished in 1908 in coordination with raised tracks throughout the city.”

Schenectady Union Station 1971With the demolition of the station, parts of the railroad bridges over State and Liberty Streets, and most of the buildings on Wall Street, all that would be left would be an 180-car public parking lot. Other than a little bit that was turned into the “new” Schenectady Station in 1979, the bulk of the space remains a parking lot.

What to do with Union Station?

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Of course, as soon as Penn Central was allowed/required to abandon Albany’s Union Station, there had to be plans, debates, and schemes about what to do with the venerable, but run-down, facility. Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, it had opened in 1900 but had seen better days by the time it closed in 1969. A column in the Times-Union early that year lamented the potential loss. “In Albany, where besides City Hall we have Hooker’s old Academy and not much else that rises beyond the second-rate, Union Station must count as important architecture.” Ouch.  The writer went on:

“The easiest solution to the problem of an abandoned depot is to tear it down. But it would be really great to find a use for it. My girl guide thinks that it would make a superb market, an Albanian equivalent to Les Halles of European cities. Or a department store. And she sees Broadway coming to life as a main shopping street. Maybe. It is, anyway, a great deal more appealing to one’s sense of architectural conservation than the usual experience of worse buildings replacing better or their being flattened into highways as will soon happen to those charming conceits of Marcus T. Reynold’s [sic], the Pruyn Library and the little bank at the northwest corner of Broadway and Columbia, together with a number of good, old houses.”

Markets and shopping had been raised as potentials before, even 10 years before when the idea of closing the station was first raised. But downtowns were in serious retrenchment in 1969; stores were moving out, not in. And, of course, an aquarium was proposed. Aquariums are always proposed. Mayor Corning said that the State University was interested in turning the station into a marine biology facility and aquarium, and indeed they appear to have investigated it for a time, looking to the state-built aquarium in Niagara Falls as an example. But no.

In 1969, State Sen. Albert B. Lewis  of Brooklyn suggested that the Cultural Education Center (then just being called the Cultural Center) be housed in the old station, apparently rather than as part of the South Mall. But the idea got “the cold shoulder” from Mayor Corning, who said he saw no relationship between the size of the station and the much larger proposed cultural center. He noted it was about one-tenth the size of the State Education Department and one-fiftieth the size of the cultural center. Sen. Lewis’s motivation was likely savings, as he argued that using the station would save $36 million in construction, at a time when bids had come in $30 million over the estimates. Of course, it went nowhere.

The State of New York (specifically, DOT) actually ended up owning Union Station, part of its purchase of holdings of Penn Central in order to build the Riverfront Arterial now known as Interstate 787. In 1971 (and probably other times, too), the State put the station up for sale, in this case asking $320,000, but there were no takers. The Commissioner of General Services Almerin C. O’Hara said he thought the structure should be demolished. “In my opinion, the state can no longer afford to maintain the building. It would be difficult to rehabilitate. So as far as I’m concerned, if we can get the money, we’re going to demolish it.” Either they never got the money or someone at a higher level nixed that idea, because the station remained, unpurchased and unloved, apparently until its rehabilitation was announced in 1984, and completed in 1986, to house Norstar Bank’s headquarters.

Now Is The Rail Station of Our Discontent

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We outlined how the original thought to move Albany’s railroad station to Rensselaer turned into a part of the overall plan to run the interstate along the river. Since the train station moved, the complaining about it has rarely stopped. Even now that the new facility is considerably better appointed than the old box of a station, there are endless complaints about the location, the poor public transit support, and taxi service that would have to improve significantly to reach horrible.

Well, that was the case right from the start. In January 1969, a writer for the Knickerbocker News started out with:

“Figure on adding $1.25 cab fare, plus tip, to your travel expenses if you’re taking a train to ‘Albany.’ Or, if you’re willing to carry your luggage a block from the door of Penn Central’s new ‘Albany’ passenger station in Rensselaer to the bus stop, you can get to The Plaza in Albany for only a quarter. The extras are the price the passenger pays for the railroad’s decision to shut down the old Union Station on Broadway and move the Albany station over the river.”

She granted that if someone were picking up a passenger, they’d have no problem finding parking (with about 80 spots then available, and 70 more expected). Pine Hills cabs would meet trains at the station, and could be called by direct telephone. “If you prefer, you can use a pay telephone to call another cab company.”

The United Traction Company buses (pre-CDTA) served the new station every 20 minutes, except from 1 am to 5 am, when they were hourly. Yes, our buses used to run overnight. From Albany, you’d catch the Rensselaer-Third Street bus at Hudson Avenue and Broadway – well, there’s something that hasn’t changed. That the bus didn’t really pull into the station also hasn’t changed, so we’re going on 50 years of dumb. The writer noted that the train ticket from Schenectady to Albany, now Rensselaer, cost 83 cents. The cab ride from Rensselaer to State and Pearl would run you $1.25.

But Rensselaer, and Penn Central, and passenger rail in general, did have supporters. One of them was Charles Mann Sr. of Rensselaer, part of a railroading family whose son Ernie literally wrote the book on the Railroads in Rensselaer. In a February 1969 edition of the Knick News, Mr. Mann took exception to a recent article that had focused on the shortcomings of the Penn Central in a recent snowstorm.

“As a long time reader of the Knickerbocker News and as a retired railroader, I will be the first one to admit that the passenger service furnished by the railroads at the present time may be subjected to criticism, but may I ask why the passengers on the train described by Mr. Waters [the writer] went to the railroad for transportation at the time mentioned. Why did they not go by air, bus or by private auto as they have been going for a long time?

The reason they did not go by plane or bus at the time was that there was no air or bus service available on account of severe weather conditions.”

He went on to note that the railroads faced the same weather conditions as airlines and bus lines, but that the railroads functioned more or less on scheduled and arrived at their destinations.

“There were several pictures of stranded travelers at airports, automobiles stranded at locations on the highways across the state going no place due to weather conditions, but there was no severe criticism made about the air lines or bus lines as there was made about the railroads.”

Mr. Mann then, quite rightly, said that the paper seemed to have taken a dislike to the Penn Central since it moved its station, noting that most editions of the paper contained some slam against the station’s location, parking facilities, or the fares to get there.

“As for parking space, where could you find a place to park your car near the Union Station in Albany?” Oh, snap (as the kids say).

“Also, may I remind you that for as many years as I can remember (and I can remember a good many) the people of Rensselaer had to pay the same bus and taxi fares to get to the Albany station.

When conditions favor air and bus line operation no one ever thinks of taking a train for transportation so why should the railroads be forced to maintain 1st class, on schedule service (which they do at a loss) when all other means of transportation has ceased to function … With the present amount of passengers using the railroads you should not expect to have a Grand Central in Rensselaer or Albany.”

Then, and quite rightly, Mr. Mann dropped the mic with this closer:

“it seems to me that the public deserted the railroads before the railroads deserted the public.”

Yep.

New York Central: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

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Union station broadway albany ny early 1900s

The New York Central’s Union Station in Albany, from the Albany…The Way It Was archives on Flickr, at https://flic.kr/p/kDwsk5

Okay, admittedly, our headline from yesterday was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, the Penn Central Railroad didn’t ruin everything, although it didn’t help many things either. But a commenter noted that they were really just finishing the work the New York Central had started, in the face of the fairly catastrophic decline in both freight and passenger rail service. And while it was convenient that New York State wanted to eliminate tracks and the Maiden Lane Bridge in order to build I-787, that only became a factor in the later ‘60s when the plan for the Riverfront Arterial was final. But it’s true, the situation was all set up nearly 10 years before it happened.

In 1959, the New York Central first proposed moving its passenger station to Rensselaer, and the City of Albany of course immediately opposed it. That caused the railroad, led by President Alfred Perlman, to complain that the city and its business interests had failed to respond to the railroad’s proposals for redevelopment of its riverfront property, including the then-59-year-old Union Station. The railroad argued that economic necessity and a program to streamline operations forced the move, that the Rensselaer station would be more convenient for Albany residents, and that “abandonment of many of its Albany properties will give the city an opportunity to spruce up a rundown section.” Perlman said they would lend their industrial development experts (presumably not the ones who had caused the railroad to be so rundown) to advance a broad urban redevelopment project for the area, which would cover land from Union Station to the river, and north toward the Livingston Avenue Bridge. He even hung out the idea of combining it with a “Title 1” project, a federally aided slum clearance and urban renewal project – the feds would pay two-thirds the cost of acquiring and clearing the area in order to sell it to private interests for redevelopment. But he also said there had been three offers to buy the station from “out-of-town interests” considering the building for office and store use. He also said the Maiden Lane bridge could be converted to vehicular traffic to relieve the burden on the Dunn Memorial.

So here are the detailed reasons they gave in the Knickerbocker News:

Top New York Central Railroad officials say they have to move their Albany passenger station to Rensselaer to meet the economic demands of modern railroading and that no lowering of local taxes could persuade them to change their plans.
These reasons for the move – and reasons why they say they could not locate a new station elsewhere – were outlined by the Central’s president, Alfred E. Perlman; vice president, John F. Nash, and eastern district general manager, Robert D. Timpany:
1 – Union Station is “old, obsolete and too big” and expensive for these days of declining passenger business. The train control system in the station area is obsolete.
2 – A change to a “small, functional station in Rensselaer with just a waiting room and ticket office” would save the railroad $1 million a year.
3 – Taxes are a minor part of the picture. The Central pays the city $59,000 a year on Union Station, Mr. Perlman said, while it expects to save $1 million a year on the move to Rensselaer.
4 – A Rensselaer station, with easier access through traffic and more parking space would be “more convenient” to Albany residents.
5 – The cutback in railroad jobs that would result from the move would not be large.

That Rensselaer would work, and no other location would, was said to be because the railroad already had coach yards, diesel and repair facilities there, and “all we need is a small station building.” A plan for a station in Colonie would run up to $5 million. Perlman got in a little dig at the city, too, saying the $59,000 the railroad paid in taxes “makes up the city’s operating deficit of $57,000 on its airport.” Then, stretching his point and credulity, he argued that the Rensselaer station was really only three city blocks away (assuming you paved over the Hudson). He also said that the move would not discourage rail travel but increase it – that part was even plausible, since parking in Albany was a problem even then.

Mayor Corning, in the same edition of the Knick, said, “Stripping this matter to the bare essentials, all that the New York Central has done is say that it wants to move the railroad station from Albany to Rensselaer. The administration of the City of Albany is opposed to this move, and expects to oppose it before appropriate regulatory bodies. Accordingly, the suggestion of the New York Central – and it is only a suggestion – and any other suggestions for this area are, I believe, premature.”

In 1958 there were already plans to run a new highway along the riverfront. It’s worth noting that just a few years later, in 1962, there were plans and even contracts to build what was called the Riverfront Arterial, which would run from Livingston Avenue to the Yacht Club (and someday south to the Dunn Memorial and north to the Troy-Menands Bridge), filling in the Yacht Club basin to provide parking for 1,000 cars. More on that in the future, but let’s note that the 1962 plan did not call for scrapping any railroad tracks.

How Penn Central Ruined Everything, Railwise

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Those who remember Albany’s Union Station as a glorious destination in the ’50s and ’60s most likely benefit from the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. A 1969 column in the Knickerbocker News acknowledged that “In its dying days, Albany’s Union Station was an odiferous and dingy cavern, but still, if you looked hard, you could see traces of the station’s earlier grandeur.” If you grew up later than the ’70s, you may not be able to understand just how dingy cities were back then – between coal ash, diesel fumes, and the horrendous exhaust that came out of each and every automobile, every structure was covered in soot. Likely the exterior of Union Station had never been cleaned, and by some accounts the same could be said of the inside.

Hoxsie hesitates to even bring this up because it excites passions even today, nearly 50 years after passenger railroads left Albany proper. But it’s worth looking at what caused Union Stations in Albany and Schenectady to be left behind, two “modern” new stations to be built in Rensselaer and Colonie, and the general collapse of passenger rail at about the same time.

For starters, understand that in the 1960s, passenger rail was deeply unprofitable, under assault from air travel, private automobiles, and truck freight on superhighways. The Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central had discussed merging as early as 1957, when things weren’t quite so dire. The Pennsylvania started focusing more on real estate deals than on railroading, resulting in the destruction of its landmark Penn Station in New York City. When merger talks began again, they were said to be more about creating more borrowing power for financing other ventures than about consolidating an efficient business. The merger was federally approved in 1965, but took until early 1968 before the US Supreme Court finally allowed it. The merger apparently was never well-planned; the condition that all existing workers continue in employment ensured no efficiency would be gained, and a struggling economy, growing inflation and bad management of the freight business alienated customers. By 1970, the company would be bankrupt, and its collapse would lead to the federal creation of Conrail and Amtrak.

As early as 1960, there were plans to run an interstate highway along the Hudson River around Albany. Planned routes varied, but they kept coming back to plans that would eliminate most of the rail along the river. This would be difficult to do so long as the main rail crossing was the Maiden Lane Bridge – the highway would have to go over or under the tracks that connected the bridge to Union Station, causing some definite planning difficulties and leading state transportation officials to favor a plan that would simply eliminate that bridge.

As we have noted before, the Rensselaer side of the river had a long history of passenger travel, though it could not really be said that it had anything approximating a station in 1968. Albany was home not only to the New York Central / Penn Central passenger line, but also to the Delaware and Hudson line that ran through Watervliet and Mechanicville to Montreal. With the loss of the Maiden Lane bridge, both railroads had the excuse and reason to get out of an outdated, expensive-to-maintain station facility at Albany; the Schenectady station would also be closed. But, if the Maiden Lane Bridge had to go, trains still had to be able to cross the river, meaning the Livingston Avenue Bridge, which had been locked open for a period of years, would be brought back into service. Being single track, this would become a choke point on the system, but at least trains could cross.

Colonie Station proposal 1967In 1967, the PSC approved a Penn Central proposal to replace the Albany and Schenectady rail palaces with “modern” new stations at Rensselaer, off East Street, and on Karner Road. Look at the accompanying drawing from 1967 and take a guess if that was ever built. Plans were submitted in February 1968 for a Colonie station, the Karner Road Depot, which would consist of a 30 by 50 foot building with a 960 foot platform, and a parking lot 100 by 250 feet. Rensselaer, originally designated as a passenger stop (way different from a station in railroad terms) would have a 65 by 170 foot building and a parking lot 230 by 350 feet. For the D&H, loss of the Maiden Lane bridge forced the Montreal line to bypass the Watervliet and Mechanicville stations, which at that time averaged two passengers per day, and go instead through Schenectady and up to Saratoga Springs. In September 1968, the PSC allowed the D&H to move across the river as well.

Maiden Lane Pedestrian bridge

It was a good thing they did . . . in the same newspaper that this was announced, there was a photograph of the dismantling of the pedestrian footbridge that was part of the Maiden Lane Bridge. The cutline read, “If grandmother’s house lies over the river you’ll have to use a new route – other than Maiden Lane Bridge from Albany to Rensselaer – to get there on foot. The 1880-vintage footbridge is being dismantled. But pedestrian facilities will be added to the new South Mall Arterial Bridge.” (That’s now the Dunn Memorial Bridge, and while it is possible to cross it on foot, to call the crossing in any way a facility is to stretch the point.)

The Rensselaer station opened sometime in 1968, a box next to a grocery store that served as the region’s rail station until 2002. That Knick News columnist who in early 1969 called Union Station “odiferous” also said that

“In contrast, the Penn Central’s new Albany-Rensselaer station in Rensselaer is – with all due respect to our neighboring city – a rude comedown and a ride to the new station is a dispiriting experience. Situated at the northern edge of Rensselaer, the station is reached after a bumpy ride over narrow streets. It looks more like a small-town depot for short-haul buses than a railroad station and is tucked away in a shallow ravine as if the Penn Central were ashamed at what it had done, as well it might be. Let us hope that the railroad’s new Albany-Schenectady regional station on Karner Road in Colonie has more class.”

Well, one could hope.

On June 27, 1969, on the eve of the opening of the Colonie station, the Schenectady Gazette ran an editorial lamenting but understanding the march of time.

“When you look at the crumbling station you are reminded of the days when freight trains and passenger trains were coming and going night and day through Schenectady … It is understandable that Penn Central wanted to close the Schenectady depot, for, like most railroad stations built half a century or more ago, it is a large mausoleum which no doubt impressed everybody when it was constructed but which is thoroughly impractical for this day and age, costing a mint of money to heat and to keep in satisfactory repair (which is why there are not many people who want to buy it to make use of it as it stands).”

The Schenectady station would close at midnight the next night.

Colonie Station Knick News 1-31-69When the Karner Road station opened on Sunday, June 29, 1969, it was described as being equipped with a waiting room that measured 56 feet by 30 feet, capable of seating 48 people. The parking lot was paved (!), protected by guard rails, and would hold 50 cars. All five east and west trains would stop there. If you’re trying to figure out just where it was located (and we’re told the building is still there), the directions were to proceed to New Karner Road via Routes 5 and 20, turn west onto New Karner Road, follow that to Albany Street, take a left onto Albany Street and travel two blocks where the station is located on the left. There would be no café, but vending machines were promised.

A 1969 overview of the fate of Empire Service (which still exists, though not with the frequency it enjoyed half a century ago) in the Times-Union noted that

“The populace took to the super-highways in their super cars and to the airlines in the super airplanes. They abandoned the railroads. They abandoned the trains going in and out of Union Station. In Albany, a super-highway under construction for the state’s super-quarters known as the South Mall had to go over a portion of the railroad tracks. The state bought the area, including Union Station, for $5 million. The station would be of no use to the railroad with part of its tracks gone, and it was closed. The fate of the fine old building is yet to be decided. It is now in the process of being transferred from the Department of Transportation to the Office of General Services, custodian of surplus state property.”

This was at a time when there were state hearings at the Public Service Commission, which then regulated railroads, into the standards of service provided by Penn Central. The PSC had sued the railroad for failing to adequately maintain its passenger locomotives; union engineers brought charges of neglect and deterioration. Albany wasn’t the only place that was concerned, at a time when it had lost its train station, and the promised new one in Colonie hadn’t yet opened; New York City considered the Empire Service, with its connection to the seat of government and beyond, as critical.

Soon came the interesting revelation that of the two “modern” stations – assuming “modern” means nondescript huts with plastic seats in the waiting area – Penn Central had paid only for one, the one in Rensselaer. The Karner Road station, which ran to $150,000 in 1969 money, was paid for by the State Department of Transportation, apparently very quietly. A Penn Central attorney confirmed that the facility was built by the state (but owned and operated by the railroad), and said the railroad “was not about to design a ‘Taj Mahal’ when the state was footing the bill.” Nor when Penn was footing the bill, it’d be fair to say.

When a “temporary” station reopened in Schenectady, pretty much at the site of the old Union Station, the Colonie station was closed, Sept. 9, 1979. It appears to still survive as a construction storage shed.

Thanks to several folks who have made helpful suggestions on improvements to this article. The earlier version used Penn Central to refer to both the pre- and post-merger railroad, but in fact it was the Pennsylvania Railroad prior to the merger. There are other examples. Also noted: the New York Central wanted out of Albany nearly 10 years earlier. More on that here.

Death by Railroad, 1858

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Accidents on NYS Railroads 1858From the 1858 New York State Engineer and Surveyor’s report on the many railroads operating in the state, we find this interesting tabulation of the human cost of running the rails in that year.

The number of passengers killed for the year was 20; 142 were injured. Railroad employees: 29 killed, 24 injured. Others (presumably those within some proximity of the tracks at the wrong time): 68 killed, 36 injured.

Pretty dry statistics, but have no fear: State Engineer Van Rensselaer Richmond found a way to put that passenger mortality statistic into perspective:

Dividing 373,159,179, the mileage of passengers, by 20, the number of passengers killed, we find that only one passenger was killed for 18,657,959 miles of travel. To travel this distance it would require more than 106 years, moving incessantly at the rate of 20 miles per hour.

So there you have it. As the human lifespan is considerably less than 106 years, and on average we travel at much less than 20 miles per hour (and certainly not incessantly), there’s actually no chance we will ever die by rail. Or, if by chance you were to take that trip, you’d simply need to get off a mile short of 18,657,959 and you’d be fine.

The Albany & Hudson & Kinderhook & Greenbush Railway Gas Electric Bridge Company

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Albany & Hudson Railroad #22 at Electric Park Station, Kinderhook, New York. From the Joseph A. Smith railroad photos collection (http://www.nyysa.com/code/Collection.php).

Remember when street railways also owned hydropower dams and provided electricity and gas service? Yeah, we never heard of that before, either. But turns out it happened, at least with one local streetcar company.

To get to the formation of the Albany and Hudson Railway and Power Company, which was incorporated in 1899 under the general Railroad Law, one has to do a railroad and electric company version of begats. First, the Citizens’ Electric Light and Power Company of Hudson and the Kinderhook Power and Light Company were merged into the Hudson Light and Power Company. Then, Hudson Light and Power was merged with the Hudson Street Railway Company, forming the Hudson Light & Power & Railroad Company, which was a real boon for local ampersand manufacturers. The Kinderhook and Hudson Railway was then merged into it, and then the HL&P&R and the Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway were merged into the Albany and Hudson. All this took place over the course of a few months in 1899.

So this conglomerate came with a number of assets as well as good intentions. The Greenbush and Nassau Electric Railway had been chartered in 1897 to create a railway from Rensselaer to Niverville, but prior to the merger “a comparatively small amount of work had been done in the way of acquiring rights of way and grading the roadbed for an overhead trolley road.” They changed their plans to using a third rail in order to connect with the former Kinderhook and Hudson Railway, and had contracted to enter Albany and connect with its United Traction Company. “With the exception of the final work on the viaduct over the tracks of the New York Central and Hudson River and the Boston and Albany Railroads, near the city of Rensselaer, the entire road is now substantially completed. It is intended to run through cars from the connection with the United Traction Company, in the city of Albany, to the city of Hudson, operating by the overhead trolley in cities and with the third rail in other places.” Interestingly, the Albany and Hudson got a fair amount of its revenue (nearly half, in 1900) from sale of gas, electric light and power. The company’s directors and officers were all from New York City, and the company’s headquarters was 100 Broadway in the Big Apple. “In addition to its railroad properties the Albany and Hudson Railroad Company owns all the lighting plants, both gas and electric, in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer, and also furnishes electric light and power to the villages of Kinderhook, Stuyvesant Falls, Nassau, East Greenbush, Niverville and Valatie.” But even that didn’t last long – the company went into receivership in 1902 and was acquired by the newly formed Albany and Hudson Railroad, not Railway, in early 1903, which was run by a different set of NYC people, also at 100 Broadway.

The Albany and Hudson Railroad Company continued for a few years; then, in 1909, it was reorganized again into the Albany Southern Railroad, which bought the Albany & Greenbush Bridge Co. That was the company that owned the Greenbush Bridge, which we’ve talked about before. It also supplied gas and electricity in the cities of Hudson and Rensselaer and electricity in Kinderhook, Nassau, Niverville, Schodack, Stuyvesant, North Chatham, Valatie and other communities along the east side of the Hudson River from Troy south to Hudson. They also supplied electricity to the Chatham Electric Light, Heat & Power Co., and the Wynantskill Hydro Electric Company. The electricity came from a hydro and steam plant at Stuyvesant Falls (4,000 kW in steam turbines, 3450 kW from water wheels). In 1921, the company produced 18.1 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, and 72,183,000 cubic feet of gas; they had 7,386 customers at the end of 1921.

They ran an interurban third-rail electric line from Albany to Hudson, 38 miles, as well as local lines in Hudson. They also moved freight and express in concert with the steam railroads, connecting with the New York Central at Rensselaer and Hudson and with the Boston and Albany at Niverville and Hudson.

We don’t see what they paid for the Greenbush bridge, but in 1919 it was finally sold to the State of New York for $890,000, which was dedicated to improvements in company property. By then the company had offices in Rensselaer, and was still involved in electrical generation and distribution.

A Chatham Courier article says that the Albany Southern ceased operations in 1929. We’re not sure how long the trolleys ran from the Rensselaer side into Albany. But the merging apparently wasn’t done. A Knickerbocker News article from 1957 said the Albany Southern Railroad, Gas & Electric Company merged with the Eastern New York Utilities Company of Rensselaer, “which in turn, joined with the Municipal Gas Company, Albany; Troy Gas Company, Cohoes Light & Power, Adirondack Power & Light Corporation, Schenectady, and the Montgomery Light & Power Corporation, Canajoharie, into the New York Power & Light Corporation. (That, of course, eventually was merged into Niagara Mohawk.)

According to a Knick News article from 1948, even after it became Eastern New York Utilities, “everyone continued calling it the Albany Southern.” That article said that New York Power and Light bought the Albany Southern’s rights of way in 1929, taking over the power and light business but abandoning transportation. “Shortly before the trolley cars stopped running the United Transportation Company opened its bus service from Albany to Hudson and some shorter runs.”

Of course, it’s well-known that the Albany Southern was also responsible for Electric Park at Kinderhook Lake, one of several amusement parks operated by trolley car systems in the area. The Knick News article said that since 1919 it has just been a campsite.

Railroads on both sides of the river

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NY Central Rail Depot Albany 1876

Location of the New York Central Rail Depot in Albany in 1876

Amtrak knows you have choices in rail travel and appreciates … oh, wait, no you don’t. If you want to travel by rail in this country in 2015, other than commuter rail, you’ve got precisely one option. In 1863 Albany, things were very different.

Remember that the Livingston Avenue Bridge, the first bridge across the Hudson at Albany, didn’t open until 1866. Before that, travelers had to get to one side of the river or the other, by ferry, to get to the railroad of their choice. (Alternatively, they could ride up to Troy and cross the river there.) But choices there were. Some of these specialized in freight, of course.

One thing worth noting, though – in certain circles there is frequent carping that the train station should never have left Albany and been moved to Rensselaer. The reality is that trains were leaving from Rensselaer, in far greater numbers than they left from Albany, long before the fondly remembered Union Station was even built.

On the Albany side, the rail options were:
Albany and Susquehanna Railroad Nearly complete in 1863, it ran from Albany to Binghamton. The office was at 73 State Street. Ezra Prentice was the President; today his name is mostly remembered with a Albany Housing Authority complex on the south end, but he held a number of political posts in the 19th century, including President of the New York State Agricultural Society. Would you like to read some poems written about the Albany and Susquehanna? Of course you would. It was absorbed into the Delaware and Hudson in 1945.

Albany and Vermont Railroad The Albany and Vermont was a successor to the Albany, Vermont, and Canada, which was a successor to The Albany Northern Railroad Company. Its board included Erastus Corning and Lansing Pruyn. It ran from Albany through Cohoes to Waterford and then to Eagle Bridge in Washington County. It’s not clear that it ever actually reached the Green Mountain State; an 1880 article on its sale to interests in Troy noted that it ended at Eagle Bridge. It was leased and actually operated by the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad company, and trains left from the New York Central depot which, as noted on the map, was on Montgomery Street, east of Broadway, just north of Maiden Lane. (Montgomery Street still exists, but only as alleys/sidewalks behind the buildings facing Broadway.)  Its president was Thomas W. Lockwood.

Albany and West Troy Horse Railroad This one was led by A.A. Dunlop, President and Treasurer, and Peter Hogan, Secretary and Engineer. West Troy at the time was what is now Watervliet (and Watervliet at the time was what is now the town of Colonie). When construction of this road was awarded in 1862, it was announced that it would run from the South Ferry in Albany, up Broadway, thence on the Troy road to the north of the village of West Troy. It was double-tracked most of its distance.

New York Central Railroad The big kahuna. Its general offices were in the Exchange Building, and the location of the depot is shown on the map above. An 1879 map of the NY Central and Hudson River Railroad can be found here, but it’s a bit confusing as it shows the line passing through East Albany, not Albany; that would seem to only reflect the Hudson River Railroad’s route.

The rest of these railroads, even the ones with “Albany” in their names, departed from a depot in East Albany, which was a part of what later became Rensselaer:

Albany and West Stockbridge Railroad Dating to 1836, this one left from Greenbush, went south through Schodack Depot on a path of tracks that I believe still exists, through Niverville to Chatham and then turned west toward Massachusetts. In 1863 it was listed as leased and operated by the Albany and Boston Railroad, and its directors were some of the grand Albany names: Thomas W. Olcott, John V.L. Pruyn, Chester W. Chapin, Volkert P. Douw, and others.

Harlem Railroad This one had an office in Maiden lane at the corner of Dean street, but trains left from the depot in East Albany. It proceeded on the Albany and West Stockbridge tracks to Chatham Four Corners, and then continued south to New York City.

Housatonic Railroad This one also left from the depot in East Albany. How it connected with the Albany and Boston and the Albany and West Stockbridge is for better minds for minutiae than mine, and it ended … well, somewhere in Connecticut. You go figure it out.

Hudson River Railroad This railroad also had an office at Maiden and Dean, but left from East Albany and traveled south to New York City. Smith Briggs was its general agent, and Robert G. Cruttenden its ticket agent. In 1863, it was just about to come under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and it would be merged with the New York Central in 1869.

Troy and Greenbush Railroad This ran from East Albany / Greenbush north to Troy, and would become a part of the Hudson River Railroad.

19th Century Railroads: Unsafe at Any Speed

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Rairoad train heading west  just past northern boulevard albany ny c 1900

In 1865, every railroad in the state made a report to the railroad commissioners of the State of New York. There are lots of facts and figures about capital stock, funded debt, length of road laid, numbers of passenger cars and snow plows, etc. They even give the average rate of speed and the average weight of full size cars. Fascinating. But what’s really interesting are the detailed descriptions of the dozens of ways that passengers, employees, and ordinary citizens trying to cross the tracks were parted from life and limb, quite literally. Here are just a few examples from Albany area railroads, that don’t even begin to touch on the dozens of horrific ways people were killed or maimed by the iron horse that year.

Albany Railway
1864. Sept. 14. John T. Siegmann, of New York, in leaving the front platform of car No. 2, descending State street, opposite Tweddle Hall, without proper notice to the conductor or driver, was thrown down and his right arm so injured as to require amputation. The conductor and driver were exonerated from blame.
Oct. 21. John Mooney was injured in a drain excavation in the Bowery [renamed Central Avenue in 1867] by the falling of the horses of a car. No fatal result occurred.

Albany and Susquehanna
April 26, 1865. John Van De Bogart, a brakeman, while standing on the steps of a passenger car, was struck by the bridge near Guilderland, and instantly killed.

Albany and West Stockbridge
1865. Feb. 19. A boy by the name of John Kildan, in trying to get upon a stock train at Chatham fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Aug. 30. A man by the name of John Kiley, in trying to get upon a freight train at Greenbush, fell between the cars, was run over and killed.
Sept. 22. A man by the name of Michael Behan, of Pittsfield, in trying to cross the track at Shaker’s Village, in front of a train, was truck by the engine and killed.

Hudson and Boston
1865. Sept. 9. Jacob M. Rivenburgh was struck by the morning train from Chatham while driving his cattle from the track in Ghent; being aware that a train was coming, and supposing at the time that it was a Harlem train until it was too late for him to escape, the engine struck him, injuring him fatally; he lived about five hours, perfectly rational, blaming no one but himself for the accident.

Hudson River Railroad
1864. Oct. 2. John Bowman jumped from the cars near Troy, and was run over and severely injured.
1865. January 31. Anson Norcutt, brakeman, stepped from his train, near Castleton, on to the opposite track, and was struck by a down train and killed.
March 9. An express train, going south, was thrown from the track near Stuyvesant, and a brakeman, named O. Jenkins, had one of his legs broken.
March 15. George Comstock, while walking on the track near Castleton, was struck by an express train, and so severely injured as to cause his death.
May 29. Patrick Kennedy, employe, while riding on a hand car between Catskill and Hudson, came in collision with a locomotive and was seriously injured.
[Many other accidents up and down the Hudson were recorded.]
Most of the accidents which have occurred are attributable to the carelessness of the persons injured, particularly to their walking on the track.

New York Central
1864. Nov. 5. Christian Shilling, a laborer, in attempting to pass from a car of a wood train to the engine, while the train was in motion near West Albany, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
Dec. 16. John Rahill, an employe, while shoveling snow from the north track in the rock cut east of West Albany, in order to avoid a gravel train moving west, passed over to the south track just in front of the Buffalo express train moving east, was run over and killed.
1865. Feb. 25. Andrew Smith, a brakeman, was killed by striking against the Johnstown and Fultonville bridge, under which his train was passing.
March 30. Thomas Merritt, an employee, got off an engine on the north track at West Albany, and while passing across the south track, was run over, by an engine backing, and killed.
April 3. Mathew Kennedy, an employe, jumped from a moving engine at West Albany car shops, fell upon the track, was run over and injured in the leg so as to render amputation necessary.
April 14. Timothy Dewelly, a brakeman, fell from a freight train moving east, about five miles west of Albany, and was killed.
May 13. Joseph Myers, while walking on the track, about a mile west of Schenectady, was struck by the engine of a moving freight train, and had one of his legs broken.
July 5. Stephen Bush was found dead on the track near Crescent Station. It is supposed he was run over the night previous by the New York mail train moving west, blood having been found upon the pilot to the engine of that train.
August 24. Baltus Flesh, a boy aged six years, got upon the tender of an engine backing, in Railroad avenue, in Albany, and while attempting to get off, fell upon the track, was run over and killed.
September 2. Matthew Smith, a baggageman, was killed near Centre, between Albany and Schenectady, by the baggage car being thrown from the track by the breaking of an axle.
September 3. Ferdinand Netterman, was found dead near the track west of Schenectady. It is supposed he fell off the Cleveland express train moving east.
September 21. Patrick Dollan stepped upon the track at Schenectady, in front of a baggage car that was being slowly moved in making up a train, was run over and killed.

Rensselaer and Saratoga
1865. Sept. 3. A lad, name unknown, at play in the rear of a freight train at Schenectady, was squeezed against the bumper post and instantly killed.
Sept. 23. Charles Lambert, an employe of the Company, while at work on a car on the track at Green Island, was so seriously injured by a train backing against the car on which he was at work, that he died in a few hours.

Troy and Boston
1865. March 21. A woman named Kulchan walked on to the track at Walloomsac Station just as the up express train was passing, was struck by the engine and instantly killed.
July 6. Roddy Godfrey, while intoxicated, fell from platform of accommodation train up, when near Schaghticoke, and was so seriously injured that he lived but a few hours.
Aug. 11. William H. Stephens, a freight conductor, fell from his train near Hoosick Junction, receiving injuries from which he died the 21st of same month.
Aug. 19. John Kent, a man known to have been drunk an hour before the accident, was run over by a freight train near Eagle Bridge; when first seen by the engineer he was lying across the track.