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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 100: The New York Central Railroad through the Mohawk Valley.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1455-1464 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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New York Central Railroad and the New York Central lines, the most valuable property under one management in the world, with estimated physical assets of two billion dollars — The New York Central through the Mohawk Valley, the only six-track railroad in the world — The Mohawk Division, 1831-1839, the parent link of the New York Central lines — West Albany car shops and yards — Carman, South Schenectady, Rotterdam and Schuyler Junction railroad connections — Utica's model freight yards — New track locations at Rome, location of the Central's railroad tie creosoting plant — The great Castleton cutoff, extending from the Hudson at Selkirk into Schenectady County — Greatest freight yard development in the world.

It would be difficult, indeed, to imagine a more primitive origin than that of the New York Central Railroad, as described in a preceding chapter. Yet from the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad of 1831, with its seventeen miles of track and its one locomotive so puny that it was supposed to be, and probably was, incapable of climbing a grade with its own weight, to say nothing of hauling a train, there has grown the greatest railroad system in the world.

Today the New York Central Lines, as the system which has been developed from the New York Central Railroad as the parent stem, is called, represent an actual investment of more than two billion dollars, the greatest investment under a single management on earth. The New York Central Lines employ nearly two hundred thousand persons, thus affording a livelihood for a population of nearly nine hundred thousand.

[Map: New York Central Railroad]

The New York Central Lines serve twelve states having a little more than half the population of the United States, and the most populous two Provinces of Canada. In this area 64 per cent of all the manufactured products in the United States are turned out, and here, also, a similar proportion of the coal is mined.

Over the New York Central Lines move more than ten per cent of all the ton-miles of freight traffic in the United States and nearly thirteen per cent of the passenger-miles. For a generation the New York Central Railroad has held the world's speed record. It was the New York Central Railroad which was first to install a fast mail service between New York and Chicago. In volume of traffic and speed and reliability the mail service provided today by the New York Central has never been surpassed. Every day thirty-five mail cars go west and an equal number go east over the New York Central Railroad through the Mohawk Valley. The west-bound cars carry the heavier loads. The great bulk of the mail between Europe and the West goes through the Mohawk Valley. The New York Central provides the service for receiving and forwarding trans-Atlantic mail in New York Harbor. In 1923 the trans-Atlantic mail so received totalled 1,159,441 sacks.

So much for the system as a whole and its service to the public. Turning more specifically to the Mohawk Valley, it is found that the main line traverses four counties in the Mohawk Valley, namely, Schenectady, Montgomery, Herkimer and Oneida. This little table shows in an interesting way the importance of the New York Central Railroad to the Mohawk Valley:

CountyTotal No. TownsTotal No. CitiesNo. thru which Rd. passes TownsNo. thru which Rd. passes Cities
Schenectady5151
Montgomery10191
Herkimer201121
Oneida262122
Total615385

The total assessed valuation of the foregoing towns and cities through which the New York Central Railroad passes, in 1923 was $377,828,438. The total assessed railroad valuation in these municipalities was $25,718,521. The New York Central paid 7 per cent of the total taxes in these municipalities.

The main line through the Mohawk Valley is a six-track road, the only one of the kind for so great a distance (75 miles, Rotterdam to Utica) on earth. Four of these tracks for many years constituted the original New York Central Railroad; the other two tracks were built as the West Shore & Buffalo Railroad. The West Shore was afterward acquired by the New York Central and what was once the Mohawk division of two roads is now operated as a single railroad from one office by one dispatcher.

[Photo: The World's Only Six-Track Railroad]

Although this six-track trunk line across the Empire State has been in operation for many years it can hardly be said to be completed; for, like woman's work, a railroad is never done. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been expended by the New York Central in the last twenty years in improvements. It must be distinctly understood that the mere work of maintenance is not included in the term "improvements"; the word is used in its exact meaning.

For example, there are the West Albany freight yards, one of the largest freight terminals in the East. There are 230 miles of track in the yards with more than 600 switches, having a daily capacity of 10,500 cars. In addition to the yards there are more than ten miles of track serving engine houses, car shops, erecting and boiler shops and transfer tables. Yet in the last twenty years more than $3,000,000 have been expended to keep this important point up to the growing demands of traffic.

For another thing, in order to facilitate the movement of trains through the Mohawk Valley, various connections have been built between the New York Central and the former West Shore Railroad. First of these connections unites Carman, three miles east of Schenectady on the main line with South Schenectady on the West Shore. This connection is a double-track railroad five miles long built in 1905 at a cost of $400,000.

From Rotterdam Junction, five miles west of South Schenectady there is a second connection which taps the main line at Hoffmans, nine miles west of Schenectady. This connection is also a double track railroad crossing the Mohawk River on a steel bridge supported on concrete abutments. The connection is three miles long. The third connection going west is a few miles east of Utica, at Schuyler Junction. Although only two miles long it cost $600,000.

[Photo: Engine No. 999]

[Photo: Empire State Express Passing Fort Plain Station]

Building of the Barge Canal necessitated a substantial amount of relocation of the New York Central at great expense. At Utica, half way between Albany and Syracuse, the Barge Canal leaves the original location of the Mohawk River and follows a new land line across country to the north of the city. The land line Barge Canal cut extends from Frankfort to Rome, a distance of 25 miles. The canal, in fact, took possession of the river and moved it to a new location. The old river bed was filled in by the New York Central and a model freight yard established thereon having 80 miles of track and more than 400 switches. Here 6,100 cars can be handled daily. The Utica improvements, including a new passenger station, and a 70-stall roundhouse, were begun in 1910 and finished in 1916 at a cost of $5,000,000.

Near Rome, 109 miles west of Albany, the railroad crosses the Barge Canal — or would have done so, if it had stuck to its original location. But as this would have involved construction of two four-track bridges at the almost impossible skew of 37 degrees it was decided to relocate the main line and thus avoid, not merely the skew bridges, but also the old line through the heart of the city, which included a sharp curve. So a new line 20,000 feet long was built. The embankment contains 1,800,000 cubic yards of material and eliminates eight grade crossings. A new station was also built at Rome.

Another improvement at Rome is a creosoting plant erected at a cost of $150,000 where cross-ties are creosoted to prolong their usefulness. In this connection it may be of interest to note that maintenance of the New York Central Lines east of Buffalo in 1923 involved the laying of steel rails and ties enough to build a single track railroad from New York City to a point 38 miles west of Buffalo.

Of greater importance than all these improvements combined is the Hudson River Connecting Railroad, or "Castleton Cut-off," as it is popularly known, including a high-level bridge across the Hudson north of Castleton. This undertaking, begun after the close of the World war, will cost when completed, more than $20,000,000. This is one of the greatest railroad developments and improvements ever constructed in the eastern states.

The western end of this cut-off lies in Schenectady County. This part of the improvement is one of the largest and most modern gravity freight classification yards in the country, and that means, of course, in the world. The yards begin on the West Shore road at Feura Bush and extend to Selkirk, a distance of six miles. The yards will be a third of a mile wide. Nearly three million cubic yards of excavation were required for the Selkirk yards. There are 61 tracks in the eastbound section and 72 in the westbound section with a total capacity of 10,760 cars. In addition there are ample engine house and coaling facilities, a reicing plant, stock yards and all the usual appurtenances of an important freight terminal. The Castleton Cut-off Bridge was officially opened Nov. 24, 1924.

The bridge is located about twelve miles south of Albany. The new cut-off forms a connection between the New York Central in the Mohawk Valley (Mohawk Division) and the Hudson River division and the Boston & Albany Railroad by which freight can be run around Albany, where congestion, on account of the low-level drawbridge across the Hudson, which was often opened as many as forty times a day, and the heavy grade from the Hudson Valley to Karner, became at last intolerable. Re-routing freight over easy grades, avoiding congested areas and taking classification work out of overcrowded yards at various points and concentrating it at Selkirk will very greatly increase the capacity of the New York Central Railroad, including the speeding up of passenger traffic.

[Photo: Union Station, Utica]

[Photo: New York Central Curve, Little Falls]

* * * * *

The following is from the "Mohawk Valley Democrat", Fonda, October 30, 1924, relative to the dairy demonstration train sent through New York Central towns on the Mohawk Division and in the Mohawk Valley over the West Shore tracks in October and November, 1924, by the New York Central Lines cooperating with the organizations mentioned below. This was one of a number of such agricultural demonstration trains sent out by the New York Central, in the twenty years preceding the date of this article. This train was, naturally, a great influence in improving dairy farming methods and results. The extract from the Fonda Democrat follows:

A special dairy demonstration train as announced in last week's Democrat will be sent through the Mohawk Valley with speakers, advertising material and statistics, the united offering of eight agricultural agencies which have joined forces in a campaign for fewer and better cows in New York State.

The train opened with an exhibition at Earlville, Madison County, New York, Monday, October 20, and will continue in operation one month.

Bovine tuberculosis control will be a feature of the exhibits and also of the daily program to be given at each stop made by the train. State Institutions farms will also have a prominent part in showing records of increased products from state dairy herds, with examples of success attained in tuberculosis eradication.

Fewer and better cows is the train slogan, and the advantages to be obtained by eliminating the boarder, or low producing cow, from the dairy herd will be shown by charts and records. The programs in which the college of agriculture has a part with the Dairymen's League Co-operative Association, will stress the above points, and the work attempted on the train will be largely of an educational nature.

County officials, farm bureaus, tuberculosis control committees and dairymen generally were urged to visit the train, and see the joint offering of the various agencies interested. The importance of weighing milk and keeping daily production records will be emphasized, and county sealers of weights and measures will be in attendance.

Organizations co-operating with the Department of Agricultural relations in staging the exhibit are:

The state department of Farms and Markets, the college of agriculture of Syracuse University, the Dairymen's League, New York State Holstein-Friesian Assn., New York State Guernsey Breeders, New York State Jersey Breeders, and New York State Ayrshire Breeders organizations.

The schedule for stops, on the Central's Mohawk Division and in the Mohawk Valley, is as follows:

Earlville, October 20; Georgetown, October 21; Manlius, October 22; Chittenango, October 23; Canastota, October 25; Oneida Castle, October 26; Vernon, October 27; So. Little Falls, October 28; St. Johnsville, October 29; So. Fort Plain, October 30; Canajoharie, October 31; and Fultonville, November 1.

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