Early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives and its energized territory in general would pioneer the use of alternating current (AC) transmission, today the most commonly used form of electricity to power electrified rail lines. Of all the Northeastern railroads the New York, New Haven & Hartford, better known as simply the New Haven, carried the most electrified territory per capita on its system, even more than the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Of the NYNH&H's 1,800-mile railroad, over 670 miles were eventually electrified, or about 37% of its entire system! This electrification had a very practical and useful purpose, however, as the New Haven derived a considerable amount of its profits from passenger and commuter traffic with its main line operating between the densely populated cities of New York and Boston. Today, the NYNH&H's electrified lines remain almost entirely intact and its main line to Boston is an integral part of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor connecting Massachusetts’ largest city with Washington, D.C.
The NYNH&H had considered electrifying its railroad as early as the late 19th century when the B&O electrified its Baltimore Belt Railroad in 1895. The catalyst that eventually spurred the NYNH&H into stringing wires was the ability to operate in conjunction with the New York Central into Grand Central Terminal, which both railroads shared (not to mention that the tragic collision involving a NYNH&H and NYC passenger train in 1902 caused New York to enact a steam locomotive ban effective July 1, 1908). After carefully considering various transmissions from AC to DC the New Haven eventually decided on an 11,000-volt AC system, a radical, untried, and unproven endeavor. However, AC had key advantages over DC and the New Haven planned to tap into those advantages. The electric power used in railroad applications was initially provided via direct current, or DC.
Direct current has fundamental drawbacks such as providing relatively low voltage, usually no higher than 3,000 volts, requires large amounts of equipment to properly retain power throughout the system because of the current’s considerable size, and needs power supplies (i.e., substations) located at regular intervals along the line to likewise maintain sufficient power as the high currents result in tremendous power losses across the system. Instead, alternating current, or AC, has become the favored means of electrical power for many systems worldwide since the 1930s, and it was the New Haven that pioneered this transmission source. AC has none of the inherent drawbacks of DC systems, requires relatively cheaper overhead wires (or catenary), can be strung for hundreds of miles without ever losing power, and can employ thousands of volts of power (although AC’s significant drawback is lower traction in comparison to what DC allows).
The NYNH&H completed its first stretch of electrified territory between Woodlawn Junction, New York and Stamford, Connecticut in the summer of 1907 and by 1915 wires reached New Haven. By the late 1920s the NYNH&H had strung wires 672 miles across its system, which would also be the pinnacle of electrified territory on the railroad. Unfortunately, while the New Haven planned to reach Boston it ran out of money and never saw the endeavor completed (although Amtrak finally did complete the “gap” in the early 2000s). Initially the New Haven experienced frequent service failures with its AC system, which perhaps is to be expected when developing a brand new, untried technology. However, within a few years the railroad had most of the kinks and outage problems fixed and thus went on to take advantage of all AC had to offer.
Most of the early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives were delivered from Westinghouse. Its first batch of 41 electrics featured a B-B wheel arrangement with gearless traction motors (although over-the-road issues forced the motors to be rebuilt with added, unpowered, front “pony” trucks). Classified as EP-1s by the NYNH&H they were rated at around 1,000 hp and were used exclusively in passenger service (thus their EP designation which stood for “electric passenger”).
Other early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives included its freight class, EF-1s, also developed by Westinghouse. Sporting a 1-B-B-1 wheel arrangement, the NYNH&H took delivery of 36 of the geared and side-rod locomotives using them only north of New York City and Grand Central Terminal where they did not have to be equipped for both overhead and third-rail running like their EP-1 cousins (since New York Central’s electrified lines were entirely third-rail powered).
Around 1920 the NYNH&H began taking delivery of its “second-generation” of motors. Classified as EP-2s they carried a 1-C-1+1-C-1 wheel arrangement and produced about double the power of their earlier cousins, or a little over 2,000 hp. And, although more powerful than the EP-1s, they were essentially of the same design and build. Early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives would pave the way for future models that were not only more powerful and efficient but also for the first time included good looks and streamlining, such as was the case with the railroad’s EP-4 class, AC rectifiers and FL9s.
For more information regarding early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives please click here. For more reading on early New Haven Railroad electric locomotives, and essentially all of the railroad’s motors, please consider Electric Locomotives by Brian Solomon. The book details most electric locomotives used in the United States beginning with the B&O’s Baltimore project and extensively covers the NYNH&H’s operations, in much more detail than what I have here. Lastly, for more reading on the New Haven Railroad itself consider New Haven Railroad from Peter Lynch. The book gives you a great overview and history of the NYNH&H (and it is filled with many, excellent, historical and colorful photographs). If you have an interest in the New Haven or Northeastern railroading in general, I'm sure you will enjoy the book. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.