Serving The Heart Of New England, The New Haven Railroad

Perhaps no other major railroad served the public like the New Haven.  The system served the heart of New England, derived a considerable percentage of its annual revenue through the movement of passengers, and was the only direct service between New York and Boston.  The company's complete name was the New York, New Haven & Hartford (or NYNH&H), and its history is a dizzying list of subsidiaries and predecessors. At its peak the railroad stretched across most of southern New England (even owning the Maine Central and Boston & Maine at one point), operating a network of nearly 2,000 routes miles concentrated in only four states. In the end, poor management and sagging traffic would cost the railroad, forcing it into bankruptcy during the 1960s. In an interesting twist as a condition of the ill-fated Penn Central merger of 1968 the destitute NH was included in the conglomerate as a condition of the union, as state by the Interstate Commerce Commission.  Alas, PC failed within a few years and disappeared into government-sponsored Conrail in 1976.  Today, large segments of the New Haven have been abandoned although, today, its key New York-Boston main line remains an integral part of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.

The history of the storied New Haven system is long list of predecessors which trace back to the 1830s.  As Mike Schafer notes in his book, "More Classic American Railroads," in total more than 200 small systems came together to comprise the modern-day New York, New Haven & Hartford.  The many mergers and takeovers helped create the only high-speed route from Boston to New York although in several ways it was all about power and monopolistic control.  By the end of the 19th century the New Haven dominated the transportation market across southern New England and its only true competitor was the New York Central's Boston & Albany.  It also attempted to corner the market in northern New England through ownership of the Boston & Maine although this scheme ultimately failed.  A study of the New Haven's predecessors in great detail would probably cause many readers' eyes to glaze over and only a brief synopsis of the New Haven's heritage will be provided here.  

The New Haven Railroad’s predominant predecessors were the Hartford & New Haven (H&NH) and the New York & New Haven (NY&NH). The H&NH was the earliest component, chartered in 1833 to connect its namesake cities.  The system began construction in 1836 and was completed in 1839.  According to John Weller's book, "The New Haven Railroad: Its Rise And Fall," the grandfather of John Pierpont "J.P." Morgan, noted American banker and industrialist, was an investor in the H&NH.  J.P. would later hold considerable control of the New Haven for many years while maintaining interests in many other large railroads.  The nearby NY&NH was built to connect its two namesake cities, chartered on June 20, 1844.  It began construction in 1848 and, according to the book, "New Haven Passenger Trains" by Peter Lynch, opened from Woodlawn in the Bronx to New Haven during January of 1849.  Through a 12-mile trackage rights agreement with the New York & Harlem (later New York Central) the road reached downtown Manhattan

Naturally operating so close to one another these two lines became rivals although ironically they would merge on July 24, 1872 to form the historic New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.  By this date the system already controlled what would become its key main line, the Shore Line Railway when it was leased by the NY&NH on November 1, 1870.  This system dated as far back as the New Haven & New London of 1848, which became the Shore Line Railway in 1864 through a series of takeovers and leases.  It hugged the north shore of Long Island Sound from New Haven to New London and became part of the New Haven's New York-Boston "Shore Line Division" main line.  By 1872 the NYNH&H maintained a network stretching from New York to New London with a branch to Hartford via New Haven.  From this point the NYNH&H would continue to expand its system purchasing other smaller lines, eventually stretching out across most of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southern Massachusetts.  

New Haven's Many Passenger Services

Bankers: (New York - Springfield)

Bar Harbor Express: (Washington - Ellsworth, Maine)

Bay State: (New York - Boston)

Berkshires: (New York - Pittsfield)

Bostonian: (New York - Boston)

Colonial: (New York - Philadelphia)

Commander: (New York - Boston)

Day Cape Codder: (New York - Hyannis/Woods Hole)

Day White Mountains: (New York - Berlin, New Hampshire)

East Wind:  (Washington - Bangor, Maine)

Federal: (New York - Philadelphia)

Forty-Second Street: (New York - Boston)

Gilt Edge: (New York - Boston)

Hell Gate Express: (New York - Boston)

Merchants Limited: (New York - Boston)

Montrealer/Washingtonian: (Washington - New York - Montreal)

Murray Hill: (New York - Boston)

Narragansett: (New York - Boston)

Nathan Hale: (New York - Springfield)

Naugatuck: (New York - Winsted)

New Yorker: (New York - Boston)

Night Cap: (New York - Stamford, Connecticut)

Owl: (New York - Boston)

Patriot: (New York - Philadelphia)

Pilgrim: (New York - Philadelphia)

Puritan: (New York - Boston)

Quaker: (New York - Philadelphia)

Roger Williams: (New York - Boston)

Senator: (New York - Philadelphia)

Shoreliner: (New York - Boston)

State of Maine: (New York - Portland, Maine)

William Penn: (New York - Philadelphia)

Yankee Clipper: (New York - Boston)

Its first major acquisition as a consolidated system involved the purchase of the so-called "Air Line" in 1882.  This company carried a long history, originally known as the New York & Boston Railroad chartered in 1846 to provide the shortest rail route between those two cities.  The city of Middletown, Connecticut notes in their historical essay of their town that the system was reorganized as the New Haven, Middletown & Willimantic Railroad in 1867.  It ran from a connection at New Haven to Willimantic, opening for service on April 25, 1873, according to an essay by Philip Blakeslee entitled, "A Brief History Lines West: The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co."  The well-engineered NHM&W was an expensive road to build although it offered a 25-mile shorter route than the Shore Line's.  The system ultimately failed, entering bankruptcy and was reorganized as the Boston & New York Air-Line Railroad.  The B&NYA-L went on to join the much larger New York & New England, another future New Haven property.

The NY&NE is another road whose history could fill a book.  The New Haven gained full control in 1898, providing it with a significant reach across New England; the NY&NE stretched from Beacon, New York to Hartford, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; and Boston, Massachusetts via Willimantic and Franklin.  Prior to this event the New Haven had already other important portfolios to its expanding network: in 1887 it acquired the New Haven & Northampton which utilized the former tow path of the Farmington Canal between New Haven and Northampton, Massachusetts via Farmington and Westfield (it also opened branches to North Hartford and Holyoke); also in 1887 the Naugatuck Railroad was added running from Devon along the Shore Line to Winstead via Waterbury; in 1892 the Housatonic Railroad joined the system as the western-most branch of the New Haven, running from South Norwalk, Connecticut to Pittsfield, Massachusetts; another addition in 1892 was the New York, Providence & Boston, better known as the "Stonington Line," which pushed its reach into Providence, Rhode Island; finally, on March 1, 1893 the New Haven leased the very large Old Colony Railroad.

This large system provided access across southern and eastern Massachusetts running from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston, Fitchburg, Lowell, Newport, New Bedford, and Plymouth.  It also snaked its out across Cape Cod reaching Buzzards Bay, Brewster, Chatham, and Provincetown.  The New Haven added a few additional systems to its network (such as leasing the Providence & Worcester) but by the turn of the 20th century was largely in place.  Its final major acquisition was the 1904 when it acquired the Central New England Railway, a system with a heritage tracing back to 1868.  The CNE had a rugged profile but proved a key route, connecting Springfield and Hartford with Campbell Hall, Poughkeepsie, and Rhinecliff, New York.  The opening of the Poughkeepsie Bridge in early 1889 the line blossomed as a western gateway for freight moving to and from New England.  At Campbell Hall/Maybrook, New York there were important interchanges established with the Lehigh & New England; Erie; Lehigh & Hudson River; New York, Ontario & Western; and to a lesser extent the New York Central

The bridge was vital for these smaller roads (except the NYC) as a means to compete against the Central, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore & Ohio in moving traffic from the Midwest to the Northeast/New England.  While freight was important, the New Haven thrived on transporting passengers in an increasingly-populated region.  The company was never more powerful than directly at the start of the 20th century.  It moved all types of passengers from those going long-distance to commuters.  It also handled a rather robust seasonal business by working with other roads in operating trains like the East Wind (Washington - Bangor, Maine) and Bar Harbor Express (Washington - Ellsworth, Maine).  For many years it worked with the New York Central to gain entry into Manhattan and then later reached PRR's new Pennsylvania Station when Hell Gate Bridge (New York Connecting Railroad) opened on March 9, 1917.

In its quest to dominate New England it would eventually control the Boston & Maine, Ontario & Western, Maine Central, and Rutland according to Mr. Schafer's book.  Unfortunately, the monopolistic nature of this crusade eventually forced the government's hand and the New Haven was required to divest these holdings due to antitrust lawsuits.  At around the same it was embarking upon electrification, opening 21 miles between Woodlawn, New York and Stamford, Connecticut utilizing an 11,000-volt, AC system.  By World War I it had energized service as far east as New Haven, its New Canaan Branch, and along the line to Pittsfield, Massachusetts as far as Danbury, Connecticut.  The results of these projects and its numerous light density branch lines forced the road into bankruptcy in 1935 following the downturn brought about by the Great Depression.

Through World War II the NYNH&H did quite well under the guidance of Howard Palmer, who did away with unprofitable ventures (such as its steamship and bus services), streamlined operations, and quickly replaced remaining steam power with new diesels and electrics.  In an ironic turn of events, it emerged from receivership in 1948 only to be taken over that year by Frederic Dumaine and Patrick McGinnis.  These two individuals, particularly the latter, helped seal the company's fate over the next decade.  New Haven had little hope of ever remaining profitable again.  Under their “pencil pusher” leadership they slashed costs wherever possible (taking this to extremes whereby it hurt the company more than it helped), cut down the work force laying off even the most veteran workers, and began deferring maintenance to save costs.  Such tactics typically only work for a short period of time and it did not take the deferred maintenance and other “cost savings” ideas long to begin to affect the railroad in a negative way.

Dumaine's son acquired his father's stakes following the elder's passing in 1951 but quickly found himself in a fight with McGinnis who was able to acquire direct control in 1954.  In 1956 the railroad's directors had had enough of McGinnis and replaced him with George Alpert. However, along with the failed ideas of the previous leadership, a freight and passenger market that was drying up, and a Northeast rail market too heavily saturated to support all of the regional railroads, Alpert had a very hard time keeping the railroad profitable and the New Haven went bankrupt in 1961.  This was essentially the end for the NYNH&H. Seeing no future means of profitability the directors of the railroad felt merger was the only option and pushed for inclusion into the new Penn Central Transportation Company.  The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) sided with this idea despite protests from the New York Central and Pennsylvania's management.  In merger plannings, few companies ever want to be straddled with a money-losing operation but unfortunately the PC had no choice per the ICC's ruling.

New Haven's Electrics

The New Haven's electrified operations 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 New Haven electrics 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 New Haven motors 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.  New Haven's 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.

On merger day chaos ensued and the new PC literally began to fall apart from the very beginning. To make matters worse the NYC and PRR could not have had more opposite corporate cultures. The management of the New York Central System was more laid back, open to new ideas, and the chain of command was “loose” so to speak (one reason for its renewed success in the 1950s under Pearlman) whereas the PRR was extremely strict, new ideas were shunned and looked down on (the railroad was still using practices that had been out-dated since the 19th century!), and orders came down through the chain of command. Naturally, then, these two management teams did not get along at all and pure hell and pandemonium resulted across the entire system.

The PC was losing over $1 million a day and trains were becoming lost throughout the system, as dispatchers were not properly trained on how to dispatch their trains. To make matters worse as the red ink began to become an unstoppable flash flood maintenance was deferred and derailments became the norm with large sections of main line reduced to 10 mph slow orders.  After only two years of operation and financial assistance completely gone, the destitute Penn Central officially declared bankruptcy on June 21, 1970. The result of this was a ripple effect throughout the entire Northeast, as other railroads, which depended on the PC to ferry traffic, no longer had a means to move their freight. It became so bad that the Penn Central was facing total shutdown if financial assistance, any means of help at all, were not located.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity


Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H16-44560-569, 1600-16141950, 195625
CPA24-5 (C-Liner)792-79919528

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-Tonner0800-08181941, 194519

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
A-1 Through A-3 (Various)American4-4-0
B-1 Through B-4 (Various)American4-4-0
C-1a Through C-22 (Various)American4-4-0
D-1 Through D-17 (Various)American4-4-0
E-1 Through E-15American4-4-0
F-3, F-5, P-1 Through P-5 (Various)Consolidation2-8-0
G-1 Through G-4 (Various)Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
H-1 Through H-4Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
I-1 Through I-4/e/fPacific4-6-2
J-1, J-2Mikado2-8-2
K-1 Through K-5 (Various), M-1 Through M-8, N-1 Through N-3-a/bMogul2-6-0
L-1-aSanta Fe2-10-2
O-1Saddle Tank0-4-6T
R-1 Through R-3 (Various)Mountain4-8-2
S-1 Through S-8Saddle Tank0-4-6T, 0-4-4T, 2-4-4T
T-1 Through T-4Switcher0-6-0/T
U-1 Through U-5 (Various)Switcher0-6-0/T
V-1 Through V-5Switcher0-6-0/T
Y-1 Through Y-8Switcher0-4-0/T, 0-8-0
Z-1, Z-2Saddle Tank2-4-6T, 2-4-4T

Realizing the severity of the situation the federal government stepped and setup the Consolidated Rail Corporation, which comprised the skeletons of several bankrupt Northeastern carriers, and began operations on April 1, 1976. With federal backing Conrail began to slowly pull out of the red ink (it took many years) and by the late 1980s was a profitable railroad after thousands of miles of access trackage was abandoned and/or upgraded.  Today the New Haven Railroad main line continues to be an important link to both freight and passengers between Boston and New York, especially Amtrak where the line is part of the carrier’s Northeast Corridor (or NEC for short). On an even brighter note the old “McGinnis” livery (perhaps the best thing to come from his leadership) has reemerged under the Connecticut Department of Transportation local commuter service operations. Certainly something worth seeing if you are in the area! 

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