(A big thanks goes out to the O&W Historical Society for allowing these photos to be featured here.)
The New York, Ontario and Western Railway is a sometimes
forgotten classic fallen flag railroad system because it exited the
railroad business in the latter 1950s. The NYO&W railroad, or
O&W as it was also known, was an upstate New York railroad that served the New York City metropolitan
area predominantly hauling anthracite coal and dairy products. The
O&W was never a financially strong carrier and after these two
primary sources of traffic began to disappear by the 1930s so too did
the railroad. It remained in operation until 1957 when a bankruptcy court finally ordered the tired railroad to be shutdown and its assets sold off.
The NYO&W began life as the New York & Oswego Midland Railroad, a railroad envisioned by Dewitt C. Littlejohn as a powerful transportation artery serving north and western New York state with New York City and its surrounding urban centers. The railroad was incorporated in 1868 and began construction from Middletown, New York. However, the railroad quickly ran into money troubles within a month when it proved to be much more costly to build than anticipated as the lower Catskill Mountains were simply too difficult to circumvent reasonably requiring many tunnels, bridges and fills.
Still, the NY&OM survived until 1880 when it was reorganized as the New York, Ontario and Western Railway. By this time the railroad had completed its main line between its headquarters of Middletown and Oswego, on the banks of Lake Ontario. In addition to its main line the O&W also inherited branches to Delhi, New Berlin and Ellenville, New York from its predecessor. Perhaps, though, the most important railroad lines the O&W would come to operate was through its association with the
New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railway.
The NYWS&B operated
between Cornwall, New York and Weehawken, New Jersey (just north of
Jersey City) and once the railroad completed its line between Cornwall
and Middletown the O&W had a direct route to New York City. Unfortunately, the O&W lost controlling interest in the NYWS&B when it fell into bankruptcy in 1884 and was then purchased by the then New York Central & Hudson River
Railroad (predecessor to the New York Central Railroad). Still, the
NYC&HR allowed the O&W to continue operating over the NYWS&B
between Cornwall and Weehawken.
The O&W became a modestly successful operation with its transportation of milk and dairy products along with very popular passenger and tourism operations since the railroad served resorts and hotels in the lower Catskill Mountains (located along the railroad's line through Orange, Delaware and Sullivan counties). However, perhaps the O&W most important traffic source was anthracite coal. In 1890 it completed its 55-mile Scranton Division which connected Scranton, Pennsylvania via a branch from its main line at Cadosia, New York.
This route would move significant amounts of coal (a commodity at that
time which was used heavily by the residential and commercial sector
for heating purposes) and also included connections with other important
systems in the region such as the Lehigh Valley; Delaware,
Lackawanna & Western; and Delaware & Hudson Railway.
Unfortunately, the 20th century proved to be a disaster for the
O&W. While the O&W was somewhat successful in the late 19th
century multiple factors would lead to its eventual liquidation in the
1950s. First, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad gained
control of the system and wanted nothing more of it than to use it as a
bargaining tool with the NYC. This proved unsuccessful but resulted in
the railroad being left poorly maintained and in need of updated
The next setback was the result of better roads and highways being built into interior and upstate New York.
This, along with improved and cheaper vehicles, allowed folks much
more independence thus severely eroding the O&W's lucrative
passenger traffic to and from the Catskills. Finally, as the 1920s
dawned anthracite coal began losing its appeal as a primary heating
source. While it still remained in demand for another 10 years or so,
anthracite was simply no longer profitable by the 1930s. This in itself
was the major blow that caused the New York, Ontario and Western Railway to fall into bankruptcy in 1937.
The railroad's bankruptcy in 1937 would ultimately be the beginning of
the end. The ailing O&W was unable to ebb the flowing red ink; with
its loss of
passenger, coal and diary traffic along with a system that simply did
not serve many large population centers the railroad was in a hopeless
situation. By the late 1950s the writing was on the wall and the
railroad also known as the "Old & Weary" due to its antiquated
equipment and physical plant which was still partially stuck in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, a bankruptcy court ordered the O&W
liquidated and assets sold on March 29, 1957. For more information
about the O&W in general please click here
to visit the New York, Ontario and Western Railway Historical Society.