Arcade & Attica

The Arcade and Attica Railroad is an interesting little line that has had a rocky history filled with disappointment during its early years of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As originally built the A&A was a narrow-gauge operation stretching more than 60 miles that connected with much larger systems although the economies of this setup and lack of a strong traffic base eventually forced the company into bankruptcy. The current, much smaller, A&A system was formed roughly around the time of World War I and has been able to stave off further financial disasters since that time although it was not always easy. As its freight revenue began to dry up following World War II the railroad turned to excursion trains, which have been quite successful since they were implemented in the early 1960s. Today, the A&A remains a Class III shortline that still interchanges with Norfolk Southern although it has become best known as a popular tourist railroad.

Arcade & Attica 44-tonner #110, seen here, was purchased new by the railroad in 1941. Doug Kerr photo.

The earliest history of a railroad connecting Arcade and Attica, New York dates to the chartering of the Attica & Sheldon in 1836 as a means of serving the area's farming and agriculture industry. This company ultimately never made it off of paper and the 1852 formation of the Attica & Allegheny Valley Railroad to connect both towns as well as reach the Pennsylvania border only saw some grading completed before going bankrupt soon after. Nearly 15 years passed before the next attempt to link the region came into being; the Attica & Arcade Railroad was incorporated in February, 1870 purchasing the former property of the A&AV. Unfortunately, the A&A also soon fell into receivership having never operated a single train just like its predecessors. This string of bad luck and bankrupt railroads finally ended with the chartering of the Tonawanda Valley Railroad on April 5, 1880.

Thanks to strong financial backing from the large and, at the time, powerful Erie Railroad the TV sought to utilize the former rights-of-way of the A&A and A&AV to connect Arcade and Attica where it would interchange with the Buffalo, New York & Pennsylvania Railroad. The 24-mile three-foot, narrow-gauge system finally began operations on September 11 of that year although was not fully operational until May 1, 1881 when it opened to Arcade. Soon after the TV was already planning extensions and by July 14 had organized the Tonawanda Valley & Cuba Railroad to extend the line south of Arcade to Cuba, which would add roughly 40 new miles. A year later, on September 4, 1882, the system was completed reaching about 60 miles between Attica and Cuba where it interchanged at both points with the Erie. Its southern terminus also included an interchange with the small Bradford, Eldred & Cuba Railroad another narrow-gauge property.

Unfortunately, the Tonawanda Valley soon ran into financial trouble and fell into receivership by November of 1884. The property was broken up among different interests with the Arcade to Freedom section operated as the Attica & Freedom Railroad until 1894 when it too was a casualty of money troubles. Later that year the Arcade to Attica section became part of the new Buffalo, Attica & Arcade Railroad beginning in October which soon established a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad at its southern terminus. In 1904 the BA&A was sold to the Buffalo & Susquehanna Railroad, which after a little more than a decade of service decided the route was not worth the effort and looked to shed the property. This resulted in the local farming industry as well as some businesses, notably the Merrell-Soule Company (a milk processing plant), to try and save the route for continued rail service.

After enough money was raised the Arcade and Attica Railroad was formed on May 23, 1917 and operations commenced soon afterward. Curiously, the privately owned A&A never had any serious financial troubles for many years, so much so that it never laid off a single employee during the tumultuous and unforgiving Great Depression of the late 1920s through the 1930s. It began dieselization in 1941 with the purchase of a single General Electric 44-ton switcher, later adding another in 1947. In 1951 the railroad ended remaining passenger services and money issues returned in the 1950s with a severe decline in freight revenue forcing the A&A's hand to remain solvent. With no where else to turn management decided to try its luck as a tourist railroad purchasing a 2-8-0 Consolidation in 1962 (a year later they also added a former Escanaba & Lake Superior 4-6-0 ten-wheeler). 

The late 1950s also saw the A&A's system nearly cut in half when flooding forced the railroad to abandon its route between Attica and North Java, as the $79,000 price tag to repair the damage could not be afforded. Today, the company still operates this 14-mile section and has been quite successful with its tourist operations, becoming one of the most popular in the country. Currently, the A&A interchanges with the Norfolk Southern at Arcade where its principal freight includes lumber, soy beans, corn, fertilizer, and animal feed. The star attraction on for visitors is 2-8-0 #18, which was the steam locomotive picked up in 1962 from the Boyne City Railroad. It hosts excursions between May and October with holiday specials occurring during December.

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