Published: May 20, 2023
By: Adam Burns
New York ranked sixth among all states in interurban mileage, containing 1,129 miles at its peak. There were also several other local streetcar systems which served towns small and large throughout. In their book, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," Drs. George Hilton and John note that the Great Depression hit the state particularly hard and much like Michigan the network was abandoned relatively early.
Most of these electrified systems were abandoned by 1933 while only a few survived as small short line freight carriers. The information presented here briefly highlights many of New York's interurban and streetcar operations.
The Albany & Southern Railroad served the City of Albany and surrounding area. Perhaps most unique about the A&S was that it used third-rail for electric power instead of the more traditional overhead catenary. The line lasted until the 1920s when it was abandoned.
The United Traction Company served the City of Albany and operated through the mid-1940s before finally discontinuing streetcar service.
The Auburn & Syracuse Railway connected Auburn and Skaneatles operating a 27-mile system between the two cities. Streetcar service lasted until 1930 when the final segment of the route was abandoned.
The International Railway began operations in 1895 originally connecting Buffalo and Niagara Falls. A few years later it built extensions serving both Lockport and Olcott.
The last remnants of streetcar service remained until 1939 when it was entirely replaced by buses, notably Central Greyhound Lines and Lockport Bus Lines.
In 1950 the interurban railroad became known as the Niagara Frontier Transit System, Inc. predecessor to today's Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
The Buffalo, Lockport & Rochester Railway began operations in 1908 eventually connecting Lockport and Rochester. It operated streetcars until 1931 when the service was discontinued in favor of buses.
The Elmira Street Railway served the City of Elmira operating until March of 1939 when the service was discontinued.
The Geneva, Seneca Falls & Auburn was incorporated in 1895. The interurban railroad was only able to connect Geneva and Seneca Falls, never reaching Auburn. It operated until 1928 when streetcars were replaced by buses.
The Geneva, Waterloo, Seneca Falls & Cayuga Lake Traction Company was the merged name of two former systems, the Geneva & Waterloo Railway and Geneva Surface Railway beginning operations in 1895.
The interurban railroad would go on to connect its namesake towns (Geneva, Waterloo, Seneca Falls and Cayuga Lake) operating about 18 miles of trackage in total. In 1909 the line fell into bankruptcy and was renamed the Geneva & Auburn Railway.
This railroad also fell into bankruptcy and was reorganized in 1913 as the Geneva, Seneca Falls & Auburn Railroad. The system was never very successful and finally called it quits in 1925.
The Hudson Valley Railway connected Mechanicville and Stillwater and operated until 1928 when the service was abandoned due to increased competition from automobiles and highways.
The Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad was more of a traditional railroad than an interurban but it did operate some electrified lines.
The FJ&G began operations in 1867 and at its peak reached a maximum length of 130 miles. Its interurban operations lasted only until the latter 1930s but freight operations remained through 1974 when it was taken over by the Delaware Otsego System.
The Hornell Traction Company operated a short interurban railroad operation between Hornell and Canisteo. The service remained until August of 1926 when it was abandoned.
The Ithaca Traction Corporation connected Ithaca and Remington but primarily served Cornell University and movie studios located at Renwick Park. It remained in service until 1935 when it was abandoned in favor of buses.
The Chautauqua Traction Company served the Chautauqua Lake area connecting Jamestown, Mayville, Westfield and Barcelona.
It began operations in 1903 and would eventually gain connections to two large Class Is including the Pennsylvania Railroad and Nickel Plate Road. Service lasted until 1925 when it was abandoned.
The Jamestown Street Railway served the City of Jamestown and was incorporated in 1883, originally being horse-powered.
It began operations a year later in the summer of 1884 and by 1891 replaced its horses with electrified streetcars. During this time the interurban built extensions to Lakewood, Celoron Park and Ashville. The railroad lasted until January of 1938 when its last segment still operating in Jamestown was abandoned.
The Jamestown, Westfield & Northwestern Railroad began operations in June of 1881 originally connecting Mayville with the Chautauqua area (including Lake Chautauqua).
At its peak the JW&NW connected Jamestown and Westfield. When the line upgraded to electrified operations in 1913 it used a 650-volt DC system. Interestingly, the interurban lasted until 1950 when the final segment of the route was finally abandoned.
The Niagara Gorge Railroad operated between Niagara Falls and Lewiston through the Niagara Gorge, as its name implied.
It was incorporated in 1895 and remained in operation until a massive rock slide shutdown the interurban railroad for good in 1935.
The Niagara Junction Railway was more of a traditional freight railroad than an interurban. Still, it was an entirely electrified operation serving 11 miles of trackage throughout the City of Niagara.
For much of its life the Niagara Junction was controlled by Erie Railroad but became part of Conrail upon its startup in the spring of 1976 (at which point its electrified operations were swiftly scrapped).
The Niagara Junction Railway is perhaps most famous for its General Electric-built "Juice Jacks", which it began acquiring in the early 1950s (they resembled traditional GE diesel switchers like the 44-tonner).
The Western New York & Pennsylvania Traction Company began operations in 1894 originally connecting Olean and Alleghany.
At its peak the system also connected Bolivar, Shingle House, Salamanca, Little Valley and Bradford and Lewis Run, Pennsylvania. In 1921 it was reorganized as the Olean Bradford & Salamanca Traction Company and by 1927 all streetcar operations had been replaced by buses.
The Oneida Railway began operations in 1885 and would eventually connect Syracuse and Oneida. The interurban railroad was unique in that it used nontraditional third-rail pickup for power instead the typical overhead catenary.
In 1909 the system became part of the massive New York State Railways system, which was formed through by the merger of several upstate interurbans. Streetcar service on the line remained until 1930 when it was abandoned in favor of buses.
The Oneonta Street Railway was the first of many names on a line that would eventually connect Oneonta, Richfield Springs, Laurens, Hartwick, Mohawk, Albany, Utica, Rome and Cooperstown.
The Oneonta Street Railway began operations in 1888, originally as a horse-powered operation. In 1897 the interurban railroad changed its name to the Oneonta & Otego Valley Railroad to reflect its intent to further push the line beyond its original line connecting Oneonta and Richfield Springs.
After this the line would change names no less than five additional times; Oneonta, Cooperstown & Richfield Springs Railway (1900-1906), Oneonta & Mohawk Valley Railway (1906-1908), Otsego & Herkimer Railroad (1908-1916), Southern New York Power & Railway, (1916-1924) and finally Southern New York Railroad.
Interurban service was discontinued on the route in 1933 but freight traffic survived all of the way through the early 1970s.
This interurban began operations in 1895 as the Cortland & Homer Traction Company operating a five-mile system serving Cortland and McGrawville.
In 1901 it gained its final name and built further to Little York Lake and Preble giving it a total of 11 miles. The company remained in service until 1931 when operations were suspended.
This little operation began in 1897 connecting Penn Yan and Branchport on a nine-mile system. It was never extremely successful given the small communities it served but it did provide some freight service on the route. Service was ended by 1928.
The Peekskill Lighting & Railroad Company operated between Peekskill, Verplanck and Mohegan Falls. Service lasted until early 1926 when the line was abandoned.
The Port Jervis Electric Street Railway served the City of Port Jervis and was never a very profitable/successful system.
It began operations in 1899 and the original company lasted only until 1901 when it became known as the Port Jervis Electric, Light, Power, Gas & Railroad. The railroad lasted until 1910 when it again changed names as the Port Jervis Traction Company which was abandoned that same year.
The Poughkeepsie & Wappingers Falls Railway served the City of Poughkeepsie and was most famous for connecting the Vassar College. The interurban railroad lasted until November 25, 1935 when service was abandoned in favor of buses.
The NY-A&L began operations in 1906 serving Ithaca and Auburn on a 36-mile main line that was mostly build over an abandoned freight line.
Almost from the start the company hit financial problems and was in bankruptcy by 1912. In 1914 it emerged as the Central New York Southern Railroad but was finally abandoned altogether by October, 1923.
The Rochester Subway was a unique operation that employed the old Erie Canal as its right-of-way. It never really operated underground only in a "ditch" so to speak.
The interurban connected the downtown Rochester area with a nearby General Motors plant. Interestingly the railroad lasted until June of 1956 before discontinuing services.
The Rochester & Eastern Rapid Railway connected Rochester and Geneva. It was incorporated in 1901 and opened for business in 1903. The route remained in service until 1930 when it was replaced by buses.
The B&LET was one of the state's largest interurbans. Located along Lake Erie the system connected both Buffalo and Erie on a system that stretched about 92 miles in length.
The earliest predecessor of the company dated back to the Dunkirk & Fredonia Railroad of 1891 and the B&LE did not complete its main line until 1909. Over the years it acquired smaller systems like the Buffalo & Hamburg Railway and Buffalo & Lackawanna Traction Company.
Unfortunately, financial problems resulted early as the line had become to large to support itself. In early 1925 it was reorganized as the Buffalo & Erie Railway and featured updated equipment. However, this did little to stave off traffic decline and the final remnants of the railroad were abandoned by 1935.
This interurban began operations early, in 1896 serving a 7-mile system connecting Lewiston and Fort Niagara.
Surprisingly, this little line turned out to be quite profitable as it was able to build up a substantial carload freight business with area railroads like the Erie, Wabash, and even the New York Central operating around Niagara Falls. As such, the L&YF survived well into the 1960s moving freight.
The Rochester & Sodus Bay Railway served the Rochester area and was part of the original New York State Railways system, which was born in 1909 (a New York Central subsidiary).
The Rochester & Suburban Railway served the Rochester area and was part of the original New York State Railways system, which was born in 1909 (a New York Central subsidiary).
The Rochester, Syracuse & Eastern Railroad had big dreams but actually earned few profits. The interurban railroad began operations in 1906 and would eventually link Rochester with the nearby towns of Newark, Egypt, Fairport and Palmyra.
At its peak the railroad was 87 miles in length operating a high-speed, double-tracked, and well-maintained physical plant. Alas, however, it struggled to generate much interchange business with surrounding railroads.
Financial issues in 1913 forced it to merge with two nearby interurbans the Auburn & Northern Electric Railroad and Syracuse, Lake Shore & Northern Railroad forming the Empire United Railways.
Never successful itself this system was broken up in 1916 with the RS&E becoming the Rochester & Syracuse Railroad. It remained in operation until 1931 when it was abandoned.
The Schenectady Railway primarily served Schenectady and Albany but would also have branches serving Albany, Troy, Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa operating a system of over 30 miles.
The interurban railroad began operations in 1902 and lasted until 1946 when it was abandoned in favor of bus service.
The Syracuse, Lake Shore & Northern Railroad served the Oswego area. It began operations in 1909 taking over from the Lake Ontario & Riverside Railway, which dated back to 1896 on a system originally built by the Oswego Street Railway.
It lasted until 1917 when it became known as the Empire State Railroad Corporation. Streetcar service on the route lasted until 1931 when it was abandoned in favor of buses.
The Troy & New England Railway served the area of Troy and began operations in 1895. Service on the route lasted until March of 1925 when it was abandoned.
The Troy City Railway took over operations in 1891 from the Troy & Albia Horse Railroad, which dated back to 1866. The little line lasted only until 1899 when it became part of the United Traction Company. Interestingly, streetcar service on the line lasted as late as 1972 before being abandoned.
The Syracuse Northern began operations in 1908 as the Syracuse & South Bay Electric Railroad serving Syracuse, South Bay, Oneida Lake, and Brewerton with a branch extending to Cicero by 1912.
It fell into bankruptcy shortly thereafter and reemerged as the Syracuse Northern Electric in 1917. Never very profitable it was finally abandoned on January 11, 1932.
The Utica & Mohawk Valley Railway began operations in 1901 taking over from the Utica Belt Line Street Railroad, which dated back to 1886 (the line was originally built by the Utica & Westerville Railroad of 1864).
It lasted only eight years before becoming part of the New York State Railways in 1909. Streetcar service on the route was abandoned by 1941.
The A&H began life as the Albany & Hudson Railway & Power Company of 1899, itself a conglomerate of three small streetcar systems that had merged; the Hudson Street Railway, Kinderhook & Hudson Railway, and the Greenbush & Nassau Electric Railway.
Four years later it was reorganized as the Albany & Hudson due to financial problems, which persisted throughout its existence despite a well-built route.
In 1909 it changed names again as the Albany Southern, and again in 1923 as the Eastern New York Utilities Corporation. After the latest change the company purchased new equipment in hopes of regaining ridership, which proved unsuccessful. Final abandonment came in 1929.
The Black River Traction Company served the City of Watertown and began operations in 1896 taking over from the Watertown Street Railway. The interurban railroad remained in operation until 1937 when it was abandoned in favor of bus service.
A very small interurban that began as the street car system Waverly, Sayre & Athens Traction Company in 1900.
The company originally connected Elmira and Watkins Glen on a 23 mile line but soon reorganized as the Elmira, Corning & Waverly in 1906. It was an early casualty of highway traffic and abandoned in 1923.
This interurban served the town of Lima and Honeoye Falls on a five-mile system that first started in 1892 but proved unsuccessful by 1895 as a standard railroad. In 1899 it began service again as an interurban but was abandoned altogether by 1915.
This company began as the New Paltz & Walkill Valley Railroad in 1897 on a nine-mile system that connected Highland, New Paltz and a local resort in the nearby Catskill Mountains.
In 1900 it was reorganized as the New Paltz & Poughkeepsie Traction, and again changed names as the NPH&PT in 1903. Services were abandoned by 1925.
This tiny interurban served Newburgh and Walden on a 10-mile system that first opened in 1895. It operated some freight service but was abandoned by 1925.
The Walkill Transit began as the Middletown-Goshen Traction Company of 1895 connecting its namesake towns on a 12-mile system. It went bankrupt twice, the first time in 1899 and again in 1905 when it was reorganized into its final name.
New funds allowed the company to upgrade the property in 1906 but profits were simply not there and the operation was abandoned by 1924.
Despite its long name the KAC&LC was not very big, just 6 miles in length connecting Keeseville with the Delaware & Hudson Railroad near Port Kent. It remained in operation until about 1924.
The unique name of this line was due to its service of connecting the Paul Smith's Hotel in the Adirondack Mountains with Lake Clear Junction on a small, seven-mile system. Naturally, it was extremely vulnerable to vehicular traffic and only survived until 1936.
Auburn Interurban Electric Railway
Batavia Traction Company
Elmira Light & Railroad Company
Empire State Railways
Ogdensburg Street Railway (Served the City of Ogdensburg)
Paul Smith's Electric Railway (Served the Saranac Lake area)
Rochester & Brighton Street Railway
Syracuse & Suburban Railway
Syracuse Rapid Transit Railway