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New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad


New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad

New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
Reporting mark NH
Locale Connecticut
New York
Rhode Island
Dates of operation 1872–1968
Successor Penn Central Transportation Company
Track gauge (standard gauge)
Length 2,133 miles (3,433 kilometres)
Headquarters New Haven, Connecticut

The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (reporting mark NH), commonly known as the New Haven, was a railroad that operated in the northeast United States from 1872 to 1968. It served the states of Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts; its primary connections included Boston and New York.


The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, like many Eastern U.S. railroads, resulted from mergers, consolidations, and leases. The railroad gathered nearly all the lines in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southeastern Massachusetts. Its principal predecessors:


Old Colony Railroad

Main article: Old Colony Railroad

The OC opened in 1845 between Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1854, it was consolidated with the Fall River Railroad, which had been formed in 1845 from three smaller railroads to create a route from the port of Fall River, Massachusetts, north to a junction with the OC at South Braintree. In 1876, the OC leased and in 1883 merged with the Boston, Clinton, Fitchburg & New Bedford Railroad, which extended from New Bedford to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, with a branch from Framingham to Lowell. The final addition to the OC came in 1888 with the lease of the Boston & Providence Railroad (B&P). The B&P had been chartered in 1831 and completed in 1835 between the Massachusetts and Rhode Island cities of its name.[1]

Most of the railroading in southeastern Massachusetts was now under the control of OC. The area was rich in industry, and the railroad's traffic included raw materials, finished goods and coal carried inland from the ports. The OC had an intense passenger business, participating not only in an all-rail route to New York in conjunction with other lines beyond Providence but also connecting with steamers on Long Island Sound, principally between Fall River and New York.[1]

New York & New England Railroad

Only fragments remain today of the NY&NE, which at its height reached from Boston to Providence via Hartford, to the Hudson River, with branches to Worcester and Springfield and New London, Connecticut. Its oldest ancestor was the Manchester Railroad, chartered in 1833 to build east from Hartford to Manchester to Bolton. The charter lay dormant for some years until a group of businessmen from Providence, Rhode Island sought to build a railroad to the industrial towns of western Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. The project quickly expanded, first taking over the Manchester charter and then blossoming into a line from Providence to the Hudson River at Fishkill Landing (now Beacon), New York. The first part of the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad (HP&F) was opened in 1849, and by 1855 the line was in service between Providence and Waterbury, Connecticut.[1]

Meanwhile two small railroads were building southwest out of Boston into the area between Providence and Worcester. The Norfolk County Railroad opened a line through Walpole to Blackstone, Massachusetts in 1849, and a combination of the Charles River Branch, the Charles River Railroad, and the New York & Boston Railroad assembled a line from Brookline, Massachusetts on the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A), to Woonsocket, Rhode Island, with the intention of building on through Willimantic, Connecticut to New Haven. The Norfolk County Railroad became the Boston & New York Central and also headed for Willimantic, but to connect with the HP&F. It reorganized and changed its name several times. Among its names were Midland Railroad and Boston, Hartford & Erie (BH&E), and under the latter it consolidated with the New York & Boston and the HP&F in 1864, creating a line chartered all the way from Boston to the Hudson River and in service from Boston to Mechanicsville, Connecticut, and from Providence to Waterbury.[1]

The BH&E entered bankruptcy in 1870 after a short period of control by the Erie Railroad and emerged as the NY&NE. NY&NE closed the Mechanicsville-Willimantic gap in eastern Connecticut in 1872 and completed the line west to the Hudson in December 1881. In 1884 the NY&NE inaugurated the New England Limited, a Boston-New York express via the NY&NH, which handled the train southwest of Willimantic. The train achieved a place in railroad lore as the "Ghost Train" in 1891 when the cars were painted white (some accounts say the coal in the tender was sprayed with whitewash before departure each afternoon).[1]

Every few miles NY&NE's route crossed a railroad offering a connection to New York — but nearly all those connections depended on the NY&NH. The NY&NH, feeling some anxiety about competition from the NY&NE, began to choke off the connections. The NY&NE turned first to the Housatonic Railroad to form a route to New York that included a ferry across Long Island Sound from Wilson's Point (near South Norwalk, Connecticut) to Oyster Bay, New York and a connection with the Long Island Rail Road. The NY&NH took over the Housatonic. NY&NE then turned to the New York & Northern (NY&N), which it met in Brewster, New York. The NY&NH and the New York Central Railroad (NYC) had previously agreed not to compete with each other, so at the NY&NH's request, the NYC acquired the NY&N (it later became NYC's Putnam Division) to put itself — briefly — into and out of competition with the NY&NH for Boston-New York business. The NY&NE was squeezed out again. In 1893, the Philadelphia & Reading Rail Road (P&R) acquired control of the NY≠ the NY&NE was bankrupt by the end of the year.[1] The NY&NH acquired control of the NY&NE through investors J. P. Morgan and in 1898 leased the railroad.[2]

Central New England Railway

Almost nothing remains of the Central New England Railway. In the early 1890s under the presidency of A. A. McLeod, the P&R put together a small group of railroads as the Central New England & Western Railroad to form an outlet for anthracite coal. The new railroad took over the Hartford & Connecticut Western Railroad, which had a line reaching from Hartford to the northwestern corner of the state and then consolidated with the Poughkeepsie Bridge & Railroad Company to form the Philadelphia, Reading & New England Railroad (PR&NE). In October 1893, PR&NE gained control of the NY&NE and the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) and even tried to grab the OC. By the end of 1893, the P&R was bankrupt. The PR&NE was reorganized as the Central New England Railway (CNE) in 1899, still under P&R control. In 1904, the NY&NH purchased the CNE, thus acquiring the Poughkeepsie Bridge over the Hudson River (originally backed by the Pennsylvania Railroad [PRR]; opened in 1888). The railroad was operated separately until 1927, when it was fully absorbed by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. Most of the CNE other than the portion that formed NY&NH's freight route to Maybrook, New York was abandoned in 1938.[1]

New York & New Haven Railroad

The NY&NH was a relative latecomer because of the adequacy of road and water transportation along the Connecticut coast — early railroad activity aimed inland. The Hartford & New Haven (H&NH) was chartered in 1833 and opened in 1839; by 1844, it had been extended north to Springfield, Massachusetts. The Housatonic Railroad was chartered in 1836 to build up the river of that name from Bridgeport to the Massachusetts state line. In 1842, it reached a connection with the Western Railroad (later B&A). It was not until 1844 that NY&NH was chartered in Connecticut; a New York charter was opposed by the New York & Harlem Railroad (NY&H) until arrangements were made to use the NY&H tracks into New York City.[1] The line was opened in 1848. That same year the first portion of the New Haven & Northampton Railroad (informally known as the "Canal Line") was opened from New Haven north to Plainville, Connecticut along the route of the Farmington Canal. The NY&NH promptly leased the Canal Line to use as a competitive weapon against the H&NH. The year 1848 also saw the chartering of the New Haven & New London Railroad which was opened in 1852 and soon extended to Stonington, Connecticut, with ferries taking entire trains across the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook and across the Thames River at New London. The line was reorganized in 1864 as the Shore Line Railway and leased to the NY&NH in 1870. The Connecticut and the Thames were bridged in 1870 and 1889, respectively.[1]


New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad

On August 6, 1872, the NY&NH and the H&NH were consolidated as the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (or "New Haven" for short, using the acronym NH). The new railroad had close affiliations with the Housatonic and Naugatuck lines (the latter followed the river of that name up to Waterbury and Winsted). It acquire control of the Canal Line in 1881 (the lease had ended in 1869), leased the Air Line (New Haven and Willimantic), and bought the Hartford & Connecticut Valley (Hartford to Old Saybrook) in 1882. In 1892, the NH leased the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad (which had leased the Providence & Worcester), and in 1893 leased the OC, which was an all-rail route under one management between Boston and New York.[1]

Monopolization of New England

In 1893, the NY&NE collapsed and NH began acquisition of its former rival. The NH also looked covetously at the concatenation of railroads that stretched up the Connecticut Valley from Springfield but contended itself with an agreement with B&M to split New England between them along the line of the B&A (B&M had no lines south of the B&A; NH had several tentacles reaching almost to the northern border of Massachusetts). By the turn of the century, the NH had a virtual monopoly on the railroads and steamboat lines in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and much of Massachusetts.[1]

Things changed dramatically for the NH with the arrival of Charles S. Mellen. A protégé of J. P. Morgan, Mellen set out to gain control of all the railroads in New England. He bought the street and interurban railways in NH's territory, then bought control of the B&M, the Maine Central Railroad (MEC) and, jointly with the NYC, the Rutland Railway. He reached outside New England for control of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway (O&W). He undertook the construction of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway (NYW&B), an interurban line from New York City to White Plains, New York, with a branch line parallel to NH's own main line from New Rochelle to Port Chester, New York near the Connecticut border. More than 100 independent railroads eventually became part of the NH system, reaching a 2,131-mile (3,430 km) system at its peak in 1929. Ultimately, however, the expansion left the NH overextended and financially weak.

A long battle ensued between Mellen interests and future Justice Louis Brandeis of the United States Supreme Court over what was basically a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. A series of wrecks in 1911 and 1912 turned public feeling against the NH (and gained it mention in Clarence Day's play Life with Father). The costs of electrifying the line between New York City and New Haven and of constructing the New York Connecting Railroad (NYCR) and its Hell Gate Bridge to connect with the PRR would have helped push the company into bankruptcy had it not been taken over by the United States Railroad Administration during World War I.[1] In 1914, 21 NH directors and ex-directors were indicted for "conspiracy to monopolize interstate commerce by acquiring the control of practically all the transportation facilities of New England."[3]

NH's electrification was unique. Before the turn of the century, NH electrified several branch lines using low-voltage DC systems, but for its main line between Woodlawn, New York and New Haven the railroad chose the relatively unproven high-voltage AC system with its triangular catenary, even though the locomotives would have to be able to use NYC's low-voltage DC system in Grand Central Terminal.[1]

Main article: Electrification of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad

The NH's situation improved in the late 1920s. The PRR acquired nearly 25% of the NH's stock and an interest in the B&M, and NH also acquired B&M stock, effectively regaining control of B&M. The NH struggled through the Great Depression as long as it could and entered bankruptcy on October 23, 1935,[1] while remaining in trusteeship until 1947. Common stock was voided and creditors assumed control.[1]


The earlier expansion had left NH with a network of low-density branch lines that could not support their maintenance and operating costs. In the ensuing reorganization, NH pruned much of its branch line network, abandoned steamship lines and the NYW&B (selling the section within New York City limits to the city's subway system), and upgraded physical plant and rolling stock on its main lines. It inaugurated piggyback service in 1938 and dieselized many of its mainline trains with a fleet of ALCO DL-109s. NH's traffic increased greatly during World War II. The NH is remembered particularly for a 1942 advertisement called "The Kid in Upper 4." The ad showed a young soldier lying awake in the upper berth on his way to war; the accompanying text, which told of his feelings, was considered a masterpiece.[1]

The NH was heavy-duty, intense railroading as few other railroads in North America have practiced it. The main passenger routes came from both Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal to merge at New Rochelle, New York, forming a four-track electrified line as far east as New Haven. From there double track lines continued east to Boston and north to Springfield. The principle freight route was the line east from Maybrook, New York, where NH connected with the Erie Railroad, the Lehigh & New England Railroad and the O&W; NH also interchanged a great deal of freight with the PRR via car floats across New York Harbor. The NH experimented very early with electrification of branch lines (the Danbury Branch until 1961 and the New Canaan Branch, both off the NH main line) and was the first railroad with a long-distance mainline electrification. The railroad had three major bridges: the 212-foot high Poughkeepsie Bridge that carried the Maybrook Line across the Hudson, the vertical lift bridge at Buzzard's Bay (the longest in the world until 1959), and the Hell Gate Bridge (operated by NH, but owned by the NYCR), which was jointly owned by the NH and the PRR.[1]

A reorganization was completed on September 18, 1947. Frederic C. Dumaine, Sr. and others, including Patrick B. McGinnis (1904-1973), gained control in 1948. The experienced executives who had overseen the reorganization were dismissed, new management came in, and the railroad began another plunge into the depths. Frederic C. Dumaine, Jr. took over after his father's death in 1951 and immediately set about restoring the condition of the railroad and the morale of the employees. In 1953, control passed from the preferred stockholders to the common stockholders. A proxy fight then ensued between McGinnis and incumbent president Dumaine; McGinnis emerged as the victor and sought to maximize revenue for shareholders. To do this, he deferred maintenance and ordered experimental lightweight trains for Boston-New York service. Another McGinnis contribution was a new image of red-orange, black and white, designed by his wife Lucille. While this innovation would prove popular with Connecticut residents, commuters revolted at the imposition of parking charges at stations. Hurricanes in 1955 washed out a number of important lines. Upon McGinnis' departure for the B&M in 1956, auditors found the NH in a perilous state; earnings for 1955 were less than half of what McGinnis had claimed. McGinnis' financial dealings ultimately culminated in a prison sentence for receiving kickbacks on the sale of B&M's streamlined passenger cars, ending his career in railroading.[1]

George Alpert (1898-1988)[4] became president just as the lightweight trains that McGinnis ordered arrived. One caught fire on the press run, and then derailed later that day. The piggyback traffic disappeared as the railroads serving New York initiated their own piggyback service and found that trailers could move into NH's territory by highway, especially the newly completed Connecticut Turnpike that paralleled NH from Greenwich to New London. In 1956, NH decided to purchase 60 FL9s, diesel locomotives that could also draw power from third rail in the New York terminals, in order to phase out its electrification — for which it had within the past year or taken delivery of 10 new passenger locomotives and 100 new M.U. cars. A few years later, after the FL9s arrived, the NH purchased 11 nearly new electric locomotives from the Norfolk & Western Railway.[1] Despite the increase in rolling stock, the NH discontinued passenger service on the OC lines by 1959.

Government loans guaranteed by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) kept the NH afloat until July 7, 1961, when the railroad went back to reorganization. The company sought local and state tax relief and petitioned for inclusion in the PRR-NYC merger, Penn Central (PC). The initial condition imposed by the two larger railroads was that NH be free of passenger service, but the ICC denied that request and on December 2, 1968, ordered PC (which had come into being on February 1 of that year) to take over the NH by the beginning of 1969. On December 31, 1968, PC purchased NH's properties.[1]

Penn Central

PC fell apart faster than it went together, publically declaring bankruptcy on June 21, 1970. The nation's sixth largest corporation had become the nation's largest bankruptcy, taking the former NH with it.[1] NH's corporate entity remained in existence throughout the 1970s as the Trustee of the Estate pursued just payment from PC for NH's assets.

A substantial portion of the former NH main line between New York and Boston was transferred to Amtrak in 1976 to form a major portion of the electrified Northeast Corridor, hosting high-speed Acela Express and regional rail service. The main line between New Rochelle and New Haven is owned by the state of Connecticut within its borders and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority within New York borders, and is served by Metro-North and Shore Line East, which runs to New London, Connecticut. The MBTA's Providence/Stoughton Line provides commuter service from Providence to South Station in Boston.

On August 28, 1980, American Financial Enterprises, Inc., acquired the assets of the NH when the plan for reorganization was approved, bringing an end to the 108-year NH corporate history as well as the end to the 19-year saga of its second bankruptcy reorganization. American Financial Enterprises would become the largest single stockholder of PC shares by the mid-1990s, controlling 32% of company stock.


With all of its problems, the NH soldiered on. Freight business suffered as much from the change in New England's economy and the shift from heavy industry to high technology as it did from truck competition and periods of gross mismanagement. Until its inclusion in PC, the NH offered hourly passenger service between Boston and New York, with parlor and dining cars on nearly all trains, and almost as frequent service between New York, Hartford, and Springfield.[1]

The state of Connecticut frequently alludes to the NH in its modern transportation projects; many Metro-North Railroad engines are painted in McGinnis-era (1954-1956) livery, while the familiar "NH" logo has appeared on everything from station signs to passenger cars. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has painted its diesel commuter rail locomotives used on Metro-North's Danbury and Waterbury branches, as well as its Shore Line East operation, in the "McGinnis Scheme" composed of white, black, and orange-red stripes with the iconic NH logo.[5]

The Valley Railroad, a heritage line based in Essex, Connecticut, operates steam and diesel locomotives featuring authentic script-lettering of the original New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad on rolling stock.



  • Passenger trains ran between Grand Central Terminal and Boston's South Station via Providence about hourly during the day (11 weekday trains each way in 1940).
  • Several passenger trains a day including the overnight Federal ran between Washington, D.C. and New York (Penn Station) via PRR and on to Boston.
  • Passenger service from Grand Central Terminal to Hartford, Springfield and beyond.
  • The premier New York-Boston passenger train was the Merchants Limited, leaving Grand Central and South Station at 5 PM. Also prominent was the Yankee Clipper, with 1 PM departures. For many years these trains carried no coaches; only parlor cars and dining and lounge cars.

NH introduced ideas in passenger rail, including early use of restaurant and parlor cars in the steam era, and more during the transition to diesel. NH was a pioneer in many areas; in streamliners with the Comet, in the use of DMUs in the U.S. with both Budd's regular RDCs and the all-RDC Roger Williams trainset, in the use of rail-adapted buses, in lightweight trains such as the Train X-equipped Dan'l Webster, and in experimentation with Talgo-type (passive tilt) equipment on the John Quincy Adams train.

An audacious experiment was the United Aircraft Turbo Train, which with passive tilt, turbine engines and light weight attempted to revolutionize medium distance railway travel in the U.S. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Turbo Train holds the U.S. railway speed record of 170 mph, set in 1968. The NH never operated the Turbo in revenue service, as the NH was purchased by PC, which operated the train.

Other notable passenger trains:

  • Bankers (New York-Springfield)
  • Bay State (New York-Boston)
  • Berkshire (New York-Danbury-Pittsfield)
  • Bostonian (New York-Boston)
  • Colonial (Washington-Boston)
  • Commander (New York Boston)
  • Day Cape Codder (New York-Hyannis/Woods Hole) (summer only)
  • Day White Mountains (New York-Berlin, New Hampshire via B&M)
  • East Wind (Washington, D.C.-Portland, Maine, via PRR and B&M) (summer only)[6]
  • Federal (Washington, D.C.-Boston) (overnight)
  • Forty-Second Street (New York-Boston)
  • Gilt Edge (New York-Boston)
  • Hell Gate Express (New York (Penn Station)-Boston)
  • Merchants Limited (New York-Boston)
  • Montrealer (Washington, D.C.-Montreal, via PRR, Canadian National [CN], Central Vermont Railway [CV], and B&M)
  • Murray Hill (New York-Boston)
  • Narragansett (New York-Boston)
  • Nathan Hale (New York-Springfield)
  • Naugatuck (New York-Winsted, Connecticut)
  • Neptune (New York-Hyannis/Woods Hole, ) (summer only)
  • New Yorker (New York-Boston)
  • Night Cape Codder (New York-Hyannis/Woods Hole) (overnight, summer only)
  • Owl (New York-Boston) (overnight)
  • Patriot (Washington, D.C.-Boston)
  • Pilgrim (Philadelphia-Boston)
  • Puritan (New York-Boston)
  • Quaker (Philadelphia-Boston)
  • Senator (Washington, D.C.-Boston)
  • Shoreliner (New York-Boston)
  • State of Maine (New York-Portland/Bangor via B&M and MEC)[6]
  • Washingtonian (Montreal-Washington, D.C., via PRR, CN, CV and B&M)
  • William Penn (Philadelphia-Boston)
  • Yankee Clipper (New York-Boston)


Yale Bowl trains

Beginning November 21, 1914, the railroad operated special trains to bring football fans to and from the new Yale Bowl stadium in New Haven. Passengers rode extra trains from Springfield, Boston, and especially New York to the New Haven Union Station, where they transferred to trolleys for the two-mile ride to the Bowl.[7] On November 21, 1922, for example, such trains carried more than 50,000 passengers.[8] "There is nothing which can be compared with the New Haven's football movement except a record of one of the mass-movements incidental to the European war," one observer wrote in 1916.[9]


NH Past presidents

Name From To Term Notes
William D. Bishop 7/24/1872 2/1879 6y/6m
George H. Watrous 2/1879 3/1887 8y/1m
Charles P. Clark 3/1887 11/1899 12y/8m
John M. Hall 11/1899 10/31/1903 4y
Charles S. Mellen 10/31/1903 9/1/1913 9y/8m Also Chairman
Howard Elliott 9/1/1913 10/22/1913 1m/22d Also Chairman
James H. Hustis 10/22/1913 8/15/1914 9m/25d
Howard Elliott 8/15/1914 5/1/1917 2y/8m Also Chairman
Edward J. Pearson 5/1/1917 3/21/1918 10m Also Chairman
Edward G. Buckland 3/21/1918 2/29/1920 1y/11m Also Chairman
Edward J. Pearson 2/29/1920 11/27/1928 8y/8m Also Chairman
Edward G. Buckland 1/3/1929 3/1/1929 2m Also Chairman
John J. Pelley 3/1/1929 11/1/1934 5y/8m
Howard S. Palmer 11/1/1934 8/12/1948 13y/9m Longest term
Frederic C. Dumaine, Sr. 8/12/1948 8/31/1948 20d Also Chairman, Shortest term
Laurence F. Whittemore 8/31/1948 12/21/1949 1y/3m
Frederic C. Dumaine, Sr. 12/21/1949 5/27/1951 1y/5m Also Chairman
Frederic C. "Buck" Dumaine Jr. 5/27/1951 4/1/1954 2y/10m Also Chairman
Patrick B. McGinnis 4/1/1954 1/18/1956 1y/9m
George Alpert 1/18/1956 7/7/1961 5y/5m Also Chairman

See also


Further reading

  • Railroad History Database
  • Edward Appleton, Massachusetts Railway Commissioner, History of the Railways of Massachusetts (1871)
  • Philip C. Blakeslee, A Brief History Lines West Of The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co. (1953)
  • "Railroad History Archive: About the New Haven Railroad"

External links

  • New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association
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