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While the Pennsylvania Railroad is the dominant force to the south and west of New York City, and the New York Central is the preeminent carrier to the northwest, the New York, Haven & Hartford is the prime player along the coastal region northeast of the Big Apple.
Like most of the early rail systems, the New Haven evolved out of a conglomeration of short lines and patchwork new construction. The lineal ancestor of the modern system was the Old Colony Railroad, begun in 1845 from Boston to Plymouth (see detail maps in the East System topic). In 1854, the Old Colony merged with the Fall River Railroad, itself a union of three short lines built north from Fall River, Massachusetts. (At the time, the Fall River Railroad was allied with the Long Island Railroad in its rail-ferry-rail link from New York City to Boston.)
Further expansion focused to the northwest, with a merger line, the Boston, Clinton, Fitchburg & New Bedford, reaching to Fitchburg and Lowell by 1883. The final expansion of the Old Colony was actually the oldest part of the eventual system. The Boston & Providence. was chartered in 1831, making it one of the first railroads in America, and completed between those two namesake cities in 1835. This was merged into the Old Colony in 1888 and would eventually become part of the "Shore Line", one of the primary trunk lines of the overall system.
While the Old Colony was consolidating eastern Massachusetts, the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad began building west from Providence to the Hudson River near Danbury. The core of this line was a dormant charter issued in 1833 but never developed.
In the mean time, two short lines were building southwest from Boston, swinging north of Providence, with eyes on New Haven, Connecticut. These were soon absorbed into the H,P&F, giving it a coveted outlet to the port of Boston.
All this feverish railroad building was straining the local financial interests. The H,P&F went through several reorganizations and eventually became the Boston, Hartford & Erie.
By 1870, however, the financial house of cards came tumbling down. The B,H&E was controlled by the Erie for a short time, but soon reorganized under the name of the New York & New England Railroad. In this capacity, the last links of an inland Boston to Hudson River line were completed in 1881.
While all this building from east to west was going on, the first tentative moves began to build from west eastward. The earliest link was the Hartford & New Haven, opened between those cities in 1839. Meanwhile, the parallel Housatonic Railroad began building north from Bridgeport toward Northampton and a link with the B&A. These were united in 1844 under the New York & New Haven Railroad, who linked them together with coastal trackage. This, in turn, entered New York City under an agreement with the New York & Harlem Railroad in 1848.
At the same time another coastal line, the New Haven & New London, began building east. The line was completed in 1852, albeit with river ferries at Saybrook and New London. This was leased to the NY&NH in 1870 and marked the beginning of a frenzied period of consolidation among the coast roads.
In 1872, the NY&NH restructured as the New York, New Haven & Hartford and went on a buying binge in which most of the remaining lower tier short lines were gobbled up. This was fueled in part by a period of ruthless anti-competitive campaigns by the New Haven to starve the smaller roads into submission.
New Haven had the advantage of strategic position, giving them control of both the Massachusetts coast and access to New York City. Most of the roads in New England had to depend on connections with the New Haven, who did not hesitate to delay, disrupt or deny until they broke the smaller roads fragile finances and could scoop them up. In this manner, the NYNH&H brought most of the small lines under their banner, paved the way for an eventual monopoly in southern New England, and set the stage for their eventual financial and legal ruin.
To cap this off, in a major coup, the NYNH&H leased the Old Colony, then a road every bit as big as itself. This completed connections through to Boston. When the last bridge at New London was completed in 1889, a single company controlled a network of lines from New York City to Boston, most primary points in between and connections to Canada.
Thus far it had been a game with local players. Now an outsider, the Philadelphia & Reading, appeared on the scene and began putting together a line from the Pennsylvania anthracite fields to tidewater . The P&R was a heavy hauler and enjoyed enormous coal resources from its dominant position in eastern Pennsylvania. They took over several short lines through western Connecticut and the Poughkeepsie bridge over the Hudson (originally a PRR project) and organized them as the Philadelphia, Reading & New England.
With this foothold established, they went after the NY&NE in a free wheeling brawl involving the Erie and the New York Central, with the New Haven up to it's old tricks again. The PR&NE won the contest temporarily in 1893, grabbed the Boston & Maine and even threatened the Old Colony for a time. In the process, however, the NY&NE went into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia & Reading's economic position was rapidly being eroded by the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the collapse of their empire in Connecticut took them down as well.
Seizing on this opportunity, the NYNH&H, now under the thumb of the rapacious J. P. Morgan, bought the NY&NE and leased it back to the P&R. This line and the other PR&NE holdings were reorganized as the Central New England railroad. The CNE was finally absorbed into the New Haven in 1904.
When all the dust settled at the turn of the century, the New Haven had an effective monopoly in southern New England.
They had an agreement with the Boston & Maine to divvy up the region roughly along the northern border of Massachusetts.
The Reading was out of the picture and the New York Central was content with its Boston & Albany feeder line. However, this harmony would not last.
Enter a new villain, Charles S. Mellon, protege of J. P. Morgan. Mellon set out to conquer New England, absorbing everything that moved on rails. Under his guidance, the New Haven took over the B&M, the Maine Central, part of the Rutland, the New York, Ontario & Western, practically every short line, interurban, street car line and steamship line in the region, as well as major new construction in the New York City area.
This brought them under fire from the Supreme Court who, armed with a new weapon - the Sherman Antitrust Act - sought to break up the Mellon empire. The legal battle raged for years while acquisition costs, the electrification project and new construction soaked up capital. The road was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy when it was finally taken over by the USRA during the Great War.
The 1920s saw a modest turn around for the newly relinquished New Haven. Mellon was gone and with him went much of the hodge podge of short lines and transit systems.
With the link over Hell Gate Bridge established, the Pennsylvania Railroad bought an interest in the NH and new capital poured in.
With their financial position more stable, the New Haven entered a time of modest prosperity.
The Roaring 20s saw expanding of the electrification and the steel MU fleet and general improvements up and down the system.
However, this respite was brief. The Great Depression took a drastic toll on freight revenues, regulations and taxes kept going up and commuter service - once considered the Golden Goose of passenger operations - slipped into a negative cash flow from which it would never recover. The New Haven struggled along for as long as it could, but the outcome was inevitable. In October, 1935, the railroad entered bankruptcy.
This bankruptcy was an opportunity to streamline the organization. Most of the remaining peripheral operations, steam ships and trolley lines were spun off or abandoned. The core system was overhauled, more electrics and MUs were bought and dieselization came to New England in a batch of Alco DL-109 passenger units. Container service began in 1938. All this tightening up did not bring the railroad to profitability, but it put the New Haven in good enough shape to cope with the crushing traffic loads of World War 2.
The New Haven serves a number of east coast ports critical to the war effort, including New York and Boston (both origin points for Atlantic convoys), navy bases at Fall River and New London as well as several major war plants. Like most roads of the period, the New Haven was swamped with both freight and passenger traffic. Major troop movements inflated the number of long haul runs and even commuter service, long a money loser, turned a modest profit.
At times the reorganization was hampered by wartime shortages and the struggle to keep up with wear and tear. By wars end much of the early equipment was worn out, but the road was in a position to launch an extensive postwar reequipping. Among the new items purchased are the postwar version of the American Flyer lightweight cars, some 200 of which rejuvenated the long haul services. In 1947, the reorganization begun in 1935 was complete and the New Haven emerged from bankruptcy. At that time, the road was in the best shape it has been in before or since.
This happy ending was not to be. The New Haven has always been a hotbed of political intrigue and in 1948 it received the first of a series of proxy managements that spent more time feuding with eachother than running a railroad. This, coupled with the worsening economic environment, has led the New Haven to its final downfall.
First up to bat, in 1948, was Frederick Dumaine, Sr, who was succeeded in 1951 by "Bucky" Dumaine, Jr. They had seized power in a messy proxy fight and their position was by no means secure. To clinch their hold on the board room, the management which had pulled the road through the Depression, war and reorganization was booted out and key positions filled with political cronies. What followed was a period of stagnation, deferred maintenance, labor strife and inept management.
The Dumaines were more or less able to keep things moving, but "Bucky" was booted out in another stockholder coup in 1954 by Patrick McGinnis. Where his predecessors had been mediocre, McGinnis was a disaster. Having "saved" the railroad from the previous administration, he set about to cut costs and restructure the system to his own erratic vision.
Maintenance, already falling behind, almost ceased. Abandoning the tried and true, both conventional diesels and the electrification were to be discarded in favor of exotic new Talgo equipment. To improve the commuter bottom line, parking fees were imposed at suburban stations, creating a commuter revolt. Arbitrary leadership led to management resignations and collapsed morale. To cap it off, when McGinnis was ousted in 1956, it was discovered he had been falsifying the financial reports.
With things crumbling around him, McGinnis was booted out and replaced by one George Alpert. Alpert was a lawyer with no railroad experience and, try as he could, the situation was simply too far gone to save. In July, 1961, the New Haven entered bankruptcy for the second and last time. By now the whole northeastern railroad situation was at rock bottom. It looked like railroading in general was on its way out, and certainly the New Haven was in terrible shape both physically and financially. Rather than allow a new management to make things worse, the court set up a board of trustees to try to restore the situation. These trustees have their work cut out for them.
First there is the motive power question, which can no longer be ignored. The DL-109s are at the end of their lifespan. Although needing new equipment, the electric overhead is basically sound. However, McGinnis had set in motion a rash course of dieselization and Talgo trains under the delusion that costly new equipment would save money by eliminating the existing, already paid for, system. The situation has devolved into anarchy which has seen the overhead pruned, new electrics bought, the duel power FL9s bought to eliminate electrification, the overhead restored, stored electrics scrapped, second hand electrics bought, new MU cars bought, etc., etc., etc.
There is also the changing economic picture. Passenger service traditionally accounts for half of New Haven's bottom line, and both commuter and long haul are solidly in the red. Freight service is drying up as New England enters it's industrial decline. Container traffic is drying up too as other roads are learning to bypass the New York City bottleneck by trucking the containers into New England. Finally, the road has recently suffered extensive storm damage from two hurricanes.
There is also the temper of the times. Railroads are old fashioned and public policy on transportation is also hitting rock bottom at this time with paralyzing taxes and regulations and massive new highway programs. The New Haven is in an inherently unsalvageable position and has been limping along since 1961 as a ward of the courts with the help of ICC guaranteed loans and equipment trusts.
As a practical matter, the trustees have decided that the only real course of action is to break the system up: the commuter services being taken over by public agencies (as has recently happened with the Long Island Railroad) while the rest of the system seeks inclusion into the Penn-Central merger.
Above all, the New Haven is known for its swarms of MU commuter cars.
The McGinnis era brought some truly exotic passenger equipment. A centerpiece of McGinnis strategy was to bring in as many as 30 articulated Talgo trains (another of the periodic reinventions of the Zephyr) to replace both diesel and electric long haul. The first of these trains caught fire on its initial press run, then derailed. The riding public, already fuming at parking fees and rusted out MU cars, was soon up in arms at these uncomfortable, unreliable experiments. After bouncing back and forth to different assignments for a few years, 2 of the trains were retired. Only the one composed of modified Budd RDCs remained on line.
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