Thursday, December 18, 2008

Local Rail History

In 1826, John Stevens demonstrated a prototype steam locomotive. That same year, the first railroad was charted in New York State. The Mohawk & Hudson Railroad was built to connect the two rivers (and to enhance Albany's position in its rivalry with Troy). The cost to build the 6 miles of track was $1.1M ($27M in 2008 dollars). Transportation of goods between Albany & Schenectady dropped from 2-3 days down to 3 hours, using horse-drawn rail cars. In 1831, the locomotive DeWitt Clinton reduced the travel time even further.

Rail Building - East of the Hudson

The Albany & West Stockbridge Railroad began operations in 1842, eventually connecting Greenbush to the Mass. State line. The route ran from Greenbush through Kinderhook to Chatham, where it connected with the Hudson & Berkshire tracks. Their 1842 rail map also shows the proposed route from Greenbush to Troy. (There was no “Rensselaer, NY” yet, and “Albany” often meant “just across the river from Albany”).

The tracks for the Troy & Greenbush Railroad were laid during 1840-41, but by law they could not be used until $250,000 more was spent to build track from Chatham south into Columbia County. Troy's citizens believed that Albany's politicians pushed for this legislation to benefit from (and rein in) Troy’s commercial success. The T.& G. was finally able to commence operations in 1845. The track building continued and in 1851, the Hudson River Railroad extended the T. & G. south to New York City.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Meanwhile, railroads were also being built along the Mohawk River Valley. In 1853, Erastus Corning merged those 10 railroads to form the New York Central Railroad. On the east side of the river, Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired the Hudson River Railroad in 1864.

The Hudson River Bridge opened in 1866, and was jointly owned by the New York Central (50%) on west side, and the Hudson River Railroad (25%) and Boston & Albany Railroad (25%) on east side. (The Boston & Albany was created by a merger of the Albany & West Stockbridge with the other lines along the route to Boston.) As soon as travel patterns were established across the new bridge, Cornelius Vanderbilt stopped allowing transfers from the New York Central to the Hudson River Railroad, and used this as leverage to acquire the N.Y.C. and merge the two lines.

The railroads were major local employers. As noted in this 1899 state factory inspection, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad employed 70 men doing locomotive repairs in Rensselaer. The car and railroad repair shop of the Boston & Albany Railroad had two buildings in Rensselaer, and employed 254 men.

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