We’re looking at route options for connecting western Massachusetts to New York City, and it’s worth reminding ourselves that there were several passenger rail lines less than fifty years ago. John Hyde, a retired history professor at Williams College, has studied these lines extensively. He narrated the first film about the Train Campaign (see it here), and kindly sent me information this week about the railroad line from New York to Chatham that was run by the New York Central.
It was referred to as the New York Central and Harlem River Railroad, and you’ll see the map above. At Chatham, the tracks divided. One “turned right,” heading for Pittsfield and ending in North Adams. This line was used by Williams students (John Hyde among them) and was referred to as “The Creeper,” arriving at the North Adams Union Station at 1am. The taxi ride to Williamstown was $5.00 per person and the taxi driver managed to cram in 5 or 6 students, making it worthwhile to stay awake and meet the train.
The other line ran north to Bennington, thereby providing the Rutland Railroad a direct route into New York City. Early in its history, the Rutland thought that the springs in Lebanon Springs, NY, might attract customers and challenge Saratoga Springs as a health resort.
Yes, it is conceivable that these routes could be reopened, extending service from Wassaic. There are efforts to develop “Trails to Rails,” playing on the term “Rails to Trails” used in creating recreational paths in abandoned train beds. Our preferred phrase is “Trails and Rails,” because it is possible to develop multi-use transport pathways. Here’s another map of the old Harlem line, at a wonderful website packed with old and new train photos.
Warm thanks to Professor Hyde for this history, and for the map and photos you see here!