The Westchester Northern: A Heavy Electric Shortline in an Apartment Living Room

An ex-CUT P-motor, made surplus when NYC's Cleveland district was de-electrified in the mid-1950s, makes good time with a Nepperhan Express at Glenwood Lake. The President's Car is tucked in behind the motor for a tour of the line today.
At Kensington, the two New York, Westchester & Boston MU cars get ready to take on passengers for a local run (This area of the layout is on a shelf in my bar). Let's follow this train for a tour of the line though suburban Westchester County.
Our train makes a stop at Glenwood Lake. The couple in the sailboat has just shoved off from the Boatyard Inn. The sailboats mast does fit under the railroad bridge.
A closeup of our train making a station stop at Glenwood Lake. Notice the gooseneck lamp on the platform!
On another trip, the NYW&B MU cars are about to cross the bridge over Glenwood Lake, heading towards Kensington.
It's almost noontime as the two NYW&B multiple unit cars stop at Ardsley Heights to pick up passengers. Next stop is Nepperhan Manor.
During mid-day, a single NH "washboard" MU train pulls up to Ardsley Heights station to pick up passengers. These newer stainless steel MU's may phase out the older heavyweight Stillwell cars in the future.
A few moments later, a southbound express pulled by an ex-Cleveland Union Terminal/NYC P-class motor speeds by during a scheduled meet.
The influence of the New Haven in apparent here in this scene. An ex-NH EP-3 gets ready to depart Nepperhan Manor with an afternoon express.
The NYW&B MU cars are leaving Nepperhan Manor with a local as the ex-New Haven EP-3 motor will be leaving later with an express.
It is midday at Nepperhan Manor as a single New Haven MU leaves the station with a northbound local. The P-motor on the next track will be taking on passengers for a later express run.
An express lead by an ex-CUT P-motor speeds through Ardsley Heights. Behind the locomotive is the Presidents private car.
The Westchester Northern trackplan.
By Kenneth V.W. Lawrence/Photos and artwork by the author

Heavy electric railroading has always been a favorite of mine. Growing up in Yonkers (a large city in Westchester County, on the border with the Bronx and New York City), the New York Central's third rail and the New Haven's overhead wire electrified divisions were ever-present in my youth. On family road trips we were always nearby the Pennsylvania Railroad's electrified lines around Harrisburg. I guess that's when I got really interested in catenary and heavy electric railroading. I always wanted to build an HO scale layout featuring electric operations, but didn't have the time nor the room to do so. When I moved into my present apartment a little over 20 years ago, I found that I now had enough room to build a layout with a working catenary system!

A Little History
In the early 1900s, after a fatal collision in the Park Avenue Tunnel leading to Grand Central Station, the New York State Legislature ruled that steam power would no longer be allowed to run into Manhattan. To comply with the ruling, the New York Central decided to electrify its Hudson and Harlem Divisions with 600-volt DC under-riding third rail as part of the Grand Central Terminal project. Since the New York, New Haven & Hartford had to share these tracks from its connection at Woodlawn, they also chose this time to electrify their mainline to New Haven. However, the New Haven chose an 11,000-volt AC overhead wire system designed by Westinghouse. The advantage was that AC can be transmitted over great distances without the need for extra substations. Also, it eliminated the hazard of having a live third rail running along the right of way where risk of injury could be greater to the public and to workers.

New York City had grown dramatically throughout the nineteenth century. Real estate brokers speculated that the city would continue its rapid growth north, and soon the northern borough of the Bronx would be considered the heart of the midtown commercial district! More and more people were relocating to the suburbs and commuting to the city for work. The New York Central Hudson and Harlem Divisions had been serving affluent Westchester County since the 1850s (and later, the Putnam Division since the 1880s). Westchester was still quite rural, regarded by many as a quaint "upstate" retreat for farmers and large estate owners. Around this same time, the New Haven decided to reactivate an old franchise for a high-speed commuter railroad running between the northern suburbs of New York and the Bronx. This new railroad was to be called the New York, Westchester & Boston.

The NYW&B was roughly planned to run from a "temporary" terminal in White Plains, running to the east of the NYC Harlem Division, serving the affluent communities of Scarsdale, New Rochelle, and Mount Vernon, terminating in the Bronx, where one could make transfers to rapid transit into New York City. The line was to be built to the highest standards, using cast-concrete and steel construction for the stations, bridges, and other structures; no grade crossings; and using the same 11,000-volt AC system parent NH was utilizing. Plans for a future extension beyond White Plains to link with Danbury, Connecticut were drawn up, to be called the Westchester Northern.

After considerable delay, the line opened in 1912 with great promise- however, success was not to be. New zoning laws passed in the 1920s meant that the Bronx would not become the "midtown" many had hoped for. The NYW&B stood ready for a crush of development and commuter traffic that never came. While construction began on the Westchester Northern project, it was cancelled in 1925 and funds were diverted to build the Port Chester Branch. The entire NYW&B, faced with staggering debt, and a bond issue it could not possibly hope to pay off, was abandoned and shut down on the last day of 1937. A small section in the Bronx was purchase and integrated into the IRT subway in 1940, but in Westchester, few traces of this modern commuter system exist today. Ironically, the suburban growth the early backers expected came shortly after "the Westchester" was torn up.

The Concept
I was inspired by the history and the potential of "the Westchester" and its cancelled projects. My Westchester Northern is a heavy electric interurban line operating between Nepperhan Manor (a fictional section of Yonkers) across the county to Kensington (my representation of White Plains) in southeastern New York. Electric multiple-unit cars handle the local commuter traffic while electric locomotives hauling standard coaches make up the through express trains. There are a few online industries that require carload and less-than-carload freight service rounding out this busy suburban shortline. The WN is an independent line picking up used equipment from neighboring lines, rebuilt in the WN's shops at Nepperhan Manor. This gives a reason for equipment from different eras and railroads. There is also a schedule that runs on an 8:1 fast clock. Even a small layout can be run on a schedule!

Designing and Building the Layout
Living in an apartment, space is at a premium. Large concrete stations and a four-track mainline were not going to fit into my living room. If built, the real Westchester Northern probably would have resembled a branch line, with low-level platforms, small stations, and a single-track main. By using the New Haven's Danbury and New Canaan branch lines as guides, I sat down at my drawing board and designed a layout that would fit in my 16x13.5 foot living room. Since I wanted to focus on the overhead catenary and scenery, the plan was kept simple. The result was a small point-to-point railroad with a single-track mainline and multi-track passenger terminals at either end. Runarounds at the terminals allow electric locomotives to be quickly run to the other end of the train for a return trip (one of the nice things about electric locomotives is that they are double-ended and do not require turning!). Main line curves needed to be a minimum of 36" because of the size of the locomotives and passenger cars. The passing siding on the main line at Ardsley Heights was added later, and gave me more flexibility in operations.

A few years earlier in a previous studio apartment I had built a bar with a 7x1 shelf underneath, viewable from the front. This was a good starting point and it became the basis for the underground station that is now Kensington. The rest of the layout was built on homemade cabinets 9'x20" along the north wall (Glenwood Lake) and 14.5'x18" along the east wall (Ardsley Heights and Nepperhan Manor).

Overhead Catenary Construction
When deciding to build the catenary I followed the example of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which used a much simpler tower than the New Haven's earlier trusses. However, the NH used a similar type of simplified tower on its Danbury Branch, which was electrified until 1961. I wanted my model catenary system to be relatively prototypical, sturdy, and maintenance free. When I started construction, I found that there wasn't much available commercially, but was able to purchase Sommerfeldt overhead wire sections and insulators, which sped the construction. I scratchbuild my own towers using Plastruct "H" and "T" beams. At the time this was the only solution, and they are still holding up the overhead wire in the Nepperhan Manor area. A few years ago I found a hobby shop with some very nice brass structural shapes, and these were used to replace the towers in the Ardsley Heights and Glenwood Lake areas. At Kensington the overhead wire is suspended from beams in the ceiling of the station, and this aids in track cleaning. The Sommerfeldt wire sections have a loop at each end. Once hooked together with brass wire to the towers they are surprisingly strong and require very little maintenance.

Structures and Scenery
The structures on the layout are a combination of commercially available kits that were modified to fit certain areas, and some scratchbuilt. At Nepperhan Manor I used 1x4 standard white pine framing to build the station and a street scene above the tracks, allowing for the shop area underneath. Trolley tracks are embedded in the street running in front of the station, and a red and cream trolley (representing the Third Avenue Railway system) is posed in front.

At Ardsley Heights and Glenwood Lake, scenery was built using Hydrocal-coated paper towels over a framework of foamcore strips and masking tape. Rock molds were used on the hills, and then painted with thinned out acrylic artists paints. The surrounding turf was completed with various grades of Woodland Scenics ground foam, foam clumps, lichen and trees. The lake was created on a sheet of 1/2" plywood painted with acrylic artists paints with Envirotex casting resin to simulate water. The bridge across Glenwood Lake is a piece of 1/2" plywood with pieces of stripwood glued into place painted to look like concrete. There are two Chooch Enterprises rock piers for an added touch.

I tried to keep the electrical system as simple as possible. The Westchester Northern uses a standard MRC Tech 3 power pack fed to the tracks, which are set up into 20 blocks. The overhead wire has never been energized (but it still looks great). Switches are powered by twin-coil machines through a capacitor-discharge unit. There are two other fixed 12-volt DC power supplies powering lights for the buildings, and streetlights. The signal lights on the layout are also powered by the satellite power supplies and are connected to the contacts on the switch machines showing direction. Illuminating the underground station in my bar, are five 7.5 watt night-light bulbs in receptacles. The whole layout is wired to one on-off switch next to the control panel, and plugged into a wall outlet.

A variety of equipment graces the rails of the WN. The NYW&B Stillwell-bodied multiple-unit cars are epoxy bodied kits, while the New Haven "washboard" MU's are brass imports. All are powered by NorthWest Short Line "PDT" power trucks allowing me to add the interior details and lights. There is also an Athearn standard baggage car, which I converted to MU service with a "SPUD" power truck. This car is in service but has to be painted and lettered. A few years ago I purchased a pair of brass Metroliner cars and repowered them with "PDT" power trucks, and added the interior details and lights. Most of the equipment is decorated in some form of WN's dark pullman green with delux gold lettering (except for the Metroliners).

The locomotive-hauled express has a standard coach, which is an old Walthers wood and metal kit built as a coach-club car. A Spectrum Pullman car rebuilt as a betterment coach, and the President's Car is a Walthers "Piker." All these cars have interior details and lights.
For More Information:
Learn more about the New York Westchester & Boston

Another story about the NYW&B

Ken's layout was also featured on the cover of Railroad Model Craftsman's 70th Anniversary Issue
The two main line locomotives (an ex-NH EP-3 and an ex-NYC P-motor) are brass imports which I painted and added reversing headlights. There is also a brass steeple-cab, which I repowered with a pair of "SPUD" power trucks. This lone switcher, much like the freight motor that was used on the real NYW&B, handles the freight and switching duties at Nepperhan Manor.

Over the years the Westchester Northern has been a great learning experience. There are probably a few things that I would have done differently, but in all very I'm happy with the way it has turned out. And the layout does run smoothly. So no matter how much space you have there is always enough room to build a mini transportation empire.