Port Morris Branch

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Port Morris Branch

Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Nov 16, 2004 8:03 pm

Does anyone have any information on the Port Morris branch that ran from Melrose on the Harlem Division to Port Morris on the East River? I noticed that the branch doesn't show up on ETT maps of the Harlem Division, or the Electric Division.

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Postby shlustig » Tue Nov 16, 2004 8:37 pm

Otto:

Port Morris "Branch" was operated as an industrial track. Inbound trains received a "Restricting" on the dwarf signal leading into the Branch at Melrose. Outbound trains departed on verbal permission and the first signal was the dwarf leading onto the Harlem Div.

The line was originally electrified (3rd rail) and double-tracked, but the one main was removed following the closure of Westchester Ave. Yard and the later closure of Pt. Morris Yard and the transfer of those jobs to Oak Point.

The line was a combination dumping ground and open sewer. It was at or below sea level, so the drainage was almost non-existant. Most of the line was below ground level. The St. Mary's Tunnel limited vertical clearance to the extent that in Conrail days, the 127-lb rail was replaced with some 105-lb just to gain a fraction of an inch clearance.

The Pt. Morris Curve caused a timetable restriction on the length of cars using the Branch (59' IIRC, later extended to 70') because of sideswiping cars on the adjacent track. There was also a switch in the curve, and that contributed to several derailments.

After the closing of Westchester Ave. Yard, the only consignee on the Branch was Bronx Refrigerator Co. which had a facing point switch (for westbound moves) on the Melrose side of the Tunnel.

During NYC and PC days, we had 3 round-trips of through freight plus the transfer from W. 72nd St. (DO-1/2, Cond. "Rebel" Lee) and a daily yard
job that brought cars to MO. When High Bridge was the Van Site, there were occasional moves of the van cars to Oak Point as High Bridge lacked
car repair facilities.

Hope this helps.
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Tue Nov 16, 2004 9:17 pm

Thanks for the quick response!

Where was Westchester Avenue Yard? Where was the connection to the New Haven's Harlem River branch?

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Port Morris

Postby Noel Weaver » Tue Nov 16, 2004 9:23 pm

SH, I knew you could answer that one better than I ever could.
Went through there occasionally out of Oak Point on yard jobs etc.
It was an awlful piece of track, I'll bet the crews on the freight trains are
very pleased that they do not have to negiotate that anymore.
Went over to MO a couple of times to pick up outlawed trains for Oak Point
and always kept my fingers crossed going through the tunnel and the
whole branch for that matter.
Back in the New Haven days, the third rail came all the way up to the limit
of Oak Point Yard behind old SS-3. We would bring a yard engine down
to tie on to the cars that the New York Central shoved up there for us and
pull them into "one yard" at Oak Point. When we had cars for the NYC
via Port Morris, we would just shove blind down in there, I don't think it
was a "kosher" move but that was just the way that it was done back in
those days.
About a year before the NHRR was taken over by Penn Central, they made an agreement that the NYC would bring their yard engine into the
yard and pull their cars out of the yard or they would pull their cars right
into the yard. Although I said NYC two lines back, I really should say
Penn Central as the Penn and Central had merged by that time.
As soon as Penn Central took over the New Haven the through freight trains from Selkirk came right into the yard at Oak Point with the Hudson
Division crews, sometimes they even took their head end cars up to the
switch off track six leading to Hunts Point Market and cut off, a yard engine from Hunts Point would come out and pull the cars in to Hunts Point
Yard and the cars were delivered almost immediately. It always had to be
a really quick move as the locals would break into the cars and steal
everything that they could if they could get away with it. Usually a police
escort was in order too.
The railroad police were always around for moves through Port Morris.
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Wed Nov 17, 2004 10:30 am

Does anyone know when the Port Morris branch was built?

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Postby shlustig » Thu Nov 18, 2004 6:12 pm

Noel,

When I was TM at Oak Point, we had the small GE's (2800-2817, IIRC) assigned to the SK / OP Pool. Norm LeBlanc was Terminal Supt., and he and my predecessors (Ron Washburn and Eddie Byrne) had -- so the story goes -- requested engines with permanent snow plow pilots (which, of course, had to be notched for 3rd rail clearance). I remember having to make a written response as to why we still wanted/needed snow plows in summer, and we enclosed some photographs of the debris on the Port Morris Branch and the Bay Ridge Line.

What really became obnoxious was the garbage cars which began to be hauled in later days. If the crew had any problem and stopped in the Tunnel, the combination of diesel exhaust and garbage stench could sicken the crew.

Otto,

Don't have the exact dates, but this was originally the Pt. Morris & Spuyten Duyvil RR, which was subsequently acquired by the NYC&HR for
access to Grand Central.
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Postby Jack Shufelt » Thu Nov 18, 2004 9:46 pm

Refer Coming of the New York and Harlem by Lou Grogan

Page 18

The Harlem’s First Branch: The Commodore's First Prize

Also in 1842 Mr. Gouverneur Morris, of the New York and Albany episodes and now a Director of the New York and Harlem, built a two mile railroad of his own from the New York and Harlem Railroad in the vicinity of 162nd Street (near Melrose) to a point adjacent his holdings on the East River, which he thoughtfully named, "Port Morris".

Eleven years later on August 29, 1853, the New York and Harlem purchased the railroad from Mr. Morris, for $118,000: it was designated as the Port Morris Branch of the Harlem - the first of two branches.

Page 19. It was never intended that the SP&PM RR build to Port Morris.

I have some further details on the SD&PM RR that I located during my research on the Hudson Division that I will try to dig out.

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Port Morris etc

Postby Noel Weaver » Thu Nov 18, 2004 11:50 pm

SH, I always thought a snow plow pilot on the front of the engine was
worth everything especially in places like the Port Morris Branch. Hoboken
on the other side of the river was even worse, yes we had signals when
they were working but we had a lot more trains during the Penn Central
period and a lot of trains.
On another note, one day and I seem to think that it may have been a
Saturday I was coming south through Dumont and there was a super
market on the land side of the track. A shopping cart had neatly been
placed in the center of the main track and we had a snow plow pilot. When we hit that thing, it just went flying right back in the direction from
which it came.
There were times when even a snow plow pilot would not save us. One
trip south again on the River Line, saw a huge pile of new ties in the gauge
of the rails on Haverstraw hill. We were struggling up that hill and when I
saw the ties, I was able to stop. They had to call the track people up there from West Haverstraw as we could not handle them but I think
stopping was better in this case.
I was not hard for me to figure just why Conrail adopted them quite
quickly, they were worth their weight in gold in saving delays and mishaps
from striking debries and having it get wedged under the train. I don't
think the GP-35's were ever fitted with them but just about everything else
during Conrail had them except maybe some of the junk GE's long before
the B-23-7's.
Both the New Haven and the New York Central had their share of problem
areas to cover and how things went as well as they did amazed me.
One little problem could and often did take the whole railroad down for
hours at a time.
From MO all of the way to Hunts Point, from Pelham Bay to Oak Point and
all of the way to Bay Ridge and on the other side of the river especially
from Weehawken through Hoboken and on to Hack Tower to get into the
Meadows Yard. These were areas that we honestly dreaded to go through.
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Fri Nov 19, 2004 12:30 am

Good info all.

Jack-- do you think I should bit the bullet and finally buy a copy of Grogan's book?? ;-)

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Postby Otto Vondrak » Fri Nov 19, 2004 9:09 pm

Does anyone know when the branch was electrified?

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Where was Westchester Ave. Yard?

Postby ChiefTroll » Sun Nov 21, 2004 7:11 pm

I think the question "Where was Westchester Ave. Yard?" is still open, so here is the answer.

Westchester Ave. Yard was located in a hole (in more ways than one) bordered by Westchester Ave on the south, 156th St on the north, Brook Ave. on the west, and Gedney Place on the east.

Coordinates are N40° 49.073' W73° 54.763'

The tracks were about one story below street level. The brick yard office at Brook Ave had an upper story at street level, and a lower story with a floor about four feet above track level. The two Port Morris Branch tracks ran under buildings from Melrose Jct to 156th St, and through a tunnel under St. Mary's Park with a portal at Westchester Ave.

There was no timetable schedule page for the Port Morris Branch in the NYC employes' timetables, because both "main" tracks (1 and 2) betwen Melrose Jct and Port Morris were operated as "Other than Main Track" under Rule 105, the same as side tracks or yard tracks. Tracks 1 and 2 were next to the Gedney Place wall. In 1960 and 1961, when I worked there, Track 1 still had a third rail only to carry power to the crane at Port Morris. It was not used for electric traction.

The meat tracks 36 and 38 were on the Brook Ave. side. They adjoined meat dealers. Each dealer could take two cars at a time by placing one on each track in front of the meat house. They would unload the one on 38, and then work through that car to reach the one on 36. The meat tracks ran on a fairly steep downgrade to the south end, and the special instuctions called for air on the cut when placing meat cars.

The freight house and agent's office adjoined Westchester Ave. at the south end of the yard.

The principal business was fresh meat in iced reefers. The salt from the ice bunkers made a white crust on the ground so it looked like winter in July. It also made it easier for the rats to get around - they didn't break through the salt crust into the mud underneath. Biggest rats you ever saw.

Some of the traffic came over trom Spuyten Duyvil on traveling switchers out of FH Yard, but most of the meat arrived on DM-2 (Dewitt - Melrose) that terminated at Westchester Ave, and then turned back (ND-5 sound right for 1960?)

Starting in 1960, the New Haven had closed the State Line (Mass) interchange, and the bituminous coal for Cos Cob Power House started moving via Port Morris and Oak Point. That could really plug the interchange when we had 40-50 cars of coal for the New Haven. It would fill the tunnel and extend past 156th Street.

As the Westchester Ave yard clerk, I had to make yard checks at Port Morris. I could walk through St. Mary's Park or through the tunnel. Neither was a lifespan-enhancing move, so I would borrow the yard engine and run it over there and back. In those days, every yard clerk was "qualified." On my first day of service in June, 1960, posting at Croton West Yard, I found myself running the yard engine under supervision. We can talk about that now; those things were not uncommon on the Electric Division.

If things got dicey up on the street around Third Ave., so I didn't want to walk over to the El at 156th Street or the IRT at 149th Street to go home, I would ask for an engine to come over from Mott Haven and take me out. I got that service a few times, because no one wanted to ever have to fill out paper work explaining why I didn't make it home that night. Actually, Elmer Lietz was the second trick chief dispatcher, and he was very good about taking care of his people.
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Postby Otto Vondrak » Sun Nov 21, 2004 7:34 pm

Excellent information, Chief Troll.

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Postby Dieter » Tue Nov 30, 2004 4:48 pm

Who owned this branch before the mergers? New York Central, New Haven, or was it jointly owned and maintained? I was always under the impression it was a New Haven spur.

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Port Morris Branch

Postby Noel Weaver » Tue Nov 30, 2004 6:05 pm

The New York Central owned this branch right up to the point where it
entered Oak Point.
It was equipped with good third rail and at one time, the overhead wires
for electric locomotives reached right down to where the third rail began.
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NYC Port Morris Branch Ownership and Electrification

Postby ChiefTroll » Tue Nov 30, 2004 6:11 pm

Otto - I don't have the definite date of electrification of the Port Morris Branch, but it was close to 1926, when the first Q and R motors showed up for freight service.

Dieter - The branch was wholly owned by the New York and Harl(a)em Railroad, and then New York Central, until the original Penn Central merger. The New Haven never had a part of it or in it. NYC served all the customers at Westchester Avenue and Port Morris. It was built long before the New Haven constructed its Harlem River Branch and Oak Point Yard.

I understand that it was originally built by Gouverneur Morris when he developed the Morrisania area of Westchester County, which was later split from Westchester County and annexed into New York City as Bronx County, and the Borough of The Bronx. My great great grandfather bought a building lot in Morrisania in 1848. He sold it in 1849 and went to California in an unsuccessful search for gold. So that dates era of the subdivision of Morrisania.
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