• Last NYC commuter train on the River Line (West Shore)

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by Tommy Meehan
In our R&LHS New York Chapter group there was some discussion of the post-ferry operation at Weehawken. Several of our members had first hand experience with it. Someone may find this of interest, you seldom see it discussed.

At first there was a special Public Service bus that met the trains and operated via the Lincoln Tunnel to/from the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in Manhattan. It was not a good connection as there was no really direct route from the Weehawken Terminal and River Road to the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. The bus had to backtrack up to the top of the Palisades, go south for several blocks and then back down again to get to the tunnel. In rush hours there was very heavy traffic and it was a slow ride.

As ridership continued to drop this bus was discontinued. Instead riders had a connection on Boulevard East, the street running along the top of the Palisades, with an existing bus route to PABT. To get to Blvd. East, West Shore riders were faced with a long walk up a steep set of stairs. Either an existing staircase or one newly constructed. (I seem to recall they're saying it was a new staircase.)

One of the members who walked it said it was about one hundred steps up. From the train to the top of the stairs took about ten minutes. At least the buses ran frequently. But obviously it was not a good way to commute in bad weather or as winter began to set in.

I read an email from someone once whose father worked in or near Weehawken and continued to ride the trains until the last day. Possibly he worked at one of the large industries located along River Road in Weehawken or Edgewater, I don't remember. I believe he said the schedule of five trains each way was reduced to three, possibly with the October schedule change mentioned here. He rode with his father a few times and said the coaches were all but empty.
  by Noel Weaver
The last timetable dated October 25,1959 had 11 trains in each direction. The first AM train out of West Haverstraw left there at 5:10 AM and the last one at 9:10 AM and the first train in the PM out of Weehawken left there at 4:39 PM and for some reason the last one left there at 11:44 PM.
Every train in both directions stopped at Dumont, NJ and at all of the New York State stations. It was a virtual parade of one and two car trains some as little as 5 minutes apart.
Noel Weave
  by Tommy Meehan
Noel Weaver wrote:The last timetable dated October 25,1959 had 11 trains in each direction.
Thanks for posting that, I realize you already had mentioned that as well. The guy whose dad rode the trains til the last day and who mentioned fewer trains were run was perhaps referring to service at their local station?

Btw according to the historical record the NJ PUC did order a continuation of service but this failed because other roads would not accept the West Shore trains.

Both proposals would've used NYC's New Jersey Jct branch along the base of the Palisades (today part of the route of the HBLR) to reach terminals with a direct connection to Manhattan.

The first proposal was to route the trains to the Exchange Place Terminal of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This failed because the PRR's BLE organization insisted that only locomotives with Pennsy style cab signals could operate into Exchange Place and that only PRR engine crews could operate the locomotives. Central also claimed the grade on the existing connection from the NJ Jct line to the PRR was too steep and that a helper locomotive would've been required.

(Going way back to the turn of the 20th century, some Central connecting service was operated between Weehawken and Exchange Place. This included through cars for the West Shore's long distance trains and through cars to the Jersey Shore and to Saratoga Springs via the D&H at Albany.)

NJ PUC's next proposal was to operate the trains to Hoboken via a connecting track near where the Lackawanna crossed over the NJ Jct. Several railfan excursions used this connection -- a curving trestle -- around this time (and earlier) so it probably was feasible. Except Erie had already moved its trains to the DL&W Terminal in Hoboken and the two roads claimed there was no capacity to handle the West Shore trains.

I'm sure there was a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering too. People who worked for the railroads involved back then wonder if possibly Central had an informal agreement with PRR, Erie and Lackawanna NOT to cooperate with the proposed reroutes.

Guess we'll never know for sure but that sounds plausible.
  by Noel Weaver
I think it was very plausible, New Jersey was still zinging it to the railroads, all of them, with regard to property taxes and I don't think any of them wanted to cooperate with them. Certainally the New York Central had enough in 1959. They wanted to get rid of a huge chunk of terminal in Weehawken, a lot of passenger stations, second track, property, yards and employees and running these trains was not in the future.
As I said earlier, New Jersey waited until it was too late to do anything constructive and offered too little to continue passenger operations.
The wisdom of that move has proven itself over many years after 1959 because this is the best freight route into the northern New Jersey metro area as a result of no interference from passenger trains at any location. It is a relatively easy exit out of the terminals, especially today much better than Penn Central and early Conrail, and it is not a difficult route with regard to operating expenses as long as the maintenance is kept up. It has good clearancs too thanks to Conrail.
Noel Weaver
  by Tommy Meehan
Those are wonderful photographs, thanks for the link Frank. The Public Service trolleys are a nice bonus!

I also see what looks like a very early center cab diesel in the fourth photo.

  by Otto Vondrak
njmidland wrote:Otto:

On the locked thread on the New York Forum you stated the last timetable was dated October 29, 1959. I have one dated October 25, 1959. Were you mistaken on the date or did they issue a revised timetable 4 days later? EL had two 14 days apart in 1969, revising it to add the "Petition to Discontinue" notice.
Oct 25 is the correct date. Sorry about that!
  by Tommy Meehan
Thanks very much Frank.

I believe two of those 70-tonners were assigned in upstate New York too, when new that is.

One worked an RW&O branch in Rochester that served a power plant reached by a weight-restricted bridge. The other worked on the Auburn Road.

Btw, that's from Karl Borntrager's book, Keeping the Railroads Running, the author's story of his forty-plus years on the NYC. At the time the GE power arrived (or shortly after) he was Supt. of the Rochester Division. Mr. Borntrager liked them because they had so little down time compared to the steam engines they replaced.
  by keithsy
You answered the question right-VERY RIGHT. NYS was not easy with taxes, either. Return of passenger service: This was discussed by the "planners" that be. Service could start at Stony Pt. or Haverstraw, or even Newburgh, NY and end at Hoboken. Those desiring midtown, could change at Secaucus. This service would start out as a M-F, only. If it grows good with demand, then weekends could be added. It would be very simple to operate trips in ruch-hour in the prevailing direction of traffic, with possibly one or two during midday. Existing sidings could be utilized along with added ones. There is plenty of room. After all, it was double-tracked. Closed stations could be reopened or a few new ones could be erected with simplicity-just enough to accomodate a four car-train, one car length for a high-level platform that would accomodate easy boarding for the handicapped. The rest could be low-level. This could be done cheap. US 9W is being widened, only not to accomodate, but to INVITE more traffic, like the LIE I-495. It makes no kind of sense. This should not supplant the loyal commuters of Red and Tan Rockland Coaches, but to get those automobile commuters out of their cars and onto public transport. Face it. The roads cannot be widened anymore to accomodate the currently excessive motor traffic. Even to ride a bus, is now ordeal on the superhighways. This is not the way our fathers and grandfathers commuted. In fact, they would not stand (or sit) for it.
  by TCurtin
If you can get the book "New York Central Lightning Stripes VOl II" By David Sweetland --- be sure it's volume II ---- there are a number of good photos of the passenger commuter trains AND the ferries, and the Weehawken terminal itself, near the end of the service. I don't know if the book is still in print and available, the pub date is 1993 and Dave Sweetland sadly is deceased.
  by Noel Weaver
A return of passenger trains to the River Line would not be cheap and is very, very unlikely. CSX owns this single track line and it has very heavy freight traffic at all times of the day or night. Passenger trains at this point are not really necessary and don't look for them to ever return.
Noel Weaver
  by Tommy Meehan
keithsy wrote:This is not the way our fathers and grandfathers commuted.
Keith I don't know how old your father and grandfather are (mine are in a better place) but it was their generation that did abandon the West Shore. In their ads and testimony when they were trying to kill the service back in the late 1950s, Central officials said that between 1925 and 1955 the West Shore trains lost 85% of their ridership.

I agree with Noel about CSX. I have been at a few (railfan-oriented) meetings with CSX officials and someone always asks about commuter sevice being revived on the River Line. The CSX guys usually start shaking their heads while the question is still being asked! :)

In all seriousness, they usually explain that the line has become of critical competitive importance to CSX and they just don't see it happening.
  by keithsy
Thank you for your kind words. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. My parents travelled by bus and/or subway. Things were different then. We used commuter trains and buses to visit people and places outside of the city. I always had a keen interest in trains, where they went, etc. My parents would not leave the city because we were blessed with abundant transportation. In those days, there was the quality as well as the quantity. Currently, we lack both. Those West Shore commuters are either long-retired or dead and gone on to glory. Those that ran it out of town have left a mess that will never be eradicated. Sadly, this is what they wanted.
  by West Norwood
Vince et al.:

My research indicates the following. Beginning on 15 December 1954 the New York Central petitioned the ICC to abandon its Weehawken to NYC ferry service. After administrative hearings and two court cases that went to the U. S. Supreme Court the Central ended ferry service effective 25 March 1959. Virtually empty trains (11 East Bound - 12 West Bound) plied the River Line through 11 December 1959. The next day all passenger trains on the West Shore were gone forever. I had the thrill of riding this great line at least once and maybe twice (I was quite young) before its demise. My beloved Father rode the West Shore to his job in mid-town NYC from February 1956 until the last day the ferry operated. I still have fond memories of Alco RS3's pulling NYC heavy weight commuter coaches along the two track section through West Norwood, NJ. The cost of providing the service was just too much for the Central and all the other private carriers. NJ was just too pig-headed to come up with a sensible mutually satisfactory remedy. They thought they had all the railroads over a barrel, then came the Transportation Act of 1958, alles kaput!!!