• Need assistance: History of Breakneck Tunnels

  • 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 usbahner
Very honoured readers.

On my search, for information to history of the Breakneck tunnels, I found a picture of the south side of the tunnels. Sorry, the picture is no longer present in the www.
For me the two tunnel portals looks different. The left tunnel (south side) possesses a flatter arch than the right tunnel. From it the following questions result: A) were both tunnels built at the same time? b) if not, can someone write something to the history of the tunnels?

With best regards Holger von Holdt
  by Tom Curtin
According to what I was told (about 30 years ago) by a very long time resident of the mid Hudson Valley and an NYC follower, those twin bores were done at different times, and that would account for the difference in shape.

The newer one (and I hope you won't ask which is the "newer" because I have no idea!) I understand was bored some time in the 20's when the four-tracking was done.

You didn't ask this, but I was told by the same guy that a few miles south (RR direction east) of there, at Garrison, at the spot where half the ROW goes through a tunnel and the other half through a cut, that the tunnel was there first, and was later bypassed by the cut (presumably to improve clearance). Then when the four tracking was done, the tunnel was enlarged to accommodate the two added tracks and put back into service (Humorous aside: I don't doubt that if a modeler modeled that spot, some visitor to his layout would tell him that it ain't prototypical to have a tunnel alongside a cut like that)

  by onder
The tubes at Garrison: inboard one was taken out
I think in the 50's for car racks to the GM plant
down in Ossining.

There was a lot of stone dumped in the woods down above where
the interlocking was just below

Up at Breakneck I think that was called Storm King, the
highway once ran around the outside of the tunnels.
  by Tom Curtin
Let's see if I'm interpreting your post correctly . . . you're saying that the combination tunnel/cut just north (RR direction west) of Garrison station was previously two tunnels? And the "inboard" (furthest from the river) one was "daylighted" in the 50s to fit auto racks through?

That's very interesting.

(Incidentally, for those who are not near the Hudson Div. the now-two track line has one track through the cut, and one through the tunnel. At Breakneck there's one track through each bore)

  by onder
Yes, just west of Garrison station (orginal station is west of
the thing there now) there were two bores, two tracks in
each bore. About a mile and half east of the station (that
is by the compass , south) was the interlocking that
controlled the 2 tracks from Peekskill. The four track
started again here on up to Tivoli.

Ive seen on the old board the dates but I forget. One
of the old pros would remember. I seem to remember
it was about the late 50's that they lifted the two
slow tracks and maybe they daylighted the tunnel
not long after that.

Im sure somebody can point to a shot of these tunnels
before the change.

Whilst on the subject, I think it was in the 1980's that
they LOWERED the roadbed in some areas to
give additional clearance. I THINK they did that
under the bridge at Mystery Point just above

  by harmon44
Garrison never had two tunnels. The original bore goes back to the original Hudson River RR. The road was the realigned for the cut and the original tunnel was abandoned. When the road was 4 tracked the old tunnel was reopened for two tracks. Then tracks 4 &3 were torn up leaving one through the cut and one through the tunnel. When clearance became an issue, they lowered the roadbed and centered the track in the tunnel.
  by Tom Curtin
OK, this latest post is in line with what I have previously heard, i.e., that the cut of today was always that -- a cut, not a tunnel that had been daylighted.

  by hoharold
Hello Holger,

I just happened to pick up a copy of the new book "Power Along the Hudson Volumn 2" by Ed May and Richard L. Stoving. It is published by The Railroad Press, PO Box 444, Hanover PA 17331 (www.alco628.com) and on pages 32-34 the feature is steam power and the BREAKNECK RIDGE tunnels.

Paraphrasing pertinent details:

-First bore 842' two tracks.

-In late 1920's four tracking from Garrison to Beacon required an additional tunnel.

-The WEST bore is the SECOND tunnel (closest to river).

-First tunnel drilled and blasted by hand and black powder.

-Several contractors abandoned the project until one finally completed the job.

-In same timeframe of newest bore a highway tunnel was also constructed to eliminate the two manned grade crossings. Road previously skirted the edge of the ridge and ran on land side of tracks.

-In photos of the North end of tunnels, the stone building is an access to the Catskill Aquaduct which crosses the Hudson River 900' below ground.

Hope this helps.

  by Tom Curtin
RE this comment:

"Road previously skirted the edge of the ridge and ran on land side of tracks. "

- - - I assume you made an innocent misprint and meant to say " . . . river side of tracks," as that's the only thing that's physically possible.

And thank you for the very interesting summary!

Unfortunately this famous and extremely photogenic location does not photograph very well today since the little seedlings that may have been there when Ed Nowak and others were hanging around Breakneck with cameras have long since become BIG trees!

  by hoharold
"Road previously skirted the edge of the ridge and ran on land side of tracks. "

Tom, Ya got me! I left out the "back over to the land side" parts! "...innocent misprint"? You are the first one that ever said I was innocent of anything!:)>

Now, so we don't confuse our friend Holger any further:
Before the highway tunnel was built, the road from Cold Spring to Beacon, as it does now, came North up the land side (East) of the tracks, crossed the tracks to the West, curved around the lip of the ridge (over the present site of the aquaduct gate/elevator house) and recrossed East back to it's current land side of the tracks. The two crossings each required a gateman. Gatemen must have had a fun job there owing to the speed of trains emerging from the tunnel.

Also just South of the tunnels there was a water plug and wooden tank visible in some of Ed Nowak's photos. I fished for striped bass all along that shore and in the Sixty's the concrete bases for the stand pipe and tank legs were still visible next to the tracks. The water comes from Lake Surprise in a stream that runs down the valley between Breakneck Ridge and Bull Hill. (Mount Taurus on effete new maps. "Bull Hill" sounds so... primitive!)

For what it's worth there was a large estate with a perfect view of the South portals half a mile below the tunnels. Owned by a major player in the lead (metal) market the estate contained an extensive dairy farm and large greenhouses for plant experimentation.

Today you can go through the iron gates just North of Little Stony Point and walk 3/4 mile up the curving driveway past the main house site and greenhouses all enclosed by overgrowth. A year or two after the property burned down (early 60's) I hiked up there and down the marble steps to the lawns. Though a bit long the grassy slope made a perfect place to photograph the railroad, river and the tunnels. Poking around I found a sign that said "Gray Gables", not the name of the estate on any maps that I have of the period however.

I guess the ever protective Hudson Highlands State Parks Department has let it all go wild to keep folks from finding and falling into the foundations of the main and guest houses. No place anymore to enjoy the view until you climb higher on the trails. All you can do there today is "listen"!

Sorry for the opinionated regression to my youth but it was a very serene and beautiful hike then and should still be today. And Holger, if you need the story of how Bull Hill and Breakneck Ridge got their names Email me. The rest of you can find a local copy of Blake's History of Putnam County and read the account as it was written in 1849!


  by onder
Little slow on keeping up with this list, but thanks for
setting straight my error on the bore at Garrison.
One of the more important services of this list is
to correct each others mistakes.
  by RussNelson
FYI, the combination of tunnel and cut at New Hamburg went in a similar way. Initially two tracks through the tunnel, they put another two through a cut further west, then abandoned the two tracks through the tunnel. The tunnel is easy to get to -- just go to the New Hamburg station and walk north through the parking lot. I saw no signs prohibiting tunnel walking.