fredmcain wrote:One thing that I've always wondered about is WHY they couldn't have rerouted at least some NYW&B trains to Penn Station? I mean, the track connections were there! They wouldn't have needed to build anything.
With so much mystery surrounding the NYW&B, it's hard to say for sure why the railroad did anything... But here's my best guess on the matter. As others explained, the New Haven was a tenant in both Penn Station and Grand Central. They paid rental fees to the owners for every train they ran into those stations. One of the reasons the New Haven later came up with for building the NYWB Port Chester Branch was to siphon off some of the local commuter service so they could run fewer trains into Grand Central Terminal (a convenient rationale that was most likely developed in hindsight).
The NYW&B was initially routed to the New Haven's Harlem River Terminal because 1) the promoters believed that New York City was to keep growing northwards and would eventually envelop HRT and 2) "convenient" connections to the Second Avenue Elevated for riders to make their way to Manhattan. Remember that at the time the NYW&B was launched in 1912, the New Haven had spent considerable money upgrading the line between New Rochelle and HRT and continued to offer local passenger service into the 1920s. If HRT was such an inconvenient arrangement for commuters, why didn't New Haven explore routing some of those trains into Penn Station once Hell Gate Bridge opened in 1918? I believe the answer is manifold: 1) NH paid rent on every train routed into Penn Station, so they weren't about to add any more charges, 2) Penn Station was never designed for the level of traffic it handles today. It was designed as a long-distance station, the PRR had the majority of its commuter trains terminate at Exchange Place in Jersey City, and only a few LIRR trains ran into Penn from Jamaica. To add NYWB commuter trains into the mix would have been chaos, and 3) It is my understanding that routing NYW&B trains over Hell Gate and into Penn Station would have added significant time to the schedule, almost more than if you had hopped the Subway at East 180th Street.
Discussion of routing the NYW&B into the IRT or other rapid transit facility has its roots in the original New York & Portchester (one word) proposal that was competing with the NYW&B before the New Haven purchased them both and scrapped the NY&P proposal. If you read in detail Gotshall's initial filing with the railroad commissioners, he describes essentially a four-track, third rail powered, heavy rapid transit line from the South Bronx (projected connection with the north end of the IRT Second Avenue Elevated), north along the Sound Shore communities to the state line at Port Chester. A branch was to be built to the ferry terminal at Clason's Point (present day site of Whitestone Bridge). The description of the construction and the design of the right of way sounds like it was taken right from the IRT playbook (no surprise, since the IRT engineers had a good head start, why reinvent the wheel?)... Furthermore, when we look at the construction of the NYW&B, especially the surviving portion in The Bronx, it is amazing to note how similar it looks to the nearby IRT rapid transit lines. The NYW&B was built to carry high volumes of passenger traffic, and so you should expect similarities in the design of basic facilities for moving large masses of people on and off trains. In fact, it is my understanding that New York City did not have to make very many modifications to the NYW&B physical plant other than installing third rail and a new signal system when they took over in 1940-1941. So it's easy to see why so many parallels are drawn between NYW&B and rapid transit lines.
Two things doomed the NYW&B: The lack of a convenient terminal (though East 180th Street wasn't bad); and crushing debt that its corporate parent wanted no part of. Remember that the New Haven was in a dead cold sweat panic knowing that the NYW&B's construction bonds were going to mature in 1946 (which meant all debt much be paid in full). Not waiting until 1946 to sort the matter out, the process to rid itself of the NYW&B started as soon as the NH entered bankruptcy in 1935. The only way to eliminate that debt was to liquidate the company and get it off the books. In the game of "what-ifs" the only thing that may have saved the NYW&B is if the New Haven's own bankruptcy had been postponed by a couple of years, which would have delayed the NYW&B's own entry into receivership. As it stands, the NH declared bankruptcy in 1935, and the NYW&B was shut down two years later, and the Port Chester Branch dismantled in 1940, and the remainder in 1942 (except the portion purchased by New York City in 1940). Given the short period of time from bankruptcy to shutdown, the only thing that could have saved the NYW&B is if bankruptcy could have been staved off until 1940, and if both railroads could have limped into World War II together, and possibly serve through the war years as essential infrastructure. However, the bond maturation date wouldn't change. With the war over, and the physical plant of both lines in rough shape, would the outcome been any different? Rescue by the Port Authority? Create a new state public benefit corporation? Sell to a private investor? These solutions were tried in 1937 with little success, it's hard to imagine that the postwar scenario would be any different.
ps - Sorry I've been absent for a while. A move upstate and increased responsibilities elsewhere have kept me away.
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