• Should the HVTA have tried to save passenger service to Millerton instead of Chatham?

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New York State.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by NH2060
Last Christmas I finally procured a copy of the late Lou Grogan’s book “The Coming Of The New York & Harlem Railroad” and zeroed in as fast I could on the sections of the book pertaining to the section of the line north of Dover Plains. Of particular note was the “Train Orders and Court Orders” chapter. The amount of information provided is unparalleled and is a must read for anyone who is a fan of just Metro-North.

However after reading that particular chapter thoroughly a few times I’ve started to wonder (and I know this will not go over well with many) if the HVTA made a miscalculation in 1971/1972 in trying to keep the trains running to Chatham vs. keeping service going to Millerton. One detail in particular that got my attention was the HVTA claiming that on the Friday night train out of GCT around 100 passengers detrained at Millerton. A whole 1-1.5 coaches worth of people for just one stop is impressive.

But what about the stops north of there? Was there honestly enough ridership to justify keeping it running the remaining 35 miles? From Brewster you had downtown Patterson, Pawling, the State Hospital/psychiatric hospital at Wingdale, Dover Plains, the State School/psychiatric center near Wassaic and then Millerton. Plenty of ridership catchment in that segment. Once you get beyond there and get to Copake Falls, Hillsdale, Craryville, etc. it’s pure countryside with no population centers at all en route until Chatham with the exception of perhaps Ghent. And the weekend schedule was clearly tailored to cater to people from points south who wanted to go north in the morning and then back in the late afternoon to either see the countryside or visit patients at the 2 psychiatric institutions (which the book notes were a massive ridership draw in the NYC era).

Add in the fact that Millerton was in Dutchess County and the MTA had eventually agreed to fund the Poughkeepsie and Dover Plains commuter rail operations, how much more difficult would it have been to throw in an extra 16 miles of ROW within the same county that serviced the nearest sizeable population center for miles around? It would have surely met the definition of “commuter” vs. “intercity” in the eyes of the ICC being at 93 miles long from GCT (comparable to Hoboken to Port Jervis).

And considering that there was a ridership study and survey conducted in 1978 by the HVTA, Tri-State Planning Commission and the MTA about re-extending rail service to Millerton - in addition to the fact that there was a prior successful ballot initiative that included money to upgrade the tracks (at a time when the town wouldn’t have objected to train service returning like it did 15-20 years later) - an argument could be made that in hindsight the HVTA should have instead fought for a compromise instead of trying the save the entire service route. If that had happened no doubt the trains would still be running there today and probably all the way to the Columbia County border at Mount Riga.

Obviously there was no way of knowing in 1971 exactly what would happen down the line in the years to come. But considering the gradual degradation of passenger and freight service on the Harlem Division since the late 1940s/early 1950s the signs were all pointing to a general idea of what could realistically happen if that downward trend continued.

(If you can find a copy of the book, do it while there are still copies available. You will NOT be disappointed!)
  by PC1100
You hit the nail on the head with all of the points you made. I came to the same conclusion after reading Grogan's book. To take it a step further, on Pg. 314 he points out that on April 11, 1963 the NYC petitioned the NYS Public Service Commision to end passenger service north of Millerton. He writes that hearings were held, but doesn't go into further detail, except that a similar effort with the ICC was rejected in 1964. Had this happened in 1963/64 I believe it would have remained the northern terminal, for all the reasons you stated. He also writes that the speed limit for passenger was dropped from 60 mph to 35 mph NORTH of Millerton while the passenger service fight was going on.

I've read elsewhere, I believe in news articles from 1970 when the MTA was preparing to lease the Hudson & Harlem Lines and begin the Purchase of Service Contract there was a serious consideration that it would only include the line up to Brewster or Pawling. What I've always wondered is why, at that point they didn't make it Millerton instead of Dover Plains.

Millerton as the northern terminal for passenger service would have made sense 60 years ago and would still today.
  by Jeff Smith
I think the fact that the MTA didn’t push for service to Millerton in 2000 was also a huge mistake. I believe that was Howard Permut’s decision?
  by NH2060
I had to go back and look that up. I must have glossed over it. I actually think the right call was made in ‘63/64 to keep the trains running all the way to Chatham. I’m sure ridership was strong enough at that time to warrant the one round trip running the whole route compared to 1970/71. I do wonder what ridership would have looked like if the North Adams trains never came off. Or at least still ran to Pittsfield (for the same reason of population density).

In another thread here from around 15 years ago, someone suggested that the MTA was initially only willing to fund Harlem Line service to NWP. Then they got talked into Brewster. And then finally Dover Plains. My guess is that the Poughkeepsie trains were popular enough that they were assured to be continued under the MTA and at that point they figured they might as well include the Upper Harlem “branch”. I’m sure political pressure helped in that regard.
Jeff Smith wrote:I think the fact that the MTA didn’t push for service to Millerton in 2000 was also a huge mistake. I believe that was Howard Permut’s decision?
According to Permut himself in an interview with Emily from IRideTheHarlemLine he said that Metro-North wanted to go as far north as they could to attract as many new customers as they could and because they needed room for a new rail yard. And that Millerton was the target goal. But there was opposition within the town to rail service returning and the rail trail had already been built so that put the kibosh on any Millerton extension. Another source claims Mount Riga was one of the alternatives. That would have been the perfect spot for a park-n-ride station and rail yard as what currently exists at Wassaic. If not for those obstacles no doubt Metro-North would be running to Mount Riga today.
  by PC1100
It would be interesting to see the ridership data from the 1963 and 1964 applications compared to the 1971 numbers. Considering how it ended up it sure seems like the best chance at keeping the service to Millerton would have been if that first cut had happened. On a separate note there's a parallel between the line's decline and the extension of the Taconic Parkway. It was extended from southern Dutchess almost to the Columbia County line in 1949, then into Columbia County in 1954, 1957 and 1963. Grogan points to 1949 as when the decline began, 1950 through service to North Adam's ended, and by 1963 you have the NYC trying to end service above Millerton.

Here's the Permut interview:
https://www.iridetheharlemline.com/2012 ... -railroad/

It seems like Millerton was never seriously considered. I have some literature on the 1992-1996 Capital Program (from the October 17, 1992 Harmon Shop Open House) and it mentions $12.8 million for the Dover Plains to Wassaic extension...nothing about Millerton. A later pamphlet for the project refers to June 20, 1995 as the beginning of the environmental review process and that "the project is the Preferred Alternative evaluated in the Wassaic Extension Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) issued by the FTA in August, 1997." There was a Millerton alternative, which I believe was one and the same with Mt. Riga, but was discounted over environmental reasons in regards to the yard.

The second to last page of Grogan's book explains how the right of way from Wassaic to Copake Falls was purchased by Dutchess and Columbia Counties on January 23, 1989 and that the NY State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation "took immediate title to the property." According to the Rail Trail website, the first section of the trail opened in 1996. I'm sure this didn't help.

Grogan mentions (1989) that Lettie Carson had moved away from the area and it really seems like the will to ever get service back to Millerton left with her. If she was still there in the early '90s when the proposal to expand beyond Dover Plains surfaced it might very well go all the way to Millerton today. The whole thing is a case of bad timing, what almost was, and what could have been.
  by NH2060
https://thetracksidephotographer.com/20 ... o-chatham/

There’s a funny bit in this blogpost about a trip on the Friday night train from Holland Avenue/NWP to Chatham in a blizzard in 1965 and the conductor hearing the passengers complain about the quality of service and him sharply replying with “Oh quit whining, if you lot rode the train ALL THE TIME things would be better on the railroad!” Passenger levels might not have been that much higher in ‘63/‘64 in hindsight.

Your theory about the Taconic is very plausible in spite of it being 10 miles to the west until Craryville where it runs much closer to it and in a straighter direction. No doubt the section of the parkway north of Route 23 ate into whatever local ridership was left - if any. I can’t imagine any more than at most a handful of passengers taking a day trip by train from say Philmont or Hillsdale to Copake Falls (or the other way around on Sunday). If I was alive in 1965 and lived in Chatham I would have most likely opted to do a zig zag drive to Hillsdale or Millerton. Any farther than that and I would have considered the train depending on my itinerary. I sure would have thought twice about riding the Harlem Division if I was onboard that train that derailed when the rails came apart due to the railroad ties rotting and splitting.

That’s interesting about the 1992 open house materials on the extension. The RR was clearly planning for it well before Conrail stopped freight service the following year. The upgraded tracks/CWR, improved signal system, and new Bombardier coaches, and the faster electric trains to/from Brewster North sure caused the parking lot at Dover Plains to fill up fast.

(Coincidentally I got to see and photograph the little HO scale module that was put together for the 2001 open house. It only featured a fictional Dover Plains and Wassaic stop with a passing siding and a pair of Athearn MNR Gennies with Walthers Comet coaches.)

My wild guess is that either 1) by 1992 Millerton had already balked at rail service returning so Wassaic was already “pre-decided” in the minds of the higher ups MNR and the Twnmile River/downtown Wassaic/Millerton/Mt. Riga alternatives were thrown in just so MNR could say “well, we looked at it and it just wasn’t doable” or 2) Wassaic was listed in that ‘92 document only because the tracks were still there and it was a relatively easy rebuild compared to north of there (which is saying a lot given the fact that there were 6 bridges in just that 5 mile stretch needing rehab or full replacement) and MNR had no idea how Millerton would play out. A 1993 article in the NYT has no mention of Millerton either and implied that Wassaic was the be-all-end-all.

Lettie Carson sure didn’t let up on her passenger rail activism when she moved to PA. The story of her fighting tooth and nail for SEPTA to bring back service to Newtown *and* for it to be electrified is the stuff of legend. Sadly, her efforts there were in vain too. Even in the Harlem Valley it got to the point where she and the HVTA were clearly fighting a losing battle. But better to die trying than to have never tried at all.

In the meantime at least the ROW is technically intact for whenever -if ever- northeastern Dutchess County and perhaps eastern Columbia County really want a Metro-North extension. As others have pointed out in other threads it’s a heck of a lot easier to revert a trail to rail than a home or business that’s blocking it.
  by NaugyRR
I honestly have a hard time seeing the line get extended even as far as Millerton. They just finished paving and connecting the Wassaic-Millerton portion of the trail with the Copake leg not terribly long ago, so I see a move to reclaim the ROW going over like a fart in church.

Also, Millerton has a serious lack of parking. Seriously, it's a nightmare, and the worst thing they ever did was put the lines in for street parking instead of figuring out expanded municipal parking (which no one uses anyway). The plaza with the old station building is closely surrounded by private businesses and does not have nearly the room available for parking that Wassaic does. Any new station would have to be built further north, up past the NAPA and new Irving coffee facility, with the creek, farmland, and a mix of businesses and residences crowding the ROW. Go too far north and you miss out on the walk-ability of the Village.

Then on top of all that you have blocking off Route 44 to reinstall the grade crossing there. That leaves traffic having to detour through Sharon and Amenia to go south, and through Rudd Pond to go north.

Don't even get me started on the screaming match Columbia County residents would put up over MTA taxes if the idea was to go further north yet.

That's not all to say I wouldn't love to see trains in Millerton, I grew up seeing the ghosts of them all my life. But, realistically expansion should have been made in the early 00's before Millerton became mini-Manhattan when more property was available. Now you can barely drive through town at times, I couldn't imagine even a mini-Bomb set rolling through.
  by NH2060
I imagine it would take consistent traffic congestion on Route 22 for there to be a solid pragmatic case for reestablishing rail service. The planned redevelopments of the Psychiatric Center in Wingdale and the Taconic Developemntal Center at Tenmile River never panned out as anticipated; the Dover Knolls project fell apart with the Great Recession and the Wassaic campus has still not found a buyer while still being maintained with millions of taxpayer dollars.

And from what’s been posted in the Metro-North forum the post-pandemic Southeast-Wassaic ridership has been ABYSMAL. Two of the 4 through trains to/from GCT have been replaced with shuttles. And even those probably don’t fill up more than one coach (not that I would endorse 1 car trains or that they’d even be allowed due to track circuit detection/braking issues).

Now *IF* the train were to ever came back, the Millerton station wouldn’t necessarily need to be in the center of town. For example, the town and the RR could place it further north on Rte. 22 between the Napa Auto Parts and the Irving Farm Roastery. Out of the way of any grade crossings, right next to the main highway, and not too far from Rte. 44 for those coming from Pine Plains, Canaan, etc.

And then to finish it off, the railyard with a “park and ride” station could go at Mt. Riga (far enough away from any residences who would be disturbed the noise) so that the Millerton lot doesn’t get crowded with cars coming from Columbia County, Berkshire County, etc. And for cars coming from Litchfield County 1) a station at Amenia either at/near the site of the old station or at a new site right off Rte. 343 and 2) a stop at the site of Coleman’s Station would provide adequate parking while evenly distributing the flow of “station car” traffic.

But I too don’t anticipate any extension given any serious discussion without Millerton residents really REALLY wanting it. As we all know simply being in favor of the train coming back would be not be enough for the MTA to embark on such a project unless Southeast-Wassaic ridership had fully recovered and continued to grow. Those are the two things could override the rail trail-ers’ “need” for the ROW to remain a bike path (either before a judge in a court of law or on the floor of the state legislature in Albany). Only time will tell.
  by scoostraw
Are any of you guys familiar with the court case that kept the Chatham trains running until 1972? Who were the litigants? Was it the State of NY itself against Penn Central? Was the case heard in Albany etc.?

I am interested in reading the case details, but so far I have not been able to track this down. (No pun intended!)