• Some Ridgefield Branch Questions

  • Discussion relating to the NH and its subsidiaries (NYW&B, Union Freight Railroad, Connecticut Company, steamship lines, etc.). up until its 1969 inclusion into the Penn Central merger. This forum is also for the discussion of efforts to preserve former New Haven equipment, artifacts and its history. You may also wish to visit www.nhrhta.org for more information.
Discussion relating to the NH and its subsidiaries (NYW&B, Union Freight Railroad, Connecticut Company, steamship lines, etc.). up until its 1969 inclusion into the Penn Central merger. This forum is also for the discussion of efforts to preserve former New Haven equipment, artifacts and its history. You may also wish to visit www.nhrhta.org for more information.
  by Ridgefielder
 
When was the last revenue run on the Ridgefield Branch? Did it last into Penn Central at all? Also, how was it worked when it was in service-- did the local just come straight up the hill from Branchville, or did they cut out the Ridgefield cars at Branchville and leave the rest of the train in the siding there while they worked the branch?

Also, did the railroad sell the station building and land to the lumberyard prior to abandonment, or was the site only taken over by Ridgefield Supply after the railroad pulled out?
  by TomNelligan
 
To answer your first question, the Ridgefield Branch was abandoned in 1964. I'll have to leave the rest to someone who was more local to that end of Connecticut than I was.
  by Noel Weaver
 
It was a hard pull up grade into Ridgefield so NX-10 (the local) would drop the train in the siding and go to Ridgefield with
just the Ridgefield cars and maybe the caboose.
Noel Weaver
  by Ridgefielder
 
It must have been tough to operate- it seems from walking the old ROW as if the entire line was one big hill from the station in Ridgefield down to the Norwalk River bridge, with not more than a half-mile of straight track anywhere.
  by Jeff Smith
 
This topic has made me very curious. Caution: the following is pure foam, or as Otto is calling it over on the Amtrak thread, "wouldn't it be nice....". But there is some historical context here, so forgive me.

I google'd the branchville RR station here: Branchville, CT Railroad Station.

I followed along Florida Rd up to where I discovered The Ridgfield Rail Trail! I must assume this is the original ROW of the Ridgefield branch of a branch (although Danbury was the Berkshire "division" back then, right?). Okay, it seems a bit out of the way going towards Ridgefield than 102/Branchville Rd, but perhaps the grade/terrain was more suitable for rail.

Here's my first question: did the branch follow along Florida Rd, or did it follow what appears to be a clearing in the trees to where the Enterprise Rent A Car is today and join the Danbury branch there?

Here's my second question, and this is where the foam comes in: Since it appears there is a mostly intact ROW up to around the Ridgefield Historical Society, how feasible would a restored passenger service be today? Did HVCEO or Parsons ever look at this in the context of the numerous studies done since what appears to be Roman times? I realize this is a relatively short distance (about 4m for a branch that would have but a single station), but CT being somewhat of a "green" state, and with Super 7 never going to happen, etc., could this be a possibility? How congested is 102 approaching 7? How ample is the parking at Branchville? If the passenger count is limited by parking at Branchville and everyone just drives over to Katonah, would it be better for CDOT to keep those folks on trains in CT that are not full (and helping with farebox recovery)?

Okay, I've got to go wipe the foam from my mouth. Thanks for indulging me.
  by Statkowski
 
Simply put, any passenger service on a rebuilt Ridgefield Branch would not in any way, shape or form be economically feasible. It didn't have passenger service when it was in service. Oh, maybe, once upon a time, but then people discovered automobiles.
  by Ridgefielder
 
Sarge wrote:I followed along Florida Rd up to where I discovered The Ridgfield Rail Trail! I must assume this is the original ROW of the Ridgefield branch of a branch (although Danbury was the Berkshire "division" back then, right?). Okay, it seems a bit out of the way going towards Ridgefield than 102/Branchville Rd, but perhaps the grade/terrain was more suitable for rail.

Here's my first question: did the branch follow along Florida Rd, or did it follow what appears to be a clearing in the trees to where the Enterprise Rent A Car is today and join the Danbury branch there?
The rail trail is indeed the old ROW for the Ridgefield Branch. Sometime after they pulled the rails, most of the ROW was sold to Connecticut Light & Power, who built a high-voltage line along it from near where it joins Prospect Street in Ridgefield to where the tracks once crossed Florida Road. About 10 years ago now, the town and Northeast Utilities (the parent of CL&P) got together and built a trail along the grade as well. It's a very pleasant walk, actually-- the surface is crushed bluestone, and because of the powerlines overhead the trees and brush are kept well back from the trail, which makes it easier to imagine what it was like when the line was in service. There are few physical remnants aside from the grade, though—some old ties dumped down the embankments, a couple of telegraph poles in a swamp, a W post near the Cooper Hill Road crossing, and that’s about it.

The clearing in the trees, though, is the power line ROW. The railroad crossed Florida Road, ran parallel to the east for a couple hundred yards, then crossed again to parallel the road to the west for maybe a half mile. Several hundred yards short of the Branchville station, it crossed Florida Road a third time, ran behind the buildings along lower Branchville Road, crossed US 7 at an angle, then crossed the Norwalk River. Here http://historical.mytopo.com/getImage.a ... g&state=CT is the 1951 USGS map showing the route. Looking at the topo should also illustrate why the line took an indirect route as compared to Route 102. (In fact, I think I remember reading that this was the steepest grade on the entire NYNH&H).

In terms of passenger service—well, the New Haven suspended that in favor of a bus as long ago as the mid-1920’s, so I think that gives you some idea of its viability even in the days of Model T’s and dirt roads. Also the ROW is encroached upon by an elementary school and a house at the Branchville end, and has Sunset Lane built on top of it at the Ridgefield Center end. FWIW it’s always been my understanding that the line was built as something of a spoiler by the Danbury & Norwalk, to prevent the people of Ridgefield agitating for direct rail service from the south via, say, the New Canaan branch.
Last edited by Ridgefielder on Wed Mar 10, 2010 12:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by RRBUFF
 
From a book Southern New England Railroad Depots and Freight Houses by John H Roy Jr. the Ridgefield last passenger left Ridgefield on August 25 1925. I believe it was mostly just a shuttle to Branchville to connect with the thru trains.
  by Jeff Smith
 
Ridgefielder wrote:In terms of passenger service—well, the New Haven suspended that in favor of a bus as long ago as the mid-1920’s, so I think that gives you some idea of its viability even in the days of Model T’s and dirt roads. Also the ROW is encroached upon by an elementary school and a house at the Branchville end, and has Sunset Lane built on top of it at the Ridgefield Center end. FWIW it’s always been my understanding that the line was built as something of a spoiler by the Danbury & Norwalk, to prevent the people of Ridgefield agitating for direct rail service from the south via, say, the New Canaan branch.
Yeah, but you have to admit quite a bit has changed since 1925, especially along route 7. They extended to Wassaic, they're considering New Milford and even Pittsfield. If they electrify (big if) it might be worth it to keep some of those folks on CT trains than on the Harlem. If parking is driving people to Katonah, or distance is driving people to Branchville, a shuttle to Norwalk or Stamford would work. It seems most of the ROW to the edge of town is still there; how long was the Wassaic rebuild? Ridgefield is really only 4 miles it seems; a decent interval for a station stop.

Anyway, thanks for the topo map, very interesting to see. Some ideas were just before their time.

I guess I'm kind of looking at CT and wondering why, if they're paying 100% of the operation of the branch costs, why aren't they trying to maximize the potential and get more in fare box recovery instead of shuttling folks to NY on busses, or forcing them to go there for better service? Whether it's folks in Kent or thereabouts driving to Wassaic, New Milford and Danbury driving to Southeast or Brewster, Ridgefield driving to Katonah, I think CT is selling this line short. You've got major job markets in Danbury (okay, maybe that's not a major market), Stamford, Norwalk, Bridgeport, New Haven suffering for lack of decent service and crowding 7, the Merritt, 95.

Ah well, I guess I'm just dreaming/foaming.
  by Noel Weaver
 
Following is an item that I posted on the NHRHTA forum back on December 19, 2009 regarding a very snowed in weekend
years ago. Rather than do the research again or a lot typing, I simply copied and pasted something that I posted over there
back in December. I hope you will find this interesting. It covers my one and only trip on the Ridgefield Branch.

This one was a bit of a challenge and I had to dig back in to my old timebooks but here's one. On February 3, 1961 while on
the Oak Point spare board firing, I was deadheaded to Stamford and later to Danbury for a work train and service on
February 3, 1961. I went up to Danbury the night of February 3rd apparently because of bad weather or the possibility of
bad weather, even then I want to be there for the job and I did not want to have to hurry to Danbury that morning. I reported
7:30 AM on February 4th for the work train but it was snowing like crazy and the job was annulled. They held me for 141 and 148 which was open as a result of the fireman not being able to make it in for the job. I guess 141 was pretty late and I
seem to think the power may have gone through from Pittsfield to New York because it had a lot of snow on it and I don't
think we changed power that day. Apparently we were very late into Grand Central Terminal as we were due in at 11:28 AM and we did not get on the pit until 1:50 PM, like maybe two hour late. The Saturday job layed over all day in New York
and went back up to Danbury on 148 in the evening but I needed the rest anyway. Apparently we didn't do bad going back to Danbury as we were due in the station at 9:33 PM and we made it off at 10:10 PM.
Next morning was the fun one, I was still on hold in Danbury for a "work train" that Sunday with snow literally up to your
hips in places.
On Sunday, February 5, 1961 I reported at 8:00 AM for a flanger to do the Danbury Branch to South Norwalk plus the
Ridgefield Branch. We had the 526, a flanger and a caboose and the conductor was one of the senior conductors on the
New York freight roster, Grover King. We flanged all the way to SS-44, went into the Dock Yard to runaround the train
and switch the caboose and started north. We had orders to do the siding at Norwalk Mills, Wilton, Branchville and Bethel
Lower plus the Ridgefield Branch. The sidings were done without any major problems but at Branchville the fun began with
the Ridgefield Branch. We made it across US-7 with the flanger and caboose and there was just too much snow for the 526
to both fight the snow, pull the flanger and caboose and flange out too. The conductor decided to drop the flanger and
caboose just past the crossing and go to Ridgefield with just the 526. That poor engine fought the grade up to Ridgefield
like it was pulling a tonnage train through all of the snow and up the grade. When we got back to Branchville the dispatcher
told the conductor to forget about flanging to Ridgefield and just go north but be sure and do the Bethel Lower Siding which
we did before returning to Danbury and finishing at 7:35 PM.
I drove back to Stamford, showing my paper deadhead on train 147 that evening and stood for the 7:00 AM Stamford
Switcher that Monday morning. That week I worked 4 jobs in two days before being released from Stamford and
deadheading back to New York.
That whole winter there was plenty of work in both New York and New Haven and I worked part of the winter in New York and the rest of it in New Haven. Incidentally in 1961 a day's pay for a fireman on a yard job with an 0900 class
engine was $19.36 and at that time it wasn't bad money. The subway fare in New York was 15 cents.
Noel Weaver

PS - As I type this the northeast is being belted with the same storm that we had Thursday into Friday but this time it's snow
and not the heavy rain that we got here. I went to a live steam event nearby today and the temperature just barely made it
to 70 but that's better than freezing and snow.

Last Edited By: Noel Weaver 12/21/09 21:07:05. Edited 2 times.

Noel Weaver
  by Ridgefielder
 
Noel Weaver wrote:The conductor decided to drop the flanger and
caboose just past the crossing and go to Ridgefield with just the 526. That poor engine fought the grade up to Ridgefield
like it was pulling a tonnage train through all of the snow and up the grade. When we got back to Branchville the dispatcher
told the conductor to forget about flanging to Ridgefield and just go north but be sure and do the Bethel Lower Siding which
we did before returning to Danbury and finishing at 7:35 PM.
I drove back to Stamford, showing my paper deadhead on train 147 that evening and stood for the 7:00 AM Stamford
Switcher that Monday morning. That week I worked 4 jobs in two days before being released from Stamford and
deadheading back to New York.
That whole winter there was plenty of work in both New York and New Haven and I worked part of the winter in New York and the rest of it in New Haven. Incidentally in 1961 a day's pay for a fireman on a yard job with an 0900 class
engine was $19.36 and at that time it wasn't bad money. The subway fare in New York was 15 cents.
Noel Weaver
Noel- That must have been really something, trying to get up that hill in a blizzard. Wish you had pictures!

I haven't seen many pictures, incidentally, of operations on the Ridgefield branch post, say, 1925 when passenger service ceased. Has anyone else? -B
  by Tom Curtin
 
Thanks for posting that story again Noel!!! It was worth rereading. I remember that storm well. I was a high school kid at the time and a close watcher of New Haven operations in and around Danbury.

The Ridgefield branch was officially abandoned Januray 8, 1964. That date has nothing to do with when the last run occurred --- and I do not know when that was, nor do I know anyone who does know. The earlier post stating the last passenger run was August 1925 is correct. Supposedly the branch was New Haven's steepest grade, although never having seen a track chart of it I can't quote any grade figures.

I think a Georgetown team track handled cars for whatever Ridgefield customers remained following the abandonment.
  by Ridgefielder
 
Tom Curtin wrote: Supposedly the branch was New Haven's steepest grade, although never having seen a track chart of it I can't quote any grade figures.

I think a Georgetown team track handled cars for whatever Ridgefield customers remained following the abandonment.
I've definitely read this in a couple of differrent sources regarding the grade, and it would make sense, as there is an approximately 400' difference in elevation between the station at Branchville and the center of town 4-odd miles away (enough so that it can be snowing on Main Street and raining at the station).

Customers at the end, I suppose, were the lumberyard and the Montanari Brothers fuel-oil dealership (whose tanks are still located near the old end-of-track), although there's a picture mounted on a plaque on Bailey Avenue that shows Bedient's Hardware unloading appliances from a Southern Pacific boxcar ca. 1950.
  by Noel Weaver
 
I don't know if the Ridgefield Branch had the steepest grade on the New Haven or not. I do know that the Beacon Branch
climbing out of the Hudson Valley up to Hopewell Junction was mighty steep especially on a westbound headed for Beacon
with a long train, I did it my share of times and it was quite an adventure. You didn't want to blow the signal at the bottom
of this grade either, serious consequences would result if you did.
A 10 MPH restriction and the poor to none on the dynamic brake on some of the locomotives did not help either.
Noel Weaver