Our History of Trains

Posted: March 9, 2011 by HaverstrawLife.com in Downtown, Ferry Service, History, Sustainability

NJ & NY RR

I have been both amazed and frustrated by the recent “national conversation” on high speed rail. Never before in the history of these United States has transportation (especially railroads) become part of the partisan divide. It seems the R’s need more issues to fight over with the D’s; and where are the I’s in all of this? The argument – that’s probably not the appropriate term to use; blither? – spans a wide spectrum of talking points, including a liberal conspiracy to dismantle the American “freedom delusion” and a conservative conspiracy to pump more of our money into the palms of CEO’s. I would like to move beyond the national stage and discuss Haverstraw’s rich history of rail. Could it be that we have gone backwards on transportation choices in Rockland County since 1900?

What you are about to learn may shock you. The Village of Haverstraw once had two, that’s two (2) major train stations, one of which was the northern terminal of the NJ & NY Railroad. The other station, still located at New Main Street and Route 9W, served a branch of the New York Central System (the West Shore Mainline). How is it possible that passenger rail service once connected all major towns in Rockland County, today a county that contains few mass transportation links?

New York Central Railroad in Dutchtown

Imagine a Haverstraw that contains two railroad stations (within a short walk of one another), ferry service to Westchester and MetroNorth, and frequent bus service to places that aren’t served by rail. See the above picture, which depicts where the NJ&NY line ran and terminated. The rail line branched off at Central Highway and Railroad Avenue in Garnerville, continued on past where Helen Hayes Hospital now stands, diagonally crossed Route 9W and Railroad Avenue (here’s the West Haverstraw Station; DEC Copiers is here today),  on to Samsondale Avenue, crossed Broadway near Orchard Street, crossed the field behind what is now Haverstraw Middle School, and ended as a terminal at Broad Street and Maple Avenue.

The New York Central Line, or the West Shore Railroad operates today as a freight railroad (CSX Railroad). The line once connected New York City to Albany via station stops in New Jersey, Rockland County (including West Nyack, Congers, Haverstraw, W Haverstraw, Stony Point), and points north along the Hudson River. The line hasn’t provided passenger service since 1959, the heyday of See the USA in your Chevrolet. During the 1990s, a few politicians and rail advocates discussed the possibility of restoring service on the West Shore railroad, but the idea was shelved and instead, the Haverstraw-Ossining Ferry was established on the waterfront. The Haverstraw Ferry, while it is a major asset to the Village, does nothing to further connect Rockland County towns like they had once been stitched together with an expansive passenger and freight railroad network. New Jersey Transit is planning on extending its Hudson-Bergen light rail up toward Tenafly, New Jersey along the old Northern Branch alignment. However, if this light rail service was ever extended into Rockland County, the line would terminate in Piermont and Nyack.

NYCRR Station at West Haverstraw

Could it be that we have less transportation choices now than in 1900? Yes, it’s true. Those in Haverstraw that do not own a car must rely on the Transport of Rockland (TOR) bus system to get to where they need to go, sitting in traffic and at traffic lights all along the way. Those who rely heavily on their personal automobiles, languish in traffic and grit their teeth. They sweat when they think about where gas prices are headed. They walk less, gain weight, and in order to keep the pounds off, they must spend even more money to join a gym that they then have to drive to. Subsequently, Rockland County, once a bucolic region of rolling hills, mountain peaks, farms, lakes, riverfront, and quaint villages has been eaten up by parking lots, strip malls, Route 59, and the like. I’m wondering if by now you can tell whether or not I’m biased toward rail transportation. I won’t even discuss the prospects of global oil production decline and associated future economic impacts on Rockland County.

See below, for a station map of the NJ & NY Railroad service. This includes the branch to New City, New York.

 

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Comments
  1. Jake says:

    Are you serious? They were so fast to dump all of these rail lines, and now we’re all killing each other to rebuild train lines? This is beyond frustrating.

  2. It’s incredibly frustrating. In the 1950s, there was almost less foresight than today. This country jumped on bandwagon that would have a good 50-year run, but with no respect for future generations. . . like us. Fortunately, much of the right of way (ROW) is still in place on the NJ&NY line, and the West Shore Line is still operational. I think as pressures for alternative transportation increase, we could see the reactivation of passenger service on these lines. I’m not sure what price gasoline would be required before Rocklanders wake up to this missed opportunity. Check this out: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106695133

  3. jess says:

    If we still had these lines, I wouldn’t ever have to drive. I could get down to Nyack, Suffern, Spring Valley and the city. These lines stopped in all the places that I ever have to go to. We have gone backwards.

  4. Karen says:

    It’s true. WE’re fighting about all of this today. But, in the 1950s (and even today) the federal government pumps billions into the public using cars as subsidies. The government subsidizes the oil, the highways, car purchasing, car companies, and more. They destroyed these private railroad companies bakc then and now our only option to get around Rockland is by using cars. It’s just too damm expensive now to own multiple cars, and pay for insurance and gas. I want OPTIONS! Or else, I’m going to move like everyone else.

  5. Swampthing says:

    Passenger service on the Haverstraw and New City branch lines were killed in the 1940s because of very low ridership, very high property taxes, and a a shift to automobiles post WW2. Same story through out the US. The branch to Haverstraw, at least as far as the hospital, saw limted feight service (coal) into the mid 1970’s. Tracks north of the Spring Valley commuter layup yard were in really bad shape as were the tracks to Suffern west of Spring Valley junction.

    • Jared says:

      Which service are you talking about?

      The Haverstraw (west shore line) still operates today – it’s one of the busiest freight lines in the nation. The passenger service there ended in the 1950s.

      Do you know when the service from New Main Street to Spring Valley was eliminated? That was in the 1940s? My grandmother remembers taking a train from that station in Haverstraw, and she was born in the 1930s. Makes sense. Really? The freight line to Helen Hayes was still operating as late as the 1970s?

  6. Tom McGuire says:

    With the price of gas today and the average wear and tear on your car a county wide passenger railway system might cure some of those problems ..including reducing county wide traffic

  7. Tom McGuire says:

    There is an old rail line cutting through Haverstraw Bay Park just before you get to the actual park itself- ..much covered by overgrown bushes and brush .which one was that?

  8. Corey Best says:

    The West Shore line restoration will come in Lower Hudson Valley Transportation enhancement sometime in the 2030s , along with the I-287 Rail line , Stewart Airport Expansion and link , Tappan Zee Bridge Replacement and a few other things in Orange , Bergen , Passaic Counties…. It will happen , but not for a while…

  9. Corey Best says:

    The Piermont branch between Suffern and Spring Valley might be restored first , that would service Hillburn , East Suffern , Airmont , Monsey and Spring Valley. That can happen later this decade or sometime in the 2020s , the ROW has been preserved and protected for the whole length. It would be cheap for the most part , although from Airmont to Hillburn would have to be Grade Separated and Double Tracked. The Pfizer plant in Pearl River would get a stop and there might be special early morning trains that would operate from Hoboken to Spring Valley or Hillburn. The Bergen – Passaic LRT would join the Main / Bergen lines with the Pascack Valley and West Shore lines. The Northern Branch to Tenafly is looking unlikely to Nimbys , but it will be built to at least Downtown Englewood. Haverstraw should at least push for weekend push service to the city which would affect me down in Bergen County. Its a critical service that fills in the voids in this region , yet no weekend service.

    • Would this be included in the I-287 corridor improvement, or would it be a separate project (the Old Erie Line Suffern/Piermont)?

    • jack says:

      WHERE EXACTLY WOULD THE STOPS BE at East Suffern and Airmont? Never heard of any stations there

      • There is an existing rail line that extends from Suffern to Spring Valley. Sometimes freight moves over this line. The line begins at Orange Ave and Wayne Ave and essentially follows Rte 59 to Spring Valley. It crosses Airmont Road north of where Starbucks is on 59. The East Suffern stop would have been between Chestnut Street and Washington Avenue in downtown Suffern on this line.

  10. Corey Best says:

    Yes , the section between Spring Valley and Hillburn would be included the I-287 Project.

  11. I would LOVE it if they would have included in their alternatives a reactivation of the piermont branch from Spring Valley/Nanuet Junction to Piermont and then in a TUNNEL from there under the pier, under the Hudson and then linked up to the Hudson Line. If they aren’t going to be connecting the new I287 line across Westchester, then why not? However, that would leave Nyack high and dry; but. . . that might give some incentive to activate the defunct Nyack branch from Franklin Street down to Piermont and then into the new tunnel or out Suffern. I sort of have my fingers crossed for $5/gallon gasoline, so these projects might move forward a little bit faster. Unfortunately, those gas prices bring Recessions, brings budget catastrophe, brings less spending on rail. . .

  12. Corey Best says:

    The ROW east of Spring Valley is mostly gone , except some parts near Piermont. So restoring it would be out of the Question and very expensive. The Population isn’t there to support it either , but if the population grows in Rockland enough you could probably make a case for a Tunneled or above ground PVL extension / restoration to Haverstraw.

    http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=215312482559953359515.000496b73cabd9916320d&msa=0

  13. Very very cool. I’ve seen your map before; I don’t know how I found it (a few years ago). I hope your timeline is accurate. These projects would be incredible. Thanks again for your post.

  14. [...] Passenger trains last rumbled through the Village of Haverstraw in the early 1950s. Since then, the area has become more and more reliant on autombiles. The only transportation options other than car are buses to other parts of Rockland County and to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan or the ferry service to Ossining, where MetroNorth trains are available to Grand Central Terminal. Politicians have made numerous calls for reinstated passenger rail service on the West Shore Line over the past 60 years. One option that they haven’t considered is employing a railbus, otherwise known as a ‘railcar’ system on the West Shore line into Secaucus, New Jersey. [...]

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