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?
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.
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.