Review: Forgotten Railroads Through Westchester County

Forgotten Railroads Through Westchester County

Forgotten Railroads Through Westchester County covers some very interesting railroads—all now relegated to history—and does it in a way that brings them to life. Whether powered by steam, diesel or electric, these railroads all shared one common trait: they were conceived with the idea of serving the lucrative New York City market, but failed.

For readers who are not familiar with Westchester County, it lies directly north of New York City. Bordered by the Hudson River on the west, Connecticut on the east and the Bronx to the south, railroad traffic between New York City and points north and east funnel through the county. Today, commuters in Westchester’s bedroom communities are served by three rail lines, Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson, Harlem and New Haven lines, but in the early part of the twentieth century these lines were also complimented by the NYC’s Putnam Division and Getty Square branch; the heavy interurban cars of the New York, Westchester & Boston Railway; and a variety of local trolley lines. It is these lines that are covered so well in this volume.

The combination of an enjoyable and informative text with clear, well-reproduced photographs, plenty of maps, and reprints of old news clippings and timetables give the reader a real feel for the railroads that once served the area. The first chapter of the book covers the New York Central’s Putnam Division. Along with the black and white photos one would expect, this chapter also includes a number of color scenes of steam and diesel action during the last years of the line. Although many of the photos were taken within 50 miles of New York City, there are plenty of bucolic scenes presented here–providing a hint at why Westchester has proven so popular over the years with people who work in the City.

The second chapter covers the NYC’s Getty Square branch, which ran from Van Cortland Park in the Bronx to downtown Yonkers. While only three miles long, this branch had some good looking, suburban-style stations.

The New Haven’s electrification of its mainline into Grand Central Terminal, which began in 1905, is the subject of the third chapter. Loaded with construction photos as well as track diagrams and drawings of the New Haven’s catenary system, this is a particularly interesting chapter.

Perhaps the highlight of the book, though, is chapter four, which covers the New York, Westchester & Boston. Here was a state of the art, high-speed, interurban railroad with a multi-track mainline and substantial concrete stations and towers. Opened in 1912, the railroad lasted just 25 years. After sitting dormant for a couple of years, the southern portion of the line from Dyre Ave. to 180th Street in the Bronx was purchased by the City of New York for inclusion in its subway system in 1940, while the rest was scrapped as part of the war effort.

The book ends with a look at Westchester’s lesser known railroads, some of which never got beyond the planning stage, and others that operated trolleys in the early part of the last century.

Forgotten Railroads Through Westchester County is an informative and enjoyable book. The writing, photography, layout design and publication are all first rate. I heartily recommend it. —Chris D’Amato

Originally published Railroad Model Craftsman, October 2008.
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