RAIL LINE HISTORY
Text by HART
Interest in railroad projects developed rapidly during the
early half of the 19th century on the east coast of the United
States. The success of several rail projects in England, and
the New York & Albany Railroad charter of 1832, inspired
local Danbury leaders to draw up their own rail charter.
In 1835 a rail charter was granted by the Connecticut Legislature
to an enterprise known as the "Fairfield County Railroad."
The charter was established only to build a railroad between
Danbury and Long Island Sound. The charter grantees, however,
had much greater plans as the name implied, believing there
was opportunity to link industrial towns by rail along the
Housatonic River and eventually to push further north into
Alexander C. Twining conducted the first survey for a rail
route in 1835. He surveyed three alternative routes. Twining
eventually recommended a route that is similar to the route
the Danbury Branch travels today. This survey was as far as
it went for the Fairfield County Railroad until 1850.
Raising the necessary construction funds, $230,000, proved
difficult for the size of the population the rail line was
to serve. But by 1850 the charter was renewed and renamed
the "Danbury & Norwalk Railroad." Work began
quickly on the new 23 mile line. In addition, in recent years
steam locomotive technology had improved greatly.
Better technology provided the impetus for the rail investment,
which was now up to a cost of $330,000. Work proceeded on
the line despite financial and technical problems over the
next two years. In 1852, when the D&N started operation
, a one-way trip took 75 minutes using Hinkley Steam Engines
named "The Danbury" and "The Norwalk."
In 1852 the trains would make two round trips daily for passenger
service. The Line did well financially in the first few years,
especially for passenger service.
1870Ís, The D&N was competing against several other companies
including the New York, New Haven & Hartford and the Housatonic
Railroad. The D&N sought an advantage in freight traffic
by building a rail and ferry connection at Wilson's Point
in South Norwalk in 1882. That extension of the transportation
system allowed for an excellent intermodal connection between
steamships and freight cars ready to move goods inland or
ship raw materials like ice to New York City.
Wilson Point extension proved to be very profitable for the
D&N and made that Railroad an attractive business partner
for other rail lines including the Housatonic Railroad and
the New York, New Haven & Hartford.
The Housatonic seemed the most natural fit, as their service
somewhat overlapped with the D&N. In 1886 a deal was struck
between the D&N and the Housatonic Railroad, the Housatonic
Railroad arranged a 99 year lease with the D&N.
This was advantageous to both companies as the competition
among railroads was intense at this time in the late nineteenth
century. The D&N became the "Danbury and Norwalk
Division of the Housatonic Railroad" (Cornwall, 53).
Soon after the lease was finalized plans began for the integration
of operations and trackage of the D&N and Housatonic lines.
The key places for the interchanges were Danbury and Hawleyville
in Newtown. The double track and loop system that still stands
today on Downtown Danbury's White Street was developed during
this time. Freight traffic was able to bypass Danbury, passing
through Hawleyville and then into Brookfield.
"The Consolidated" (the New York, New Haven and
Hartford Railroad, also referred to as "The New Haven")
then muscled its' way to a lease arrangement with the Housatonic
Railroad in 1892. The company threatened to build a line parallel
to the Housatonic's New Haven-Derby line so the Housatonic
The Consolidated also marginalized the Wilson's Point docks
for freight shipments but was offering more passenger train
service on the Danbury Branch, 10 trips a day in 1904. Overall,
the Consolidated's acquisition the D&N from the Housatonic
Railroad proved to be a success.
the 1890Ís "The New Haven" vastly improved its rail
infrastructure. The company electrified its lines along the
shore to Stamford by 1907, but did not electrify the Danbury
Branch until 1925.
The New Haven then fell on hard times during the Depression.
Its profits were cut in half in the five year period between
1929 and 1934. It had also made poor business decisions.
The company acquired many unprofitable short lines railroads
in its quest to dominate rail service in the Northeast in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Due to poor
internal economics service on the Danbury Branch was cut to
five round trips a day by 1934 (Cornwall, 1987).
The Danbury Branch then did well during WWII when fuel was
rationed, but the New Haven never fully recovered financially
from the decade of the depression when it declared bankruptcy.
The company "de-electrified" the Danbury Branch
in 1961, taking down the catenary wire, and began using FL-9
dual diesel electric locomotives.
Control of the Danbury Branch was again changed in 1968 when
the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads were merged.
The "Penn Central" reluctantly acquired the New
Haven in 1968. Only two years later, in 1970, the Penn Central
was also in bankruptcy court.
Norwalk to Danbury service continued to operate, but infrastructure
along the Branch was falling into disrepair. Freight business
also suffered along the Branch, dwindling down about a dozen
customers due to the competition of trucking .
It was in the early 1970Ís that focus switched to providing
passenger service along the Danbury Branch. Fairfield County
was suburbanizing rapidly. Higher cost housing in the south
and lesser costs to the north set up a natural commuter market
for rail. it was in this period that passenger rail service
first became government sponsored.
The Penn Central agreed to lease for a period of 60 years
all the rail lines providing passenger service in the state.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Connecticut Department
of Transportation agreed to allow Penn Central to provide
passenger service in 1971.
Penn Central was the operator the service, but infrastructure
and equipment maintenance and improvements were left to Conn
DOT and the MTA. Re-electrifying the branch was also actively
planned during the seventies, attaining headlines in the Danbury
News Times, but is still only being researched in 2002.
rail service limped along on the branch as well. In the mid-70Ís
Congress was attempting to reorganize the Penn Central and
force the company to abandon rail lines that were unproductive.
A federal study commissioned by Congress concluded that there
was enough freight activity between Danbury to Norwalk to
Conrail took over passenger rail service and freight operations
on the Danbury Branch in 1976. Conrail was a freight only
rail company, but took over passenger service after acquiring
the operation of the Penn Central. It continued to operate
the passenger service until 1983 when the Metro North Commuter
Railroad was formed. in a major development, Conn DOT
became the owner of the Branch Line in 1985.
Re-electrification was also discussed again in the early 1980Ís.
But by the time Metro North started operating passenger service
on the Branch the idea of re-electrification had been again
deferred. As Fairfield County suburbanized, passenger ridership
grew rapidly 1960-1990.
passenger service continues to be provided by Metro North
Railroad. Minimal freight rail service on the Danbury Branch
is now supplied by the Providence & Worcester Railroad.
Upgrading of the Danbury Branch Line has been proposed as
an alternative road building strategy by the two regional
planning organizations along the corridor. These are the South
Western Regional Planning Agency and the Housatonic Valley
Council of Elected Officials. The strategy is
summarized on another page of this site.
As of 2002, the future of the Danbury Branch will be determined
by a $1,000,000 study to be undertaken by Conn DOT and the
policies of Connecticut's new Transportation Strategy Board.
RAIL LINE HISTORY
roots of the Housatonic
Railroad, creator of the Berkshire Line, can
be traced to 1836, when plans to improve transportation between
Bridgeport and points north in Massachusetts and New York
were conceived. Following the granting of a charter petition
by the Connecticut Legislature, the "Ousatonic Railroad
Company" was created.
One year later, construction of the first 35 mile segment
of track began. By 1840, trains were traveling between Bridgeport,
via Newtown and Brookfield, northerly on to New Milford along
the banks of the Housatonic River. The Housatonic Railroad
reached the Massachusetts state line via the Berkshire Line
of the Housatonic Railroad initially envisioned two roles
for their new line. First, to serve the iron, marble, granite
and lime industries and second, to form a water-rail route
between Albany and New York City. The second goal would be
achieved by using steamboat service from New York to Bridgeport,
where passengers would board the Housatonic Railroad for a
somewhat roundabout journey to Albany.
Although the fledgling railroad experienced some financial
problems early on, by the beginning of the 1850's the business
was steadily growing. In 1892, the line was acquired by the
New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. It was in this
period that the Housatonic's north-south route from Danbury
to Pittsfield, Mass. became known as the Berkshire Line.
Although the railroad served adjacent industries and provided
freight interchange, the Berkshire soon became best known
as a passenger line that brought New Yorkers up to their country
Penn Central took over the line and continued to provide many
of the services for which the line had become known. But by
1972, financial troubles led to the abandonment of a part
of the once burgeoning Berkshire Line between Canaan and New
remained dormant until 1983 when John R. Hanlon, Jr., chartered
the "new " Housatonic Railroad and began the arduous
task of restoring the abandoned line. With the help of a dedicated
group of volunteers, weekend tourist excursions along 16 miles
of scenic track began running in 1984. The Housatonic Railroad
became a Common Carrier in 1989.
In 1991, the Housatonic purchased the north end of the Berkshire
Line between Canaan, CT and Pittsfield, Mass. In 1992, the
portion between Danbury and New Milford was acquired, leaving
a state owned segment in between, but with operating rights
granted to the Housatonic Railroad.
Today the Housatonic Railroad provides rail service to approximately
40 customers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Construction
of a 12,000 square foot Engine House in Canaan was recently
completed, a proud example of the revival of a line whose
future was in doubt many times through the years.
Maybrook Line running east-west thru the Greater Danbury Region
was first envisioned by the Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad,
a company chartered in 1863. It was part of a rail line intended
to link Waterbury, CT westerly to the Hudson River in New
This line was to supply important access and materials from
points west of New England, such as coal from Pennsylvania.
Most importantly, it was envisioned to provide direct freight
competition to the New York, New Haven & Hartford running
roughly parallel to the south.
The Maybrook Line was actually completed by the New York &
New England R.R. in 1891 to link with ferries that took rail
cars across the Hudson River in Fishkill, NY. Once the cars
crossed the Hudson they were brought to Newburgh, NY where
they could connect with the Erie Railroad.
The NY&NE Railroad also built the first rail station on
White St. in Danbury and had two stops along the way to New
York; the Danbury Fairgrounds and Mill Plain.
In the late 1880Ís the Housatonic Railroad Company and the
NY&NE cooperated extensively against the Consolidated.
The Housatonic had acquired the "Danbury-Derby"
line and allowed the NY&NE to ship freight on its tracks
from the north through Hawleyville and onto Danbury's White
Street to Brewster, N.Y., then to Manhattan or the Fishkill
Piers. Later, the combination of the Danbury-Derby Line and
the track the NY&NE built in Danbury would become the
The Consolidated controlled the NY&NE and the track that
became the Maybrook Line from Danbury to Derby. J.P. Morgan
himself personally saw to it that the independent NY&NE
would fail in the region and come under his company's control.
Indeed, the Maybrook Line was absorbed into the Consolidated
and at approximately this time the Poughkeepsie Bridge had
been built, making the Maybrook a much more strategic thru
route than in the past. At this point the Consolidated controlled
virtually all the rail service in today's Housatonic Valley
Line was also acquired by the New Haven through an acquisition/lease
arrangement of all Housatonic Railroad property and assets
in 1892. From 1895, what became the Maybrook Line was under
control of the New Haven and suffered the same series of financial
difficulties through the early twentieth century.
Passenger service to Newtown and other Maybrook Line stations
ceased in 1931 as the route became a freight only railroad.
Penn Central acquired the assets of the New Haven in 1968,
including the Maybrook Line, and ran freight service on it
until 1974 when the Poughkeepsie bridge burned.
the Consolidated Rail Corporation "Conrail" took control
of the line from Beacon, N.Y. thru Greater Danbury to Derby,
CT. Since 1992, the "new" Housatonic Railroad Company
controls the Maybrook Line from Derby to the New York/Connecticut
line. At the New York border Metro North assumes the trackage
rights and the name now changes to the Beacon Line."
The Housatonic Railroad has rights to operate on the Maybrook
Line in New York but there currently is no freight traffic or
sidings. The Danbury
has offered rail enthusiast excursions along
the line in the past few years.
& DERBY RAIL LINE HISTORY
Well to the east of Greater Danbury, the railroad
from Derby to New Haven was completed in 1871. It was a short
line, 13 miles, but proved to be strategically valuable to
rail companies such as the Housatonic Railroad. to the west.
Simply, with westerly access to New Haven, the Housatonic
would be able to parallel the Consolidated's New Haven Line
along the Connecticut shore.
The Housatonic Railroad acquired the New Haven & Derby
railroad in 1889. The Housatonic Railroad referred to this
line as its "New Haven & Derby Division."
Before taking over the New Haven & Derby, the Housatonic
Railroad facilitated the merger by building an 9.8 mile (Blakeslee,
1953) extension from Danbury to Botsford and Huntington stations
in Newtown. That extension was completed and opened in 1888,
which allowed a seamless rail trip from New Haven, CT all
the way to Pittsfield, MA.
New York & New England (NY&NE) also expanded service
in the region at this time. Rather than travel along the coast
of Connecticut the NY&NE traveled through central Connecticut
on to Boston and New York.
On its way through the NY&NE went through Danbury. This
route made the NY&NE a natural ally of the Housatonic
Railroad since they were both competing for freight and passenger
traffic with "The Consolidated" railroad on Connecticut's
then the Danbury-Derby Line was acquired in 1892 by the New
Haven through an acquisition/lease arrangement of all Housatonic
Railroad property and assets. From 1895, what became the Maybrook
Line was under control of the New Haven and suffered the same
series of financial difficulties as the parent railroad until
1968 when the Penn Central acquired the assets of the New
Penn Central ran freight service on the Maybrook until 1974
when the Poughkeepsie bridge burned. In 1976 the Consolidated
Rail Corporation "Conrail" took control of the line
from Derby, CT through Beacon, NY. Since 1992, the "new"
Housatonic Railroad Company controls the Maybrook from Derby
to the New York/Connecticut line.
LINE RAIL HISTORY
The New York and New Haven Railroad began commuter
rail service between New Haven, Connecticut and New York City
in 1848 over what has become known as the New Haven Line.
In 1872 the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (the
New Haven) was created by the merger of the New York &
New Haven and the Hartford & New Haven Railroads.
already mentioned the fortunes of the New Haven declined after
World War I, with a brief resurgence during World War II,
eventually resulting in the bankruptcy of the New Haven railroad
in the late 1960's.
As part of the merger of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the
New York Central Railroad into the Penn Central Transportation
Company (Penn Central), the New Haven Line operations were
assumed by Penn Central.
1966, as part of demonstration project with federal funds,
Connecticut and New York began subsidizing the operation of
the service in order to ensure the continuation of the New
Haven Line. In October of 1970, the Connecticut Department
of Transportation (Conn DOT) and the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority of New York (MTA) entered into an agreement effective
1/1/1971 to oversee the operation of the New Haven Line by
Penn Central and to jointly fund the operating deficit.
The bankruptcy of Penn Central and seven other northeastern
railroads caused the United States Congress to create Conrail
which in 1976 took over the essential freight and commuter
operations of the bankrupt railroads, including the New Haven
Line commuter service. Conrail operated the New Haven Line
through 1982. At that time the Conn DOT and MTA elected to
operate the New Haven Line service themselves.
January 1, 1983, the MTA Metro-North Railroad, which was created
as a subsidiary of the MTA, took over the operation of the
New Haven Line, its branch lines, and the other lines serving
New York City. Conn DOT and MTA continued to share equally
in funding the New Haven Line service until 1985 when the
service agreement was amended.
the amended agreement Connecticut funds approximately 60%
of the New Haven Line's operating deficit, and MTA funds the
remaining 40%. The costs of New Haven Line capital projects
in Connecticut are funded by Connecticut, and the costs of
capital projects in New York are funded by MTA.
The costs of rolling stock are shared, 63% Conn DOT and 37%
MTA. In 1985, Connecticut purchased from Penn Central the
New Haven Main Line and the three branch lines (New Canaan,
Danbury and Waterbury) in Connecticut, including their right
of way and support facilities.
joint Conn DOT/MTA oversight of the operation of the New Haven
Line has provided the stability that has allowed for a steady
improvement in the quality of service and the condition of
rolling stock and facilities, which has resulted in a significant
increase in ridership.
The Ridgefield Branch was constructed in 1869 and 1870 as
a westerly spur in Ridgefield off of the Danbury Branch. The
line ran for four miles westerly up to Ridgefield Center and
was difficult to construct because of the relatively steep
The line made its' connection with the Danbury branch at the
Branchville Station, the source of the neighborhood's name,
and made three trips a day which took about 15 minutes each
way. The Ridgefield Branch was never electrified and finally
abandoned in 1964. It is now a walking trail.
The Shepaug Valley Railroad ran from Bethel through Hawleyville,
where it could transfer with the Housatonic, through Washington
and Roxbury ending at Litchfield. Blakeslee also refers to
it as the Shepaug, Litchfield and Northern, RR or "The
It was constructed in 1872 and was 32 miles long. It hauled
ice from Bantam Lake and quarried stone from Roxbury that
was used to build the Brooklyn Bridge. It also ran two passenger
train a day at the turn of the century but the service was
terminated in the 1930Ís. The travel time for the line from
Bethel to Litchfield was about two hours.
The Shepaug Line was leased to the New Haven from 1892 to
1947 when the company petitioned to discontinue service on
the line. The New Haven got their wish and the line was abandoned
Cornwall, Peter L. In the Shore Lines Shadow. 1987, Flying Yankee Enterprises. Littleton, MA.
Ancthon W. and Turner, Gregg M. Connecticut Railroads: An
1986, The Connecticut Historical Society,
CT. Feasibility Report for Extending Rail Passenger Service
Beyond Downtown Danbury, 1995. Planning Document prepared for
the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials by Vanasse
Hangen Brustlin, Inc
Blakeslee, Phillip C. A
Brief History Lines West of The New York, New Haven and Hartford
Railroad, web page.