The Mighty O&W, A 1950's perspective of the Ontario & Western


O&W map
The O&W reached from New York City to the Great Lakes

Welcome to our New York, Ontario & Western Railroad WebSite



Here's a preview of some of the exciting projects we have put together for you:

Sample Our feature article: "History of the O&W" .

See some of the places that the O&W went to were Scranton , Oneida , and Sylvan Beach .

Some other articles we have included on the O&W are disposition of O&W Diesels ; chasing the O&W ; could the O&W have survived? and what remains of the O&W .

O&W Milk Business .

O&W track plans in the village of New Hartford, NY .

We have included some general interest articles, that apply to the O&W such as head end equipment , snow on the railroad and New England Gateway, The New "Alphabet Route" .

Don't miss contributions from our readers , an upcoming abandonment , the Ontario & Western in Sylvan Beach , other links and our reference section .

Could the O&W have Survived?

A forum discussion of ideas and thoughts.

One interesting idea was what if the O&W had bought the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg "Hojack Line".

After all, they met at Oswego and RW&O had no New York City connection while O&W had no outlet for traffic other than Oswego.

Link to Stewart Air Base?

Branch was first discussed in a letter dated June 1942 and it was to be from Denniston to Stewart Air Base @ 1.8 miles with another 1 mile being constructed on the base. Also, there was concerns about crossing the Catskill Aqueduct. Then on June 18, 1953 it was discussed as still a possibility and finally on Jan 8, 1954 it was tabled.

Too bad.... if it had been built there probably would have been a right of way for the proposal to build commuter operations into Stewart Airport today.

A 2003 study recommends several routes for linking the airport to the Port Jervis line at the Salisbury Mills station. They only range from three to five miles, but they involve taking private property and skirting New York City's Catskill Aqueduct.

The study also raises the prospect of acquiring more property to build a second track between Salisbury Mills and Suffern - avoiding the Moodna and Woodbury viaducts and, to the extent possible, the wetlands along the Ramapo River.

Regardless, the projections assume that a low-cost carrier will locate at Stewart and that passengers will embrace a two-seat ride to Pennsylvania Station via the Secaucus transfer pending the availability of a one-seat ride to Grand Central Terminal via the Tappan Zee corridor.

Metro-North's own plan, to take Port Jervis-line customers through the Tappan Zee corridor to Grand Central, is less advanced and far less certain. Adding commuter rail to a new Tappan Zee Bridge could boost the project's cost to as much as $14.5 billion.

In fact, a Stewart rail link was part of the Tappan Zee review until the New York State Thruway Authority cut it loose and Metro-North got the money for the 2003 study. A rail link was also part of the $1.5 million study of one-seat ride possibilities that Metro-North did to counter Orange County's complaints about commuter rail service in 1990 - and that went nowhere because of the multibillion-dollar cost.

I don't think anybody could have saved the O&W from liquidation.


When the resort and coal traffic went away (its revenue mainly responsible for its prosperity), the limitations of its ROW severely limited what new business it could attract. It was far too gone by 1957 - deferred maintenance on ROW and rolling stock, too many bridges/trestles (drives up cost of maintenance), tunnels with extremely limited clearance (no clearance for truck-trailer traffic), too many curves/grades combined with very little originating or terminating traffic (bridge traffic is far less lucrative than originating/terminating traffic). It was, at heart, a rural railroad that bypassed major cities, thus as the rural businesses disappeared with the rise of metropolitan areas the O&W was on an irreversible slide towards history.

I'm sure everyone here knows that the New York Ontario & Western Railway never could have continued as a contiguous railroad post-1957, but what if it had been broken up (a la Ma Bell) by the bankruptcy court instead of liquidated?


Does anyone think that certain sections of the line could have been kept intact and operated by "baby" O&W spin-offs and remained viable at least through the Conrail formation?

The section from Sidney to Norwich probably could have been a decent Binghamton bypass connecting the DL&W/EL and D&H. There was still plenty of industry in Norwich at the time that could have made use of a direct D&H connection.

Oriskany Falls had some industry that utilized the connection to the NYC at Utica too. Perhaps the section between Oriskany Falls and Utica could have soldiered on independently?

I think the cold hard truth as to what could have survived post March 29, 1957 is what in actuality DID survive. The Fulton to Oswego portion to the NYC, a short segments in Rome, Norwich, Middletown, Scranton / Mayfield, Firthcliff, Utica, couple of sidings in Sidney and probably a few I missed.

The DL&W looked at Norwich to Utica as a way to get around Paris Hill and also cut down on street running in Utica by using the O&W Fay Street alignment rather than Schuyler Street. Indeed there was a healthy stone business in Oriskany Falls but I suspect low revenue and the cost of maintaining track would have meant additional capital beyond acquisition at a time when DL&W didn't have it. It is interesting that they did get major portions of the Norwich-Clinton business by transload including customers from Smyrna, Earlville, Hamilton, Bouckville & Oriskany Falls. Good deal to get the business without having to acquire the tracks.

I don't see an advantage to Sidney to Norwich. I believe the UVRR looked into that, maybe even had an option for it but it didn't make much economic sense. Most of the traffic was terminating and division of rates would not have been wanted by the carriers already handling it. The DL&W had the lions share of the Norwich business and took over the tracks from the interchange in the "Lower Yard" up through town to Crane Silo I believe. This served the Norwich Knitting Mill with coal and a few other businesses. All was gone by sometime in 1960. No reason for the D&H to come over the hill and deal with Lyon Brook Bridge ... again for much of the business that was terminating.

Much of the O&W business was just too thin and spread out and certainly there were no where near enough customers to support a stand alone Middletown to Cadosia railroad to no where.

I think that Governor Harriman urged very strongly that the Erie look at all or some of it very seriously but that didn't go very far; access to the Pine Bush branch north of Middletown. No one could see any use in the Kingston Branch either.

The Rome Branch at Westmoreland could be served off the NYC (Westshore) and Rome itself by acquiring about a mile of O&W by NYC RR from the interchange near James Street to the Canal.

DL&W picked up all of the Utica - New Hartford trackage but saw no sense in extending to Clinton, nor grabbing the Rome Branch for a share of that traffic.

Of course NYC RR got a good buy picking up the Fulton business and going into Oswego and that tied in well with there existing line north of Syracuse to Fulton.

I don't see room for another carrier be it existing shortline like UVRR, newly created shortline, or other Class 1 like D&H. What almost did come to pass ca. 1952 was a NYNH&H purchase. Apparently the New Haven eventually came to their senses and perhaps recalled their last entanglement with O&W that ended with the O&W filing Section 77 in May 1937.

A small piece in Oneida also went to the NYC.

You probably could have taken any of those individual segments and set up an industrial railroad on them, maybe even handled a few more miles and customers than what did survive, but a lot of what did survive is gone today or sits OOS with no customers. Even the Fulton-Oswego segment is pretty quiet these days.

I seem to remember reading someplace some ruminations that the D&H considered buying enough of the O&W to give them a route into New York City, but ultimately passed it up.

Possibly if the O&W became a "shortline" or ran with a shortline mentality post 1937 they could have lasted for a while but probably not beyond the mid-1960's or the Penn Central creation. There was possiblity that a sale could have been executed to Pinsley in the early 1950's but the bankruptcy judge stated he had no authority to sell the railroad, that was a matter of the refunding mortgage bondholders. It got real messy after that with the bondholders presenting a reorganization plan (1956) but eventually they decided to hold out for liquidation ($10 million dollars I f I remember).

Don't forget the NYS&W and the NYO&W discussed merging in the early 1940's. They even had a name picked out: New York, Susquehanna & Ontario.

It was built on the premise that Oswego would turn into a major Great Lakes port. This did not happen. The railroad was built by "subscription" and served whatever communities that purchased stock. The railroad did not spur development in these sparsely populated areas, so on-line traffic never amounted to much. The railroad then wisely turned to coal, building the Scranton extension. This helped the railroad limp into the 1930s, but the Depression dealt a knockout punch. There was a traffic spike during World War II, but postwar development of better roads and more private automobiles sped the decline of the O&W. Even if the railroad could have shed the Northern Division, the Scranton-Maybrook bridge traffic was not enough to survive on (and competed in an already saturated market). Milk traffic disappeared, passenger traffic was nearly nothing, local freight was not enough, and through traffic was nearly non-existent.

When you have more miles than steady customers, you don't have much of a railroad at all.

Some more things that contributed to its downfall: It had competetion from other railroads in nearly all of the major areas that it actually did cover ie/ Rome, Utica, Oneida, Scranton, Middletown, Norwich and Campbell Hall. The railroad was expensive to operate in the days of steam and even after it was diesel operated it took more locomotives and fuel to move a ton of freight on the O & W than on most of the other railroads in this area. Could they have made it under today's operating conditions with radio, two person crews, no caboose etc, I doubt it, all of the other railroads have the same benefits and they have reduced their operating costs as well. I agree that building the line to Scranton probably prolonged the life of this line, Scranton to Maybrook was not a bad bridge route but the others again were shorter and with less grades to contend with. It just wasn't meant to be.
See KC Jones BLOG about Railroad History
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Railroad Station at Troy, New York

Railroad Station at Troy, New York


The station in Troy was owned by the Troy Union Rail Road. The TURR lasted from the mid 19th Century till the mid 20th Century. It was owned by the New York Central, Delaware & Hudson and Boston & Maine. Access from the South was from Rensselaer; from the West, via the Green Island Bridge; from the North was street running almost the entire length of Troy. See Penney's blog for more information (and a great movie from the 1950's).

O&W Switcher "working off hours" for New York Central at Troy Union Station.

Just Around the Corner by Bertrande H. Snell

Bertrande H. Snell, author of the following article, a native of Parish, Oswego County, N.Y., was a telegrapher all his working life. For many years he was employed by the New York Central Railroad, and for 33 years was a telegrapher for Western Union in Syracuse.

Bertrande Snell commenced his writing career with the Syracuse Syracuse Post-Standard in 1945 and continued it until shortly before his death in 1949. His columns were primarily of a reminiscent or historical nature, which included railroad stories.

If you like his column, we have more.
Post-Standard, April 13, 1947

Just Around the Corner
by Bertrande Snell

Stories of the old railroad days are heartwarming and serve well as a rainbow bridge to fond memories travel - but here's a little tale which is so new that it hardly can be called history, since it happened only last month - March 26, 1947, to be exact.

Ed Dayton has been station agent at Mexico for many years. In fact, his total of continuous service on the Hojack adds up to 39 years. At present, there is no night man at the Mexico station, and Ed's tour of duty is supposed to end at 5 p.m. after which time the station is unattended until 8 a.m.

On the night of March 26, Ed tapped out "good night" as usual at 5 p.m., but it was storming furiously and the big rotary snowplow was on the way east from Oswego, ahead of 483, the night passenger train to Richland, so the train dispatcher asked Ed to come back at 6 p.m. to clear the passenger train which was due there about that hour.

The snowplow arrived at Pulaski, leaving a clear track for 483, which arrived at Mexico at 5:20. Engineer George Lamb and Conductor Andrews came to the office and asked for clearance cards so they could proceed.

"She's bad," said Engineer Lamb, "bad as any I've seen this winter - and that's going some. Them cuts'll be fillin' up fast behind the plow and if we don't get outa here quick, mebbe we won't be goin' anywhere tonight."

"That's right," agreed Conductor Andrews. "Come on, Ed, ain't that plow cleared Pulaski yet?"

A this moment Ed got the "clear" signal from the Pulaski operator, so he handed the trainmen their clearance cards which gave them a "highball" to Pulaski. As they started for the station door, the local telephone rang insistently and Ed answered. It was his mother, at home, who had received a call from Mrs. Wood, living near the North Street railroad crossing at the east end of the village.

"There's an auto on the crossing," she announced breathlessly, "it's been stalled there quite a while and they can't move it - you better do something, quick."

Well, the first thing Ed did was to leg it out of the station and catch Engineman Lamb just s he was climbing into his cab. Then they notified the conductor and all went back into the station.

Ed called the train dispatcher at Oswego and explained the situation. After a little delay, the dispatcher issued orders to the train crew to ease the train down through the cut, stop at the crossing and see if they couldn't help get the auto off the track.

The crossing is about a half-mile east of the station and when they got there they found the vehicle directly across the track and by this tim, so completely snowed in as to render any shoveling futile. The driver, Harry Nicholson, had sent to a neighboring farm for a team to endeavor to pull the car from its precarious position; so, leaving a flagman at the spot, the train backed to the station and waited.

In the meantime, Station Agent Dayton was making frantic phone calls to the homes of section men, village officials and others, but nobody answered the calls. "I don't blame them," says Ed, "for it was a terrible night out; the snow was driving down in a heavy white blanket and the wind was howling like 40 banshees."

As hey sat in the office, waiting for word from the flagman, Engineman Lamb remarked:

"Here it is spring an' the storm's about as bad as any we've had since '04, the time everything was tied up tight from Salina to Watertown. I was brakin' on the Watertown local at that time an' we got to Mallory about 3 a.m. an' we stayed right there for a week. For three days o' that time, there wasn't no telegraph wires either."

"Wind blowed 'em down, eh?" suggested Dayton.

"Nope: the cut just west o' Mallory was plugged so full of snow that it was piled up three feet above the tops o' the poles an' grounded th' danged wires."

'Why, you star-spangled, nickel plated liar," exploded Conductor Andrews, "why you oughta be -"

But at this point, the flagman trudged in from the cut and reported the crossing clear. The delayed train went its way and Ed went home. As he plodded through the fierce storm his mind was busy recapitulating the events of the evening. He was forced to the conclusion that the strenuous days of railroading are not all in the past, as some of our latter-day romancers would have us believe.

"If," ruminated Ed. "that phone call had been two minutes later, the train would have been on its way east and the way the snow is blowing through that cut, they never would have seen the car on the track and would have run right into it. What might have happened then is anybody's guess; but the rails were in such a condition that a derailment would have been most probable - and lives might have been lost."

Ed has little to say about his own quick thinking in this episode; but he is loud in praise of "Grandma" Dayton, Mrs. Wood and telephone operator, Bessie Cross.

Anyway, he claims last winter was the worst he has ever seen since the blizzard of 1888, during which convulsion of nature he was born at New Milford, Conn.
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Harvard Professor John R. Stilgoe states that: ‘Train travel will supplant highway and air travel in the next few decades. Furthermore, electric railroads will increasingly be used to distribute freight items as well as mail and express packages.’


According to Stilgoe the three prime factors driving railroad development are population growth, rising gas prices, and advanced technology.
“In the 1930s it was possible to order a fridge in the morning and have it delivered by train later the same day,” says Stilgoe. “Americans forgot about this, but we’re starting to put it back together.”
Stilgoe slso wrote an excellent yet overlooked book on railroads and the built environment shaped by them called Metropolitan Corridor:Railroads and the American Scene that I highly recommend.
Whats most interesting is that the book is 6 months old and already much has changed in that brief time to further move us toward a new era of the train and seemingly away from our old era of the highway and sprawl, particularly with respect to the financial crisis, foreclosure mess, high gas prices, politics of "change" and global warming awareness.

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In September, 2006: The NYSW has issued a public notice listing the following rail lines which it "anticipates will be the subject of an abandonment or discontinuance application to be filed within three years:"



1. NYSW Utica Main Line between Chenango Forks & Sangerfield in NY, MP202.62 - MP 263.50.

2. Fay Street Branch in Utica, NY, MP 284.80 - 285.22.

The Fay Street branch runs north from Oswego Street, parallelling the Rt 12 / 8 / 5 arterial. The only industry that it serves / served is the USDA bonded warehouse on Fay St. The last time it was served was back around 1986 - 1988. The switch point was pulled up about 4 years ago. The Fay Street Branch is NYO&W vintage. After the demise of the O&W the DL&W served this side till it was absorbed into Conrail.
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Contributions from our Readers

The last Ontario & Western milk came, most likely, from Pleasant Mount (Dairyman's League)on the Scranton Division, ca. 1952. The "Long Milk" operated from Oneida to Weehawken but was gone by the 1940s. Honneckers' Dairy shipped on the O&W from Sherburne Four Corners, NY, in specialized containers on modified flat cars developed by the O&W and Motor Terminals, Inc., of Middletown, NY, to N. Bergen, NJ; -- a distance of 278 [timetable] miles.
Contributed June, 2006 by Mal Houck
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Once upon a time, milk trains were important

New York Central Milk Business
Creamery in South Columbia, New York
There were two basic types of milk trains – the very slow all-stops local that picked up milk cans from rural platforms and delivered them to a local creamery, and those that moved consolidated carloads from these creameries to big city bottling plants. Individual cars sometimes moved on lesser trains. These were dedicated trains of purpose-built cars carrying milk. Early on, all milk was shipped in cans, which lead to specialized "can cars" with larger side doors to facilitate loading and unloading (some roads just used baggage cars). In later years, bulk carriers with glass-lined tanks were used. Speed was the key to preventing spoilage, so milk cars were set up for high speed service, featuring the same types of trucks, brakes, communication & steam lines as found on passenger cars.
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Head End

Railway Express and Railway Post Office
REA RPO Header On passenger trains, railroads operated lots of equipment other than sleepers, coaches, dining cars, etc. This equipment was generally called 'head-end' equipment, these 'freight' cars were at one time plentiful and highly profitable for the railroads. In the heyday of passenger service, these industries were a big part of the railroad's operations, and got serious attention.
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Railroads and Snow



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Sidney Bechet JAZZ ON THE FRENCH RIVIERA Sidney Bechet (1897-1959)
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Hojack Swing Bridge at Charlotte on the Genesee River from a postcard found in St Joseph, Michigan)
Special Research Section on the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad.
This section contains information that is unpublished elsewhere!
In the early 1870's, the Lake Ontario Shore Railroad had been built from Oswego along the shore of Lake Ontario to the Niagara River (Suspension Bridge). It bypassed Rochester, had no manufacturing industries and first became part of the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburgh which was acquired by the New York Central.
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Railroads On The Rebound

Over the last 50+ years, railroads have changed a lot. Now they are about to change again.

It is all about a combination of economic factors and climate factors.

Since 1950 , railroads have consolidated. Freight moved from a "box car mentality" to a "unit train,mentality". Passenger went from a robust business to a "caretaker" arrangement called AMTRAK. This happened as everybody could drive for free on the Interstate Highway System or fly on an airline system where the government subsidized both airlines and airports. In the meantime, railroad express and railroad post offices went "down the tubes". The old Post Office Department and the Railway Express Agency could not adjust to the new way. UPS and Fex Ex could.
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Snow Belt in New York State Boonville Station

There is a "Snow Belt" in New York State that runs above Syracuse and Utica. It goes East from Oswego to at least Boonville. Here's the station at Boonville.



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See another "Alphabet Route" that used the Ontario & Western to connect Maybrook to the DL&W and Lehigh Valley.

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