Valley Railroad (Connecticut)

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Valley Railroad
Valley RR logo.jpg
Locale Middlesex County, Connecticut
Dates of operation 1871 (1871)–present (present)
Predecessor New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Length 22.67 miles (36.48 km)
Headquarters Essex, Connecticut
Locomotive No. 97 in Essex.

The Valley Railroad is a heritage railroad based in Connecticut on tracks of the Connecticut Valley Railroad originally founded in 1868. It is best known for operating the Essex Steam Train and the Essex Clipper Dinner Train.

Attractions[edit]

Essex Steam Train and Riverboat[edit]

The most popular and well-known attraction operated by the Valley Railroad Company is the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat ride. The ride takes passengers from Essex to Chester, then back to Deep River, at which point there an option to switch to the Becky Thatcher riverboat for a trip up to the East Haddam Swing Bridge and back to Deep River Landing. The train then takes passengers back to Essex.

Essex Clipper Dinner Train[edit]

The Essex Clipper Dinner Train is a 2.5-hour train ride that departs Essex and offers superb views of the Connecticut River along the way to the northern end of the operable line in Haddam. A seasonal four-course meal is freshly prepared on-board and served in beautifully restored 1920s Pullman dining cars.

North Pole Express[edit]

Each November and December, the Valley operates a fictituous ride to the North Pole for children and their families aboard the North Pole Express. Amenities include on-board entertainment, singing, trackside displays, cookies, hot chocolate, and a gift from Santa.[1]

History[edit]

Construction[edit]

There had been an earlier attempt to start a railroad serving the Connecticut River Valley before James C. Walkley, the President of the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company, obtained a state charter on July 17, 1868 to form the Connecticut Valley Railroad Company and build a railroad.

During 1868-1869, survey crews worked to map out the line from Hartford to Saybrook Point, and in 1870, actual construction of the line began. With the ease of building a rail line in the Connecticut River Valley (no tunnels or major bridges), the line was completed during the summer of 1871 with the first ceremonial train run over the 45 miles (72 km) on July 29, 1871.

Two days later the first "regular" train was run and on August 24, 1871 the Connecticut Valley Railroad finally declared an official opening. The initial schedules of trains operating along the Valley Railroad called for one mixed train and four passenger trains each way daily (except Sunday) with fifteen stops along the way.

Financial trouble plagued many early railroads and the Connecticut Valley found its in 1876 when it defaulted on its second mortgage bonds and was placed in receivership.

Branch line of the New Haven Railroad[edit]

On July 1, 1880 a company called the Hartford & Connecticut Valley Railroad took control, but also at this time the New Haven Railroad was rapidly building up its stature in Southern New England. Seeing a good chance to sell their new line at a good price, the owners of the Hartford & Connecticut Valley Railroad convinced the New Haven that it should buy control. In 1882 the New Haven did and ten years later (1892), the Hartford & Connecticut Valley Railroad became part of the New Haven system.

The incorporation was good for the Valley Railroad as the New Haven put money and improvements into the line. During this time, the Valley Railroad grew to its limit: never being more than a busy branch line with passenger service and freight service consisting of deliveries of supplies and merchandise to communities and factories along the line. Shortly after World War I, as roads, automobiles, and trucks improved, the Valley Railroad saw a reduction in service; and by the late 1950s it saw only weekday local service with the speed on the line down to 30 mph (48 km/h) from nearly 55 mph (89 km/h).

Hard times fell on the New Haven Railroad itself and in 1961 it fell into bankruptcy. With a major reduction on spending money to maintain its branch lines, the Valley Railroad soon fell into disrepair, finding only two slow moving freight trains a week using the rusted rails.

Business failed along the Valley Railroad line and the New Haven also failed. In 1968 the New Haven was no longer a railroad with the last train run over the Valley in March 1968.

Independent railroad again[edit]

Concerned volunteers got together to keep the now abandoned railroad from being torn up by the new owners, Penn Central. This group managed to obtain a temporary lease from Penn Central in 1969 and on August 15, 1969, the Penn Central turned over this branch line to the State of Connecticut.

The State of Connecticut granted a formal lease to the Valley Railroad Company on June 1, 1970. This lease authorized the company to use the 22.679 miles (36.498 km) of track for freight and passenger service; and on July 29, 1971 (100 years to the day of the first ceremonial run), after thousands of hours of mostly volunteer effort, the first train of the new Valley Railroad steamed from Essex to Deep River and has been steaming ever since. The current president of the railroad is Robert C. Bell.[2]

The Valley Railroad offers a number of special programs and events. Some of these, such as "Santa specials" and visits from Thomas the Tank Engine, are similar to those offered by other tourist railroads. A more unusual example is the "Your Hand on the Throttle" program, in which participants are allowed to run one of the railroad's full-size steam locomotives (under supervision).

Facilities[edit]

Rolling stock[edit]

The Valley Railroad Company operates two steam engines and two diesel-electric engines. The steam engines are 2-8-2 #40 and 2-8-2 #3025, both of which are used for the Essex Steam Train. The diesel engines are 80-ton #0900 and #0901 and are used for the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, as well as for switching and work trains. The railroad also owns a 2-8-0 Consolidation, the #97, which is currently on display, awaiting an FRA Form 4 rebuild to be placed back on the active roster.

The Valley Railroad Company, along with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and the Knox & Kane Railroad, imported brand new steam locomotives from China during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both the VRR and the K&K imported two SY 2-8-2 type locomotives. Delivered to the United States on the same ship to the eastern seaboard, they each went to their respective railroads. Engine #1647 was delivered to the Valley Railroad and operated numerous on- and off-line trips before being sold to the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway. It was renumbered #142 after an additional SY ordered by the NYS&W was lost when the ship delivering it sunk. Today, it is owned by the New York, Susquehanna, & Western Technical Historical Society.

On October 10 and 11, 2008, members of the Valley Railroad went to Kane, Pennsylvania for the liquidation auction of the Knox and Kane Railroad. They purchased steam Locomotive #58, the Chinese SY 2-8-2 type locomotive. The Valley Railroad completely rebuilt the locomotive to resemble a New Haven Railroad J-1 Mikado, and renumbered it NH #3025. The new 3025 was completed in November 2011, and was pressed into service immediately pulling the second section of the North Pole Express on November 25, 2011. Along with the 3025, the Valley Railroad purchased a large amount of parts at the same auction, and those will go to keeping the other two steam engines (#40 and #97) in service, or be used to overhaul the other two locomotives, as the #97 has already run out of its flue time, and the #40 will run out of its flue time in 2014, or sooner if it is used more frequently.

On January 9, 2009, The Friends of The Valley Railroad, a volunteer organization working with the railroad to perform track work, equipment maintenance and many other tasks, took possession of Simons Wrecking #2, a Porter 0-6-0 tank engine from the city of Peabody, Massachusetts which had been part of the famed Steamtown[disambiguation needed] collection. The engine will be cosmetically restored for the time being while donations are raised for the potential to return it to steam.

Track[edit]

The Valley Railroad Company leases, from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the track running from Old Saybrook up through Essex, Deep River, Chester, Haddam, and Middletown, totaling 22.67 miles (36.48 km). The track is on top of gravel, and made of wood crossties with steel rails fastened to the ties. The track connects with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor track near the Old Saybrook Station to the south. Presently, 12.70 miles (20.44 km) of the line are restored for train service, with the remaining last seeing service in 1968. The rail corridor between Haddam and Middletown, which has been cleared of brush and receives property maintenance and surveillance from hi-rail vehicles, awaits full restoration.

The Valley Railroad Company has several grade crossings along its tracks. They vary in their nature, ranging from small caution signs at Private Crossings to flashing lights, bells, and gates and stop signs at public crossings. The busiest public grade crossings are located at Route 153 in Essex, Route 154 in Essex, and Route 82 (just before the East Haddam swing bridge) in Haddam.

Stations[edit]

The main station, where tickets are sold and all rolling stock is kept, is located in Essex; specifically, the village of Centerbrook. The main entrance and parking access is located off Route 154; there is a rear entrance (not for public use) on Route 153. There is a station building (used as offices for the riverboat operation) at Deep River Landing in Deep River, and a small station (used by the Railroad's track department) in Chester—it was originally the station at Quinnipiac, CT. Goodspeed station, located off Route 82 in Haddam, houses an antique shop and is not affiliated with the railroad. Across the tracks from the station is the Goodspeed Yard Office. This building was the original North Chester passenger station, located on Dock Road in Chester, but sold off and removed in 1874 when it was found that the railroad grade was too steep at that location for starting and stopping trains. Donated by the Zanardi family in 1993, it was retrieved by volunteers of the Friends of the Valley Railroad and moved by flatcar to its present location. It is believed that this structure is the sole remaining passenger station from the 1871 opening of the railroad.

On July 18, 2009, the Friends of the Valley Railroad built a passenger shelter in Chester on the site of the original Hadlyme station. The new building is a reproduction of the South Britain station, which was on the now abandoned Danbury Extension of the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill. The original station on this site served passengers of the town of Hadlyme, across the Connecticut River. Passengers use today's station to go to Gillette Castle State Park via the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, the second-oldest continuously-operated ferry route in the U.S.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

"The History of the Valley Railroad Company". essexsteamtrain.com. Retrieved October 1, 2012. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°21′06″N 72°24′22″W / 41.351652°N 72.405986°W / 41.351652; -72.405986