Branford Steam Railroad
|Parent company||Tilcon Connecticut|
|Headquarters||North Branford, Connecticut|
|Locale||North Branford to Stony Creek, Connecticut, U.S.|
|Dates of operation||1903–present|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8+1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||6.2 miles (10.0 km)|
The Branford Steam Railroad (reporting mark BSRR) is an industrial railroad serving the Tilcon Connecticut stone quarry in North Branford, Connecticut, in the United States. It exchanges freight with the Providence and Worcester Railroad and with the Buchanan Marine Company. The railroad was founded in 1903, and has hauled stone from the quarry in North Branford continuously since 1914. Despite the company's name, it has not operated steam locomotives since 1960. The name has been retained to distinguish it from the Branford Electric Railway.
Louis A. Fisk was a politically connected businessman from Branford, Connecticut, who had by the 1890s built a trotting park for horses called the Branford Driving Park. Initially, the park was connected to Pine Orchard station on the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad's Shore Line Division by a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) long horse-powered railroad, but in December 1902, Fisk petitioned the state legislature for permission to convert the railroad to steam power. Following a favorable report by the legislature's railroad committee in February 1903, Fisk received authorization to build the railroad on March 19, 1903. The new company was named the Branford Steam Railroad to distinguish it from the Branford Electric Railway, a streetcar system in Branford.
Events outside of the area set in motion the line's conversion to an industrial railroad hauling rock. In 1900, the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission of New York and New Jersey forced the closing of basalt quarries along the Hudson River. This led to an increased demand for stone from Connecticut quarries. Fisk initially responded to this demand by opening a quarry at Pine Orchard in January 1902.
On July 18, 1905, Fisk received a charter for another railroad, known as the Damascus Railroad, which built an extension from the BSRR's northern terminus to North Branford. Unlike the Branford Steam Railroad, this company was strictly a freight railroad and was not authorized to carry passengers. Instead, the railroad served trap rock quarries in Branford.
Charter modification controversy
In 1907, Louis Fisk decided to open a quarry on Totoket Mountain in North Branford. In March 1907, Fisk applied for a modification to the railroad's charter allowing it to expand further into North Branford, where he planned to open a quarry. Fisk personally attended a town meeting in Branford on March 26 and advocated for support from the town's residents for the railroad extension, finding most residents supportive. Despite local support, the proposed modification of the railroad's charter faced multiple challenges in the state legislature. While the bill to modify the charter initially passed the state house and senate, in early June, a state representative objected to the amended charter because it empowered the Damascus Railroad, a private company, to exercise eminent domain. The representative argued that eminent domain is a power reserved for the government for public benefit. As a result, the bill was temporarily recalled, until on June 7 state Attorney General Marcus H. Holcomb pronounced the bill as legal, because the railroad served a public purpose.
While the first challenge to the bill was resolved, on July 12 the bill was vetoed by governor Rollin S. Woodruff, who objected to the charter because it allowed for multiple grade crossings, and because he objected to eminent domain being used for a railroad that would not carry any passengers. The governor indicated he would support the modified charter only if efforts were made to avoid grade crossings as much as possible, per state policy. After much argument, the house and senate overrode the governor's veto on July 16, allowing the modified charter to take effect.
While the Damascus Railroad allowed Fisk to expand rail operations northward, he also sought to expand the Branford Steam Railroad southward to a dock he owned at Juniper Point on Long Island Sound (between the Pine Orchard and Stony Creek neighborhoods of Branford). To this end, he announced in December 1908 that the Branford Steam Railroad would apply for an amendment to its charter in the next session of the state legislature allowing an extension southward, along with improved interchange facilities with the New Haven Railroad. Additionally, the proposed amendment would give the railroad permission to connect to any quarries along its right of way, and allow the Branford Steam Railroad to assume control of the Damascus Railroad by purchasing its stock. By April 29, 1909, the General Assembly approved the amendment to the charter, allowing construction to proceed southward and the BSRR to take direct control of the Damascus Railroad.
However, at the same time the Shore Line Electric Railway began to build a line between New Haven and Old Saybrook. The two proposed railroad lines intersected in North Branford, which caused a dispute between the two companies. The Branford Steam Railway received permission to build its extension to the coast by crossing most streets at grade. Meanwhile, the Shore Line Electric Railway's proposed route was also at grade, which would require the two railroads to intersect with a diamond crossing – something the Branford Steam Railroad was strongly opposed to.
Initially, the Shore Line attempted to build across the BSRR's right of way, but was forced to stop by an injunction. The Branford Steam Railroad petitioned the Connecticut Railroad Commission for approval of its proposed expansion to the dock at Juniper Point on March 21, 1910. Just 3 days later, the Shore Line responded with its own petition requesting approval of its planned route, crossing the BSRR at grade. Shortly afterwards, a third petition was submitted to the commission, this time by two selectmen of North Branford who were in support of the Shore Line's proposed route. The commission decided in favor of the BSRR on June 30, 1910, ruling that its proposed right of way could go ahead, as it was authorized by the state legislature. The commission also ruled that the Shore Line could not cross the BSRR at grade, citing state laws prohibiting steam and electric railroads from crossing at grade in general. The petition by the selectmen was also denied, as the commission asserted it was premature.
The Shore Line refused to accept this, and filed a nearly identical petition to the commission shortly afterwards, this time with the direct support of the two North Branford selectmen. In February 1911, this second petition was also denied by the commission, which stated that it lacked the authority to allow the Shore Line's proposed route to interfere with the approved route of the BSRR. The Shore Line Electric Railway was undeterred by its repeated losses before the commission, and conceived a new strategy to build its line through North Branford – a property owner in the contested area transferred his property to the Shore Line, which immediately commenced construction with 200 workmen. Fisk promptly sued, and again obtained an injunction forcing the Shore Line to cease construction, which had begun in earnest on the night of February 5. The entire police force of Branford was summoned to force construction to halt.
Litigation over the issue continued for two years, until the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in Fisk's favor in February 1914. As such, the Connecticut Superior Court ordered the Shore Line to allow the Branford Steam Railroad to build its proposed railroad line on February 6, 1914.
New Haven Trap Rock Company
In April 1914, Fisk and the Blakeslee family of New Haven incorporated New Haven Trap Rock Company, which began operating a new quarry on Totoket Mountain. The Blakeslee family owned the C.W. Blakeslee and Sons construction firm, founded in 1844.
As part of the joint venture, the New Haven Trap Rock Company committed $750,000 to develop quarries and to complete the extension of the Branford Steam Railroad to the docks on Long Island Sound, which had been held up by the railroad's dispute with the Shore Line Electric Railway. By 1916, the railroad had ceased hauling passengers and was exclusively a freight railroad.
By 1917, Fisk had divested his share of the quarry to the Blakeslee family and was instead the president of the newly formed Meriden, New Britain and Hartford Railway Company, a streetcar line. The quarry quickly grew, soon becoming the primary customer of the Branford Steam Railroad. Trap rock excavated by the quarry's steam shovels was used for various construction projects including road paving, building foundations, and railroad ballast.
In 1926, a temporary spur line was built off of the main line near the quarry for the construction of the nearby Lake Gaillard. Branford Steam Railroad trains ran directly from the quarry to the construction site, where concrete was mixed on site.
A number of locomotives were used within the 300-acre (120 ha) quarry complex. Within the quarry itself, several 15 ton (13.6 metric ton) 0-4-0T saddle tank locomotives hauled excavated stone in gondola cars to the plant's crusher. Two heavier locomotives, a 4-6-0 and 2-6-0 (BSRR 1 and 2 respectively), were used to haul crushed stone from the quarry, either to Juniper Point for loading into barges, or to the New Haven Railroad interchange in Pine Orchard.
In 1935, the New Haven Trap Rock Company merged with the Connecticut Quarries Company. With this merger, the New Haven Trap Rock Company became owner of a total of six quarries across Connecticut, including the North Branford quarry. Around the time of the merger, the tracks within the quarry were removed and all but two of the saddle tank locomotives were sold. The 4-6-0 was retired around this time as well. The railroad continued to haul stone from the crusher to Pine Orchard, and operations continued largely unchanged throughout the next decade.
Dieselization was taking hold in the United States after World War II, and in 1951 the Branford Steam Railroad purchased its first diesel locomotive, a second-hand GE 44-ton switcher given the number 3. Five years later, the railroad bought two new GE 44-tonners, which took over hauling trains between the crusher and Pine Orchard. The two saddle tank locomotives continued to perform switching duties until January 1960, when the company bought another 44-tonner from the New Haven Railroad. From this point, the Branford Steam Railroad was a "steam railroad" only in name. Both of the retired steam locomotives were acquired by Steamtown, U.S.A. in 1962 for preservation. Around the same time, the side-dump gondola cars were replaced with triple-bay hopper cars.
In August 1968, the New Haven Trap Rock Company was purchased by Ashland Inc.'s construction division. By 1972, the quarry was the largest single-face trap rock quarry in the world, with fronting 1.25 miles (2.01 km) in length.
Into the 21st century
In 2009, the state of Connecticut applied for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant on behalf of the Branford Steam Railroad. The grant cited a need to replace the railroad's EMD SW1001 switcher and its hopper cars.
In 2010, the BSRR hauled about 1.3 million tons of freight.
In the 2020s, the Branford Steam Railroad continues to serve the Tilcon Connecticut quarry in North Branford. Some aggregate is transferred to the Providence and Worcester Railroad at the Pine Orchard interchange, but the majority is brought to the docks of the Buchanan Marine Company (like the BSRR, a Tilcon Connecticut subsidiary), where it is loaded onto barges. At the docks, an enclosed and soundproofed building covers the unloading platform, where hopper cars are unloaded and aggregate sorted by size and then transferred to barges by a conveyor. Tilcon Connecticut uses these barges to transport aggregate to locations across the Northeastern United States.
This article incorporates public domain material from the National Park Service website http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/steamtown/shs2m.htm.
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