Rutland Railroad

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For the UK railway see Rutland Railway Museum
Rutland Railroad
Reporting mark RUT
Locale New York
Dates of operation 1843–1963
Successor Vermont Railway and Green Mountain Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 413 miles (665 kilometres)
Headquarters Rutland, Vermont

The Rutland Railroad (reporting mark RUT) was a railroad in the northeastern United States, located primarily in the state of Vermont but extending into the state of New York.[1] Primary freight traffic was derived from dairy products. The Rutland system coverage resembled an upside-down "L" running from Chatham, New York, north to Alburgh, Vermont (the railroad's northernmost terminus was Noyan, Quebec), and west to Ogdensburg, New York, along the St. Lawrence River.[2]


The Rutland Railroad's early history is entwined with that of the Central Vermont Railway (today's New England Central Railroad) and with that of New England railroads in general. Two major themes in New England railroad history are the competition of the early railroads to build lines to the Great Lakes, and the consolidation of the multitude of small railroads into several major ones. The Rutland's early development involved three major routes:

  1. the original Bellows Falls-Rutland-Burlington route diagonally across Vermont;
  2. the line south from Rutland through Bennington to Chatham, New York;
  3. the tentacle from Burlington across the north end of Lake Champlain and the northern tier of New York to Ogdensburg, on the St. Lawrence River.

Not until the turn of the century were the three routes united as one railroad.[3]

Bellows Falls-Burlington route[edit]

The Champlain & Connecticut River Rail Road Company was incorporated November 1, 1843, to build a railroad between Bellows Falls and Burlington, Vermont, as part of a route from Boston to Ogdensburg, New York. The enterprise was reorganized as the Rutland & Burlington Railroad in 1847, and the line was completed in December 1849. At Bellows Falls there were connections southeastward to Boston and south down the Connecticut River, but at Burlington the railroad fought and feuded with the Vermont Central Railroad for traffic and for connections with the Vermont & Canada Railroad at nearby Essex Junction. In 1854 the Rutland & Burlington defaulted on mortgage interest payments. It was reorganized in 1867 as the Rutland Railroad.[3]

The Vermont Central leased the Rutland on December 30, 1870, partly to acquire Rutland's leases of the Vermont Valley Railroad (Bellows Falls-Brattleboro, Vermont) and the Vermont & Massachusetts Railroad (Brattleboro-Millers Falls, Massachusetts), which gave Vermont Central a connection to the New London Northern Railroad and a water route from New London, Connecticut, to New York. A more pressing reason for the lease was to forestall a move by the Rutland to construct a line around the south end of Lake Champlain, then north along the west shore of the lake to a connection west to Ogdensburg. The terms of the lease were particularly beneficial to the Rutland; the rental was better than the income the Rutland would earn operating it independently. In 1887 the Delaware & Hudson Railway (D&H) gained control of the Rutland, which was still leased to the Central Vermont (CV), the 1873 successor to the Vermont Central. The Rutland renewed its lease to the CV in 1890. CV entered receivership in 1896 and terminated the lease of the Rutland; in 1888 D&H had sold its interest in the Rutland to Percival W. Clement, a banker in Rutland (and later governor of Vermont).[3]

Rutland-Bennington-Chatham route[edit]

The Western Vermont Railroad was chartered in 1845 to build south from Rutland to North Bennington, then west to a connection with the Troy & Boston Railroad (T&B) at White Creek, New York. The railroad opened in 1853 and was leased to the T&B in 1857, forming a roundabout route from Boston to the Hudson River in conjunction with the Rutland & Burlington, Cheshire, and Fitchburg railroads. The Western Vermont was renamed the Bennington & Rutland (B&R) in 1865. When the Hoosac Tunnel in western Massachusetts was opened in 1875, the T&B gained a much shorter route to Boston and castoff the B&R. The B&R filed suit against the T&B; there was a small railroad war; and the B&R merged with the Lebanon Springs Railroad, a line that meandered north from Chatham, New York, to form the Harlem Extension Railroad — essentially a northward extension of what later became the Harlem Division of the New York Central Railroad (NYC). Vermont Central leased the Harlem Extension South, later Lebanon Springs, then Chatham & Lebanon Valley, and the Bennington & Rutland. The Rutland purchased the Bennington & Rutland in 1900 and the Chatham & Lebanon Valley in 1901.[3]

Burlington-Ogdensburg route[edit]

Ogdensburg, New York was at the eastern limit of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River navigation. A railroad between Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain was discussed as early as 1830 as part of a Boston-to-Great Lakes route, but it was 1850 before the Northern Railroad (of New York) was opened between Ogdensburg and Rouses Point, New York. It was extended east to connect with the Vermont & Canada in 1852, and it was reorganized as the Ogdensburg Railroad in 1858 and again as the Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain (O&LC) in 1864. A subsidiary, the Ogdensburg Transportation Company, operated a fleet of lake boats between Ogdensburg and Chicago. The O&LC was leased to the Vermont Central in 1870. Like the Rutland, it resumed independent operation after CV entered receivership in 1896. In 1901 the Rutland purchased the O&LC.[3]

To connect the O&LC with its own line the Rutland chartered the Rutland & Canadian Railroad, which quickly constructed a line from Burlington to Rouses Point. The line used the islands at the north end of Lake Champlain as stepping stones; a 3-mile (4.8 km) causeway connected the islands with the mainland north of Burlington. The line was opened in 1901 and consolidated with the Rutland that same year.[3]

By 1902 the Rutland extended to Chatham, New York, and Bellows Falls, Vermont, north through Rutland, where the two lines joined, to Burlington and then west through Rouses Point and Malone, New York, to Ogdensburg. It participated in Boston-Montreal and New York-Montreal passenger traffic and in conjunction with its navigation line on the Great Lakes it offered freight service between New England and Chicago. It did a good business carrying Boston- and New York-bound milk out of Vermont.[2]

20th century[edit]

Rutland Falls, circa 1905

Shortly after the turn of the century the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (NYC&HR) and William Seward Webb, son-in-law of William H. Vanderbilt of the NYC&HR, began to buy Rutland stock. Webb became president of the Rutland in 1902, and by 1904 NYC interests owned more than half the capital stock of the Rutland. The railroad entered a period of NYC control and prosperity.[3]

About the same time the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH) acquired control of the New York, Ontario & Western Railway (NYO&W). The NH regarded New England as its own territory and was concerned with the NYC's acquisitions of the Boston & Albany Railroad and the Rutland; NYC for similar reasons was wary of NH's interest in the NYO&W. There was discussion of an exchange of subsidiaries. In 1911 the NH purchased half of the NYC interest, over protests of the Rutland's minority stakeholders, who recognized that NYC control was the best thing that had happened to the railroad in many years.[3]

The Panama Canal Act of 1915 amended the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 to prohibit railroad ownership of a competing interstate water carrier. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) ruled that the Rutland's boats between Ogdensburg and Chicago competed with parent NYC. The boats were discontinued, and their traffic, which formed a large part of Rutland's freight business, wound up on NYC trains. Control by the United States Railroad Administration during World War I brought a great increase of traffic to the Rutland but at a considerable cost in deferred maintenance. Passenger traffic began to trickle away to the highways, and floods of 1927 washed out much of Rutland's line. The Rutland was strong enough financially to remain solvent through much of the Great Depression, but on May 5, 1938, the Rutland entered receivership.[3] In the 1930s and 1940s the line operated long distance service between Montreal and New York City's Grand Central Terminal on the day Green Mountain Flyer train and the night Mount Royal train.[4]

Rutland-Burlington Railroad passing through Proctor, Vermont

Economy measures, wage cuts, tax reductions, and a "Save the Rutland" Club kept the railroad going. Symbolic of the effort was a new Bellows Falls-Norwood, New York freight train, The Whippet, for which the railroad streamstyled and painted a 1913-vintage 2-8-0. Many different reorganization plans were proposed and discussed, but it was more than 12 years before a new company emerged — the Rutland Railway, which came into existence on November 1, 1950.[3] In 1952 the railroad received permission from the ICC to cease passenger service on the line between Bennington and Chatham, New York. Passenger service ended in 1953. In the same year crews removed the track between Bennington and Chatham.[4][5]

Heading the management committee of the new company was Gardner Caverly, a major bondholder. He scrapped 25 miles (40 kilometres) of sidings and branches, and used the scrap value of Rutland's roster of steam locomotives and the worst of the freight cars as a down payment on 15 diesel locomotives. He scrapped the Bennington-Chatham line to pay for 450 new box cars, which wore yellow and green paint and a new herald, plus 70 gondolas and 27 hopper cars. A short strike in the summer of 1953 had the beneficial effect of ridding the Rutland of its passenger trains, which were expensive to operate and ran almost empty. The entire physical plant of the railroad was modernized and the labor force was thinned. In 1957 the Rutland paid a dividend on its preferred stock.[3]

Labor dispute[edit]

Through all of this, Rutland's employees were being paid less than the national standard, and in September 1960 they walked out. William Ginsburg, Caverly's successor, had cut all the costs he could; traffic, particularly milk, was declining, and the company had no cash reserve. An injunction brought the employees back to work 41 days after they struck, but the cooling-off period ended on September 25, 1961, and so did all service on the Rutland. Neither management nor labor would compromise, and on December 4, 1961, the Rutland petitioned for abandonment. Hearings and appeals went on for more than a year, but the Rutland was dead.[3]

The state of Vermont bought the Burlington-Bennington-White Creek and Rutland-Bellows Falls lines. The Vermont Railway began operation on the former on January 6, 1964, and the Green Mountain Railroad began freight service between Bellows Falls and Rutland in April 1965 after a season of steam passenger operation on the line by the Steamtown, U.S.A. museum at Bellows Falls. Service resumed on the Norwood-Ogdensburg portion of the former O&LC in 1967 following its acquisition by the Ogdensburg Bridge & Port Authority.[3]


Ownership of the railbed from Norwood to Burlington has been dispersed, but a 21-mile (34 km) section from Norwood to Moira serves as the Rutland Rail Trail.[4] The causeway between Burlington and South Hero serves as the Island Line rail trail.[6]

Future passenger service[edit]

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is considering restoring passenger rail service along the Western Corridor between Rutland and Burlington, allowing the extension of Ethan Allen Express service to Burlington.[7]


  1. ^ Shaughnessy, Jim, The Rutland Road (1964, Howell-North)
  2. ^ a b Lindsell, Robert M. (2000). The Rail Lines of Northern New England. Pepperell, Massachusetts: Branchline Press. pp. 41, 43. ISBN 0942147065. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 75–77. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  4. ^ a b c "Rutland Railroad"
  5. ^ Rutland Railroad Timeline
  6. ^ Baird, Joel Banner (June 20, 2011). "Causeway bike ferry canceled for season". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved March 15, 2012. 
  7. ^ Vermont Agency of Transportation, "Planned Passenger Services"

External links[edit]