Housatonic Railroad (HRR)
The HRR received their charter from the Connecticut State legislature
in 1836 to build a rail line from Bridgeport to New Milford
and the Massachusetts state line at Canaan, CT. HRR backers
saw the line as a way to serve the important iron, granite,
marble, and lime industries located in Litchfield County, as
well as a means to form, although somewhat indirect, a water-rail
route between New York City and Albany, NY. Construction of
the line began in 1837, with the 34.76 mile segment from Bridgeport,
CT, via Newtown and Brookfield, to New Milford, CT, completed
in 1840. Completion of the remainder of the line to the Massachusetts
State line occurred in 1843.
Although the line initially experienced some financial problems
in the early 1850’s, passenger service, and to a somewhat
lesser degree freight service, grew steadily from the 1860’s
through the 1880’s between Bridgeport, CT and Pittsfield,
MA.. The area around Pittsfield, the Berkshires, had in fact
become such a popular vacation spot for New Yorkers, that in
1883, the HRR introduced the Berkshire Express to provide faster
service between New York City and Pittsfield, MA. While the
original train route was via Bridgeport, Botsford, Newtown,
Hawleyville, and Brookfield Junction until 1886, with the leasing
of Danbury and Norwalk Railroad by the HRR, the route was switched
between Danbury and Norwalk, which was more direct. However,
as stated earlier, financial problems and threats made by the
NYNH&H to build a parallel line to the company’s New
Haven-Derby Line, forced HRR into being acquired by the NYNH&H
in July of 1892.
New York & New England Railroad (NYNE)
The New York & New England Railroad (NY & NE) emerged
in 1873 from the reorganization of the Boston Hartford &
Erie Railroad (BH&E). Within the study area, the primary
contribution of the NY & NE was the construction of the
rail connection between the HRR at Hawleyville and the Danbury
and Norwalk Railroad at Berkshire Junction in 1881. This connection
became part of the NY & NE’s mainline operation which
ran from Waterbury, CT to Fishkill Landing (Beacon) , NY, and
was originally developed to provide an important link for freight
(such as coal) coming into New England from points west, as
well as provide direct freight competition to the NYNH&H
main line which ran parallel to the south.
NH I-2 4-6-2’s 1336 and 1338, Danbury, Connecticut on
August 1, 1936. Just off No. 141 with milk cars. Photo: J.W.
NH EP-2 311 laying over at Danbury, Connecticut, January 5,
1958. Photo taken by J.W. Swanberg.
While the primary purpose of the
NY & NE mainline operation was freight service, the NYNE
also provided passenger service between Hartford through Waterbury
to Brewster, NY. To help accommodate this service the NY &
NE even built three rail stations along the route, in Danbury
(at White Street), at the Danbury Fairgrounds, and in Mill Plain.
In the late 1880’s the NYNE and HRR teamed together to
provide heavy freight service from Derby and New Haven through
Danbury, and Brewster, NY, to Fishkill, NY. The service, which
operated on the Danbury-Derby Line owned by the HRR and the
track built by the NY & NE in Danbury later was to become
known as the Maybrook Line (after 1904).
Although this service was very successful, with the acquisition
of the HRR by the NYNH&H in 1892, and the subsequent taking
of control of all the track from Derby to Danbury, the NY &
NE could no longer be competitive for freight service, and was
forced into being absorbed by the NYNH&H in 1898.
New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H)
Between 1892 and 1910, the NYNH&H began acquiring a number
of smaller railroad companies throughout southern New England.
These acquisitions, as detailed above, included the Danbury
and Norwalk, HRR, and the NY & NE. With the takeover of
these smaller lines, the NYNH&H consolidated many of their
services, eliminated duplicate lines, abandoned much excess
track, and focused the development of service on high traffic
On the former Danbury and Norwalk Railroad (between Norwalk
and Danbury), local passenger train service was improved to
10 round trips a day in 1904, as service was shifted from the
HRR’s original Bridgeport to New Milford route, to the
Danbury and Norwalk line (today’s Danbury Branch). In
fact, following WWI, the number of passenger trains on the HRR’s
original Bridgeport to New Milford route was gradually reduced,
with passenger service eventually being completely terminated
in 1931. In addition, following the reorganization of the NYNH&H
in the late 1930’s, two segments of the route were abandoned
altogether including North Bridgeport to Stepney and Hobarts
(west of Hawleyville) to Brookfield Junction.
Following the takeover of the HRR in 1892, the NYNH&H also
introduced through passenger service between New York, and Pittsfield,
MA (via the Danbury Branch), which was designed to provide service
for weekend travelers from New York City who wanted to reach
the Berkshires, as well as local service to Brookfield, New
Milford, and other communities located along what became known
as the Berkshire line. This service was typically provided by
two weekday trains, with additional trains on Fridays, Saturdays,
and Sundays, and in the summer to accommodate vacationers. The
NYNH&H maintained this basic service schedule until 1960,
when weekday train service was reduced to a connecting rail
diesel car (RDC) north of Danbury.
From 1960 through 1969, when Penn Central took over, the only
remaining through service between New York and Pittsfield, MA,
was on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. However, with the creation
of Amtrak in 1971, which was given the responsibility of operating
intercity passenger rail service, the New York to Pittsfield
service was designated as a non-core (any route less than 90
miles) or marginal route, and in May of 1971 service north of
Danbury was finally eliminated.
In June of 1925, the NYNH&H took the next step to improving
passenger service between Norwalk and Danbury both by electrifying
the branch (11,000 Volts A.C.), which reduced travel time from
Danbury to South Norwalk from 55 minutes to 42 minutes, and
introducing commuter service between New York City and Danbury.
However, while the NYNH&H continued to improve passenger
service along the branch, freight service was marginalized,
as the majority of its freight was shipped via the company’s
With the onset of the depression and the acquisition of many
unprofitable lines, the NYNH&H fell on hard times. In 1935,
the NYNH&H petitioned the bankruptcy court for reorganization
under section 77 of the bankruptcy laws to shield the troubled
railroad from its creditors. Service on all its lines was cut,
with the Danbury Branch down to five round trips a day by the
mid 1930’s. While service on the branch and the entire
railroad rebounded briefly during WWII due to gas rationing,
the company could not compete with government subsidized highways
and airlines, high rates of taxation, enormous commuter service
losses, and the out-migration of heavy industry from New England
to the south and west, as well as its own internal problems,
and finally had to file for bankruptcy again in 1961.
While not a direct result of the bankruptcy, the company “de-electrified”
the Danbury Branchy in 1961, taking down the catenary wire,
and began using FL-9 dual diesel electric locomotives. The de-electrification
wasimplemented moreto eliminate the Danbury engine change for
Pittsfield trains, and to sell the copper overhead wires for
The NYNH&H including the Danbury Branch was absorbed by
the Penn Central Transportation Company, the merged New York
Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, on January 1st, 1969.
1970 to Today
Less than one year after the take over by the Penn Central,
the company, which had its own financial problems due to poor
management decisions, inherited debt, and poor investments,
also was in bankruptcy court. On June 21, 1970, Penn Central
officially filed for bankruptcy, and was issued a court order
to allow them to continue to operate their trains and conduct
business as usual until an alternative solution could be reached.
While Norwalk to Danbury Service continued to operate during
this period on a limited basis, down to four round trips per
day, the infrastructure along the branch was falling into major
disrepair. In addition, freight business also suffered along
the branch, due to competition from the trucking industry. The
state of rail freight was so bad in Connecticut, as well as
other states in the region, that Congress attempted to reorganize
the Penn Central and force the company to abandon unproductive
rail lines. However, a federal study commissioned by Congress
concluded that there was in fact enough freight activity between
Danbury and Norwalk to continue service.
To allow for the provision of service in 1971, Penn Central
agreed to lease for a period of 60 years their lines covering
passenger service in the state. Under this arrangement Penn
Central would operate the service, but all infrastructure and
equipment maintenance would be left to ConnDOT and the Metropolitan
While Penn Central was operating service under bankruptcy protection,
the U.S. Government created the United States Railway Association
to develop a way to save rail services in the East, as the Erie
Lackawanna, Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley, Reading, and Pennsylvania-Reading
Seashore Lines were all in bankruptcy in addition to the Penn
Central. The result was Conrail, which took over the above lines
on April 1, 1976.
Although Conrail was at the time a freight company only, it
provided commuter, as well as freight service on the Danbury
Branch from 1976 to 1983, when the Metro- North Commuter Railroad
was formed to provide commuter rail service in New York and
southwestern Connecticut. Conrail did however continue to provide
freight service along the Branch, as well as the Maybrook line,
until 1998, when Conrail was sold to CSX and Norfolk Southern.
In a related development, in 1985, ConnDOT exercised its option
to purchase the New Haven Line right-of-way in Connecticut,
including the Danbury Branch. This was done to preserve the
right-of-way for future use and ensure that infrastructure on
the line is maintained.
North of New Milford, what was known as the Berkshire line
remained dormant from 1971 until 1983, when John R. Hanlon Jr.
chartered the “new” Housatonic Railroad and began
restoring much of the abandoned track. The Housatonic became
a common carrier in 1989, and by 1992 had purchased the portion
of the line between Brookfield and New Milford, and Canaan,
CT and Pittsfield, MA, leaving a state owned segment in between,
but with operating rights granted to the Housatonic Railroad.
In addition, the Housatonic Railroad also purchased the Maybrook
line from Derby Junction to the New York/Connecticut border.