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New York, Westchester and Boston (NYWB)
Port Chester Service
By Peggy Darlington and Andy Bass
Blue Type indicates trackage used by the New Haven Line and Amtrak to Boston/Springfield
This railroad is now a cherished memory and is survived in part by the Number 5 subway line.
The NYWB began service in 1912 with a southern terminal at the Harlem River in the Bronx. The railway’s main line ran 19.5 miles north through the Bronx and the Westchester communities of Mount Vernon, Eastchester, New Rochelle, Scarsdale (on the roadbed that is now the Heathcote Bypass) and White Plains. The White Plains line terminated at Westchester Avenue, the current site of the Westchester Mall. A second branch that divided from the main line in Mount Vernon was gradually extended along the Sound Shore until it reached Port Chester in 1929.
The railroad’s trains were electrically powered from an overhead catenary. At the time of its launch in 1912, the Electric Railway Journal described the NYWB as “unique as the first heavy electric traction system in the East which is neither an electrification of a steam railroad nor an extension of an ordinary direct-current city system.”
Also unique were the number of deep rock cuts and long viaducts created to keep the roadbed level, straight, and free of grade crossings. These characteristics allowed trains to travel at consistently high speeds throughout the entire corridor. The stations all had elevated concrete platforms, also a novel concept for commuter railroads at the time. By contrast, the stations on what is now the Metro-North Harlem Line did not have elevated platforms until the late 1960s. The train cars also featured power-operated sliding center doors on each side that, along with the elevated platforms, enabled passengers to board and exit trains quickly and easily, further shortening commute times.
Considerable investment was also made in the gateways to the railroad, the station buildings. “The passenger stations and signal towers may be said to constitute the most attractive group of way structures possessed by any electric or steam railroad in the United States,” wrote the Electric Railway Journal in 1912. “This result was made possible by the progressive attitude of the company, which was ambitious to erect buildings which would add to rather than detract from the expected high-class suburban development of this territory.”
The stations were all built of durable concrete and stucco. Stations on the White Plains line were designed in Italian Renaissance style. These attractive stations were the work of the firm of Reed and Stem of St. Paul, Minnesota. Reed and Stem designed more than one hundred stations for major railroad lines during the early part of the twentieth century, including the Scarsdale Station at Depot Place. But the firm is best known for their collaboration with the firm of Warren and Wetmore in designing America’s most famous railroad station, Grand Central Terminal.
“One of the reasons Reed and Stem were so successful was that they spent a great deal of time understanding how the railroads functioned,” explains John Belle, the principal architect of the restoration of Grand Central Terminal. “So the railroad companies trusted them to get it right, not just look right, but to actually work and function. That really was the genius of Grand Central. Reed and Stem really made the whole circulation of people and goods work very, very smoothly.”
Alfred Fellheimer, then a junior partner in Reed and Stem, was the head of the combined design team for Grand Central and the principal architect of the NYWB stations and platforms. Fellheimer later designed other notable American railroad stations, including Buffalo Central Terminal and Cincinnati Union Terminal.
NYWB stations were designed such that passengers could only access the platforms by entering the main station buildings. This design allowed for a unique method of ticket fare collection only in use at the time on the underground railways of London and Berlin. A passenger’s ticket was color coded based on what zone they were traveling to and from. Instead of presenting tickets to conductors on the train, passengers would get their ticket punched as they entered their station of origin and drop it into a manned fare box as they departed their destination station.
By 1937, the NYWB had been unable to generate enough business to recover the significant capital costs of its construction. A federal judge ordered the bankrupt railroad to discontinue service on December 31, 1937. While the Great Depression played a role in the NYWB’s demise, it only exacerbated more fundamental problems.
In 1912, the corridor of the White Plains line was sparsely populated and many of the stations fronted dirt roads not served by public transportation. While the populations in the communities served by the NYWB did grow between 1912 and 1937, the growth was not large enough and did not occur fast enough to provide sufficient business for the railroad.
Another major factor was the lack of direct service into Manhattan. This meant that Manhattan-bound passengers on the NYWB had to transfer to subways in the Bronx to reach their Manhattan destinations. In 1912, the NYWB executives felt that they could not justify paying the high fees for the rights to use the tracks of other railroad companies to take NYWB trains into Manhattan. Since the final destination of many commuters at that time was Lower Manhattan, not midtown, passengers on the rival New York Central faced a similar burden. Thus, the NYWB was not at a significant competitive disadvantage in terminating in the Bronx. But as the midtown business district grew, it became the final destination of more and more passengers and the New York Central was able to get them there directly.
The NYWB’s limited freight business was another factor in its demise as it provided little revenue to supplement the railway’s struggling passenger service. Heathcote was one of the few areas along the railway that did have regular freight business. A freight spur banked north at the Heathcote Station to the Scarsdale Supply Company, a leading local coal and building materials dealer. Ballast still remains on the former roadbed of the freight spur in the wooded area between the Heathcote Bypass and the Supply Field.
Despite these problems, the NYWB was nearly saved in 1938 when the State Legislature passed a bill that would have created a state authority to run the railroad. But the bill was vetoed by Governor Herbert Lehman.
The NYWB’s lasting impact on Westchester County is particularly apparent in the reverence in which it is held today among people who were not even alive during its operation. Otto Vondrak of Harrison, a 29-year old graphic designer born four decades after the NYWB’s final passenger train rolled into its last station, has created a website, nywbry.com, for the purpose of providing historical information on the NYWB. Vondrak also moderates forums about the NYWB on Railroad.net where fans of the NYWB often discuss the most arcane details of the defunct railway with one another.
Stations were located at:
East 180th Street This high platform station still exists and is located to the east of the NYCT 2 and 5 line station. The majestic station building is used for NYCT offices and for an entrance to the subway station
Gun Hill Road
East 6th Street
East 3rd Street
The line now splits into White Plains and Port Chester Services.
No details available on the NYWB stations except as noted . Your webmaster appreciates any addition information you may have.
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