Reflections on the Newburgh Branch
by Mike Joyce
Special Thanks to John Deserto for assembling this article and continually supplying material for this website.
The Newburgh Branch in later years, 1972-1977, was serviced by the DW (the telegraph name for the Erie’s yard in Middletown NY) Day Job. Usually the local drew a 1200 series GP 7 but sometimes an SW substituted if traffic was light. 1223, 1225 and 1248 were good engines but 1246 was a dog. Boy did the crews moan when they had the 1246! One crew member even spray painted out the EL logo on the nose out of embarrassment!
The largest local I ever saw was 22 cars westbound behind a pair of Geeps. By the early 1970’s the branch was already in serious decline and was subject to a 15 mph limit. The Penn Central connection in Newburgh was severed and all cars had to arrive via Greycourt. The crew had to run 13 miles with no customers with the exception of a fuel dealer in Washingtonville who received one or two cars each year. The tank of home heating oil would sit for three or four months until the car was finally emptied. The oil tank car was quite distinctive with three domes.
Washingtonville was at one time quite a busy place on the railroad with a feed dealer, lumberyard, passenger depot, elevated freight house, two creameries (Borden’s and Sheffield Farms) and a five track stub ended yard that had been used to terminate passenger trains. Most of this is gone. The freight house burned in a suspicious fire in 1979. The passenger depot survived abandonment only to succumb to arson in the early 1980’s after it had been converted to a museum/gift shop owned by a private individual who maintained most of its character. In 1975, I saw a rare inspection run eastbound through Salisbury Mills. Four officials and a driver rode in a buff colored Pontiac Grand Lemans with hi-rail gear on a cold, gray afternoon in November. I waited for five hours to see their return but they did not come back.
Erie GP-7 1236 epitomized the idea of General Purpose, seen here in a lash-up heading through
Middletown, next week it might be the lone power on the Newburgh Branch. Photo by Ray Brown.
In November of 1973, Stauffer Chemicals announced its intention of pulling out of Newburgh and by the following April they were gone and their trackage removed. Stauffer had been the destination of 35% of the branch’s inbound traffic and so, their departure was another major setback for the branch that only had two major customers left. When Stauffer pulled out on March 29, 1974, the service to the branch was reduced to Tuesday and Friday from Monday Wednesday and Friday. Service would be cut back further by 1975 to Friday or Saturday.
This EL SW-9 is in front of the EL’s Middletown NY freight house waiting for its next chore.
Local power out of the yard ranged far and wide working the various branches in the area,
switching EL customers and interchanging with the M&NJ. Photo by Ray Brown.
Conrail arrived on April 1, 1976, and in June of that year the Newburgh connection was re-opened! Wow! Could this be a change for the better? A coal train was run with GP 7’s 1238 and 1224 with 22 loads for the power plant at Roseton. Could King Coal save the branch? Unfortunately the answer was “no” as this move was not repeated. In fact, the end was drawing near. Conrail’s restructuring continued and on December 28, 1977, the last train ran the length of the branch from Greycourt to Newburgh and back. They made a pick up at Washingtonville of an empty tank car to add to their train of three box cars, a covered hopper and another tank car. Caboose C-159 trailed former EL GP 7 1224. Two crew members wore black hats and the conductor told me this was the last run. I boarded at Salisbury Mills and took my usual perch in the caboose. I swung off just before Washingtonville, on “The Flats”, and stood in an icy cold wind as the train slowly departed, blowing for the Main Street crossing (route 94) as the conductor waved. There was no fanfare, no crowds, just the cold, icy wind and the distant squealing of flanges rounding a curve out of sight.
This Erie SW-9 could very easily find itself on the Newburgh Branch in the near future.
She is seen here working a siding off the Erie’s east bound mainline in Middletown NY. Photo by Ray Brown.
Conrail’s new plan was to have the Kingston local service what freight business was left on the segment from Newburgh to Vails Gate, MP 5. The remaining customers were Georgia Pacific, Miron, Fryes and GAF plus a warehouse on Newburgh Landing that received a rare load of paper (I recall seeing only one boxcar for this industry, a BN box car in the winter of 1982) and Consolidated Metals that occasionally originated a gondola of baled scrap. The rest of the branch sat fallow for 4 years until early December of 1983 when a salvage outfit began to scrap out track starting at Vails Gate Jct.. Conrail installed a short run-around just north of the route 207 crossing at the former station site. By December 18, they had already progressed past Salisbury Mills and by February 1, 1984, they reached Greycourt to complete the job.