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Delaware and Hudson Railroad Reporting mark: DH

The Delaware and Hudson Railroad (D&H) got off to an early and unusual start. The company was formed in 1823 by a family of mine owners, the Wurts Brothers. The brothers were looking for a fast and efficient way of moving anthracite from their mines in northern Pennsylvania to markets in New York and beyond. There was growing interest in anthracite following serious coal shortages during the war of 1812.

Photo

William Wurts
Source: National Park Service

The brothers finally settled on a canal with a gravity railroad to transport the anthracite from the mines to the canal. They followed by forming a corporation called the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company. Ground for the canal was broken in 1825. It opened three years later. Construction on the Delaware and Hudson Gravity Railroad began in 1826 and was completed in 1829. The locomotive, named Stourbridge Lion, was the first in the United States to run on rails.

The railway continued to expand with extensions to new mines. By 1860 it had grown to include passenger service. By then transportation had been radically altered with railways moving into a dominant role. The D&H began to increase their railway presence with acquisitions and leases of other railways in the northeast US that eventually carried them into upstate New York.

Getting into Canada was a little trickier. In 1875 they gained access to the Quebec border from Whitehall New York. That was followed with an extension to the small border community of Rouses Point in 1876. From there they obtained running rights on the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) which carried them into Montreal. As the railway expanded the canal gradually fell into disuse. Traffic ended in 1891 and the gravity railroad closed in 1899. That same year that canal was sold and the corporation's name was changed to the Delaware and Hudson Company to reflect its full commitment to rail traffic only.

In the meantime events were taking place on the other side of the border that would become part of D&H's long term plans. In 1888 the Quebec government chartered the Napierville-Junction Railway (NJR). The charter ambitiously called for a line from Saint-Remi near the US border, to Saint-Cyprien near the New Brunswick border, a distance of some 522 km (325 miles). It was amended in 1900 to allow for a line from Saint-Constant to Lacolle or onward to Rouses Point which was 14 km further.

Photo

Maurice Wurts
Source: National Park Service

There were no takers until 1906 when the federal government offered a subsidy of $3,200 per mile. The D&H jumped on the bandwagon. The line, which ran from Delson Quebec to the US border, was completed in lightning speed and operated as a subsidiary. The railway continued using the GTR connection into downtown Montreal for another 10 years and then switched allegiance to the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR). Passengers from the New York runs were delivered to Windsor station and freight to the CPR's freight yards.

Passenger service was never a big part of the D&H. Yet after the old wood frame station at Lacolle burned in 1929, the NJR replaced it with an extraordinary chateau-style cobblestone structure that resembled a Normandy manor house. It is believed the style was chosen to appeal to American tourists and give them a sense of "old Quebec." Besides passenger service, the building was used for customs offices, customs brokers, immigration for both the US and Canada, and for maintenance equipment. It remained in operation until the 1980s.

Things began to unravel for the D&H with the decline of the coal market during the 1950s. Some of the loss was made up by handling bridge traffic. In 1968, along with the Erie Lakawanna, it was placed under a holding company called Dereco, owned by the Norfolk and Western Railway.

The late 60s and early 70s were nothing short of disastrous for the entire railway industry, particularly after the collapse of Penn Central in 1970. In response the US government created the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) to try and restructure the carriers in the northeast. The D&H managed to hold its own and stay afloat during this period. During that period it even doubled its size by obtaining running rights on Conrail. In 1971, the NJR was merged into the D&H which enabled it to operate as a single entity. However by the end of the decade, things were not going well and the railway was surviving on handouts from the New York state and US governments.

In 1984 the D&H was purchased the Guilford Rail System (now Pan Am Railways), which was planning to manage a group of regional short lines. Guilford was a troubled corporation with serious management and labour difficulties. After two disastrous strikes, the railway was declared bankrupt in 1988 and abandoned.

In 1991 the D&H was acquired by the CPR at a cost of $25 million. At the time CPR wanted a connection into the heart of New York City. CPR spent time rehabilitating the tracks, upgrading the system and bringing it up to their standards. Between 1996 and 2000 it was operated by the St Lawrence and Hudson Railway, a CPR-owned corporation which managed all their money losing systems in the eastern US and Canada. Then it was placed back in CPR's hands. In 2014, the CPR sold a portion of the track in Pennsylvania and New York State to the Norfolk Southern Railway, retaining the lines from Montreal to Albany, New York. Today what is left of the D&H is split between the two railways.

The unusual station at Lacolle was part and parcel of the CPR's purchase. The building had been designated as a Heritage Station back in 1991. It remained in use until 1998 when the CPR closed and then abandoned the property. The station is now owned by the municipality of Lacolle, which has plans to restore the station and turn it into a municipal museum.