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New York Central Railroad Reporting mark: NYC

Although the New York Central Railroad (NYC) was an American entity, it maintained a dominating presence in southern Ontario for many years. It was also active in Quebec.

Picture of brochure
Brochure, 1902

The railway was first formed in 1853 following the merger and consolidation of a number of small regional railways operating between Buffalo and Schenectady in upstate New York. From 1853 to 1867, the railway was owned and operated by Erastus Corning, a businessman and politician.

In 1867 the railway was acquired by Cornelius Vanderbilt and merged with the Hudson River Railroad to become the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. At its height, the NYC covered most of the northeast United States and extended as far south as St. Louis. The railway provided service to a large portion of southern Ontario and Quebec including a number of major Canadian cities such as Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

The post World War II years were not kind to the railways, in particular those in the northeast. By the mid 1950s the NYC was in serious financial trouble. From 1958 to 1968, the railway engaged in a number of additional mergers in the hope that a more extensive network would improve its financial position. That didn't happen and in 1968 it merged with its arch rival the Pennsylvania Railroad to become Penn Central. The results were nothing short of disastrous and by 1970 Penn Central had fallen into bankruptcy.

In a situation not unlike the one that led to the formation of the Canadian National Railway (CN) 50 years earlier, the Penn Central conglomerate was too big to shut down without potentially devastating economic consequences. In 1974, the U.S. government formed the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) to continue operating the rail lines until they could be rebuilt and sold off. The NYC's Canadian assets were eventually purchased from Conrail by CN and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).

Over the years the NYC owned and operated the following railways in Ontario.

  • The Canada Southern Railway (CASO), which had fallen into bankruptcy and was acquired by Vanderbilt in 1873. CASO's assets were purchased by a joint consortium of CN and the CPR in 1983.
  • The Michigan Central Railroad, a subsidiary of NYC, leased and operated CASO from 1882 to 1929. In 1929 the lease was transferred to NYC.
  • The New York and Ottawa Railway (NYC) provided service between Ottawa and Tupper Lake, N.Y. from 1897 to 1957. Much of the land and assets were purchased by CN after the line closed.
  • The Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (THB) was purchased by NYC and the CPR in 1895. NYC owned the lion's share of 73 per cent with the remainder under CPR ownership. In 1977, the CPR purchased NYC's assets to become the sole owner.