Working On The Railroad: The Prequel

This morning’s post on commuter advocate John Hartwell was headlined: “He’s Been Working On The Railroad.”

That sent town art curator Kathie Bennewitz scurrying to the Westport Historical Society archives. She found this photo:

Saugatuck Railroad Station - construction

It’s undated. But an accompanying note says it shows “construction of Saugatuck RR Bridge.”

The sign on the right says “Slow to 10 M.”

The bridge was built well over a century ago. But Metro-North still slows down every day — unfortunately, everywhere from New Haven to New York.

7 responses to “Working On The Railroad: The Prequel

  1. That picture is a neat find… you never know what treasures you’ll find at the Historical Society!

  2. Gloria Gouveia, Land Use Consultants

    If those are utility poles in the picture, the photo would have been taken some time after 1914, when the railroad line was first electrified.

  3. Beautiful image. I’m pretty sure those are telegraph poles in the foreground. The overhead system was/is actually quite robust. The sort-of stream age vibe seems augmented by what appears to be a watering station in the distance. By the way, one of the most interesting elements of the early railroad electrification effort may be seen beside the rail ROW off Maple Lane in Greens Farms: a small tower-like structure with a stunning red tile roof in the style of a Japanese pagoda. This richly detailed building handled some switching activity but was mainly intended to modulate the power to the overhead wires – there are a few of these facilities up and down the line. Although it was designated as a Historic Engineering Landmark some time ago and, last I knew, still contains much of its original machinery, it is now abandoned and its owner (DOT) is allowing its weather envelope to decay.

  4. Close. That’s the interlocking tower that was located on the south side of the railroad tracks in Saugatuck until the catenary system was installed. The view looks east towards the river. While the current bridge was being built (which was finished around 1908 or so) a temporary wooden bridge was built just to the north of it. If you look hard in this photo it looks like you can see where the tracks curve to the left to pick up the temporary bridge.

    The building beyond the tower is the eastbound train station and the shed over the platform – torn down when the platforms were raised in the early 1970s.

    The wooden interlocking tower was there to control traffic by aligning switches and the corresponding signals for track changes, which is what the Greens Farms tower was built for as well (but that one had electric machinery). They were two-story buildings because the machinery was on the first floor and the tower operators were on the second. The Saugatuck station interlocking machinery and tower (hand-operated) were removed a long, long time ago. The Greens Farms interlocking was also removed, but the tower remains.

    Trains that did not slow down through the Saugatuck interlocking and crossover were in trouble – like the October 1912 wreck just west of the tower pictured that killed a dozen people. But, my guess is that the speed limit is there due to the temporary bridge.

    If anyone is curious what these towers did, the old tower in South Norwalk has been turned into a museum., machinery and all.

  5. The Greens Farms tower (known internally at NY, NH & HRR as “Building #53″) did handle signal functions but, according to the late, great railroad historian, Peter Lynch, also was tasked with adjusting the 11k volt AC power that was produced at Cos Cob. The amazing thing was that the electric engines had to be able to handle the 11k volt AC overhead system of the New Haven line – as well as 600 volt DC third rail on the New York line. Despite all the other things that went wrong with the NY/NH line those engines ran for something like 50 years.

    The Greens Farms tower was added around 1915 as part of the 39 mile extension of electrified lines from Stamford to New Haven that started in 1913 (Peter gave me a copy of the original plans for the tower in 2008 – they are dated Aug.13, 1915). The ASME and the IEEE jointly designated the structures and site fixtures related to the old 11k AC/600 DC system (including the Greens Farms tower) a National Historic Engineering Landmark calling it a “progressive step in engineering history”. It was the first major electrified railroad in the nation.

    Oh, and last I knew DOT is happy to lease the little tower to the town of Westport for a dollar.