The Maybrook Line of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad connected the Maybrook Yard in Maybrook, New York, to its Waterbury Branch in Derby, Connecticut.
The Maybrook Line of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad connected the Maybrook Yard in Maybrook, New York, to its Waterbury Branch in Derby, Connecticut. It was a primary east-west freight route of the NH until its merger with Penn Central in 1969.
The Maybrook Line had its origins in the Dutchess & Columbia Railroad (D&C) of 1871. This initial construction involved the laying of tracks extending from Dutchess Junction, south of Fishkill-on-Hudson (later renamed Beacon), northeastward to the Connecticut state border. 7 In 1881, the New York & New England Railroad (NY&NE) completed its own tracks from Waterbury, Connecticut, to Hopewell Junction, New York, where they interchanged with the D&C’s to provide access to the Hudson River. 7 8 This route presented significant challenges, including a 13-mile ascent with grades as steep as 1.22% to Reynolds Summit when travelling eastward, and a westbound climb of over five miles with grades exceeding 1.3%. 8 To accommodate this line, a 75-foot-deep rock cut on a 7° curve at Depot Hill in Poughquag was required, marking the sharpest curve on the route. Furthermore, the NY&NE constructed an additional 1.8 miles of track westward to Fishkill-on-Hudson, where a large yard and piers were built for the William T. Hart, a sidewheel steamboat that would ferry freight and passenger cars across the Hudson River to connect with the Erie Railroad. 7
With the completion of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge in 1888, two new railways emerged: the Hudson Connecting Railroad, chartered in 1887, was constructed from Poughkeepsie to Maybrook in a southwest direction, while the Poughkeepsie & Connecticut Railroad, chartered the same year, was built northeastward to Hopewell Junction. 2 3 The junction at Maybrook and Campbell Hall quickly became a vital interchange point for many railroads, including the New York Central Railroad, Lehigh & Hudson River Railway, Lehigh & New England Railroad, and the Erie Railroad, who transferred cars to the Hudson Connecting Railroad.
On July 22, 1889, the Central New England & Western Railroad (CNE&W) was established by merging the Hudson Connecting Railroad, the Poughkeepsie & Connecticut Railroad, and the Poughkeepsie Bridge Company, which controlled ownership of the Hudson River crossing. 3 In that same year, the CNE&W leased the Hartford & Connecticut Western Railroad, allowing it to establish a route from Hartford, Connecticut, westward to Maybrook.
In January 1892, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad assumed control over the Connecticut and New England Railroad (CNE&W). This allowed the Reading Railroad to expand its reach to New England via the Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie & Boston Railroad. The two entities merged on August 1, creating the Philadelphia, Reading & New England Railroad (PR&NE). However, the PR&NE fell into bankruptcy due to inadequate funding. 3 The PR&NE was subsequently reorganized as the Central New England Railway (CNE) on January 12, 1899.
In 1904, the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH) acquired the CNE. The Maybrook to Danbury line of the CNE was then referred to as the Maybrook Line. 1 8 The NH made significant investments in the route, adding a second track, reducing grades, replacing bridges, and softening curves. 8 Prior to this acquisition, the NH had leased the Housatonic Railroad in 1892, creating the Berkshire Division, and had acquired the bankrupt NY&NE in 1898 and purchased the Newburgh, Dutchess & Connecticut Railroad and the Poughkeepsie & Eastern Railroad in 1905. The NH consolidated these lines under its banner on May 10, 1927. 1
Following the strengthening of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge by the NH in 1907, the transportation of floating cars on the Hudson River from Beason was discontinued. 7 This decision relegated the 13-mile segment of track between Beacon and Hopewell Junction, previously part of the NY&NE, to secondary status.
The NH had anticipated that it would serve as a crucial link between the anthracite coalfields of Pennsylvania and the industrial centers of New England. However, the anticipated traffic failed to materialize, resulting in the Maybrook Line’s underutilization. The financial struggles of the NH culminated in insolvency in 1935, with the company emerging from bankruptcy in 1947. Although passenger traffic had ceased by the 1920s, freight traffic peaked during World War II, with more than 50 trains traversing the Maybrook Line between Maybrook and New Haven daily.
The decline in industry throughout New England beginning in the 1950s further contributed to the decrease in traffic. This trend was further exacerbated by the termination of operations by the New York, Ontario & Western Railroad, which had previously connected to the Maybrook Line in Maybrook, on March 30, 1957.
In 1961, the NH experienced a second instance of financial insolvency. Eight years later, in 1969, the NH merged with the Penn Central (PC) system, which had been established one year prior through the consolidation of the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. As part of the merger, NH’s Campbell Hall to Danbury to Derby route was transformed into the Maybrook Branch, which included what remained of the Housatonic Railroad. However, the company’s fortunes declined as it discouraged freight transportation on the railways of its former competitors. These deteriorating conditions, coupled with poor operational management, culminated in the company’s bankruptcy in 1970. Furthermore, the completion of the adjacent Interstate 84 in 1971 further exacerbated NH’s woes. 8
The Maybrook Line suffered yet another setback in 1974 when a fire occurred on the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. The incident resulted in the immediate suspension of all traffic on the branch. In response, PC took measures to improve the Beacon to Hopewell Junction line, which had been nearly abandoned, and re-routed freight traffic north to Albany, then across the Livingston Avenue Bridge, before heading south to Beacon and finally east to Hopewell Junction and Derby. 7
On April 1, 1976, Conrail was granted ownership of the bridge, following the inclusion of the Maybrook Line in its system at the request of Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff. 4 Despite a Connecticut foundation offering to contribute half of the repair costs of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, Conrail refused to undertake the necessary repairs due to the significant financial burden of repairing the entire Maybrook Line, which was estimated to require $45.8 million in repairs to restore it to satisfactory condition, having suffered years of neglect. 5
Over time, the timber decking on the bridge deteriorated, and fragments began to fall onto the thoroughfare of US Route 9, causing damage to vehicles. In response to the danger posed by the bridge, the municipal authority of Poughkeepsie initiated legal proceedings against Conrail, ultimately compelling the railroad company to spend $300,000 in 1983 to dismantle the bridge decking. Following this, Conrail sought to dispose of the bridge, which was no longer usable, and abandoned the Maybrook Line in 1982, relinquishing ownership of the section extending from Hopewell Junction to Maybrook in 1983-84.
In December 1992, Conrail ceased operating its last freight train between Brewster and Hopewell Junction 8 and sold all of its remaining Danbury-area track to Maybrook Properties, a subsidiary of the Housatonic Transportation Company, which was operated by the Danbury Terminal Railroad (DTRR). 5 7 Conrail also sold other lines, including the former Conrail track from Beacon to Hopewell Junction (then known as the Danbury Secondary). As a result, Conrail rerouted its freight north to the Albany-Boston Line, turning south at Springfield, Massachusetts, to New Haven, thus ending significant freight traffic on the Beacon to Danbury Line. In 1995, Metro-North acquired the Beacon to Hopewell Junction segment from DTRR but allowed the Housatonic Railroad (HRRR) to use the line for through freight traffic and local customers between Beacon and Danbury. 9 The DTRR was subsequently merged into the HRRR in December 1996.
After several decades of disuse, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge along the Maybrook Line was reopened to pedestrians and cyclists as the Walkway Over the Hudson in 2009. Following this, a four-mile segment of the former Maybrook Line was reopened in October 2010 as the Hudson Valley Rail Trail west of the Hudson River toward New Paltz, followed by a 13-mile section in July 2013 as the Dutchess Rail Trail east of the Hudson River toward Hopewell Junction.
In 2016, a request for proposals was issued by Metro-North to revitalize an approximately 28-mile stretch of disused track extending from Beacon to the Connecticut state line east of Brewster. 9 The former Mayor of Danbury, Randy Casale, expressed a desire for the redeveloped line to accommodate light-rail service and provide access to the Dutchess Rail Trail at Hopewell Junction.
Subsequently, in 2020, the Maybrook Trailway was opened on the former second track of the Maybrook Line, spanning 23 miles from Hopewell Junction to a point just east of Brewster at the Connecticut state line. The former Maybrook Line was utilized solely for the operation of Metro-North equipment between their Croton shops and Danbury, Connecticut. 6
In June 2021, Metro-North Railroad sought to terminate Housatonic Railroad Company’s (HRRC) trackage rights over its Beacon Line between Beacon and Danbury, with the intent of converting the line into a 41-mile trail. 9 It was noted that the line had not seen train traffic since 2019. HRRC contested this proposal.
A study was launched in 2021 to evaluate the feasibility of introducing regular Metro-North Railroad passenger service on a 14-mile stretch of the former Maybrook Line from Danbury to Brewster, as well as along the Harlem Line of the Metro-North from Brewster to Grand Central Station. 6 This service would supplement or replace existing passenger service along Metro-North’s Danbury Branch and New Haven Line.
- Blakeslee, Philip C. “A Brief History Lines West Of The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co.” Catskill Archive, 2010.
- Goldsmith, Gail. “Introduction to the Development of Industryand Transportation in the Hudson River Valley.” Hudson River Valley Institute.
- Burns, Adam. “Poughkeepsie Bridge.” American Rails, 27 Jan. 2023.
- “Carey Asked to Fix Bridge.” Evening News, 9 Apr. 1976, p. 4A.
- “Bridge Help Refused.” Evening News, 22 May 1976, p. 3A.
- Cameron, Jim. “The Maybrook rail line study is a waste of $1 million.” Mirror, 23 Feb. 2021.
- Lombardi, Kate Stone. “The Maybrook Line And Its Rise and Fall.” New York Times, 5 Feb. 1995, p. WC-13.
- “The Maybrook Line.” Milestone Heritage Consulting.
- Simms, Jeff. “Metro-North To ‘Abandon’ Beacon Line.” The Highlands Current, 26 Feb. 2021.