Facebook Page
Some Recent History of the Canal Line

The Canal Line Railroad in Connecticut / Massachusetts

by Craig S. O'Connell

Some Recent History of the Canal Line Railroad - edited by Craig S. O'Connell

updated 12/29/2005

In the New Haven days, the Canal local operated out of Water Street Yard, by New Haven Station. The time frame was apparently up until or slightly before Penn Central took over. The engine would come up light from Belle Dock and pick up the train at the Water Street yard (New Haven) up to Plainville, CT and back again. This yard was in the area at the East end of the station on the South side, where the leads to the post office were. Once the train was ready to go, it would leave Water Street by what Penn Central called Fair Street interlocking, cross over both the Shore Line and Hartford Line mains, controlled by Tower 75 at New Haven, and duck into the Canal Line at Chapel Street. The date that this local was moved to originating at Plainville is not clear, but it appears that it was changed before Penn Central took over. When the Canal Line local, NX18, worked out of Plainville, it handled all the work south of Plainville all the way to Highwood (southern Hamden, CT). The work below Highwood, primarily Winchester's, was handled by a third trick yard job out of Belle Dock at midnight, that came light to Highwood, took the inbound cars out to spot them (at Winchester Repeating Arms - Olin Corp.) and brought the outbound cars back to Highwood for NX18 to take North the next day. The feature that put a damper to regular through traffic from New Haven was the clearance in the "tunnels" under Yale University. The Alco S-1 switchers were about the only diesel engine that would fit through there.

Some of the companies along the New Haven-Hamden end of the line included G.O. Lumber, G. O. Steel, Winchesters (5 or 6 cars a day), Chargar, Safety Car, N.E. Iron, Whitney Blake, Hi-Test, High Standard, Leonard Concrete.

During that period of time that the lower Canal Line local operated out of Water street, New Haven, the upper Canal Line was handled by a local out of Hartford that operated as far as Simsbury, and worked the old New Hartford Branch.Canal Line local work above Simsbury was handled by a local out of Westfield, MA.

Through the Penn Central and Conrail years. freight traffic was very respectable on the lower Canal. The local would normally leave Plainville with 15 to 25 cars, and sometimes over 40 cars. In 1980 or so, rail workers on the line spent most of the summer ditching, changing out ties and resurfacing the line from Plainville all the way past the cut just below Mount Carmel station in Hamden. NX18 would have as many as 40 odd cars leaving Plainville, and would spot many of them at industries on the way south. Rather than take all the outbound cars all the way to Highwood, NX18 would leave the outbounds accumulated as far as Milldale to be picked up on the northbound run. More outbound cars would be left on the north end of Buzzoto's siding in Cheshire to be picked up when returmimg to Plainville. Thus, when NX18 arrived at Highwood, it would usually have outbound cars from Mount Carmel Lumber and Leonard Concrete (Hamden), and the inbound cars for Winchester's. There was a second siding alongside Highwood. It was called the over dimension track. Those tracks held around 20 cars apiece, so it was no trouble to run around the train there to head back North.

As far as contents of the Winchester cars, the inbound cars were loads of copper sheet and got outbound loads of copper scrap. Not too far North of Highwood, there was a fairly long, very steep downhill siding into a building on the east side of the main that was a grocery warehouse. They only took 2 or 3 cars a month. Just north of that, there was an abandoned concrete company that still had the siding in place where we would spot cars of telephone poles, perhaps 10 or 12 cars per year.

When the Boston & Maine tool over in June of 1982, within days there was a bad storm that caused a serious washout just south of Copeland's, in Cheshire. The B&M never repaired that washout, and B&M service below that point ended right there. B&M was known for its lack of maintaince. The washout, just below Copeland's siding in Cheshire, ultimately put the kiss of death upon the lower Canal. Rail workers on the line figured they would repair it. Bozzuto did a heavy business with the railroad, about 10 or 12 cars per day, but the B&M was very big into trying to get customers on branch lines to take their cars at centralized locations and truck their goods back to their plants. This way they could abandon track and cut their overhead. Of course, all they accomplished was to alienate more customers away from the railroad. Later on, when Timothy Mellon bought the B&M, and eventually formed the Guilford set up, things got markedly worse for the customers, and all but the hardiest got driven away from railroad use.

I have no information as to whether or not Conrail still provided service to Winchester's or any other customers on the line from the New Haven end after that. By that time, the normal height of the boxcars had gotten to where they wouldn't fit past the restrictive tunnel by Yale in downtown New Haven.

NY1/YN2 traversed the line during the 50s and 60s as a symbol freight job. This train originated at Cedar Hill (New Haven) and went north on the Hartford Line to Berlin, where it crossed over to the Berlin Branch, climbed up to New Britain, followed the Highland to Plainville and headed north on the Canal Line to Holyoke, MA. It carried blocks of cars for New Britain, Plainville, Westfield and Holyoke.

When the Penn Central took over, the night Belle Dock switcher was already taking care of Winchesters, and the Plainville based NX18 was handling everything between Plainville and Highwood. After a couple of derailments on the upper Canal, NY1/YN2 was taken off and the Canal Line was severed just above Hoskins siding, a little North of Simsbury. Penn Central put on a night Plainville local NX17, that did the work between Plainville and Hoskins, and did the local work between Plainville and Terryville on the Highland. NX30 based at Westfield handled local work on the Canal Line between Westfield and Congamond. The Westfield and Holyoke cars from Cedar Hill were handled in Hartford Line symbol freights to Springfield, and dropped at Westfield by B&A freight jobs.

Today, 2005, the only section of usable line, from Southington to Plainville, is used by Forestville lumber, we believe exclusively.  The tracks "start" somewhere around where I-84 crosses Queen St. in Southington, and go all the way north to the back side of Robertson airport in Plainville.   This section of track is accessed by a huge junction/siding in Plainville where it meets the line that runs East-West from Danbury to Hartford.  There is access to this area and there are about 4-5 lines wide of tracks where there is stacking and a large crane for picking up cars - quite impressive. 

Forestville Lumber is known in the Plainville area for its competitive pricing because it ships by rail. (2005)

In downtown Plainville there is a diamond crossing. The south-north line is what remains of the Canal Line. The east-west line is owned by Springfield Terminal Rail System, owned by Guilford. According to a current (2005) Guilford rail map, the line runs west to Berlin, CT where it interchanges with Amtrak's Springfield line and east to Danbury, CT. Trains run daily along this route which passes through a mile long tunnel in Terryville.

There is also a spur in New Hartford which is branched off of the canal line at the intersection of New Britian Avenue and Red Oak Hill Road in Farmington. Beyond Collinsville, there is no evidence of the line except for a few left over bridge piers in the water.  The Collinsville station is still there and has been partially restored. (2005)

Thanks to Woody and Jason Davis for material above.

Return to the Homepage