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1898 - 1995
by: Greg Jandura

Part - I

         I am sitting at my desk typing this article for the railway flyer.  Nearby, my scanner is turned on and tuned into the Niagara Frontier railroad scene as it channel surfs the airwaves for the human and computer synthesized voices vital in keeping train movement fluid in the switching yards, and on the mainline.

        My "train" of thought is momentarily interrupted as the hot box/ dragging equipment detector is activated.  The computer synthesized voice saying,  "Conrail...Bay View... New York...track axle count...three, five, zero...train speed...three, one...over."  The locomotive engineer using his two-way radio replies, "Conrail defects..." In less then a minute I will hear the sound of his air horn as a symbol freight train roars past Bayview Road.

       The two-way radio conversation between the dispatcher and engineer increases as he announces that he is "Coming by the Bay!" It is here that our symbol freight train is leaving the jurisdiction of the Cleveland east dispatcher some 200 miles away in Pittsburgh, and entering the Buffalo terminal dispatchers territory which is monitored by computer some 300 miles distant in Selkirk, New York just south of Albany. It is here in Selkirk, that the Buffalo mainline dispatcher has charge of the area east of Buffalo while the Niagara Branch dispatcher monitors the area north to Niagara Falls, Lockport and the belt line in the city of Buffalo.

        As our conversation between the Buffalo terminal dispatcher and engineer of our eastbound symbol freight continues, the dispatcher determines if any cars need to be set out or picked up at either seneca yard or frontier yard, if any problems encountered enroute need to be taken care of, and where this train crew will be stopping the train for a crew change before proceeding east.  While all this is taking place, the hot box/ dragging equipment detector is activated at Lancaster, New York by a westbound Amtrak train some four and one-half miles out from the passenger station at Depew, New York.  This is the 1996 world of centralized traffic control!

      What centralized traffic control or "CTC" does is enable a dispatcher at a distant point to monitor train movements in his or her jurisdiction using a computer. The dispatcher sees a diagram of the available routes on a double-track railroad. He or she selects the route option, switches at control points are electrically locked in place, and signals displayed indicating if any traffic is ahead. If a problem does occur that may impede the dual direction of traffic, the dispatcher can take decisive action and keep everything moving with little delay. The train crews are also the eyes of the dispatcher as they can relay information that the dispatcher may be totally unaware of miles away such as weather conditions and traffic congestion around major cities and freight terminals.

       In an age when steam locomotion was at its zenith and diesels would be coming into its own, it was the signal tower operator, the ever vigilant sentry in his outpost of civilization who kept the trains on schedule as they passed in constant procession day and night hurtling toward their destination.

       "At one time, interlocking towers were strung around the North American railroad network like pearls on an endless string." Originally called block or signal towers, they sheltered mechanical equipment that controlled signals and switches: telegraphs and other communication devices: and the tower operators. They have been part of the railroad landscape since the early 1850's, when railroads began using the telegraph to keep track of train locations. Over the following decades, as other devices for controlling rail traffic were invented, these four-square, two-story structures continued to multiply.

       They were built generally of wood or brick, architecturally unremarkable, and hardly tall enough to be called a "tower." Most had unfussy, two-letter names derived from their telegraph call names, which were in turn derived from the location. They stood alone in remote locations-mountains, prairies, the "Great American Desert", in the middle of the country, the swampy bayous of Louisiana, and the wilderness of Idaho. ref. 1

       In 1919 there were an estimated 5,300 interlocking signal towers in the united states, on the New York Central they were called "Signal Stations;" quite a number of them could be seen along the 960.7 mile right of way that was divided into nine divisions between grand central terminal in New York City and LaSalle Street Station in Chicago, Illinois.  The Erie division, 163 miles in length between Bay View, New York and the Cleveland, Ohio outskirts, had a total of 19 signal stations which were open 24 hours a day.  They included bay view (BV), Lake View (RD), Angola (NA), Silver Creek (MN), Dunkirk (X), Canadaway (CA), Westfield (WX), North East (N), Wesleyville (WV),        P & E Crossing (XC), Dock Junction (DJ),  Girard Junction (GJ), Amboy (J), Ashtabula,  J
& F Crossing (OD), West Tower (W), Madison (OX), Painesville, B & 0 Tower (AF), Willoughby (SW), B.R. Tower (BR).

       The focus of our story is Bay View tower "BV" located 445 .79 miles west from grand central terminal and 8.77 miles west of Buffalo Central Terminal.  Chicago is 533.37 miles to the west.    Bay View tower long abandoned for some 30 plus years until its demolition by Conrail in 1995,   was a local area landmark for Western New York railfans in the town of Hamburg, New York just to the west of Bay View road.

       In 1923, the New York Central Railroad built a concrete and brick interlocking signal station at Bay View, New York, replacing the original wooden signal station dating back to 1898 and completion of the Buffalo Terminal Railway better known as the "Gardenville Branch.

It was one of the special ones!  It was here that depending on your direction of travel it was the demarcation between lines east/west of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad which merged to form New York Central Lines in 1914. Other railroads, notably the Boston & Albany, Big Four, and Michigan Central were subsequently leased to the New York Central which became known as the New York Central System in 1935. Bay View tower was the demarcation between the Buffalo terminal division and the Erie division; there was a connecting track between the New York Central and the Nickel Plate Road, which was used as a bypass if traffic had to get around a derailment. It was in the vicinity of Bay View tower that the eastbound and westbound "20th Century Limiteds" often running in several sections passed in the night, and finally Bay View tower controlled the access to and from the Gardenville branch!

       The City of Buffalo's emergence as the nation's second largest railroad center after Chicago, Illinois based on the amount of freight cars interchanged and the through traffic passing through on a daily basis was evident by the early 1890's. There was rumor of constructing a by-pass around the city of Buffalo to alleviate yard congestion and speed-up travel. Preliminary survey work had taken place in 1892, but not much else was done while congestion in he western end of the state was worsening.

 of the greatest undertakings in railway circles completed during the past year (1898), and one that means a great deal to the railway companies operating between New York and Chicago, has been the construction of the Buffalo Terminal Railway, a line built exclusively for the purpose of making a savings of some six hours in the shipment of freight between Chicago and New York."  ref. 1

       To railway men this was a great deal more than can be imagined by the uninitiated. In a word it means that instead of being compelled to bring all through freight into Buffalo and through the yards here, The trains will take the new line at Blasdell (Bay View) and cut across the county to Depew, New York.  Heretofore the cars were brought into the yards and owing to the great congestion of traffic were sidetracked here and many hours of very valuable time lost.

      It is the completion of an idea long since decided upon as the only way of solving the problem     of rapid transit between America's two great centers, and railway men long ago came to the conclusion that some new way of getting freight through  to Chicago had to be devised, and as the only obstacle in the way was the delay at Buffalo, it was determined that the useless run into the city and all the extra work attending it would have to be cut out. A new road was the only possible solution and now that it is completed its value will be appreciated.  Next to the grade crossing improvement in Buffalo it is the most important work of railway construction that has bee done in this end of New York State in years.

      The road runs from Blasdell (Bay View), where it connects with the Lake Shore road, and runs in an almost direct line to Buffalo's growing railway and industrial suburb of Depew. There it connects with the New York Central as stated, the road was built to eliminate the necessity of hauling lake shore through freight trains into the city and then taking them out again over the Central. The congestion at East Buffalo from this unnecessary work has in times past been very great, and there will be an immense saving in time and to the roads as a result of the building of the terminal.

      Entering the city of Buffalo from the east and south are ten railroads, whose sole method of interchange of business in the past has been through cramped yards, over-burdened connecting tracks, and across busy grade street crossings.  These undesirable conditions have caused both delay and expense in the movement of freight traffic, and have been distasteful to the public, owing to the smoke, noise, and danger incident to grade crossings. To eliminate these faults, the Terminal Railway of Buffalo was incorporated June 12, 1895 to construct a double track railroad from the New York Central and Hudson river railroad at Depew, to the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railway at West Seneca (Lackawanna), intersecting the railroads and radiate easterly and southerly from the City of Buffalo.

       A "certificate of necessity" for the construction of the road was granted by the board of railroad commissioners, August 6, 1895, and the location of the final line was laid out by the engineers, and negotiations commenced for the acquisition of the right of way. Owing to the high priced character of the property on the outskirts of the city of Buffalo, the large number of separate parcels of land affected about eighty one in all. The number of steam and electric railways intersected, progress in acquiring the necessary lands and crossing contracts was slow, and actual construction was not commenced until July 13, 1897.

        While the route laid out encountered few natural obstacles, the necessity for crossing over and under the numerous trunk line railroads, electric railways and highways, without obstructing regular traffic gave rise to problems both expensive and difficult to solve.

The line was finally completed and opened for operation September 20, 1898.

       The general route and profile, and the character of the construction are briefly described as follows:   Leaving the main line of the New York Central & Hudson river (s.s. 46) on the north side of the freight tracks east of the transit road at Depew, the line runs in a westerly direction parallel and adjacent to the New York Central & Hudson river railroad, crosses over the Tonawanda branch of the Lehigh Valley railroad, and then descending on a grade of 52.8 feet per mile, turns southwesterly and passes under the New York Central & Hudson river railroad, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroad, Lehigh Valley Railroad and Broadway. This portion of the line involved the removal of 125,000 cubic yards of excavation, and the construction of six masonry and steel bridges. The larger portion of the excavated material was transported to Depew, for which a temporary standard gauge railroad ten miles in length was constructed. Thence the line continues southwesterly crossing over Cuyahoga Creek, Slate Bottom Creek and Buffalo Creek, to the intersection at grade of the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad, at which latter point an interlocking signal plant (signal station GJ) has been erected.  Thence the line runs southwesterly, crossing under the highway known as Central Road, Seneca Plank Road, over Casanovia Creek and north fork of Smoke's Creek to the crossing of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railway. This railroad was raised eighteen feet to permit an undercrossing for the Terminal Railway of Buffalo. Thence the line crosses the south fork of Smoke's Creek, passes under the White's Corners Road, over the Hamburg Electric Railway, Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad, Nickel Plate Line, Erie Railroad, Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, and drops down a grade of forty feet per mile into the West Seneca yard of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway. This latter portion of the line involved the placing of over 200,000 cubic feet of embankment.

       The West Seneca yard of the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railroad has been laid out with ample trackage, engine house facilities etc., For prompt handling the large amount of interchange business with the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad.

       The total distance from the Depew connection to the West Seneca yard is eleven and one half miles. The line has been built in the most substantial and permanent manner, with steel bridges, cast iron pipe culverts, masonry abutments and piers, woven wire fences, white oak ties, steel rails at eighty pounds per yard, and gravel ballast.

        The following quantities of material, in round numbers were used in the construction of the line, including the New York Central connection at Depew, and the raising of the track of the Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh railway: 50,000 cubic yards of earthwork; 15,000 cubic yards of masonry of all classes: 12,500 linear feet of piling in foundations: 4,000,000 pounds of steel bridging, including thirty two spans: 186,000 pounds of cast iron in culverts, 2,000 tons of steel rails: 64,000 oak ties: 70,000 cubic yards of gravel ballast. The total cost of the line, in round figures, including connections, may be stated at $1,000,000.

       The value of this enterprise to the two railroads chiefly interested, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad, and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern railway, is already proved by the saving of six hours time in the shipment of through freight between New York & Chicago.

       The contractors for the construction were as follows: roadbed, George E. Smith & Co., Detroit, Michigan, later succeeded by the National Surety Company of New York: masonry, the J.L. Fulton company of Chicago, Illinois: steel bridges, Pennsylvania Steel Company, Elmira Bridge Company, Shifter Bridge Company, and the Buffalo Bridge & Iron Works: fencing, Page Woven Wire Fence Company, Adrian Michigan. The work was designed and executed under supervision of  "Willam J. Wilgus" chief engineer, and C.J. Coon, assistant engineer. ref. 2

       As a side note of interest, on April 29, 1914, the consolidation of the New York Central & Hudson river railroad and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad forming New York Central Lines lists the Terminal Railway of Buffalo board of directors at that time as Chauncey M. Depew, Frederick w. Vanderbilt, William H. Newman, William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., Alfred H. Smith, and William Rockefeller. ref. 3

       Already in 1918, Bay View Tower was a hotbed of rail activity as the New York Central listed 56 trains passing by this spot in a twenty-four hour time period. Its not known how many freight trains were operated along the adjacent parallel joint trackage of the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York, Chicago, & St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road), but the Nickel Plate operated six passenger trains daily as did the Pennsylvania Railroad.

This page was last updated: October 30th, 2021 - Original publishing - 5/7/2000

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