Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic Railroad????

CV 4559-4924-4923 Palmer diamond 9-3-1989
What, pray tell, does a photo of a train have to do with the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic?

Actually, more than one might think. I refer you to Larry Lowenthal's "Titanic Railroad:The Southern New England" (Marker Press Brimfield, MA 1998) for the full story, but to briefly summarize, Charles Melville Hays was the driving figurehead of the Grand Trunk Railroad. At the height of the JP Morgan/Charles Mellen reign of forming a monopolistic transportation system in the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, Hays was aiming for his own route in Rhode Island and Massachusetts to compete with what was basically the only other railroad in region. (The relatively tiny Central Vermont Railway running north to south from New London, CT to St Albans, VT, was a Grand Trunk RR affiliation). Hays proposed "Southern New England RR" would have run from a port at Providence, RI, to the Central Vermont yard in Palmer, MA (where the above photo was taken on September 3, 1989).

Hays was a passenger aboard the Titanic returning from Europe following another trip to garner support and potential funding for the SNE construction. We all know the outcome of Titanic, and Hays was among the majority who perished. In spite of this, construction commenced on the SNE in fits and starts unitl finally ending altogether in 1915, leaving graded right-of-ways and unadorned concrete piers awaiting bridges and rails which will never come.

How would the rail scene be different had Titanic not sunk? Perhaps today's Providence & Worcester Railroad might have a competitior between Providence, RI, and Central Massachusetts in the New England Central RR (successor of Central Vermont which was sold out of the GT parent Canadian National family in the mid 1990s) instead of an interchange partner at Willimantic, CT, numerous miles out of the way. Perhaps, as history has shown, the SNE would have become just what it is: an abandooned railroad grade through having succumbed as much of the NYNH&H superlative secondary lines throughout the region due to that area's slowly eroding economy.

To this day, 100 years later, concrete monoliths and other telltale features can still be located if one cares to look hard enough. I myself will make the adventure sometime in the future, though I don't know when, but at least when the leaves aren't in the way.

The SNE lives on, however, in its mystique but also at least in one model railroad form, documented in Model Railroader magazine.