excerpt from The Complete History of the R&IT...
A railroad with a unique history spanning two centuries,
the history of our fictional Rochester & Irondequoit
Terminal makes for interesting reading. Learn how a
western New York interurban became a bridge line for
CSX and Norfolk Southern.
The Buffalo, Rochester & Syracuse Street Railway was chartered in 1875.
Construction began in 1899, and reached Syracuse in 1906. The BR&S borrowed
money from local banks, and the neighbor New York Central owned a half. For
its time, it was a modern, high-speed electric railway. The BR&S became
a link for freight traveling east to New England. More traffic could move east-west
without clogging up the New York Central mainline. In 1914, due to overwhelming
debt, the BR&S declared bankruptcy.
Rescued by The Central...
Fearing the competing Pennsylvania Railroad would buy the line, the Central
purchased a half-interest. NYC then convinced the B&O and the Nickel
Plate to buy the other half of the road. The line was reorganized as the
Rochester & Irondequoit Terminal. The electric passenger interurbans
continued to run, and ridership was steady. As the private auto became more
popular in the late Thirties, people used the R&IT less and less. Buses
were introduced to some downtown cities, replacing the trolleys. The R&IT
was considering dropping all passenger service when the war stepped in. The
R&IT enjoyed a surge of business as gasoline rationing was enforced.
However, once the war was over, passenger counts dropped to normal levels.
Amid heated protest from the few commuters, the R&IT became freight-only
on May 20, 1950. The overhead wires, deemed too expensive to maintain for a
small fleet of electric locomotives, came down soon after. By 1966, the B&O
and the Nickel Plate had sold their part ownerships; and the R&IT was a
wholly-owned subsidiary of the New York Central. By 1968, the Central merged
with arch rival Pennsylvania Railroad to form the ill-fated Penn Central. In
1972, the East End to Syracuse was shut down when a train spread the rails
at Geneva. Hurricane Agnes took its toll on the R&IT, as well as the Erie-Lackawanna
and the Lehigh Valley, both of which supplied considerable traffic. It seemed
to be the end for the R&IT. In 1976, an Act of Congress formed Conrail
to take over the properties of several northeastern bankrupt railroads.
The State Steps In...
Not much of the original R&IT remained when the planning process for Conrail began in 1973. Because there were so few customers, and the track in such poor shape, the line was not included in Conrail's Final System Plan. This alarmed the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), which was looking to save several area branch lines that would be shut down once Conrail took over. Negotiations were made to purchase the remainder of the R&IT (by then known as Penn Central's Genesee Branch) and revive the old corporate name to operate some of the railroad properties purchased by NYSDOT which included the old "Auburn Road" between Syracuse, Geneva, and Rochester and the "Falls Road" between Rochester, Lockport, and Niagara Falls. Trackage rights through Rochester connected the two branches, and additional rights allowed the R&IT to run from Niagara Falls to Buffalo. The "new" R&IT began operations on April 1, 1976, the same day as Conrail. After a five year period of state subsidy, the state began looking for a buyer to help ensure the independent short line's survival into the next century...
Map illustration by Otto Vondrak ©2014 Carstens Publications, used with permission.