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Valley Railroad (Connecticut)

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Valley Railroad (Connecticut)

Valley Railroad
Reporting mark VALE
Locale Middlesex County, Connecticut
Dates of operation 1871 (1871)–present (present)
Predecessor New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 22.67 miles (36.48 km)
Headquarters Essex, Connecticut
Locomotive No. 97 in Essex.

The Valley Railroad is a heritage railroad based in Connecticut on tracks of the Connecticut Valley Railroad originally founded in 1868. It is best known for operating the Essex Steam Train and the Essex Clipper Dinner Train.


Essex Steam Train and Riverboat

The Valley Railroad Company operates the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. This excursion starts with a 12-mile ride aboard the historic Essex Steam Train from the Essex Station with scenic views of the Connecticut River up to Chester. The train reverses direction back to the Deep River Station/Landing. Passengers who have purchased the riverboat tickets can board the Becky Thatcher at this station. The riverboat will bring you on a 1 hour 15 minute trip up the Connecticut River to the East Haddam Swing Bridge and then back to Deep River Landing. The train then picks up passengers to bring them back to Essex Depot. The whole trip takes about 3 hours 30 minutes.[1]

Essex Clipper Dinner Train

The Essex Clipper Dinner Train is a 2.5-hour train ride that departs Essex Depot and offers scenic views of the Connecticut River along the way. The train brings you to the northern end of the operable line in Haddam. A seasonal four-course meal is freshly prepared on-board and served in beautifully restored 1920s Pullman dining cars.

North Pole Express

Each November and December, the North Pole Express brings passengers on a fictituous ride to the North Pole for children and their families. Amenities include on-board entertainment, singing, trackside displays, cookies, hot chocolate, and a gift from Santa.[2]



The vision of a Valley Railroad started in the 1840s when President of the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company, James C. Walkley traced the 44 mile route by stagecoach with friend Horace Johnson.[3] Walkley and a group of business men obtained a state charter on July 17, 1868 to form the Connecticut Valley Railroad Company and start the process of building a railroad.[3]

During 1868-1869, survey crews worked to map out the line from Hartford to Saybrook Point.

Finally in April 1870, actual construction of the line began, with ground breaking taking place in Higganum, Ct.[4] The plan called for three phases, the "Northern Division" starting in Hartford, Ct and continuing to Middletown, Ct, the "Middle Division" which continued to what is known today as Goodspeed Landing, and the "South Division" which finished the line to Saybrook Point.[3] The Connecticut River Valley allowed for an easy construction as no tunnels or major bridges where required. The line was completed during the summer of 1871 with the first ceremonial train run over the 45 miles (72 km) on July 29, 1871 at a steady speed of 22 mph.[3] At $34,000 per mile the line ended up costing $1,482,903.[3]

Connecticut Valley Railroad

The first "regular" train started on July 31, 1871.[4] On August 24, 1871 the Connecticut Valley Railroad finally declared an official opening. The initial schedules of trains operating along the Valley Railroad called for one mixed train and four passenger trains each way daily (except Sunday) with fifteen stops along the way.

The company grossed $34,000 in its first year.[3] It would continue to grow grossing $250,000/year in 1873.[3]

Financial trouble plagued many early railroads and the Connecticut Valley found its in 1876 when it defaulted on its second mortgage bonds and was placed in receivership.

Hartford & Connecticut Valley Railroad

On July 1, 1880 the Hartford and Connecticut Valley Railroad took control with president Samuel Babcock.[3]

Branch line of the New Haven Railroad

The New Haven Railroad was rapidly building up its stature in Southern New England. Seeing a good chance to sell their new line at a good price, the owners of the Hartford and Connecticut Valley Railroad convinced the New Haven that it should buy control. In 1882, the New Haven followed through by leasing the H&CV. Ten years later in 1892, the New Haven outright bought the H&CV, fully integrating it as a branch line in the New Haven system.

The incorporation was good for the Valley Railroad as the New Haven put money and improvements into the line. During this time, the Valley Railroad grew to its limit: never being more than a busy branch line with passenger service and freight service consisting of deliveries of supplies and merchandise to communities and factories along the line. Shortly after World War I, as roads, automobiles, and trucks improved, the Valley Railroad saw a reduction in service; and by the late 1950s it saw only weekday local service with the speed on the line down to 30 mph (48 km/h) from nearly 55 mph (89 km/h).

Hard times fell on the New Haven Railroad itself and in 1961 it fell into bankruptcy. With a major reduction on spending money to maintain its branch lines, the Valley Railroad soon fell into disrepair, finding only two slow moving freight trains a week using the rusted rails.

Business failed along the Valley Railroad line and the New Haven also failed. In 1968 the New Haven was no longer a railroad with the last train run over the Valley in March 1968.

State of Connecticut / Valley Railroad Company

Concerned volunteers got together to keep the now abandoned railroad from being torn up by the new owners, Penn Central. This group managed to obtain a temporary lease from Penn Central in 1969 and on August 15, 1969, the Penn Central turned over this branch line to the State of Connecticut.

The State of Connecticut granted a formal lease to the Valley Railroad Company on June 1, 1970. This lease authorized the company to use the 22.679 miles (36.498 km) of track for freight and passenger service; and on July 29, 1971 (100 years to the day of the first ceremonial run), after thousands of hours of mostly volunteer effort, the first train of the new Valley Railroad steamed from Essex to Deep River and has been steaming ever since. The current president of the railroad is Robert C. Bell.[5]

The Valley Railroad offers a number of special programs and events. Some of these, such as "Santa specials" and visits from Thomas the Tank Engine, are similar to those offered by other tourist railroads. A more unusual example is the "Your Hand on the Throttle" program, in which participants are allowed to run one of the railroad's full-size steam locomotives (under supervision).

Rolling stock

Steam Engines

Current Steam Engines

VRR Engine Number Style Original Build Year In VRR Revenue Service Description
40 2-8-2 1920 [6] Yes 40 is mostly used in revenue service on the Essex Steam Train. It was originally build by the America Locomotive Company in Dunkirn, NY. The train was purchased by the Valley Railroad in 1977 from Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad.[7] It will run out of its flue time in 2014, or sooner if it is used more frequently.
3025 2-8-2 1989 [6] Yes Members of the Valley Railroad went to Kane, Pennsylvania for the liquidation auction of the Knox and Kane Railroad on October 10 and 11, 2008. They purchased steam Locomotive #58, the China Railways SY 2-8-2 type locomotive. The Valley Railroad completely rebuilt the locomotive to resemble a New Haven Railroad J-1 Mikado, and renumbered it NH #3025. The new 3025 was completed in November 2011, and was pressed into service immediately pulling the second section of the North Pole Express on November 25, 2011. Along with the 3025, the Valley Railroad purchased a large amount of parts at the same auction.
97 2-8-0 1923 [6] No Was in revenue service until 2010 when it was put on display awaiting an FRA Form 4 rebuild to be placed back on the active roster. It is expected that additional parts purchased with the 3025 acquisition would be used to overhaul this locomotive.
2 0-6-0 1941 [6] No On January 9, 2009, The Friends of The Valley Railroad, a volunteer organization working with the railroad to perform track work, equipment maintenance and many other tasks, took possession of Simons Wrecking #2, a Porter 0-6-0 tank engine from the city of Peabody, Massachusetts which had been part of the famed Steamtown collection. The engine will be cosmetically restored for the time being while donations are raised for the potential to return it to steam.

Previous Steam Engines

VRR Engine Number Style Original Build Year Current Number Current Owner Description
1647 2-8-2 142 New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway The Valley Railroad Company, along with the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad and the Knox & Kane Railroad, imported brand new steam locomotives from China during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Both the VRR and the K&K imported two SY 2-8-2 type locomotives. Delivered to the United States on the same ship to the eastern seaboard, they each went to their respective railroads. Engine #1647 was delivered to the Valley Railroad and operated numerous on- and off-line trips before being sold to the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway. It was renumbered #142 after an additional SY ordered by the NYS&W was lost when the ship delivering it sunk. Today, it is owned by the New York, Susquehanna, & Western Technical Historical Society and operated on excursions out of Phillipsburg, NJ.
103 2-6-2 103 Naugatuck Railroad The Valley Railroad Company obtained this engine from the Empire State Railway Museum and used as the Valley's first steam locomotive. Its last run was in 1975 when it was deemed not powerful enough to pull any of the railroads trains. Ownership was transferred to Railroad Museum of New England in 1987 and it was moved to the museum's Naugatuck Railroad in June 2009, after being on display at Essex since 1975.[8]

Diesel Engines

VRR Engine Number Style Original Build Year In VRR Revenue Service Description
0900 80-ton 1947 Yes Used for the Essex Clipper Dinner Train as well as for switching and work trains. Originally used at the General Electric plant in Schenectedy, NY.
0901 80-ton 1940 Yes Used for the Essex Clipper Dinner Train as well as for switching and work trains. Originally used at the U.S. Navy Base in Groton, CT.
1606 80-ton 1940s No Currently being prepared for service. Originally used by the U.S. Air Force, acquired by the VRR in 2014.

Dining / First Class Cars

VRR Car Name Style Original Build Year In VRR Revenue Service Description
Meriden Pullman Parlor Car 1924 Yes Used on the Essex Clipper Dinner Train. It was originally build by the Pullman Company and used in service on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. The car was restored by the Valley Railroad and has a current capacity of 54 seats.[9]
Wallingford Pullman Parlor Car 1927 Yes Used on the Essex Clipper Dinner Train. It was originally built by the Pullman Company and used in service on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. First used by VRR as a first class car on the Steam Train but was switch to its current configuration in 1994.[9]
Dacosta 28 Seat Pullman Parlor Car 1927 Yes Dacosta, the original name used by Pullman, was purchased from a tourist railroad in Ohio in 1988 by the Valley Railroad in hopes to use it one day. It stayed as storage rolling stock until August 2013 when a complete restoration of the car started. Through man hours of Valley employees and FVRR volunteers restoration completed just in time for the North Pole Express 2013 season. It was also a popular ride for the February Eagle Flyer. The car is expected to go into revenue service as part of the Clipper Dinner Train, however, it is still awaiting the equipment for air-conditioning and generators. The name is expected to change to Middletown in the near future.

Kitchen Car

VRR Car Name Style Original Build Year In VRR Revenue Service Description
Colonial Hearth US Army Kitchen Car 1953 Yes A US Army Kitchen car till 1986 when the Valley Railroad acquired the car.[9]



The Valley Railroad Company leases, from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the track running from Old Saybrook up through Essex, Deep River, Chester, Haddam, and Middletown, totaling 22.67 miles (36.48 km). The trackbed is gravel ballast, with track made of conventional wood crossties, with steel rails fastened to the ties. The track connects with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor track near the Old Saybrook Station to the south. Presently, 13.25 miles of the line are restored for train service, with the remaining last seeing service in 1968. The rail corridor between Haddam and Middletown, which has been cleared of brush and receives property maintenance and surveillance from hi-rail vehicles, awaits full restoration.

The Valley Railroad Company has several grade crossings along its tracks. They vary in their nature, ranging from small caution signs at Private Crossings to flashing lights, bells, and gates and stop signs at public crossings. The busiest public grade crossings are located at Route 153 in Essex, Route 154 in Essex, and Route 82 (just before the East Haddam swing bridge) in Haddam.


The main station, where tickets are sold and all rolling stock is kept, is located in Essex; specifically, the village of Centerbrook. The main entrance and parking access is located off Route 154; there is a rear entrance (not for public use) on Route 153. There is a station building (used as offices for the riverboat operation) at Deep River Landing in Deep River, and a small station (used by the Railroad's track department) in Chester—it was originally the station at Quinnipiac, CT. Goodspeed station, located off Route 82 in Haddam, houses an antique shop and is not affiliated with the railroad. Across the tracks from the station is the Goodspeed Yard Office. This building was the original North Chester passenger station, located on Dock Road in Chester, but sold off and removed in 1874 when it was found that the railroad grade was too steep at that location for starting and stopping trains. Donated by the Zanardi family in 1993, it was retrieved by volunteers of the Friends of the Valley Railroad and moved by flatcar to its present location. It is believed that this structure is the sole remaining passenger station from the 1871 opening of the railroad.

On July 18, 2009, the Friends of the Valley Railroad built a passenger shelter in Chester on the site of the original Hadlyme station. The new building is a reproduction of the South Britain station, which was on the now abandoned Danbury Extension of the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill. The original station on this site served passengers of the town of Hadlyme, across the Connecticut River. Passengers use today's station to go to Gillette Castle State Park via the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry, the second-oldest continuously-operated ferry route in the U.S.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b c d
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c

External links

  • Official website

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