From Canal to Rail: History of the Railroads 1882-1963/1971

By October 1, 1882, the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad began running trains between Rochester and Hinsdale in Cattaraugus County, a distance of 98.37 miles.  At Hinsdale, the trains joined the tracks of the main Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad line to travel on to Olean.

For much of its length, the tracks were laid on the towpath of the canal, but in some areas where the curves of the old towpath proved too sharp and unsafe for trains to travel, the track alignment deviated from the towpath.  Occasionally these changes necessitated the purchase of additional land.  In other areas, the tracks were laid within the canal prism.

Only between Tuscarora and Oakland in Livingston County did the route of the railroad differ significantly from that of the canal.  There were two reasons: the railroad builders determined the grades were too steep for trains and, from Nunda Junction to at least Tuscarora, a rail line had already been developed earlier at a different location.  The chosen route meant that the main line completely bypassed the village of Nunda, causing its citizens to protest.  To remedy the situation somewhat, the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad, backers of the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad, formed the Rochester, New York and Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and built a standard gauge railroad from Nunda Junction to the village of Nunda and south to Swains in the town of Grove in Allegany County.  This branch line was able to access the main line at Nunda Junction, north of the village of Nunda.  (The Nunda Junction to Swains railroad, locally called the Swains Branch, used the bed of the former 18.5-mile, 3-foot gauge Rochester Nunda and Pennsylvania Railroad that was built in 1874 between Mt. Morris and Ross Junction, at the time that the Genesee Valley Canal was still in operation.)  In 1908, this rail line was abandoned between the village of Nunda and Swains.

In 1882, the Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia Railroad also constructed another branch line, the Genesee Valley Terminal Railroad.  It extended from the main line Genesee Valley Canal Railroad at the rail yards on Scottsville Road (present day Fire Training Academy in Chili in Monroe County) two miles north to the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad at Lincoln Park in Gates, allowing trains to continue on to the New York Central depot in Rochester.  Passengers needed to use the New York Central station as the Pennsylvania had not completed their own depot at this time.  All three companies, the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad, Rochester, New York and Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and Genesee Valley Terminal Railroad, together became known as the Rochester Branch of the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railway.

The Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railway faced significant financial difficulties and competitive challenges beginning in 1884.  As a result, in 1887, it was reorganized and sold, becoming the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railroad.  The railroad’s own passenger station was opened in July 1889 in the former Peter Pitkin residence on West Avenue (now West Main Street).  By 1895, financial difficulties caused the railroad to be reorganized again as the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railway Company.  By 1900, it came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  However, for accounting purposes, its separate identity as the Western New York & Pennsylvania Railway Company was preserved until 1930.

The railroad gained one additional branch line in 1907 when track was laid from the station at Scottsville to Garbutt in the town of Wheatland in Monroe County.  This track was used to bring gypsum and gypsum products to the main line from Garbutt’s mines and manufacturing plants. The Great Depression ruined Garbutt’s gypsum industry and the line closed in 1944.

Most of the towns along the Rochester Branch were served only by this one railroad, but a few communities such as Hinsdale, Cuba, Mt. Morris, Garbutt, and Scottsville were also served by other rail lines.  At one time, six passenger trains and six to eight freight trains a day operated on the Rochester Branch between Rochester and Olean.  In the early part of the twentieth century, a commuter train even ran daily between Nunda and Rochester.  The Rochester Branch transported gypsum from Garbutt and salt from the mines at Retsof and Cuylerville to places throughout the country and brought coal from Pennsylvania to Rochester industries.

In 1926, steam trains were replaced with gas electric cars called hoodlebugs or doodlebugs.  Passenger service was reduced at this time as the railroad began to run mixed trains containing freight and passenger cars.  Passenger service was eliminated in 1941.  As the US postal service began to use trucks to distribute mail, freight business further declined.

The Pennsylvania Railroad petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon unprofitable lines in 1962, including the Rochester Branch in Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties.  Permission was granted and the Rochester Branch was abandoned in 1963 from Wadsworth Junction, at the Livingston-Monroe County line, south to Hinsdale but remained active from Wadsworth Junction north to the City of Rochester.  PennCentral trains traveled to Buffalo and then over the Lehigh Valley Black Diamond Line from Buffalo to Wadsworth Junction before joining the Pennsylvania track again for the journey into Rochester.  This Monroe County section of the Rochester Branch was abandoned between 1968 and 1971 and the tracks and ties removed between 1974 and 1977.  The Rochester Yard area near the present day Fire Training Academy was used until the 1980s to get to Lincoln Park.

See also:

Pietrak, Paul V., Joseph G. Streamer, James A. Van Brocklin.  “Rochester and the Valley of the Genesee River,” Western New York and Pennsylvania Railway. Hamburg, NY 2000, 5-1 – 5-17.