Railroad History

From Canal to Rail: A Short History of the “Rochester Branch” Railroad  

After the State abandoned the Genesee Valley Canal it was sold for $11,400 on November 6, 1880 to the newly formed Genesee Valley Canal Railroad (GVCRR), which had been chartered 15 July of that year and was backed by the Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia Railroad (BNYPRR). By October 1, 1882, the new GVCRR began running trains between Rochester and Hindsale in Cattaraugus County, a distance of 98.7 miles. At Hinsdale, the trains joined the tracks of the main Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad line to travel on to Olean.

Genesee Valley Canal Railroad

For much of its 98-mile length, tracks of the GVCRR were laid on the canal towpath.  In areas where canal curves proved too sharp or grades were too steep for trains to travel safely, 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 (the bed of the old canal).

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 to be too steep for trains and, from Nunda Junction to at least Tuscarora, a rail line had already been developed earlier at a different location. 

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. 

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Railroad Built Upon Canal Towpath with Prism on the Right - 1882

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The Genesee Salt Works at Piffard, Livingston County, was served by the Railroad

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Pennsylvania Railroad Depot, Nunda NY

Feeder Lines  

Three separate feeder lines, the Swains, Garbutt, and Genesee Valley Terminal Branches, were constructed over the years to link smaller communities and important industries to the main Rochester Branch tracks. 

All three companies, the Genesee Valley Canal Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad Company, and Genesee Valley Terminal Railroad, together became known as the Rochester Branch of the Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railway. 

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Pennsylvania Railroad Hoodlebug

Steam gives way to gas-electric engines

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 and, as the US postal service began to use trucks to distribute mail, freight business further declined.


In 1962, the Pennsylvania Railroad petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon unprofitable lines, 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 in Cattaraugus County, but the railroad remained active from Wadsworth Junction north to the City of Rochester. After this abandonment, 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.

The Monroe County section of the Rochester Branch was abandoned between 1968 and 1971 and the tracks and ties removed between 1974 and 1977

Swains Branch Genesee Valley Terminal Railroad