GLENMONT — Stuck in the weeds along the Hudson River lies a relic born out of the fiery collision of two coal-driven locomotives that blindly crashed, killing 14 people inside the Park Avenue tunnel in Manhattan in 1902. Steam locomotives had to be replaced within the city and new locomotives, powered with clean electricity, were designed, built and tested in the Capital District. It was a monumental project to solve a massive environmental problem.
Fast forward 120 years. The Capital District is again innovating, gearing up to manufacture massive offshore wind turbines to replace fossil fuels as a major source of clean electricity for Gotham by 2035. The creation of 9,000 megawatts of power will come from the facilities built at the Ports of Albany and Coeymans.
The new project will have to wait, at least for a little bit, because of the one started a century ago. The construction of a new tower manufacturing plant cannot begin until four historic locomotives are moved from a cutoff and abandoned rail spur at the Port of Albany’s property on River Road.
A group made up of rail historians, museums, enthusiasts, riggers and the owner of a Glenmont bus company are in a race against time to get the rusted pieces of history to the rail museum that owns them. The once fully-restored showpiece locomotives, that have sat abandoned while being abused by vandals and thieves for over 35 years, have to be moved for the wind plant to progress along the banks of the Hudson.
Why must they move?
In order to stabilize and strengthen the soil on the site, developers must lay piles of stone and allow it to compress the soil over four months. The locomotives are in the way of where these piles will lay, and will slow the process of development if they are not removed soon. The four locomotives weigh in excess of 1 million pounds, so moving them is no easy task, but all parties agree they need to be in a museum.
Four pieces of history.
The original S-1 prototype for the 1904 electric locomotive project and the only remaining T-motor electric locomotive sits at the head of the rail spur, followed by two retired diesel locomotives, an ALCO RS-2 and a GE U25B. While the diesels are old, they have less historic value.
The four engines have had many owners over the years, but currently the Railway Museum in Danbury, Connecticut holds the title to them.
“The S-1 was the space shuttle of 1904,” Paul Marsh said. “The electric subways in New York City went into service starting in 1902, so everything before that was steam locomotives. The S was the first actual electric locomotive in the world.”
Marsh, of Glenmont, has been working on moving the locomotives for over 30 years. He is the retired owner of Marsh Bus Company of Glenmont and is also a mechanic of all kinds of transportation equipment including buses and trains.
Removal to build
The locomotives currently rest on 80 acres of land owned by the Port of Albany. It is known as Beacon Island, located between the PSEG power plant on River Road and the mouth of the Normanskill in the Town of Bethlehem. The port is slated to begin the construction of four buildings on the island that will manufacture towers for off-shore wind farms off the coast of Long Island and New York City. The Port of Albany CEO Richard Hendrick, said in order to meet the goal of starting production by the fourth quarter of 2023, the locomotives have to move.
“Everything has to happen pretty quick,” Hendrick said. “They’re ready to move forward, we’re just waiting for the town [of Bethlehem planning] board’s [site-plan] approval.”
The port will be working with Marmen-Welcon who will be making the wind towers and possibly the transition pieces that connect the foundation to the wind tower. Marmen and Welcon joined together for this project with Marmen being the largest wind structure manufacturer in North America and Welcon being the world’s largest manufacturer of offshore wind farms. A U.S. and Canadian company, Equinor, is also part of the project that manufactured structures for the first offshore wind farm in Scotland and also holds leases on two areas off the coast of Long Island.
What’s the Plan?
One of the biggest challenges are the piles of toxic ash that covers Beacon Island. PSEG’s Bethlehem Energy Center power plant next door was coal fired from 1952 to 1970 before switching fuel oil then to natural gas in 1981. The coal would come in by two rail lines, one from the CSX tracks and the other from the Port of Albany docks. The plant piled and stored the ash on Beacon Island and now project engineers have come up with a design that leaves the ash undisturbed. By a process known as surcharging the ground, they can reduce risk of ash toxins leaching to the surrounding property or the Hudson River.
“We’re not really going to disturb any of that,” Hendrick said. “Rather than run the risk of contaminating anything.”
Surcharging is the process of laying aggregate, or big piles of stone, on the footprints of where the buildings will be. The aggregate will sit for four months, compressing the ash and soil underneath creating a stronger foundation.
How did the engines get there
The Mohawk and Hudson Chapter of the National Historic Railway Society, based in Albany acquired all the locomotives over the years and stored them in various locations across the Capital District. Many of the local railroads, especially the Delaware and Hudson Railroad, provided facilities to store and restore the historic machines. The NHRS chapter displayed and showed the first electric locomotive, the S-1, to teach people about the area’s rich rail history and the deep impact it had worldwide.
“In the 1980s the S-1 was stored at the Altamont Fairgrounds inside a building and was on display for the public to see,” said Richard Vanderbilt, president of Mohawk and Hudson Chapter of NRHS. “I used to sit in the conductor’s seat and explain the history and function of the locomotive. It was a real showpiece and snapshot of history.”
The chapter decided to move it from the fairgrounds when the D&H railroad planned to remove the switch from the spur in Altamont.
“The MHNHRS members did not want it stuck there so they moved it to the Colonie shop of the D&H in Watervliet,” Marsh said. “That is where it met up with the T-3 motor. They have been together ever since. They were [maintained] at the Colonie shop and were still functioning at that time.”
The second historic locomotive was from the second generation T-motor class, produced by the partnership of General Electric and American Locomotive Company in Schenectady in 1926. The T-3a, number 278, was last owned and used by Amtrak until 1987. It was an upgraded version of the original S-motor with more power and flexibility and is the last one in existence, according to Vanderbuilt.
It was repainted, restored and stored in 1987 at the Colonie shops with other railroad equipment owned by the NHRS Chapter. The chapter members had access to a building that provided all the tools to maintain and repair the machines.
Then D&H filed for bankruptcy, and that was the beginning of the end of the ability for the chapter to use the facility.
“In 1984 Guilford Transportation Industries purchased the assets of DH including the Colonie shops. The NRHS members were able to continue to work on the historic trains there for a while,” Vanderbilt said. “[Guildford] saw people breaking into the building and one time started a fire. They thought the liability was too great and evicted us and demolished the buildings.”
The locomotives and five passenger cars had to move and found their way to the power plant on River Road, then owned by Niagara Mohawk.
When the plant was sold to PSEG and upgrades began, the power company pushed the equipment onto the old spur that led to the port, on Beacon Island. They covered the tracks back to the plant when they built a state Department of Environmental Conservation-mandated wetlands remediation pond in 2003 and the bridge over the Normanskill to the port collapsed in the mid 2010’s leaving the locomotives with no way out.
The Danbury Rail Museum acquired the locomotives from the Berkshire Scenic Railway in 2013 according to Stan Madyda, board member of the Danbury Railway Museum. Berkshire Scenic Railway accepted the locomotives as a donation from the NRHS chapter years earlier when the local chapter no longer wanted the liability of owning them.
After many failed attempts to remove the equipment from the site through negotiations with PSEG, the plans are coming together.
Hendrick hopes that the locomotives reach their new home within the next four to six weeks. During this time period, the port is also waiting for the Town of Bethlehem Planning Board’s approval. At the latest, the team will be able to start in late February.
“There’s gonna be a lot of work going on from day one to when we start shipping the towers,” Hendrick said.
Once the locomotives are taken to the museum, all the remaining rail will be removed from the site. The original bridge on the site will also be removed and replaced with a road bridge. Hendrick, MarmenWelcon and the rest of the team are anxious to start construction in the new year.
“The clock is ticking,” he said. “It’s up to the Danbury Railway Museum to successfully move them out of here and time is running on them.”
The hope is that MarmenWelcon will start producing by October of 2023. They’ll shape the steel into the towers and then barge them to the offshore farm. In order to barge them from the port, part of the building plans included a lay down area, where finished products will go after manufacturing, and a wharf to transport them.
The finished towers will be shipped from the port horizontally on the barge as it moves through the Hudson River.
“Our business is shipping,” Hendrick said. “We handle GE power systems, it’s basically the same thing.”
Throughout the lifetime of the project, the manufacturing of the towers and transition pieces will bring jobs to the area. MarmenWelcon’s goal is to produce 150 towers annually. The biggest pull to manufacture in Bethlehem is the port will be the beneficial destination to source products as east coast production takes off.
The actual plan to move
The locomotives will have to be disassembled, craned out and moved by truck to a place where they are reassembled on tracks. They cannot go by rail or truck, it has to be half and half.
They cannot be dragged on the rails, because no one knows if the wheels will turn. “They can’t go completely by rail because the locomotives put on a flat car will be too tall to make it through a bridge in Pittsfield,” Marsh said. “And the Danbury Museum is in the center of town and the only access with something that large is on rails. No trailers over 40 feet can make it through the downtown.”
The team is waiting for RJ Corman Railroad Group, a national train service company with a location on Speeder Road in Selkirk, to finalize the plans and contract with PSEG to access the site. They will do the moving, with guidance from Marsh and the Danbury team.
According to Marsh, The idea is to truck the pieces on a flatbed to the Port of Albany where they will be checked to make sure the axles are structurally sound, because it has a train pit so they can see under the locomotive carriages. Then move it by truck to Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in Lenox, Massachusetts and reassemble the locomotives and put them back on the tracks. They will then travel about 100 miles down the Housatonic Railroad lines down to the museum in Danbury and they will be home.
Railroad owner, investor, enthusiast and historian Henry Posner III, the chairman of Railroad Development Corporation, has been involved with the quest of saving the locomotives for many years and agreed to fund the move.
“Henry Posner III has offered an unsecured loan to the museum to move the locomotives and he expects us to pay him back what we can,” Madyda said. “He has been central to this effort and great to work with.”
The Danbury museum has set up a dedicated fund to pay for the cost of the move and restoration. More information can be found at danburyrail.com.
“We will restore them to the way they were when they went to the New York Central Railroad,” Madyda said. “Depending on what we can repair or replace, will be how far we can go. There is quite a bit missing, but we tried to take as many things as possible back to Danbury before people stole them.”
Why are they so important to Danbury
The museum is at the end of the Danbury Branch of the Metro North Railroad, which acquired much of the routes of the New York Central Railroad. It was New York Central that electrified the lines into Manhattan beginning 1903 after the horrific steam locomotive accident in the Park Avenue tunnel. The electric locomotives, like the ones going to Danbury, were the only ones used to pull trains to Grand Central Terminal after the state Legislature’s ban on steam locomotives within Manhattan went into effect in 1908.
“These locomotives show the modes of transportation to New York City,” Madyda said. “ We will have all the locomotives that show the progression of technology that people used to commute into New York City.”
Number: 100 and 6000 Fuel: Electric 600 V DC Built: 1903 In service: Original Prototype. 50,000 miles of testing from 1904-1906. Details: First electric locomotive in New York. ALCO/GE built 47 before the S-motors were replaced with the T-motor locomotives in 1913. Developed as an alternative to steam locomotives and run on cleaner fuel, electricity.
Number: 278 Fuel: Electric 600 V DC Built: 1926 In service: 1926-1987 Details: Only remaining T-motor in the world. ALCO/GE built 36 between 1913-1926. The locomotives were much faster than subways and could haul full passenger and freight trains within city limits.
Number: unknown Fuel: Desiel Built: 1950-56 Details: Some of these are still in use today. This was from New York Central Railroad. 1,418 were made.
Number: unknown Fuel: Desiel Built: 1959-66 Details: One of seven left in existance. 478 were produced by General Electric.
Part of Movie History
The two electrics were hauled to New York City in 1987 for the filming of “A House on Carroll Street,” a movie starring Kelly McGinnis and Jeff Daniels. The two trains had a brief cameo, but were then towed back to the Capital District. At that time they were restored and mostly operational.
“The 100 [S-1] almost didn’t make it to Hollywood because when it was parked at the power Plant, a car from a Conrail work train parked at the top of the spur near the plant did not have its brake set and came down the hill and damaged the front of it,” Vanderbilt said. “Conrail brought in special welders to fix the front and repainted it to look like new again and they towed it to New York City for the film.”
Spotlight News, The Spot 518 and Capital District Family Now are divisions of Community Media Group, LLC. Our local offices are located at 341 Delaware Ave, Delmar, NY 12054. You can contact us at 518.439.4949.