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Railroads of Lake Champlain

Updated on January 16, 2015

Lake Champlain Rails

Beautiful scenery mixed with exciting but dangerous railroading... Lake Champlain's railroads have seen an interesting and sometimes tragic history.

From the Rutland Railroad's 'Island Line' across Lake Champlain, bringing milk and dairy products to urban centers in New York City and Boston, to Amtrak's Montreal service, we look at the railroads that served the Champlain Valley.

The Rutland Railroad logo
The Rutland Railroad logo

Rutland Railroad Memorabilia

RUTLAND RAILROAD, The: Rutland to Bellows Falls (Scenes Along the Rails, 2)
RUTLAND RAILROAD, The: Rutland to Bellows Falls (Scenes Along the Rails, 2)

This 128-page laminated hardcover takes the reader back to the pre-1925 era when steam was king. Local mills produced typical Vermont goods: woolens, textiles, limestone, talc, soapstone, marble, milk, lumber, wood products, leather goods, and paper. Small towns like East Wallingford, Ludlow, Proctorsville, Cavendish and Chester depended on the Rutland for their very existence.


The Rutland Railroad

'The Island Line'

The 'Rutland Railroad' was probably the most famous of the Vermont railroad lines. Its original charter from the State of Vermont was issued to the 'Champlain & Connecticut River Railroad' in 1843 to connect Rutland and Burlington, Vermont. After construction began in 1847, it changed its name to the 'Rutland & Burlington Railroad' to better reflect its goals. It opened its main line in December of 1848.

The 'Rutland & Burlington' reorganized itself in 1867 into the better known 'Rutland Railroad'. From this point on, growth for the Rutland would be marginal - mostly through leasing railroads like the 'Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain Railroad' and the 'Addison Railroad', and the purchase of the 50-mile long 'Chatham & Lebanon Railroad'.

Including these leased lines, the 'Rutland Railroad' extended over 400 miles on a system that looked a like an upside-down "L" that extended from Chatham, New York north to Burlington, Vermont, then through the Lake Champlain Islands (featuring three crossings of Lake Champlain, including a 2 ½ mile crossing from Colchester to South Hero, Vermont) and then to Alburgh, Vermont. on the Canadian border. From Alburgh the line swung west again across Lake Champlain to Rouses Point, New York and from there across northern New York to Ogdensburgh. The railroad also featured one major branch - running from Rutland, Vermont southeast to Bellows Falls, Vermont on the Connecticut River. In Bellows Falls it connected with the 'Boston & Maine'.

Rutland Railroad Videos

Rutland (Railroad) Remnants 1: Ogdensburg To Lake Champlain
Rutland (Railroad) Remnants 1: Ogdensburg To Lake Champlain

DVD of a sentimental journey... from a tour of the port facilities and yard at Ogdensburg to the D&H yard at Rouses Point. A stop is made at each station on the line, where a brief historical overview provides backgound info for images both past and present ... Trains running the rail today, plus explorations of the by-ways and facilities of the abandoned Rutland Railroad


"Crossing Lake Champlain"

"Crossing Lake Champlain"
"Crossing Lake Champlain"
D&H - 'The Bridge Line' logo
D&H - 'The Bridge Line' logo

D&H Railroading

Delaware and Hudson Railway (Images of Rail)
Delaware and Hudson Railway (Images of Rail)

The Delaware and Hudson Railway's glorious history began in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. The Delaware and Hudson Canal; Gravity Railroad; the Stourbridge Lion, the first locomotive in America in 1829; and the Albany and Susquehanna Railroad provided the necessary stepping stones for successfully transporting anthracite by rail to New York State. In 1906, the massive roundhouse was built in Oneonta during the glory days of steam power, and in 1931, the company became known as the Delaware and Hudson Railway. Today the railroad serves as a "bridge line," providing an important link in moving heavy freight. Delaware and Hudson Railway enlightens rail fans with historic photographs and rekindles the nostalgia for the great railroad era.


The Delaware & Hudson - D&H

"The Bridge Line to New England and Canada"

Now part of the 'Canadian Pacific Railway' the 'Delaware & Hudson' or 'D&H' was formerly an important bridge line, connecting New York with Montreal, Quebec and New England.

Originally the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was chartered in 1823 by separate laws in both New York and Pennsylvania to enable brothers William and Maurice Wurts to build the Delaware and Hudson Canal. Although the Canal was successful for years, management soon realized that railroads were the future of transportation, and began to invest in rolling stock and track. The canal carried its last loads of coal, was sold in 1898, and the company dropped Canal from the corporate name.

In March 1873 the D&H chartered the 'New York and Canada Railroad' in a merger of the 'Montreal and Plattsburg Railroad' (formerly part of the 'Rutland Railroad'). The company now owned trackage rights from Whitehall, New York north to the border with Quebec, Canada. In 1876 a branch opened to Rouses Point, New York - where lines of the 'Grand Trunk Railway' connected and then continued north to Montreal.

Other additions and extensions in the region included:

* the 'Adirondack Railway' (1889), a branch north from Saratoga Springs along the Hudson River,

* the 'Chateaugay and Lake Placid Railway' (1903), a consolidation of the 'Chateaugay Railroad', 'Chateaugay Railway' and 'Saranac and Lake Placid Railway',

* the 'Plattsburgh and Dannemora Railroad' (1903) - a branch from Plattsburgh to Lake Placid, New York,

* the 'Quebec, Montreal and Southern Railway' (1906) - a merging of the 'Quebec Southern Railway' and 'South Shore Railway' that ran from Montreal to Quebec City, and

* the 'Napierville Junction Railway' (1906) - from Rouses Point, New York to near Montreal.

When this line opened in 1907, it created the shortest route between New York City and Montreal.

"Bridge Over Lake Champlain"

"Bridge Over Lake Champlain"
"Bridge Over Lake Champlain"
Bridge Line Division, CP Rail's D&H (Highball Productions) [DVD] [1994]
Bridge Line Division, CP Rail's D&H (Highball Productions) [DVD] [1994]

DVD of the D & H (the old Susquehanna Division) as operated by the Canadian Pacific.

Vermont Railway #308
Vermont Railway #308

The Rutland's Successors

Vermont Railway - VTR

In 1963 the Rutland Railroad was dying, crushed by a labor strike and an increasing use of truck transportation on the new Interstate highway system. January 6th, 1964 saw the birth of a new shortline - the Vermont Railway (VTR) founded by Jay Wulfson. Vermont Railway was the first public-private railroad operation in the United States.The VTR operated 125 miles of track in the state of Vermont and was successful right from the start, proving that the Vermont Railway was going to grow into a viable shortline carrier. In fact, before the end of operations on the first day, larger locomotives had to be ordered to haul the daily freight.

Soon dark green boxcars displaying the "Vermont Railway" logo were being seen across the nation on all of the major rail lines. Traffic increased, and the name Vermont Railway would soon be seen on major highways as well.

In 1967, VTR offered a new opportunity for Vermont's shippers - trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC). TOFC is a piggyback trailer service. Vermont Railway grew their intermodal trailer fleet to 6,000+ trailers, becoming one of the largest intermodal operators in the country, and also played a key part in the development of intermodal equipment. VTR added terminals in St. Louis, Chicago and Memphis to handle the demand on the Vermont Railway intermodal fleet.

"Vermont Railway Intermodal Sevice"

"Vermont Railway Intermodal Sevice"
"Vermont Railway Intermodal Sevice"
Green Mountain Railroad #405
Green Mountain Railroad #405

The Rutland's Successors

Green Mountain Railroad - GMRC

The Green Mountain Railroad (GMRC) operates on tracks that had previously been owned by the Boston and Maine Railroad and the Rutland Railroad. GMRC operates on a rail line between North Walpole, New Hampshire, through Bellows Falls, Vermont and then on to Rutland, Vermont. Their corporate colors are the same as the State of Vermont - green and yellow.

The GMRC had originally been owned by F. Nelson Blount, who founded 'Steamtown USA' in Walpole, NH. The GMRC controlled the tracks used by 'Steamtown USA' for excursions between Bellows Falls and Chester, Vermont. When Blount died in 1967, the GMRC changed hands, and a bitter relationship between GMRC and Steamtown ensued as both organizations fought over track maintenance; the tracks were owned by the state of Vermont.

The Vermont Railway (VTR) purchased the Green Mountain Railroad in 1997. At that time, GMRC maintained 52.2 miles of track from Rutland to Bellows Falls. VTR had acquired several other shortline railroads in Vermont and New York, and an umbrella company was formed - the Vermont Rail System - to operate and integrate the various lines.

Adult  Navy Blue Train Engineer Conductor Driver Hat Costume Accessory
Adult Navy Blue Train Engineer Conductor Driver Hat Costume Accessory




Clarendon & Pittsford #752
Clarendon & Pittsford #752

The Rutland's Successors

Clarendon & Pittsford Railway - CPR

The Clarendon and Pittsford Railroad (CPR) was acquired by the Vermont Railway (VTR) in 1972, giving VTR access to the OMYA limestone slurry facility in Florence, Vermont. VTR kept the Clarendon and Pittsford name as a separate legal entity and operated the trackage it had acquired.

The next year VTR bought 23.7 miles of track between Whitehall, New York and Rutland, Vermont from the Delaware and Hudson Railroad (D&H) assigning it to the CPR subsidiary. When purchased, this track was severely deteriorated, with track speeds as low as 6 miles per hour. After upgrading the roadbed, the track and ties, Whitehall has become a major interchange point between VTR and the D&H - which is now owned by Canadian Pacific Rail (CP).

Vermont Railroading

Green Mountain Steam: Historic Vermont Railroading
Green Mountain Steam: Historic Vermont Railroading

This book is organized into five parts: Central Vermont; Rutland; StJ&LC; Vermont shortlines; and bonus coverage of the few New Hampshire and Main standard gauge shortlines in the collection.

Amtrak 40th Anniversary
Amtrak 40th Anniversary



Central Vermont (new style logo)
Central Vermont (new style logo)

Central Vermont Railroading

The Central Vermont Railway, Vol. 1: A Yankee tradition
The Central Vermont Railway, Vol. 1: A Yankee tradition

Hardcover history of the Central Vermont Railway


Central Vermont Railway - CV

The Central Vermont Railway (CV) was a New England railroad operating in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York and the Canadian province of Quebec. The railroad connected New London, Connecticut with Montreal, Quebec (and Boston, Massachusetts- via a Boston & Maine Railroad connection at White River Junction, Vermont). The line followed the shore of Lake Champlain, then ran alongside the Winooski River- through the Green Mountains and through the Connecticut River Valley.

The CV was acquired by Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1896. By 1920, after years of financial difficulties, the Department of Railways and Canals in Canada placed the entire Grand Trunk system under the control of a "Board of Management". After years of legal battles the company was nationalized in 1923 and merged into the Crown corporation Canadian National Railway (CN).

In 1930, the Central Vermont Railway was reorganized, to form a new company of the same name. Under the control of the GTR and later the CN, the Central Vermont system had seen many of its unprofitable branch lines abandoned and was operated profitably.

In 1995 the CV mainline from New London, Connecticut, to Alburgh, Vermont, was sold to the shortline operating company RailTex, which renamed the line the New England Central Railroad (NECR). In 2000 RailTex was merged into RailAmerica.

Central Vermont Railway in Steam Volume 1 [DVD] [1989]
Central Vermont Railway in Steam Volume 1 [DVD] [1989]

DVD of this regional railroad when steam was giving way to the diesel locomotive.


© 2013 Tom McHugh

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