#424 – Library of Congress Images – street running trains

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-Edit

I posted some Library of Congress photos of coal trains running through the streets last year. This is something I noted as being quite unusual in the UK. These are some more examples, and this appears to be a full blown express train.

Boston and Maine Railroad depot, Riley Plaza, Salem, Mass-Edit

This is idle speculation on my part, but I suspect that due to the way the railway opened up America, i.e. the railway was there first and towns grew up around them, this was perhaps more commonplace in the USA than in the UK, where the only incursion of railways onto streets tended to be at level crossings (tramways excepted). There were some notable exceptions of course such as the Weymouth harbour branch and the original Welshpool railway, and of course the Welsh Highland Railway now runs through Porthmadog, plus several other obscure minor railways but for the most part, road and rail rarely met*.

Empire State Express (New York Central Railroad) passing thru Washington Street, Syracuse, NY-2-Edit

But none of these examples are heavyweight express trains. These depict the Empire State Express running through Syracuse in the early part of the 20th Century, and it looks to be quite a spectacle. Of course, road traffic 100 years ago was several orders of magnitude less than it is today which would have made the concept easier although I’m quite sure it was fraught with danger even in those times, where health and safety was at best an inconvenience and at worst non-existent.

But this kind of scene appears to have been not uncommon in bygone America (and may even perpetuate to this day for all I know?), as many towns grew up around the railway as the western expansion opened up previously uninhabited wilderness. contrast this with Europe where towns and villages pre-dated the railways and thus tracks in urban areas tended to be in cuttings, tunnels or embankments, only intruding on roads at level crossings where bridges were impractical.

O.Winston Link also captured some street running in one of this most famous pictures that I posted up a few years ago. The wide traffic free streets of the rural Virginia town photographed on a dark night in the 50’s are probably ideal conditions for running a large freight train through and a world away from a narrow European street which demonstrates why the concept is rare in Europe and the UK.


*Other examples that spring to mind are the largely disused railway network in Trafford Park, however, this was built as an integral part of the estate and from what I’ve seen of the remains, tended to run alongside the road network rather than sharing space with it. The Metrolink network in Manchester is a bit of a hybrid as it runs both on the streets and also along former Network Rail metals from Bury into Manchester city centre. I’m sure there are other examples, but nothing like what I’ve shown from America!

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