Danbury, Connecticut, has long been “a railroad town,” and so it is today, thanks to the Danbury Railway Museum.
Words and photographs by Gary Dolzall
In the long and enthralling history of the New Haven Railroad, the town of Danbury, Connecticut, was traditionally a place of intrigue for the train-watcher. There, the New Haven’s famed and busy Maybrook Freight Line, linking the NYNH&H’s massive Cedar Hill yard with the sprawling railroad center of Maybrook, New York, stretched east to west. Meanwhile, the New Haven’s much-admired and scenic Berkshire Line took a south-north path, extending from a connection with the NYNH&H main line at South Norfolk, Connecticut, northward to Danbury, then on to Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The fact that the Berkshire Line was electrified south of Danbury and steam- or diesel-powered north added yet another level of appeal to train-watching in and around Danbury.
Today, much has changed. The once bustling Maybrook Freight Line is extant but often silent. The Berkshire Line, now best known as Metro-North’s Danbury Branch, hosts diesel-powered commuter trains (the wires having been taken down in 1961), and north of Danbury, the line is that of the reborn Housatonic regional railroad.
Nonetheless, the appealing traditions of railroading in Danbury remain alive and well, and a visit to the city still recalls the New Haven and much of the “Golden Age” of railroading – thanks to the Danbury Railway Museum.
Born of modest means in 1994, today’s Danbury Railway Museum is headquartered in the ex-New Haven passenger station, which was opened in 1852 and, until the early 1990s, still served as Metro-North’s Danbury depot. In 1995, working closely with and supported by the city of Danbury, the museum took over the ex-NYNH&H Danbury yard, which occupies a large swatch of land set in a loop between the Danbury Branch and the old Maybrook Freight Line. A new and nearby Metro-North station opened in 1996 (the new MNCR station is within easy walking distance of the museum, and the train trip from New York Grand Central Terminal to Danbury takes about two hours). Inside the now beautifully restored original brick station, the museum features a range of railroad displays, artifacts, models, and research archives. Although in recent decades the station hosted only the New Haven, the station is formally known as Union Station because it originally served three NYNH&H predecessors: the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, the New York & New England Railroad, and the original Housatonic Railroad. Among the station’s claims to fame was its appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train film of 1951.
Outside the station in the rail yard, the museum’s collection, which began with a set of coaches and a gondola, has grown to include approximately 75 diverse types of locomotives and equipment. Not surprisingly, the Danbury Railway Museum’s collection has a special flair for the New Haven Railroad, but its collection is representative of much of New England and Northeastern railroading and even includes equipment from the American South and Canada. Among the notable residents of the museum are its lone steam locomotive, Boston & Maine Class B-15 2-6-0 No. 1455, built by Alco (American Locomotive Works) in 1907. Classic, first-generation diesels are generously represented at the museum, and include Electro-Motive, Alco, General Electric, and Montreal Locomotive Works locomotives as well as a pair of ex-New Haven Budd RDC-1 diesel-powered railcars.
Electric equipment is represented in the museum collection by ex-New York Central, New Haven, and Metro-North (including ConnDOT) EMUs of several generations. The museum also houses a compelling range of passenger, freight, and M-O-W equipment. Surely one of the most exquisite pieces of equipment at the museum is New York Central heavyweight Pullman Tonawanda Valley, an elegant and handsomely preserved open-platform observation car that was constructed by Pullman in 1929 and carried the markers of the incomparable 20th Century Limited.
In recent years, the Danbury Railway Museum has been active in the community, offering lectures, train rides, and special seasonal events. The pandemic, of course, precluded such features for most of 2020 and early 2021, but the museum is now reopened (at this writing only on weekends). Up-to-date information is available at: https://www.danburyrail.org/
Should your travels take you to New England, be sure to relive and experience a rich tradition of railroading – at the Danbury Railway Museum. – Gary Dolzall
The Danbury (Connecticut) Railway Museum is headquartered in the city’s classic and beautifully restored brick station which dates to 1852 (above). Inside the station, visitors can enjoy a variety of historical exhibits, photographs, models, and railroadiana (below).
Among the notable locomotives at Danbury are the museum’s lone steam locomotive, Boston & Maine Class B-15 2-6-0 No. 1455 built by Alco (American Locomotive Works) in 1907 and a hometown hero, New Haven Electro-Motive FL9 2006. Built by EMD in 1955, the FL9 was one of ten locomotives rebuilt and dressed in New Haven heritage livery by the Connecticut Department of Transportation for Metro-North service. It regularly worked on the Danbury Branch and joined the museum collection in 2001.
Recalling the legendary New Haven Railroad is NYNH&H-liveried Alco RS1 0673. The New Haven operated a roster of a dozen Alco RS1s, although the 0673 actually served the Illinois Terminal, Gulf, Mobile & Ohio, Illinois Central Gulf, and Vermont’s Green Mountain Railway before coming to the museum in 1996. The RS1 is operational and is sometimes used to power the museum’s train ride excursions within the yard complex.
Enthusiasts of first-generation diesels are sure to enjoy a number of the vintage diesels at the museum. Canadian National Montreal Locomotive Works FPA4 6786 and FPB4 6867 (above) were built in 1959 and wear the CN’s bold red, black, and white livery recalling their appearance in the 1960s and 1970s. Alco road-switchers are represented by two distinctive diesels (below): a rare A1A-A1A-trucked Alco RSC2 which began life working for the Seaboard Air Line in 1949 and Metro-North EMD-repowered Alco RS3m 605. The blue-clad Alco was built for the Lackawanna (Delaware, Lackawanna & Western) in 1952 and went on to serve Erie-Lackawanna, Conrail, and Metro-North.
A duo of ex-New Haven Budd RDC-1 diesel-powered railcars call the Danbury Railway Museum home. RDC No. 32 (above) was constructed by the Budd Company in 1953 and served NYNH&H, Penn Central, Amtrak, and Metro-North. Minus a stint for Amtrak, No. 47 (below) had a similar service history. New Haven 47 is standing next to one of the museum’s most remarkable exhibits – Grand Central Terminal No. 1 – a 90-foot-long, double-ended wrecker crane that was built for use in GCT’s tunnels and operated from third rail and battery power.
Wearing their final scheme while in Metro-North service are a pair of Pullman-Standard ACMU (air-conditioned multiple unit) electrics built for the New York Central in the 1960s. Working on both the Hudson and Harlem lines, the cars served more than four decades for NYC, Penn Central, and Metro-North before retirement in 2004. At the rear of the EMUs is another rare member of the museum collection, Metro-North F10 413, which began life in 1943 as a Gulf, Mobile & Ohio F3.
Aficionados of electric propulsion can enjoy two generations of EMUs from the New Haven Line. New Haven #4671, a “Washboard” Pullman-Standard EMU combination coach-baggage car (above) was constructed at P-S’s Worcester (Massachusetts) plant in 1954 and served into the Metro-North era. Familiar even to recent Metro-North riders is the museum’s recently arrived pair of Budd-built M2 EMUs (below), which were built in 1975. MNCR’s final M2s were not retired until 2018.
Beautifully restored both externally and internally (above and below) is Pennsylvania Railroad Railway Post Office (RPO) 6563. Built in 1910 and rebuilt as PRR Class BM70M in 1937, the car served into the Penn Central era and was donated to the museum by the Housatonic Railroad.
New York Central wooden cupola caboose 19322 is a true classic, built for New York predecessor New York Central & Hudson River in 1909. The caboose, whose style was the basis of a much beloved Lionel O Gauge model, served for nearly six decades.
Taking museum-goers on a short train ride and tour of the yard is General Electric 44-tonner 1399, which was built for the Union Pacific in 1947. The museum also is home to an ex-New Haven 44-tonner. The 44-tonner’s train includes recently restored 1925 Reading Class-PBr coach 1547 and Delaware & Hudson steel caboose 35815, which began its career in Erie Lackawanna service. Should your travels take you to New England, be sure to experience a tradition of trains – at the Danbury Railroad Museum.
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