As with many Eastern United States railroads, the New Haven has its roots in mergers and acquisitions. The predominant predecessors were the Hartford & New Haven Railroad, and the New York & New Haven. These two railroads merged in 1872 to form the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, also known as the New Haven (NH). The NH continued to expand its territory throughout the late 1800s by purchasing several smaller lines in southern New England, eventually stretching through most of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Southern Massachusetts, and New York City. The main strength of the New Haven was its fast passenger service from Boston to New York City. At the time, the New Haven was the only railroad offering direct passenger service between these two cities.
The main force behind the New Haven’s growth was New York banker J.P. Morgan. Starting in the 1890s, Morgan began financing the major New England railroads and dividing territory so that they would not compete. In 1903, Morgan brought in Charles Mellen as president with the goals of consolidating the main railway lines of New England in order to lower costs, electrify the heavily used routes, and thoroughly modernize the entire system. New Haven purchased 50 smaller transportation companies including steamship lines and other railroad companies and by the end of 1912, the New Haven operated over 2000 miles of track, employed over 120,000 people, and monopolized traffic between Boston and New York City.
Unfortunately, Mellen was very abrasive and the public held a very low opinion of his leadership and personality. This led to high acquisition costs and construction costs. From the time Mellen arrived until 1913, debt skyrocketed from $14 million to over $241 million. Other bad news followed as in 1913, the New Haven was handed an anti-trust lawsuit by the federal government, which forced the New Haven to give up its trolley systems.
New Haven made it through the lawsuits and the mounting debt and relied on its heavy passenger service while growing its freight service. Due to the close proximity of the markets served by the New Haven, freight service was never very profitable. The Great Depression hit hard, and on October 23, 1935, the New Haven was forced to enter bankruptcy. The net result of the bankruptcy was the pruning of several low density branch lines, its steamship lines and the NYW&B, an interurban line from New York City to White Plains, New York. They also upgraded their plant and rolling stock on the main lines, inaugurated piggyback service in 1938, and dieselized most of its main line. As with many railroads of the time, traffic surged during World War II, and the NH reorganization was completed in 1947.
Frederic Dumaine and Patrick McGinnis came out as the new leaders of the NH and they slashed costs wherever possible. Often times this aggressive cost cutting hurt the company more than it helped and led to extreme layoffs and deferred maintenance. The savings did not outweigh the costs for very long and the NH fell into disrepair and disarray.
In 1956, the board of directors ousted McGinnis and Dumaine and replaced them with George Albert. However, there were too many factors already at play. The freight and passenger markets in the northeast were shrinking and the high concentration of competing railroads in the northeast proved too much The railroad again went bankrupt in 1961.
This was the end of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. The directors of the railroad were looking for merger options, and the upcoming Penn Central (PC) merger proved to be too attractive. The PC fell apart faster than it went together and remnants of the NH system now make up Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven Line, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, Shore Line East, and CSX.