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| HISTORY OF THE NEWPORT LINE |
By Donald M O'Hanley and George L Kenson
In an age mercifully innocent of environmental impact studies, suburban shopping plazas, and the universal motorcar the only thinkable means of overland transit was via the Old Colony Railroad which linked Boston with distant points in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This legendary carrier was one of the best managed of all railroads and a veritable bonanza for It's stockholders.
For sixty-seven years it grew and prospered until 1893, when the expanding New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad leased the Old Colony for a period of ninety-nine years. Though notable improvements and increased service were introduced by the New Haven management the personalized service of the Old Colony was lost. The zenith of passenger service to and from Newport was reached in 1913
Newport County was no exception to the railroad fever that was sweeping the country during the middle years of the nineteenth century.The Old Colony Railroad terminated in Fall River in 1854, and that city was taken with its importance as a commercial center. Aquidneck Islanders (Newport) desired to be part of the growing national rail system. At the time Newport was well served by coastal steamboats and the Old Colony had little interest or inclination to buy an expensive right-of-way from the Massachusetts state line to Newport involved residents of Newport County agreed among themselves to offer the Old Colony Railroad a 50 foot wide right-of-way from the Massachusetts state line to Newport if the carrier would construct a southerly extension. This action had the desired effect as the property offered was prime and located almost entirely along the level shore of Narragansett Bay. It would be scenic as well as useful. On April 9, 1861, the Old Colony was authorized to build and operate a railroad from the end of track in Fall River, to the Rhode Island state line, to connect with a railroad to be built from Newport in a northerly direction
In 1862, The Fall River line was extended toward Newport under the corporate title of Newport and Fall River Railroad. This line was merged into the Old Colony and Fall River Railroad which was then renamed the Old Colony & Newport Railway. The citizens of Fall River felt dismay and chagrin over the prospect of becoming patrons of a way station. Construction proceeded according to schedule with the exception of the bridge across the Sakonnet River. Initial attempts at overcoming this major obstacle met with failure due to tidal currents; however, substitution of stone for dirt fill solved the problem. A passenger train was run to Stone Bridge Village, Tiverton, on November 19, 1863. Regularly scheduled through service commenced on February 1, 1864.
The Newport Depot was pictured as this in 1919. Seven years previous 24 trains used it daily.
After World War I, the frequency of service went into a decline that was never reversed. The only notable change took place in the summer of 1929, when a weekend sleeper bound for Newport left Grand Central Terminal, New York, attached to an overnight New Bedford train called "The Harpooner". It returned to New York on Sunday night.
The early 1930's, the private automobile and expanding bus service was cutting deeply into the New Haven's branch line revenues. Patronage on the Fall River Line ships was poor during the fall and winter months. By Mid-1937, the great steamers were gone and one train a day was serving Newport. Early in 1938, the Railway Mail Service contract to Newport was terminated and the last passenger train to Boston left without fanfare. With the exception of military extras during World War II, the one week during 1954 when the New Haven operated shoppers' specials to Fall River while Stone Bridge was closed to auto traffic, through passenger trains from Newport joined the steamers and trolleys on the more orderly past.
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