The Schenectady Railroad Station
A Chronological Summary1
I recall when growing up, taking the train to New York and boarding at the old Schenectady Union Station. A little gray, worn and creepy at the time, it nevertheless had an aura of grandeur and harked back to thoughts of when the railroad bustled with passengers and the high ceilings of the station echoed with the sounds of hurried travelers saying goodbye to their loved ones and rushing off to a waiting train. Built in 1908, the Union Station was closed in 1968, and sadly was razed in 1971. Below is the saga of its colorful history.
1 - Mohawk and Hudson Rail Road Company
IIn the autumn 1831, Mohawk & Hudson Railroad—a 16-mile route between Albany and Schenectady—was completed. Initially the line ended outside the two cities to avoid steep grades and the passengers covered the remaining distance in stagecoaches. The railroad "cars" was actually modified stage coaches which were first pulled up both cities using a system of horse-drawn and steam-powered pulley systems.
In Schenectady, the rail line ended near the intersection of Crane and Chrysler Avenues, and a stationary steam engine, built by the Clute Brothers Foundry pulled the cars with passengers down the hill where they were then hooked up to the steam locomotive and brought into the city near the present-day Amtrak station.
By 1834, each end had an inclined plane with a fixed steam engine that was used to raise and lower the train. This system continued until 1841, when the tracks were relocated and actually connected the downtowns of each city.
2 - 1843-1885
On April 19, 1847, the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad name was changed to the Albany & Schenectady Railroad. The railroad was consolidated into the New York Central Railroad on May 17, 1853. In 1869 Cornelius Vanderbilt merged the NYC with his Hudson River Railroad into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.
3- Third Railroad Station (1892-1908)
In 1892, Schenectady became the headquarters of the General Electric Company. This business became a major industrial and economic force and helped establish the city and region as a national manufacturing center. A more substantial station was built to accommodate the increase in traffic and reflect the importance of the city. Note the railroad tracks are still at ground level.
4 - Union Station - 1908- 1969
In 1908, after the New York Central Railroad & Hudson River Railroad raised the railroad grade throughout the city, it built the imposing neoclassical Union Station. Constructed of stone and brick, the Union Station featured an elegant arcade and enjoyed a week-long opening celebration in February 1908. Inside the depot, passengers came and went as up to 30 cars arrived every half hour to travel to points east and west. It was closed in 1969 by Penn Central due to low ridership and the cost of heating and maintaining the large station.
Penn Central then sold the union station building to the city in December 1970 for $20,000. For a brief time there was talk of the station being renovated into an opera house for the Schenectady Light Opera Company but nothing came of the proposal.
By the 1960s, passenger rail was deeply unprofitable, under assault from air travel, private automobiles, and truck freight on superhighways. Railroads were in bad shape across the county their infrastructure was crumpling and their selling inner city real estate was the only way to stay afloat. Charles Mann Sr. of Rensselaer, part of a railroading family aptly summarized the situation: “It seems to me that the public deserted the railroads before the railroads deserted the public.”
Sadly, the New York Central's Schenectady Passenger Station was eventually was torn down in 1971.
Gone... For the next decade it was replaced with the Colonie-Schenectady Station near NY State Road #155.
5 - Karner Road, Colonie (1969 -1979 )
In 1967, the Public Service Commission approved a Penn Central proposal to replace the Albany and Schenectady stations with “modern” new stations at Rensselaer, off East Street, and on Karner Road. Despite a decent proposal what ended up instead in 1969 was this embarrassment located in the middle of nowhere and secretly funded by the State! Read the Hoxsie article for all the nasty details.
6- Amtrak (1979-2017)
In 1978, train service returned to Schenectady and by 1979, Amtrak completed building this dreary station on the site of the former Union Station as a replacement for the Karner Road, Colonie station. This station was demolished in 2017. You can see some interior shots here.
7 - Today (2018 - )
The current station was constructed on the site of the former station and completed in October 2018. It is referred to as the Schenectady Intermodal Station as it currently serves both Amtrak and local transit service. The inside features images of the Erie Canal and the former American Locomotive Company train yard and includes various memorabilia to illustrate the city's history. Its a long overdue improvement that respects the original and historic design of the old station and reflects the beauty, history and resurgence of the area.