How the Staten Island Railway Went from Three Lines to One

(Courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

The Staten Island Rapid Transit (SIRT) — today the Staten Island Railway — once provided service on three lines.

Today, the railroad has one: a line from St. George to Tottenville. The other two branches — the North Shore Branch to Arlington and the South Beach Branch to Wentworth Avenue — closed on March 31, 1953.

SIRT has a deep history that dates to before the Civil War. Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who operated a ferry between Staten Island and Manhattan, helped finance the railroad.

The railroad often faced financial difficulties. Despite this, the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) leased the line for 99 years in 1885.

In 1925, the railroad electrified. The first electric train operated on the South Beach Branch on June 5, 1925.

“Thousands of residents along the line turned out to watch the first train go by,” the (New York) Daily News reported at the time.

A Call to End Service

By the late 1940s, the railroad again faced financial woes, and railroad officials sought to cut service.

In May 1949, leaders said the would ask the Public Service Commission for permission to stop its passenger service. At the time, the railroad averaged 15,000 passengers per day.

Interestingly, in September 1948, SIRT officials agreed to increase service. The move came as federal officials granted the railroad permission to discontinue its ferry service between Perth Amboy, N.J., and Tottenville.

“The SIRT, a Baltimore & Ohio Railroad subsidiary, has given as its reason for the discontinuance of its passenger service, a sharp decline in passengers and revenues, which it claims is due to (the) establishment of a 7-cent fare on our bus routes,” the Daily News quoted Richmond Borough President Cornelius A. Hall as saying.

“There are three courses which I can see that the PSC could take: (1) it could insist that the service be continued; (2) it could substitute additional buses to replace the railroad service; (3) it could take over the rail service and incorporate it in the unified city transit system,” Hall added. “I firmly believe we cannot substitute buses.”

A Renewed Call

The Baltimore & Ohio in June 1952 announced it would ask the state Public Service Commission for permission to discontinue service, saying it could “no longer compete with the city-operated and subsidized bus service on Staten Island.”

It planned to stop services at 2:01 a.m. on July 7, 1952. SIRT posted an annual deficit of more than $1 million since 1946.

However, the end was delayed until March 31, 1953. On that day, both the North Shore and the South Beach Branches ceased operations. Today, just one Staten Island Railway line remains.

About Todd DeFeo 339 Articles
Todd DeFeo loves to travel anywhere, anytime, taking pictures and notes. An award-winning reporter, Todd revels in the experience and the fact that every place has a story to tell. He is owner of The DeFeo Groupe and also edits Express Telegraph and The Travel Trolley.