Vermont Rail Trails

History – Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail

Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail

Discover hidden gems in this two-section rail trail.

two cyclists on the delaware & hudson rail trail in rupert, vermont.
small brook along delaware & hudson rail trail in West Pawlet, vermont
Delaware & Hudson Rail Trail
A person biking on the Vermont Rail Trails

History

The DHRT has changed significantly from its original development in 1823 as an operational railroad transporting freight and passengers to the trail today that connects with local communities.

The Delaware and Hudson Canal Company was incorporated in 1823 in New York and Pennsylvania to construct a canal and towpath system along the Delaware and Hudson Rivers as a means of improving freight movement. As the decades progressed and transportation methods changed, the company built many rail lines in New York and Pennsylvania and eventually became the Delaware and Hudson Company. The rail system connected coal fields in eastern Pennsylvania with the industrial and metropolitan centers in New York and Pennsylvania. The line was also an important connection to the eastern seaboard, being commonly referred to as the “bridge line to New England.”

The D & H Rail Trail occupies part of the Washington Branch that ran from Eagle Bridge, New York, to Castleton, Vermont. This line was constructed as part of a rail system that connected Albany with Montreal. The Washington Branch line flourished for a time around the turn of the twentieth century, running the “slate picker,” a daily freight and passenger service that handled 15-30 cars per trip. The trains moved tons of roofing slate from quarries in western Vermont to markets along the eastern seaboard.

As transportation modes continued to change in the twentieth century, and the quarry businesses declined, the rail line and the entire D & H system languished. The railroad went bankrupt in the 1970s, and the Washington Branch ownership was transferred several times before being used for the last time in 1980. The Vermont Agency of Transportation acquired the northern section in 1983 with the idea of re-establishing rail service to the line. When this proved unfeasible, it was put into a “rail bank” for potential future use. Vermont and New York officials met in 1985 to discuss turning the entire line into a recreational trail. As a result of these meetings, AOT purchased the southern section in 1986. The Vermont sections were then leased to the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation for development into and management as a Rails-to-Trails corridor until 2022. The D & H Railway still exists to this day, acting as a bridge line, moving freight between other larger railways. It is the oldest continuously operating transportation company in the U.S.

Vermont Rail Trails*** May 23, 2023