“What was that about?” I remember thinking. It was January and right after the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency had just completed its annual organizational meeting, they called to order a meeting of the Amsterdam Chuctanunda and Northern Railroad Company. They voted to appoint each sitting AIDA board member as a board member of the company, quickly adjourned the meeting and then went right into their regular meeting without any further comment. The whole thing lasted only minutes and I was left thoroughly confused.
Afterwards, I asked around about what that meeting was for. Turns out AIDA, which is a public benefit corporation, owns a small railroad. Chuck Schwartz, AIDA’s attorney, sent me a report that was researched in 2017 by Cheryl Sweet, an intern for the board at the time. The report shed some light on the history of the rail line and how AIDA came to own the company.
According to the report, the Amsterdam Chuctanunda and Northern Railroad Company was formed in September of 1879. The purpose was to transport flax seed directly to the Kellog and Miller Linseed Oil works. Linseed oil was used as an ingredient of oil based paints, varnish, linoleum, and other products.
An article written by local historian Jerry Snyder describes the beginnings and growth of the oil works. It started as a small mill in 1824 and was originally located in West Galway. Production was moved to Amsterdam in 1850 and utilized an existing building near the Chuctanunda creek which was previously a distillery. The railroad was created as the demand for raw flax seeds began to outstrip what the local transportation department could accommodate. The business continued to grow and operated up until 1948. Remnants of the facility can still be seen on Church Street.
The railroad company owned the property and right of way for the track. The actual tracks were owned by New York Central Railroad. The track branched off the main line that runs along the Mohawk River at a junction near the eastern border of the city, extending to the northwest upward to the mill. The line currently intersects Chapman Drive, Vrooman Avenue, Sam Stratton Road, and Edson Street. Sweet’s report cites the Federal Railroad Administration as noting the line is one of the steepest in the country.
The FRA website indicates the bridge that carries the line over Route 5 was put into service in 1969.
AIDA purchased the company and rights of way in 1982 and began a project to build a spur off the AC&N in order to deliver raw materials to the Fiber Glass Industries plant on Edson Street in the Amsterdam Industrial Park. Seven parcels of land were acquired to complete the new line.
Unfortunately FGI closed up shop in 2014, and I don’t find any record of when the last train passed through the railway. According to Sweet’s report, the railroad is still listed as active by the Federal Railroad Administration. The actual tracks are now owned by CSX.
So is the railroad worth anything to the city anymore?
Earlier in the year, AIDA board members mulled over interest from a company that wanted to recycle the steel from the tracks. The board discussed the likelihood as to whether a future company in the industrial park on Edson Street would ever make use of the rails or not. The interest passed without any action, as apparently it wasn’t economical. However, the question still remains.
I think it’s most likely the tracks will sit for some time. The sections of the track that pass through wooded areas will become increasingly overgrown with weeds and bushes. The tracks don’t seem to interfere with anything but I wonder how long the bridge over Route 5 will remain safe without maintenance?
Of course, there’s always a slim, but remote chance that a company will move to the Amsterdam Industrial Park that wants to make use of the tracks, and maybe we could see trains on the Amsterdam Chuctanunda and Northern Railroad Company again some day.