From Canal to Rail: The History of the “Rochester Branch” Railroad

In 1874, the State permitted sale or abandonment of most state-owned canals. The Genesee Valley Canal was abandoned in 1878. Two years later its lands between Rochester and Olean were purchased for $11,400 by the newly-formed Genesee Valley Canal Railroad (GVC-RR), which was backed by the Buffalo, New York, and Philadelphia Railroad (BNYP-RR).

Pennsy Line at Cuba
Pennsy Line at Cuba

By October 1, 1882, the new GVC-RR began running trains between Rochester and Hindsale. For much of its 98-mile length, tracks were laid on the canal towpath. In areas where canal curves proved too sharp or grades were too steep for trains to travel safely, track alignment deviated from the towpath. Occasionally these changes necessitated the purchase of additional land. In other areas, the tracks were laid within the canal prism (the bed of the old canal).

The proposed path diverged greatly from the canal between the Hamlets of Tuscarora (near Mt. Morris) and Oakland (near Nunda). Nunda residents so vigorously protested the bypass of their town that the BNYP-RR built the Rochester, New York, and Pennsylvania Railroad (RNYP-RR) from Nunda Junction to Nunda Village and south to Swains in the Allegany County town of Grove.

In 1882, the BNYP-RR constructed another branch line, the Genesee Valley Terminal Railroad (GVT-RR) from Scottsville to Gates in Monroe County, enabling continuation to Rochester. The GVC-RR, the RNYP-RR, and the GVT-RR became collectively known as the “Rochester Branch” of the BNYP-RR.

Most towns along this branch were served by only this railroad.  At one time, six passenger trains and six to eight freight trains ran daily between Rochester and Olean. In the early 1900s, a daily commuter train ran between Nunda and Rochester. The Rochester Branch transported gypsum from Garbutt (near Scottsville), and salt from Retsof and Cuylerville throughout the country, and brought Pennsylvania coal to Rochester industries.

In the late 1920s, competition from automobiles and trucks caused the railroad to run ‘mixed  trains’ of both freight and passenger cars. Passenger service on the Rochester Branch was eliminated in 1941. Profits further declined when the Postal Service began using trucks to move the mail.

In 1962, the railroad company petitioned the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon unprofitable lines. The section from the Monroe-Livingston county line to Hindsale was abandoned in 1963. The northern section was abandoned between 1968-1971, with tracks and ties removed by 1977.