As the twelve towns and the CTDEEP look toward the future for the Air Line State Park Trail, the trail experience is inspired by its history as a railroad. The name of the rail line and the trail is derived from drawing a straight line through the air between Boston and New York City, hence Air Line Railroad or Air Line Trail. Similar to the effort to build out this multi-use trail, the rail line construction from the 1840stothe1870s involved challenging terrain, bridges, voluminous cuts and fills to ensure a flat grade for a train’s journey from Boston to New York City.
The first attempt began in 1846, with the chartering of the New York and Boston Railroad Company and by 1867, a group of investors chartered the New Haven, Middletown, and Willimantic Railroad Company. Ultimately, the Air Line Railroad was leased by the rapidly growing New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, in 1882. Despite the limited technology of the day, expansive cuts through the hillsides were accomplished in combination with equally massive “fills” in the valleys to keep the rail bed at grade.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at the expansive bridges, or viaducts, over Flat Brook and Dickenson Creek in East Hampton and Colchester respectively. Only 1.2 miles from each other, these stream valleys were first crossed by lengthy bridges. The Rapallo viaduct needed 800 feet of length to cross Flat Brook, and the Lyman Viaduct, just to the east, needed 1,000 feet to span Dickenson Creek. Today, trail users benefit from the broad scenic trail views from these bridges that were filled for safety reasons. The new railroad could only be effective if it offered time savings from the pre-existing shoreline route.
By 1885, with an hour savings on the six-hour coastal run from New York to Boston, the New England Limited on the Air Line Railroad was established. This rail journey attracted wealthy travelers. Pullman cars were painted white with gold trim, yielding the title of “Ghost Train” and engine crews and staff wore white uniforms. The train carried businessmen and famous passengers including President Benjamin Harrison and authors Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling over the 213 mile, six-hour journey. But ultimately, time, new technology and cost conspired toward the demise of the Air Line Railroad. This winding bucolic engineered train route required continued upgrades. The cost for new infrastructure was prohibitive. In1898, the NH Railroad system that operated the shoreline rail system purchased the line which hasten the downfall of the Air Line Railroad. Passenger service of the Ghost Train era concluded on May 17,1902,when service defaulted to the Boston to New York City shoreline rail system.