Providence and Worcester Railroad

The Providence and Worcester Railroad (reporting mark PW) is a Class II railroad operating in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well as New York via trackage rights. The company was founded in 1844 to build a railroad between Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts, and ran its first trains in 1847. The P&W operated independently until 1892, when the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad leased it.

Providence and Worcester Railroad
Providence and Worcester Railroad logo.svg
P&W 4006 Baltic CT.jpg
Providence and Worcester GE Locomotive #4006 seen in Plainfield, Connecticut
Parent companyGenesee & Wyoming
HeadquartersWorcester, Massachusetts
Reporting markPW, PWRZ
LocaleConnecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island; New York City and Long Island via trackage rights
Dates of operation1847–
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length612 miles (985 km) (including trackage rights)
WebsiteOfficial website

The P&W continued to exist as a company for the next 85 years until regaining its independence in 1973, after its shareholders launched a fight with Penn Central, which took over the New Haven in 1970, seeking to exit the merger. Upon regaining its independence, the railroad expanded through purchasing a number of railroad lines from the Boston and Maine Railroad and Penn Central successor Conrail. In 2016, the Providence and Worcester was purchased by railroad holding company Genesee & Wyoming.

While the company is primarily a freight railroad, since the 1970s it has occasionally operated passenger excursions, using refurbished passenger cars purchased from Amtrak.[1]

Original Providence and Worcester RailroadEdit


Share of the Providence and Worcester Railroad Company, issued August 12, 1909

The Providence and Worcester Railroad was preceded by the Blackstone Canal, which opened between Providence, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts in 1828.[2] While the canal was initially somewhat successful, its owner went bankrupt after the canal was severely damaged by flooding in 1841, and was forced to petition the state of Rhode Island for additional funds.[3] Railroads were taking hold across New England by the 1840s, and in early 1844 a group of Rhode Island citizens petitioned the Rhode Island General Assembly for a charter to build a railroad from Providence to the Massachusetts state line.[4] This group also petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a charter to build in that state from the state line to Worcester.

The railroad was incorporated in Massachusetts as the Providence and Worcester Railway on March 12, 1844, and in Rhode Island as the Providence and Worcester Railroad in May 1844.[5] The two companies were merged November 25, 1845 as the Providence and Worcester Railroad. The company bought the Blackstone Canal and began construction, partly on its banks, in 1845.[6]

Delays in constructionEdit

Local enthusiasm was high for the new railroad, with one Providence resident quoted as saying "[it is] not so much what will the projected route add to the prosperity of Providence, as can we do without it?"[7] The city's residents feared that without a railroad to connect their city to others, Providence would be reduced in importance compared to other cities in the region.[7] Despite high local support, in July 1845 the railroad was still short $200,000, out of a needed sum of $1,000,000 per the company's charter, and had not begun construction.[7] Residents began to doubt the railroad would ever be built, with one citizen writing in a letter to the editor to a local newspaper that "...any hope of its completion, founded upon the present condition of the corporation, is desperate indeed."[8]

By September 1845, residents worried over rumors that investors from Boston were planning to build a new railroad between Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Dedham, Massachusetts, which would not serve Providence.[9] Despite fears the company would fail, it announced on October 8, 1845, that thanks to a $100,000 investment by Jacob Little, the requisite $1,000,000 in funding had been reached, plus a further $100,000 for the Massachusetts section of the line, and that construction would begin immediately.[10]

A map of the Providence and Worcester railroad in 1847

Construction and operationsEdit

The line opened in two sections, the part south of Millville on September 27, 1847, and the rest on October 20. The line from Providence to Central Falls was shared with the Boston and Providence Railroad, which at the same time built a connection from its old line (ending in East Providence) over to the P&W. Construction was more expensive than anticipated, due both to difficulties encountered in earthworks for the railroad and to relatively high prices for iron and labor from 1845 to 1847, as well as significant investments in a large depot in Providence. Despite this, the company quickly began to make a large profit upon opening, thanks to the significant amount of traffic it carried.[11]

In May 1853, the owners of the Norfolk County Railroad were able to purchase a majority of the Providence and Worcester's stock, by paying well above market value for shares.[12][13] This purchase was an attempt to use the P&W as a means to route more traffic along the Norfolk County Railroad, which was bankrupt as a result of insufficient business, and by consequence increase the value of that company's stock.[12] The efforts of the Norfolk County Railroad culminated in an attempt at a hostile takeover, when shareholders from that railroad tried to add ten new members to the company's board of directors.[13] The takeover was defeated by the company's president and clerk refusing to allow a vote to approve the new directors to be recognized, leaving the stockholders from the "ricketty and bankrupt" Norfolk County Railroad with nothing but $100,000 in debt to show for their efforts.[13]

Train wreck on the Providence Worcester Railroad near Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1853

That same year, the worst accident in the company's history occurred in Valley Falls, Rhode Island. Two trains collided head-on, resulting in 14 fatalities.[2]

Leases of other railroadsEdit

The Providence and Worcester leased two other railroads: the Milford and Woonsocket Railroad in 1868, and the Hopkinton Railroad, a northward extension of the Milford and Woonsocket, in 1872.[2] Both leases expired in 1883, with the two railroads resuming independent operation that year; the Milford and Woonsocket took over the Hopkinton the following year.[2]

East Providence BranchEdit

Following an 1872 agreement with the New Jersey Central Railroad and a coal company to build a coal dock near Providence, the company began construction in 1874 on a seven-mile-long branch between Valley Falls and East Providence.[2] The branch opened the same year, when it began to be used to import coal from ships.[2][14]

Lease by other railroadsEdit

In February 1888, the New York, Providence and Boston Railroad came to an agreement with the Providence and Worcester to lease the latter company, effective May 1, 1888. Both railroads' stockholders approved the lease, and in May 1888 the Providence and Worcester ceased to be an independent railroad.[15] In 1892, control of the P&W passed to the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, when it took over the New York, Providence and Boston.[2]

Under the New HavenEdit

Despite the company's lease, unusual rules about shares and control meant that the New Haven only owned a very small number of shares – only 91 out of 35,000 – by 1905.[16] That year, the New Haven attempted to get a bill passed in the Rhode Island General Assembly that would allow it to condemn the shares of minority shareholders that owned stock in the companies it leased. Due to significant opposition, most fiercely by the Providence and Worcester Railroad, this attempt was defeated; the bill was amended to require the owning railroad to hold at least 75% of a company's shares before condemnation of minority shareholders' shares was possible. This meant that the New Haven could not purchase the P&W unless it was willing to buy 75% of the company's shares, securing the P&W's continued existence as a company.[16] These same rules about shares would pave the way for the Providence and Worcester to regain its independence in the future.[17]

Plans for independenceEdit

In the 1960s, a group of Providence and Worcester shareholders began plotting to acquire the company.[17] They recruited Robert H. Eder, a businessman from Providence, to lead their efforts. The group launched three proxy fights to take control, with the last one ending in 1966 with Eder as the Providence and Worcester's new president.[17] Two years later, the company incorporated in Delaware, while maintaining the voting rules from the company's original 1844 charter.[17] In 1968, with the New Haven's merger into Penn Central Transportation Company imminent, Eder and the group evaluated their options, including breaking away from the New Haven, allowing the company to be merged into the Penn Central, or seeking to instead be merged into the Norfolk and Western Railway. Though the latter company did not connect to the Providence and Worcester, at that time it was considering a purchase of the Delaware and Hudson Railway.[17]

The new Providence and Worcester RailroadEdit

Separation from Penn CentralEdit

Providence and Worcester Railroad line within Salt Rock State Campground in Sprague, Connecticut

The New Haven continued to operate the Providence and Worcester under its lease for nearly 80 years, and the shareholders of the P&W received their dividends, until in 1969 the Penn Central Transportation Company was reluctantly forced by the Interstate Commerce Commission to absorb the New Haven, which had been bankrupt since 1961.[17] The Penn Central did not want the P&W, and in October 1968 specifically asked the ICC for it to be excluded from the merger, calling the lease situation "unfair and unreasonable".[18] Despite its objections, and threatening to the ICC that it would abandon the Providence and Worcester's tracks if it were forced to include it in the merger, Penn Central was ordered to assume the New Haven's lease.[17][19]

The New Haven had managed to purchase a number of the P&W's shares in the three quarters of a century it had held the lease, holding 28% of the company's total shares by the time Penn Central took over.[17] While the New Haven had long tolerated the peculiar rules that kept the P&W alive as a company, the railroad's new lessor was not willing to tolerate them any longer and demanded the voting rules and clauses that heavily restricted its control be rewritten.[17] The same rules that left the New Haven unable to take over the P&W also frustrated the Penn Central, which found itself with only 3% voting power, despite both leasing the company and inheriting the New Haven's portion of the company's shares.[17]

Already displeased with being forced to take over the unprofitable New Haven, Penn Central rapidly began abandoning unprofitable ex-New Haven lines. Included on the list for abandonment was much of the Providence and Worcester mainline, forcing the P&W's shareholders into action to save the company.[17] To do this, they turned to the same government entity that ordered the Penn Central to acquire the New Haven: the Interstate Commerce Commission. On April 6, 1970, the P&W's shareholders asked the ICC to allow their company to exit the merger and become independent. Penn Central was unwilling to allow this to happen, leading to a series of court battles. While the ICC approved the Providence and Worcester's request to resume independent operations on August 25, 1972, the legal fights continued until December 20, 1972, when a federal court ordered the Penn Central to allow the Providence and Worcester to end its lease and assume control of its lines.[20] The lease came to an end on February 3, 1973, with the P&W becoming independent again after 85 years.[17]


A Providence and Worcester train in Middletown, Connecticut near the Middletown–Portland railroad bridge

The newly independent P&W began with 45 miles of track between its two namesake cities, along with a small fleet of 5 ALCO RS-3 locomotives and 5 cabooses, all leased from fellow Northeastern United States railroad Delaware and Hudson Railway.[21] The Providence and Worcester found its first opportunity for expansion in a recently abandoned line cast off by the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M). In 1974, the railroad purchased this 23 mile long branch between Worcester and Gardner, Massachusetts from B&M, connecting it with the latter company's main line.[17] Penn Central had not forgotten how the P&W had escaped from its control, and created delays in car interchange between itself and the P&W, until the latter company once again appealed to the ICC for assistance. The new connection with the B&M in Gardner allowed P&W access to a more friendly interchange partner.[21]

Needing a more permanent solution than its leased ALCOs, the P&W turned to the Canadian Montreal Locomotive Works, rather than either of the dominant American locomotive manufacturers GE Transportation and General Motors' Electro Motive Division. MLW was the Canadian affiliate of ALCO, and survived after ALCO's dissolution in 1969. P&W placed an order for 5 new MLW M-420R locomotives, tagging on to an order for 80 M-420Rs by Canadian National Railway.[21] These new locomotives became the backbone of the Providence and Worcester fleet, and the older RS-3s were given back to the Delaware and Hudson.[21]

The federal government created the United States Railway Association in 1974 to manage the formation of Conrail, which was to take over a number of bankrupt railroads in the Northeast, including Penn Central. Penn Central owned a 71-mile line that connected Worcester to Groton, Connecticut, via Plainfield, Connecticut. The USRA decided to include only the portion between Groton and Plainfield in Conrail, with the remaining portion reverting to its original owner: the Norwich and Worcester Railroad (N&W).[2] The N&W had been leased by a variety of railroads since 1869, but was now independent again, and proposed to resume operating its portion of the line.[2] Seeing an opportunity for expansion, the Providence and Worcester made a bid for the line from Plainfield to Worcester as well, winning the support of Connecticut business groups, unions, and then-representative Chris Dodd.[22] The latter stated in January 1974 that it was "extremely questionable whether the Norwich and Worcester has demonstrated the ability to provide even minimal service to eastern Connecticut."[23] The USRA found the arguments of the Providence and Worcester and its supporters that it was in a better position to take over the line on account of its years of profitable operations persuasive, and transferred it to the railroad later that year.[2]

The remaining 27 miles of the N&W went to Conrail, but the Providence and Worcester was not satisfied with its share of the line and sought to acquire the rest of the line from the newly formed railroad. Conrail initially was unprofitable, and in 1976 the Providence and Worcester approached the company with an offer to buy its 27-mile line between Plainfield and Groton. Conrail was unwilling to give up the line, which was one of its most profitable in the state, leading the Connecticut Department of Transportation to request that the federal government order the line transferred that year.[24][25][26] The following year, Conrail was forced to sell the line, due to the law that established the company requiring it to sell lines to any private companies offering a fair price.[26] Despite this, Conrail continued to operate the line while debate continued between the two railroads over what constituted a 'fair price' – Conrail wanted over $3 million, while the Providence and Worcester offered under $1 million.[26] Finally, on May 20, 1980, a federal court announced it was ordering Conrail to sell the line to the P&W for $1.75 million, which the three justices on the court decided was a fair price.[25][26]


Providence and Worcester GP38-2 #2009 hauling a passenger excursion train

Further expansion came in 1982, when the Providence and Worcester acquired all of Conrail's lines in Rhode Island, along with some in Connecticut.[27] While P&W wanted all 530 miles of Conrail's lines in Southern New England, it had to compete with the Boston & Maine, at the time in the sights of newly formed Guilford Transportation Industries, which bought significant portions of Conrail's network in Connecticut.[27] The Providence and Worcester stated its objections to allowing Guilford to form a major railroad network in New England, to no avail.[27] The P&W also purchased two shortline railroads in Rhode Island that year: the Moshassuck Valley Railroad and the Warwick Railway.[2]

In December 1987, the railroad's owner, Capital Properties Inc. of Providence, announced it was divesting the Providence and Worcester, with Capital's shareholders each getting 2 shares of the railroad's stock per share of Capital stock.[1]


A Providence and Worcester freight train on the East Providence branch in 2008

The Providence and Worcester further expanded into Connecticut in 1993, when it purchased Conrail's line between Cedar Hill Yard in North Haven and Middletown.[28] Between November 1993 and June 1994, the railroad improved the line in cooperation with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, replacing over 5,000 ties and 7,000 feet of rail in a $650,000 project.[29] After the project was complete, its speed limit increased from 10 to 25 miles per hour.[28][29] The increased speed and frequency of trains concerned some residents along the line, who advocated for the installation of gates and lights at railroad crossings for safety.[28]

In the mid 1990s, the railroad suffered a significant reduction in traffic when a number of its major customers closed or relocated. In response, the company focused on expanding interchange traffic with other railroads.[17] The company reached an agreement in 1996 for trackage rights over the Northeast Corridor between New Haven and the New York and Atlantic Railway's Fresh Pond Junction yard in Queens.[17] The Providence and Worcester uses these trackage rights to haul stone between its connection with the Branford Steam Railroad and New York City.[17]

Further expansion came in 1998, when the Providence and Worcester bought the Connecticut Central Railroad, a shortline railroad based in Middletown, Connecticut.[30]

21st centuryEdit

On March 17, 2013, a freight derailed in New Haven, Connecticut, blocking Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.[31]

The company carried 34,402 carloads in 2013.[32]

Revival of passenger service between Providence and Worcester, which was discontinued by Penn Central in the 1970s, has been under consideration since 2014 when the Boston Surface Railroad was founded. The company proposed commuter rail service between the two cities, with a stop in Woonsocket, though as of 2019 plans are on hold.[33]

On August 15, 2016, Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (G&W) announced that it would buy Providence and Worcester Railroad Company for $25.00 per share, or approximately $126 million.[34] The acquisition was completed on November 1, 2016, and the Surface Transportation Board approved the acquisition on December 16, 2016.[35][36]

In 2019, the Providence and Worcester reopened 8 miles of track between Hartford and Rocky Hill, known as the Wethersfield Secondary, which had been out of service since 2008.[37] The reopened line provided a more direct route for freight to reach Middletown.[37]


The Providence and Worcester Railroad is headquartered in Worcester, an important interchange point with CSX Transportation. An intermodal facility in that city is a major customer for the company.[32] Other interchange points include:[17][38]

Through haulage agreements, the railroad also connects with Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Norfolk Southern Railway.[38]

Commodities carriedEdit

A variety of different types of cargo are transported by the P&W, including construction debris, aggregates, construction materials, lumber, steel, plastics, and chemicals.[17][32]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Andrews, Bea (December 9, 1987). "Providence firm to divest P&W Railroad interests". The Day. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Karr, Ronald Dale (2017). The Rail Lines of Southern New England (2nd ed.). Pepperell, Massachusetts: Branch Line Press. pp. 123–128, 157–160, 166–169, 184–185. ISBN 978-0-942147-12-4. OCLC 1038017689. Archived from the original on 2021-10-24. Retrieved 2021-10-22.
  3. ^ "To The Honorable General Assembly". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. June 3, 1841. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  4. ^ "To the Honorable General Assembly". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. February 22, 1844. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  5. ^ "Providence and Worcester Railroad". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. May 16, 1844. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  6. ^ "PW history". Archived from the original on 2019-07-11. Retrieved 2016-12-19.
  7. ^ a b c "Saturday Morning, July 26, 1845". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. July 28, 1845. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  8. ^ "Providence and Worcester Railroad". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. August 4, 1845. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  9. ^ "Worcester Railroad". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. September 11, 1845. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  10. ^ "Providence and Worcester Railroad". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. October 9, 1845. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  11. ^ "Wednesday Morning, August 9, 1848". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. August 10, 1848. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  12. ^ a b "Another Chapter In Railroad Speculation". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. May 23, 1853. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  13. ^ a b c "Railroad Intrigues". Hartford Weekly Times. July 30, 1853. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 22, 2021.
  14. ^ "The East Providence Branch of the Providence and Worcester Railroad". Providence Evening Press. September 15, 1873. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  15. ^ "The Lease Ratified: Unanimous Approval of the Worcester Road Transfer". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. May 21, 1888. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Opposition Wins Point". Manufacturers and Farmers Journal. April 3, 1905. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Hartley, Scott A. (April 2016). "The key to Providence & Worcester's success: Reinvention". Trains Magazine. pp. 50–57.
  18. ^ Associated Press (October 10, 1968). "NHRR Urges Inclusion in Merger Now". Meriden Journal. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  19. ^ Associated Press (September 12, 1968). "Renegotiation of P&W Lease is Under Study". The Norwalk Hour. Retrieved October 24, 2021.
  20. ^ Associated Press (December 20, 1972). "Providence, Worcester Co. Will Take Over its Railroad". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  21. ^ a b c d Hartley, Scott A. (June 1994). "Yankee Independence: How Providence & Worcester grew from being an obscure branch of the New Haven into today's 400-mile regional" (PDF). Trains. pp. 57–64. Retrieved December 15, 2021.
  22. ^ "Rail takeover given support". The Day. January 24, 1976. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  23. ^ Associated Press (January 27, 1974). "Dodd supports rail unit". The Day. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  24. ^ "Railroad transfer idea opposed". The Day. March 17, 1980. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  25. ^ a b "P&W wins rail line request". The Day. May 20, 1980. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  26. ^ a b c d "Conrail ordered to sell track". The Day. May 29, 1980. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  27. ^ a b c Cleaves, Herb (January 22, 1982). "Boston & Maine to get some Conrail trackage". Bangor Daily News. Archived from the original on October 24, 2021. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  28. ^ a b c Campagna, Darryl (August 9, 1994). "Neighbor sees peril at rail crossing". Record-Journal. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  29. ^ a b Cohen, Joyce (August 7, 1994). "Rail freight gets a boost in Wallingford". Record-Journal. Retrieved October 23, 2021.
  30. ^ Waters, Martin J. (April 8, 2001). "Here's a switch: Derelict rail line is back on track". Record-Journal. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  31. ^ "Freight derailment causes traffic delays". UPI. March 17, 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  32. ^ a b c Gonsalves, Susan (June 15, 2014). "P. Scott Conti, president of Providence & Worcester Railroad Co., Worcester". Retrieved 2021-10-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  33. ^ Pelletier, Jared (2019-10-28). "Company seeks to provide train service from Worcester to Providence". WJAR. Retrieved 2021-10-25.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  34. ^ Calabro, Joe. "Providence-Worcester Railroad is Sold". Archived from the original on 2016-08-16. Retrieved 2016-08-15.
  35. ^ "STB approves G&W's acquisition of Providence & Worcester". Archived from the original on 2017-05-23. Retrieved 2016-12-19.
  36. ^ "45555 - Decision". Archived from the original on 2017-04-27. Retrieved 2016-12-19.
  37. ^ a b Hartley, Scott A. (March 11, 2019). "Providence & Worcester plans to reopen Connecticut branch". Trains. Archived from the original on 2021-09-03. Retrieved 2021-10-23.
  38. ^ a b "Providence and Worcester Railroad – A Genesee & Wyoming Company". Retrieved 2021-10-25.

External linksEdit

Preceded by Regional Railroad of the Year
Succeeded by