Ballston Spa Life
Trolley Line Was Once Vital to Commuters
Ballston Spa Life
BALLSTON SPA — At one point in the early 1900s, Ballston Spa was served by three trolley railways. Although two of them, the Kaydeross Railroad and the Hudson Valley Railway, ceased operations in the 1920s, the Schenectady Railway served the village until 1941.
The Schenectady Railway Company began life on a small scale in 1887, serving a few Schenectady streets with five horse-drawn cars and four sleighs. It was electrified in 1891, by which time the mainline had slowly expanded to four miles. Low patronage kept the railway from expanding much further, and at one point was actually in danger of going bankrupt.
Fortunately, the General Electric Company, which was established by Thomas Edison a year before the railway went into operation, was growing at a rapid pace and needed a way for its employees to report to work from nearby villages and hamlets. It was decided that a system of trolley lines using GE’s latest turbines for power would the ideal solution, so the company took over the railway in 1896. Soon, new tracks were being constructed to neighboring Scotia and Rotterdam, while interurban tracks soon stretched to Albany, Troy, and Ballston Spa.
A new double-track line was completed to Troy and cars began operating every seven and a half minutes during rush hour to accommodate commuting workers. Another double-track line was built between Schenectady and Ballston Spa, giving the railway about forty-two miles of interurban track and twenty-three miles of city track within Schenectady.
By the turn of the century, General Electric was hiring hundreds of new employees per month, so a system for loading and unloading thousands of passengers during rush hours was developed. The GE Loop was constructed at the entrance of the company so that cars could quickly pull up and discharge workers without tying up the mainline. Additional cars were held in reserve on storage tracks and fed into traffic as needed. Special cars for GE employees were operated throughout the city and in the suburbs that were allowed through the gates and into the vast company complex to the GE Terminal. Other special cars were operated for American Locomotive Company employees.
The Capital Limited through service was inaugurated in 1908, just after a line was finally opened from Albany to Saratoga Springs. The ride took one hour and forty-five minutes, including stops at Schenectady, Ballston Lake, Forest Park, and Ballston Spa. Cars departed each hour from both directions, giving local residents unprecedented freedom to travel around the Capital District at all hours of the day and evening.
To lure more passengers into its trolleys, the company purchased a large tract of land at the south end of Ballston Lake and established Forest Park. Some of the attractions included a casino, dance hall, pavilion, toboggan slide, baseball park, and merry-go-round. Several open cars were decorated with colored lights and left Schenectady in the early evening hours of summer on special “Twilight Trolley Tours.” The twelve mile tours to the amusement park cost twenty-five cents.
Although some believed that the trolleys would eventually take over all rail business and shut down the railroads, it was never meant to be. Passenger traffic quickly dried up after World War I, causing many trolley lines around the country to close. The profitable line between Saratoga Springs, Ballston Spa, and Schenectady continued to operate for another decade, however, as hundreds of commuters continued to patronize it to get to their jobs at the American Locomotive plant or the GE complex.
Excerpted from the new book “The Golden Age of Railroads in New York’s Capital District” available for sale at the Brookside Museum or on-line at www.nycapitalregion.com. The book was released in January and is the sequel to “Early Railroads of New York’s Capital District.”