The tracks seen in these photos were part of the original North Creek branch railroad that through the streets of Saratoga Springs. Originally, the line to North Creek (the Adirondack Branch) came off the Delaware & Hudson Railroad’s main line in the freight yard just south of the main Saratoga depot, and ran right down the middle of some streets. Started in 1864 and completed to North Creek in 1871, the street tracks were removed when the entire line was rerouted outside downtown Saratoga Springs.
This line to North Creek lacked a lot of freight traffic up until the 1940s when the Tahawus Mine was opened in Newcomb, but functioned as a gateway for summer visitors to the Adirondacks (in other words, lots of passenger service).
Up until the Second World War, there were almost no “common carriers” anywhere in the country that were freight only. At worse, a railroad might tack on a combination passenger-baggage car (a “combine”) and run a train as a “mixed.”
But this line in Saratoga was far from that. In the 1930s, the D&H ran some of the first ski trains to North Creek. It wasn’t until the early 1950s that passenger service ended but the line itself running up the streets only survived half-a-decade before it was rerouted outside the city of Saratoga Springs. So it was “freight only” for a mere fraction of its existence.
The last two photos show the ornate office building built for the Adirondack line. When built, the rear section functioned as the depot until 1889 when the Adirondack was taken over the D&H, at which time the main depot serviced the North Creek local too. (The building still stands.)
The first photo (above) is ca. 1949, which shows the North Creek local (nos. 181/182, depending on which direction it was going) sitting at the main depot. The last car is obviously a full coach. The second car is an RPO-baggage car, a type of mail car in which federal employees (mail clerks) sorted mail on the train as it moved. RPO stood for Railway Post Office and carrying the mail with an RPO car meant this was an important, if small, passenger run.
The crew is loading or unloading the baggage car. Despite the name, baggage cars carried more than passengers’ luggage. These baggage cars were operated by the Railway Express Agency (REA), the UPS of its day, and they handled time-priority shipments.
I assume (because turning the train after only running a few blocks would seem impractical) that train 181 picked up passengers at the main depot, then backed down to the freight yard to get onto this branch, and returning 182 did the opposite move.
What surprised me is that so few pictures of this line through Saratoga have surfaced, particularly with trains in them. Trains running in the street like these were always of great interest to railfan photographers, yet few remain of this line showing trains.