By Steve Barry/photos by the author
The New York Central’s main line between Syracuse and Rochester, N.Y., once wandered through small towns located at the north end of the Finger Lakes. Once the “Water Level Route” was completed to the north, the original main line became the “Auburn Branch,” named for one of the villages along the way. Cut back at the west end in the 1960s, the branchline passed to Penn Central control in 1968 and then to Conrail in 1976. Looking to shed a cluster of branch lines centered around Geneva, the line was spun off in 1995 and the Finger Lakes Railway (FGLK) was formed. Mindful of its heritage, the FGLK adopted the NYC’s classic “lightning stripe” paint scheme for its locomotives.
The Finger Lakes Railway is based out of Geneva, located at the north end of Seneca Lake. Its main line, the old Auburn Branch, wanders east to a connection with CSX (former New York Central) at Solvay, just outside of Syracuse. From west of Geneva at Canandaigua to Solvay, the railroad runs 76 miles.
For railfans looking for a good short line chase, the Finger Lakes offers an almost perfect opportunity. Train GS-2 (Geneva-Solvay) operates on Sundays, a rare opportunity to find an operating short line on a weekend. The chase runs east in the morning and west in the afternoon, providing good light both directions. Between the various villages the train will move along at a pretty good clip, but in the villages the speed drops; this makes the chase brisk and never boring, but with time to get ahead frequently. The train will often pause at Auburn each direction to do some switching, but otherwise has no other work on its travels. And there are plenty of photo props, including surviving stations at Seneca Falls, Skaneateles Junction, Martisco, and Camillus. Also of note is a surviving semaphore, permanently fixed giving an “approach” signal for trains entering the yard at Solvay.
The train leaves Geneva around mid-morning, working Auburn and getting to Solvay in very early afternoon. The turn at Solvay doesn’t take long. The crew drops the inbound cars and grabs the outbound cars in a move that can take less than an hour. While there is no fast food near Solvay (and you don’t want to wander too far), a convenience store right across the street from the Solvay semaphore provides a place to grab a midday snack (and fuel, should you need it).
With good scenery and a rich New York Central history, a chase of train GS-2 is a perfect way to spend a Sunday.
Train GS-2 makes its way across the town green in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on the former New York Central’s Auburn Road.
The depot at Skaneateles Jct. is home to a local model railroad club, and also marks a former junction with the Skaneateles Short Line Railroad.