TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) The Budd RDC is part train, part trolley. It is also a symbol of failure. It’s a single train coach, to be run as a one-car self-powered train.
As railroads lost more money on their passenger trains in the 1960s and 70s they turned to the Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia to make a diesel-powered rail car. Its engine was mounted on the roof. On passenger routes where it was no longer economical to run a traditional engine pulling coaches, a one car self propelled train might suffice. A Budd car required only a crew of two, an engineer and a conductor. It was cheaper to operate.
Budd cars found a home on several branch lines in Connecticut. The New Haven railroad had a sprawling network of secondary passenger trains. For most of these lines, even a half-empty Budd car was a money-loser. The Danbury-Hartford and Essex-Springfield lines lost all passenger service after being cut to one-a-day-each-way Budd car service.
When I moved to Connecticut there were two routes that still saw regular Budd RDC’s. The New Haven operated a branch line to Danbury. Leaving the main line at South Norwalk, the Budd car would rattle over the Washington Street bridge and then make a sharp turn inland. Afternoons, evenings, and weekends, the Budd car would make five round trips a day to connect with New York-bound trains at Norwalk. Budd cars were too small for rush hour crowds. Two morning trains ran with diesel engines and four or five coaches. Those passengers got a direct ride to New York without having to change trains.
The more romantic Budd car ride was from Bridgeport to Waterbury. At 72 miles away from New York, the Waterbury branch was too long a trip to commute to New York City. There were only four trains a day. The New York electric train would pull away from Bridgeport station and the Budd car would power up from its side-track and pick up the waiting passengers. The single car would roll down the four-track main line for about five miles, and then over the ancient rusted Housatonic Drawbridge. Switches would be set to carry the one-car train across all four tracks, then turning off the tracks to the branch line.
The train ran north along the Housatonic River for a scenic hour-long ride. Along the way there was the giant power plant, supplied with coal via the Waterbury branch at night. The tall, stately station at Shelton was further up the line. Then more river-running to Ansonia and Seymour, who’s stations were mere shelters to keep passengers out of the rain. The trees grow thicker and the river runs faster further north, as the Budd car comes to Naugatuck station. You can see Waterbury station in the distance for the last few miles, with its giant clock tower modeled on the railroad tower of Florence, Italy. There’s a good deli just a block away from Waterbury station, and a downtown park across the street. The train crew would sometimes get a bite to eat during their 40-minute layover before making the trip back to Bridgeport.
The Budd RDC is an unusual machine. You can imagine the engineer stepping on a gas pedal, as the engines overhead make their unique whirring sound. They zip along at nearly 70-miles-per-hour where track conditions allow, and are rough-riders going around sharp turns.
But Budd cars don’t create new rail fans. When you see one zip by, you’ll think that a real train used to run on this line.
Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau