Historic FCD Railbus now at DRM

FCD Railbus in DRM yardEx Sperry Rail Services, exx Remington Arms #2, originally New Haven #15. Built August 1954 by Mack in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Sold to Remington Arms of Bridgeport, Connecticut, April 1962. Sold to Sperry Rail Services of Danbury, Connecticut, July 1985. Donated to the Danbury Railway Museum, September 7, 1996. Cosmetic restoration to Remington Arms livery is planned for now. At a later date, a more extensive renovation to as-built configuration and livery will take place.

In May 1951, Frederick C. Dumaine, Jr. succeeded his father as president of the New Haven Railroad. Despite the dramatic post-WWII decline in passenger business, his business plan included adding passenger runs on lightly-used branch lines. His reasoning was that capital should never sit idle when it could be producing revenue. If the rail was in place, the New Haven would "run as many trains as [it could] cram onto the tracks", according to Dumaine. To control costs on lines where passenger loads would be small, he returned to an idea the New Haven first tried in the 1920s, a bus on rails.

To build it, the New Haven turned to an experienced bus building firm, the Mack Company of Allentown, Pennsylvania. After tests with a prototype vehicle in 1952, the New Haven ordered nine modified railbuses for delivery in 1954. All 10 (including the prototype) were dubbed FCDs in honor of Frederick C. Dumaine, Sr., who had conceived the project. They were 170-horsepower diesel-electrics with a traction motor on each of their four axles. With a coupler at one end, two FCDs could be M.U.'d nose to nose to carry up to 98 passengers.

The six FCDs scheduled to be assigned to the Boston Division were to make 25 revenue runs on weekdays. Number 15 was scheduled to make four trips a day between Boston's South Station and Blackstone, Massachusetts, a mid-afternoon round trip and a late evening round trip. But it never happened!

In April 1954, Patrick McGinnis won a proxy fight for control of the New Haven. He had no interest in branch line passenger service or railbuses. When the nine new FCDs were delivered in the summer of 1954, eight of them were immediately stored at the Readville, Massachusetts, shops. Only number 12 was put into service, and after two years of running between Worcester and Providence, it too was stored. Number 15 never turned a wheel in revenue service.

Over the next nine years, all the FCDs were sold off. Number 15 was one of two that went to Remington Arms in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for use in intra-plant freight service. There it was stripped of its passenger seats, the driver's area at each end was walled off from the rest of the vehicle, and driver's doors were added. The center door was replaced with a steel rollup door. For many years Remington Arms #2 carried ammunition, guns, and other products between buildings at the Bridgeport complex.

In 1985, the Remington FCDs were bought by Sperry Rail Services of Danbury, Connecticut. Sperry had bought two other FCDs in 1958, converting one of them to a rail test car while scrapping the other. One of the Remington FCDs was converted to a rail test car for the New York City subway system, but plans to convert number 15 were never carried out. For many years it just sat in the weeds.

Image of FCD

Sperry wanted to donate FDC 15 to the Danbury Railway Museum. Understandably, Metro-North was not willing to let the railbus move over its busy Danbury branch trackage. That meant finding riggers to load the FCD and truckers to haul it. But the museum couldn't afford to pay someone the estimated $2,500 it would cost for the three-mile trip.

Then another all-volunteer organization stepped in. Saturday, September 7, 1996, was a miserable day due to downpours caused by hurricane Fran. Despite this, members of the Connecticut Yankee Chapter of the Antique Truck Club of America, using Mack trucks built in the 1950s and early 1960s, donated their time, equipment, and technical expertise to make the move. Club members brought in a 50-ton wrecker and an excavator to lift the body of the FCD onto one over-the-road vehicle, and a set of FCD trucks onto another. The same equipment unloaded the FCD onto museum trackage the next morning.

Number 15 is currently the only FCD railbus in a museum and may turn out to be the only one ever preserved. One of the cars Sperry converted was destroyed in a fire. The other still roams the New York City subway system testing rail for hidden defects that could cause accidents. The other six FCDs were sold to a Spanish railroad where one continued in service until at least 1978. If any still exist, it seems a safe bet they won't be coming back across the Atlantic.

The museum is doing a cosmetic restoration to the Remington Arms livery. A more extensive renovation to the New Haven configuraton and livery is planned for several years down the road. Someday the museum will make the FCD operational again. When it does, New Haven 15 will finally carry its first paying passenger, on a Danbury Railway Museum excursion.

Research and article by Bill Guider; photos by Rick Simpson

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JGS 10/29/97