Steve's Railroad Pages

Selkirk Super Facts

Selkirk Super Facts

According to Conrail's booklet
Conrail's Selkirk Yard: A Visitor's Guide
From various tables and other sources in the booklet

Table of Yard Statistics

  • Total Area of Yard, 1,250 acres
  • Height of Hump, 26 feet
  • Grades
    • Hump 3.1%, 1.9%
    • Master Retarder, 5.0%
    • Group Retarders, 1.2%, 1.0%
    • Classification Yard, 0.08%
    • Receiving Yard, 0.15%
    • North Departure, 0.16%
    • South Departure, 0.00%
  • Trackage:
    by Yard/Tracks/Capacity
    Yard Tracks Capacity
    Classification Yard 70 3,680
    Receiving Yard 11 1,716
    North Departure Yard* 9 1,484
    Fast Freights 2 332
    South Departure Yard 5 550
    Car Repair 4 113
    Car Cleaning 4 124
    Auto Unloding Site 8 80
    TrailVan Ramp** 2 31
    Local Yard 10 395
    Caboose 2 30

  • TOTAL CARS, 8,500
    • Receiving Yard:
      • Avgerage Capacity, 156 cars
    • Classification Yard:
      • Longest Track, 70 cars
      • Shortest Track, 37 cars
    • Departure Yards:
      • North Yard Tracks Capacity, 166 - 280 cars
      • South Yard Tracks Capacity, 126 - 131 cars
* They are not counting the two runners here; also, they've omitted two other tracks which may be the two "fast freights" they reference
** TrailVan facility now closed

Historical Notes

Compiled from various sources, including publications of Conrail, Trains Magazine, and the National Railway Historical Society.
by Steve Sconfienza, Ph.D.

By the end of the 19th century, Albany had become a bottleneck for the New York Central Railroad. Traffic travelling the "T" of New York City, New England and west were all routed through West Albany Yard and the West Albany Hill. (The grade at West Albany, supposedly the steepest between the east coast and Chicago, meant that trains had to overcome a rise and fall of 130 feet: westbound B&A and Hudson Division freights had to be split into up to four sections in order to negotiate the hill, often with pusher locomotives required on the West Albany grade, which placed a substantial demand on the railroad's motive power resources.

The Central began planning a bypass of West Albany at the turn of the century, which met wiht strong oppostion from Albany politicians, fearing the loss of the revenue of the Central's presence in West Albany. Selkirk, as far south as a realroad grade could be located (north of the Heldeberg Escarpment), just a few miles south of Albany but still out of the city, was the Central's choice. Naturally, Albany politicians wanted to keep jobs in Albany, and they fought the project.

By 1913, the New York Central had organized a subsidiary, the Hudson River Connecting Railroad Corporation, which was responsble for building the new branch westward from Niverville, the bridge over the Hudson River, and the yard (overall, the "Castleton Cut-Off"), as a 27.5-mile-long freight bypass of the congested Albany terminal area. The Cutoff crosses the Hudson River on the mile-long Alfred H. Smith Memorial Bridge, with spans of 600 and 400 feet over 150 feet above water level (and remember, Alfred E. Smith is a building in downtown Albany; Alfred H. Smith is the bridge over the Hudson River).

Selkirk Yard was built just west of where the Castleton Cutoff crossed the New York, West Shore & Buffalo's branch to downtown Albany, the remnants of which are today's CSXT Port Subdivision (ex-Conrail Albany Secondary). It was constructed on an area of flat land six miles long by one mile wide, thereby minimizing grading problems. The yard was graded for a capacity of 11,000 cars, although track for a smaller capacity was actually laid, and the site was estimated to have a potential capacity of 20,000 cars on 250 miles of track. Construction of the yard was reported to require 22,000 tons of steel and 430 switches.

Selkirk Yard was opened on November 20, 1924, the centerpiece of the "Castleton Cutoff." The original Selkirk Yard was two yards (not unlike today's Conway), eastbound and westbound. Each had its own hump with electrically operated switches. The eastbound yard was on the south side (where today's inbound and hump yards are), while the westbound hump was on the north side (where today's north departure is). Each hump-unit included receiving tracks where incoming trains were delivered, the humps, classification tracks, and advance tracks, where they were made into outgoing trains. The original yard was capable of holding over 8,000 cars. During the late 1940s, it classified an average of about 4,000 cars daily.

The Selkirk engine terminal, located at the easterly end of the yard, included two round houses with stlls 120 feet long. One roundhouse held 32 locomotives, while the other held 30. While the two roundhouses were physically connected, each had its own electrically-powered turntable, and each had its own hot air ventilation fan system. The engine terminal also included seven ash pits and a modern concrete coal storage chute consisting two 600-ton bins served by conveyers. The remains of the engine house stalls may still be seen in the area between the Route 396 bridge (over the drill tracks) and the Route 396 underpass under the Inbound, in the area now known as the material yard.

Adjacent to the roundhouses was a building for the administration of the mechanical department, a machine shop, storehouse and oil storage house. In addition, a nearby power house contained three 400-horsepower boilers, electrical transformers, air comprressors and water pumps for fire protection. Selkirk Yard had its own water supply system, with a 16-inch main connecting a large pumphouse, located south of the Castleton bridge on the Hudson River, with 500,000-gallon storage tanks located at each end of the yard. A railroad Y.M.C.A. was constructed near the east end of the facility, whose structures are still there.

Realizing both the inefficiency of a dual-hump system and the advantages of computer-controlled classification, the New York Central in 1966 undertook a reconstruction of Selkirk Yard. The project, estimated at $19.7 million, was to make Selkirk the largest east-west freight yard on the New York Central system. One of the innovations of the new yard was to be a computer operated freight car classification system to handle the 2,300 cars per day which passed through Selkirk in 1966; Selkirk was reported to be the first application of this new technology. New York Central C.E.O. Alfred E. Perlman was on hand with a trainload of railroad officials, stockholders and securities analysts for the symbolic laying of the first rail for what was to become the Alfred E. Perlman Yard.

When Perlman Yard opened in 1968, there were reported to be 133 miles of rail with over 400 switches on 632 acres. Instead of two complete hump-yard complexes, an eastbound and a westbound with a hump in each one, the new yard consolidated functions for east-and west-bound traffic with a single hump for both. Capacity of the new yard was said to be 8,329 cars per day. By the time a new $4 million diesel service facility was opened a year later, $29 million was reported to have been spent on the project. At that time, Selkirk was reported to employ 800 workers.

A map of the proposed yard was published by the Central in the early 1960s, and is available here in Adobe(r) Portable Document Format (.pdf):

The New York Central's "Alfred E. Perlman Yard"

[Information on Adobe(r) is available in the Adobe Help section if you are not familiar with this format or need help with Adobe]

  • Note on the map (west to east):
    • No track 5-main and . . .
    • No Top End (but a "fast freight lead" in that area instead)
    • The "flexi-van strip" coming off the north runner in North Departure
    • West Shore connector from the Inbound Yard
    • Inbound-11 is identified as a running track
    • There is an extra stub-end track south of the fuel plant
    • No South Departure
    • Only two drill tracks on pull-down from that classification yard
    • CP-FB and CP-SK are controlled from Utica

Odd Footnote: The Regional Building

This story has been floating around, although I do not know that it is true (from personal knowledge). It has been said that in the mid-1980s, Conrail decided to locate the railroad's Northeast Region headquarters at Selkirk. The manner chosen to construct the building was to lease land south of the Fuel Plant to a local developer, who constructed the Regional Building according to plans furnished by Conrail, owned the completed building, and leased it back to the railroad. Also, the western half of the building was later added primarily to accomodate a consolidated dispatching facility.

More Facts

From Rail Graphics Video Productions -- Railroad Videos

[As annoted]

The CSXT (ex-Conrail) Selkirk Yard is located 15 miles south of Albany NY, [Conrail's PR material claimed 8 miles -- I run it and it's 9.5 from downtown, about 7 from the City's southern boundry] west of the Hudson River[, between State Routes 9W and 32]. Selkirk is the major yard in the Northeast. It was built in 1922 by the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad, later to become the New York Central. In 1968 Penn Central rebuilt Selkirk and renamed it Perlman Yard for NYC and PC President Alfred E. Perlman. After the Conrail takeover, the yard was renamed Selkirk. The yard is built on 1250 acres with 70 classification tracks that can hold about 3500 cars. Also, there is a[n 11 track] receiving yard, a [13 track] north and [five track] south departure yard, and a local yard, for a total of 35 additional tracks with a total capacity of 4000 more cars.

Rail Graphics has a 65 minute video of the yard for sale for $19.95 -- see details at their W3 site.

From an Academic Perspective

Richard Saunders, in his book The Railroad Mergers and the Coming of Conrail (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978), which is now out of print but the Albany Public Library and the SUNY New Paltz library each have a copy, writes that

Construction of Selkirk Yard near Albany was begun before the [Penn Central] merger. It was to be the focal point of the new railroad, where all traffic rerouted over the Water Level Route would funnel to New York City and New England. Twenty million dollars was budgeted for the project, but cost overruns exceeded 100 percent. By July of 1968, although only seventy of the ninety classification tracks were in place, the yard was ordered opened. No one dared tell management things weren't ready. Traffic poured in on clerks and crews that were unrehearsed, to a yard that was half complete. Lost, loaded cars wallowed at Selkirk sometimes up to twenty-seven days. . . . Meanwhile, fully staffed work trains were waiting to complete construction, but they couldn't get into the yard because the entrances were blocked in the crush of traffic. Hours were lost, sometimes entire days, and the very construction that would relieve congestion could not be finished.

All traffic delivered by the PRR on car floats to the New Haven's Bay Ridge Yard on Long Island was ordered rerouted through Selkirk. Lighterage operations in New York Harbor were expensive, so it was important in terms of "savings" to get Bay Ridge closed. That meant cars bound for destinations even in Brooklyn or Queens were sent all the way up to Albany and all the way back down the east bank of the Hudson for delays up to six days, thus aggravating the situation at Selkirk.

However . . .

Saunders is incorrect about the "seventy of the ninety classification tracks": the yard was always designed to have 70 tracks, as 1966-era documents of the New York Central, including a promotional brochure on the then-being-rebuilt yard (see above), clearly indicate. Also lacking at that time, but since added, were South Departure and the Top End. The western Fast Freight has become track one (main), with extensive modifications to the track alignment in that area, including the addition of track 5 (main). The two Fast Freight tracks running the length of North Departure (immediately south of the North Runner) now seem to be tracks one and two, with the rest of North Departure renumbered accordingly.

Additional notes/conjecture

  1. The Top End
    • This is an additional yard to the ones Rail Graphics is referencing here: it has nine tracks and via the North Runner in the North Departure Yard services the auto facility. This is where the MLs wind-up.
    • The Top End comes from the east out of the west end of North Departure on track 2 and from the west out of main line track 5 out of CP-Unionville (if this doesn't seem clear see the graphic of the yard for clarification).
  2. Receiving Yard 11 and the Inbound
    • Track 11 in the Receiving Yard more-or-less connects with the "Inbound" track that runs over the west end of South Departure and then south of South Departure and the pull-downs. These two tracks are often used for run-throughs (east and west bound).
    • An alternative routing for run-throughs is through South Departure and Track 11
  3. South Departure has five tracks (12-16): goes mostly to the SK departures (Albany Secondary, River Line, and Selkirk Branch to Boston and Hudson Lines).
  4. North Departure
    • North Departure has 13 tracks (1-11, North and South Runners): it goes both west-bound (Selkirk Branch to the Chicago Line) and for SK departures.
    • North Departure Tracks 1 & 2 are also called Fast Freight 1 & 2, and are so marked in old yard diagrams.
  5. Prior to the 1968 rebuilding, Selkirk had two humps, an eastbound and a westbound. The yard was rebuilt with a single hump; North Departure is where the second hump was.
  6. The "Fast Freight" runs along the north side of the North Departure Lead from CP-SK to the leads for North Departure and the Local Yard. It and the North Runner (North Departure) are also often used for run-throughs.
  7. There is also the Locomotive Facility and Fuel Plant, plus at least a half dozen more tracks between the classification yard and North Departure that are flat switched and have some repair facilities (RIP tracks): these are (from north to south) the North Literage, the South Literage, the North Cleanout, and the South Cleanout; the Short Connection is just to their east and runs from just north of the hump to the North Departure South Runner to the east of the Loop Track.
  8. The Local Yard Lead comes off the Fast Freight east of the Route 396 overpass.
  9. According to Conrail's booklet Conrail's Selkirk Yard: A Visitor's Guide, the hump was built with sufficient room on either side for ten additional tracks (which is probably why it begins with track 11) -- but compare this with Saunders observation (above) that the yard was unfinished when it was opened without the full complement of tracks in the classification yard.

Selkirk Rulbook Notes

From Conrail Rulbooks, circa 1998

  • Selkirk Tracks and Switches
    (all authorities rulebook pp. A-50 - A-51 unless otherwise cited in brackets)
    • Track: North Departure Lead
      • Signalling: Automatic Block Signals Westward, CP-SK to End Automatic Block [508-A1]
      • Speed Restrictions: 30 [508-A1]
      • Limits of Tracks:
      • Controled by: Selkirk East End Yardmaster [508-A1]
      • Turnouts/Switches:
    • Track: Fast Freight
      • Signalling: Automatic Block Signals Westward, CP-SK to End Automatic Block [508-A1]
      • Speed Restrictions: 30 [508-A1]
      • Limits of Tracks:
      • Controled by: Selkirk East End Yardmaster [508-A1]
      • Turnouts/Switches:
    • Track: Inbound
      • Signalling:
      • Speed Restrictions: 30
      • Limits of Tracks: CP-SK to End Block MP 13.7 (End Block Westward on Inbound)
      • Controled by:
      • Turnouts/Switches:
    • Track: Receiving Yard 11
      • Signalling:
      • Speed Restrictions: 30
      • Limits of Tracks: End Block MP 14.5 (End Block Eastward on 11 track) to CP-Unionville
      • Controled by: Selkirk Hump Yardmaster [508-A1]
      • Turnouts/Switches:
    • Track: 5 Main
      • Signalling:
      • Speed Restrictions: 30
      • Limits of Tracks: MP 17.1 (Signal 175W) (End Block Eastward on 5 track) to CP-Unionville
      • Controled by: Selkirk Hump Yardmaster [508-A1]
      • Turnouts/Switches: Spring Switch to 1 track [105-A1]
    • Track: various
      • Signalling: Switch Indicators [293-1]
      • Speed Restrictions: 10 [97-A1]
      • Limits of Tracks: Siding on River Lne to No. 2 Track on Selkirk Branch
      • Controled by: Yardmasters, Hump or East End [104-A1]
      • Turnouts/Switches: Power Operated Switches, East End Receiving and East End Classification Yards

Other Selkirk Resources

Ken Buckman, of BROKEN KNUCKLE VIDEO PRODUCTIONS (e-mail has let us know that he has just completed his latest video called "Exploring Selkirk." See his advertisement on page 60 of the May issue of RailNews for details.

The April 1994 issue of Railpace Magazine (still available) has a special section on Selkirk, including a more-or-less acurate track diagram, maps, and a complete rundown on photo-ops around the yard and along the Selkirk Branch.

The Railfan's Guide to the Empire State (available from also contains a more-or-less accurate map of the yard (based on Conrail publications).

Conrail had a little booklet entitled Conrail's Selkirk Yard: A Visitors Guide, which, while probably not of tremendous use to serious rail enthusiasts, has interesting information on the yard and several nice aerial photos (but it's got to be pretty old because the trains have cabooses!). The book is probably best obtained now from the folks at CSXT, One Bell Crossing, Selkirk, N.Y. 12158

revised 9 June 2004 Go to Railroad home page
Made with Cascading Style Sheets Valid CSS! Valid XHTML 1.1! Level Triple-A conformance icon, W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 Bobby WorldWide Approved AAA