Thursday, September 1, 2011

From our Friends on the Coastline

A letter sent out by the Branford Electric Railway Association (Shore Line Trolley Museum) regarding the damage done during Hurricane Irene. Reprinted for your information.

We know that you care about the museum and are concerned about the impact of Hurricane Irene, which struck our area of Connecticut with great force. That is why we are writing to you now. We have assessed the damage and here is what we have found.

First the good news: There is only minimal damage to the car barns. Sprague station and its contents are fine. Most of the railway line is undamaged, however track wash-outs will prevent us from being able to operate all the way to Short Beach for possibly quite some time.

Although Irene made landfall more than 70 miles to our west, and was downgraded to a tropical storm as it did so, it had already whipped the waters of Long Island Sound to a frenzy. The timing was unfortunate: this storm occurred at new moon, when tides run higher than average. The placement of the storm to our west meant strong winds out of the east, piling up the tide in the Sound, and the passage of the storm almost exactly
at the time of high tide (11 AM in New Haven) brought strong southerly winds driving water on-shore and inland at the worst possible moment.

The result was the worst tidal flood in the museum's history. Water levels peaked at 8.3 feet above mean sea level, exceeding the December 1992 nor'easter by about half a foot. The depth of water on the shop floor was 19-20 inches, in barn 1 12-15", and in barn 3, where tracks had been raised after the 1992 incident to be above that level, 5-6". Parts of barns 4 and 6 received almost two feet of water. Water levels in barns 2 and 7 were 12 inches or greater, and in barn 5 varied from 6 to 14 inches. Flood waters receded by 2PM, but significant damage had already been done.

Thanks to the efforts of a number of volunteers who worked long hours in the days before the storm, cars were moved to higher tracks where possible. Because of the high winds forecast and the number of trees surrounding our line, options were limited. Cars 948, 850 and 357 are the only ones known to have completely escaped flooding and will be operational once electrical power has been restored to East Haven. All other cars in the collection were flooded to some degree by the salt water. Their operational status will depend on how the water affected the traction motors, which are
only a few inches above the rail. All of these cars (over 90) are considered out of service until they can be inspected and their motor insulation tested.

This process will take several weeks. Some of these cars may be operational, or may be brought back to operational status with a few days of effort, but we can expect that the majority of the cars will require complete traction motor disassembly and cleaning.

We value each and every vehicle in the collection for the important history it holds, and hope to see each one repaired in time. Please be aware that every car that we have inspected is repairable, but it will take a significant amount of work. As you may know, repairing one single car with a flooded motor can readily take 500 hours of skilled labor. Our efforts to combat the effects of this flood will last for years to come.

Yet as much as we value each car individually, we must think of the entire collection and the museum as whole. As we develop the plan to repair our cars as quickly and efficiently as possible, our first efforts are focused on re-opening the museum to the public. We anticipate re-opening before Labor Day, using the three trolleys that were not flooded, and operating over a shortened line. Thus our efforts right now are focused on clearing and inspecting the line.

The damage that we have sustained at the Museum is devastating and yet manageable, shocking but also expected. It was devastating to see so many cars flooded, living history potentially destroyed, and many thousands of hours of restoration work wiped out over a weekend. But the damage is manageable with your help. We are coming together to repair was has been hurt and rescue the history that would be otherwise lost.

It was shocking to see 100-year-old antiques sitting in pools of water, knowing that every minute was further damaging their valuable and irreplaceable motors. While looking at serious damage is always hard, it was expected, even predictable - it's happened before and we always knew it would happen again. And what is even more sobering is that when it does happen again, it may be worse, much worse. The infamous September 1938 hurricane brought water levels to 12 feet above sea level in our area. That is 4 feet higher than what we experienced this weekend.

For over 65 years the museum has been in this cycle of damage and repair. We must break out. And we have a plan to do so.

This year we began efforts to put a stop to this cycle by taking action to move our collection to higher ground. We began a Capital Campaign, "Elevating the Collection", which is raising $2M to build two new car buildings at an elevation of 13 feet above mean sea level.

If the new buildings had been in place this weekend the cars inside would have suffered no damage from Hurricane Irene and would have been protected.

We have already secured $156K toward this goal and are in conversation with a significant group of prospective donors who are considering support.

When our Campaign is successful and the new buildings are completed, we will never again have to repair our cars knowing that we will have to do it all over again after the next flood and the one after that. We will never again follow news of severe storms with the same sense of dread as we did this weekend. And we will rest assured that our collection will be enjoyed by generations to come. Now is the time to recognize our pressing need for higher ground and make every effort to ensure the
safety of our collection. As we begin to clean up the mess, we must redouble our work to ensure we are protected in the future.

At this critical moment, we need the support of every member, every person who has visited our museum, and trolley lovers around the world.

Would you consider please meeting with us privately about giving to Elevating the Collection? By giving to the campaign, you will be doing the best thing possible to ensure that the cars you love the most will ultimately be taken care of and preserved in perpetuity.

Please contact us at or (203) 467-6927 to find out how you can help. And be sure to visit to learn more about the campaign.

Jeff Hakner,
Board Chairperson

Wayne Sandford,
General Manager

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