The New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railroad existed for only three years, between 1882 and 1885, before being swallowed up by the New York Central. However, its brief existence was a tumultuous one, and the southern end of the railroad is still in existence today, now owned by Norfolk Southern and provides a vital freight connection between Weehauken, NJ, and Albany.

The New York Central in 1882 was a mighty railroad whose mainline stretched from New York to Chicago, by way of Albany, Buffalo, and Cleveland. The West Shore was built to parallel the Central almost exactly, between New York and Albany. From New York, the lines run on opposite banks of the Hudson River. The West Shore took a more direct route, skipping Albany altogether, though a branch line split off of the mainline to serve Albany. The West Shore also saved some mileage by traveling a straight line between Utica and Syracuse, skipping the city of Rome, NY. Past Albany, the two lines ran on opposite banks of the Mohawk River.

The West Shore built one other branch line, from Syracuse south-east to Cazenovia, NY, and then to Earlville where it connected with the New York, Ontario & Western.

The West Shore reached Buffalo in 1884, and soon found itself in a suicidal rate war with the mighty Central. With the Vanderbilt fortune behind it, the Central could afford to charge far lower rates for passenger and freight traffic than the upstart West Shore.

Historically, the chief competitor of the New York Central was the Pennsylvania Railroad. The Pennsylvania also provided New York-Chicago service, with a mainline that also served Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Pennsylvania, seeing a chance to gain an edge on the Central, began buying up West Shore bonds.

The Central's reaction was to begin work on a line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that would parallel the Pennsylvania's mainline.

At this point, financier J.P. Morgan stepped in to hammer out a compromise between the two rail giants. The West Shore was sold to the New York Central, and the South Penn Railroad was sold to the Pennsy. The Pennsy had little use for a parallel line, on which very little actual construction had been done, and eventually sold it to the state of Pennsylvania, which used part of the right-of-way to build the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The West Shore was used as a freight-only line by the Central for many years. In 1929, the branch to Earlville was torn up, and is completely gone except for an abandoned tunnel north of Cazenovia, and a stone bridge that now stands in the middle of a farmer's field. By the 1950s, railroads had lost much of their freight business to trucks, and the expense of keeping two New York-Buffalo mainlines was no longer justified. Of the right-of-way west of Albany, very little is still in use today. The section between Weehawken (directly across the river from New York), and Albany, which is sometimes referred to as the "West Shore Line" or the "River Line", is the main gateway for freight traffic moving north of New York City. It is single-tracked along most of its length to allow sufficient clearance for oversized loads, such as double-stacked trailer trains. The track is maintained according to Class I standards, and the maximum speed for freight trains is 60 mph.