The Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad was a regional railroad (once a
Class I) based in western Pennsylvania that connected Bessemer,
Pennsylvania (near Pittsburgh) with the Lake Erie port of Conneaut, Ohio
and an interchange point with Norfolk Southern at Wallace Junction,
near Erie, Pennsylvania (originally this connection was with the New
York Central along its main line to Chicago). Similar to the Pittsburgh
& Lake Erie, which operated in the same region as the B&LE but
connected different cities in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Bessemer is
best remembered for the large amounts of steel and steel-related traffic
it moved over its rails (i.e., coal, ore, coke, etc.).
A northbound Bessemer & Lake Erie coal train led by a trio of SD40T-3s is traveling northbound through Ivywood, Pennsylvania August 28, 2007.
While the B&LE is technically still on the books as an operating entity, it was acquired in 2004 by Canadian National so it remains to be seen just how long the railroad will maintain its identity before being swallowed into the Class I giant. However, you can still catch bright orange and black EMD six-axle locomotives in full B&LE colors and logo hauling trains along the railroad’s original route. The B&LE dates as far back as the Shenango
& Allegheny Railroad of 1869. However, the modern system has its
roots traced to steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie who chartered the
Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad in 1897. The purpose of
Carnegie’s railroad was to haul steel products such as iron ore from the
Lake Erie port of Conneaut, Ohio to serve his steel mills located near
The present day B&LE received its name in 1900 through the merger with smaller systems, the Pittsburgh, Shenango & Lake Erie Railroad and the Butler & Pittsburgh Railroad. In 1901 the Bessemer would become a sister road with the Minnesota ore hauler, Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway when the Carnegie steel interests were purchased by United States Steel, which had taken over the DM&IR some years prior. The Duluth Missabe and Iron Range Railway is a Minnesota institution and best remembered for its primary source of traffic, iron ore. The railroads that eventually made up the DM&IR had their beginnings dating back to the mid-1880s when high-grade ore was discovered in northern Minnesota. For further reading about the Bessemer & Lake Erie please click here.
The DM&IR was also somewhat unique in having the ability to move its
product directly from the mine to dock without the need of another
railroad or transportation source to do so. While the DM&IR would
remain under steel interest ownership for much of its life, for over 120
years this chorus of moving ore
kept the railroad quite profitable. By the 21st the DM&IR was one of
only a small handful of classic lines still around. However, that all
changed in May 2004 when Canadian National purchased Great Lakes
Transportation, which owned the railroad, thus finally closing the book
on the fabled Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range.
Three BL&E SD40T-3s power an empty string of coal hoppers through Butler, Pennsylvania on the evening of July 23, 2005."
In total, the Bessemer & Lake Erie’s main line stretches some 149
miles from Bessemer, Pennsylvania (where it still connects with the
Union Railroad, a terminal railroad that serves Pittsburgh) to Conneaut,
Ohio. The railroad also once had three branch lines diverging from its
main line; the Hilliards Branch (connecting Branchton with Hilliards,
Pennsylvania, a distance of over 10 miles), the Meadville Branch
(connecting Meadville Junction with Meadville, Pennsylvania, a distance
of over 15 miles), and the Kaylor Branch (connecting Hooker with Kaylor,
Pennsylvania, a distance of 18 miles).
While the B&LE never rostered such an impressive fleet of
steam locomotives as its sister road it did operate a few Pacifics
(4-6-2s) and its largest model, the 2-10-4 Texas Type (of which it owned
47). The locomotives (designated Class H-1a through H-1g) were quite
impressive moving ore from the Lake Erie docks to the mills along with hauling coal back to the lake. The railroad’s diesel locomotive fleet was perhaps more interesting. While it mostly preferred EMDs the B&LE also experimented with rare Baldwins.
A southbound B&LE ore train passes under the aging signal tower at Russellton, Pennsylvania led by SD40T-3 #901 on April 15, 2008.
While the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad is now under CN control
(now known as its Bessemer Subdivision), it is still very much alive and
is said to still be operating virtually the same as before the 2004
takeover. However, it is unclear how much longer the CN will allow the
locomotives to keep their classic orange and black livery and maintain
operations as they were. That being said if you are interested in
checking out this railroad before it disappears into the CN system I
would certainly suggest getting out there to see it before its too late!
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
The Baldwin Locomotive Works
The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division
Seen here rolling through Ivywood, Pennsylvania, a B&LE ore train with three SD40T-3s up front heads southward on August 28, 2007.
For more reading on the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad you might want to consider purchasing a copy of Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad In Color by authors Robert Lorenzo and Nathan Clark, Jr. As a Morning Sun publication it is primarily filled with historic photos (more than 200, all of which are in color) of the classic B&LE ranging from the 1950s to the 1990s. As owner of many Morning Sun books they are always excellent and fascinating to see railroading scenes from those classic years predating the 1980s. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit
the link above which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.