The history of the Erie Western Railway can be traced back to the early
1970s when the Erie Lackawanna was struggling to survive following the
aftermath of the Penn Central bankruptcy and the industry's weak
position in general. Then in the fall of 1972 Hurricane Agnes wreaked
havoc on the EL's eastern lines forcing it into bankruptcy as well.
After a failed purchase by the Chessie System it was finally decided
that the eastern trunk would be included within Conrail. Unfortunately,
however, Conrail saw far more potential in many of the ex-PRR and NYC
routes over the EL's including its Chicago main line. Soon after it
began on May 1, 1976 Conrail embargoed or abandoned much of it system
west of Ohio. However, the tracks between Wren, Ohio west to Hammond,
Indiana were spared, purchased by a collective group of shippers which
hoped to retain rail service over the property.
To do so the Trans-Action Associates was created, headed by Craig Burroughs, forming the Erie Western Railway in August of 1977. Full operations commenced a month later on September 25, 1977 with the road's general superintendent being Thomas Leach. Power consisted of seven Alco road-switchers, all purchased second hand; three C420s as well as four RS3s. The company gave them a classy but very 1970s livery of white with a blue/green band. In all, the ERES would operate 158 miles of the original Erie route (it also operated a 27-mile branch from Decatur to Portland, Indiana) and thanks to an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) stipulation trackage rights were even granted directly into Chicago over the Chicago & Western Indiana. By the late 1970s the C&WI was a shell of its former self since it no longer served in its original role of keeping passenger trains flowing into and out of Dearborn Station.
By those days it essentially acted as a terminal line, operated by the
Belt Railway of Chicago. Regardless, these trackage rights enabled the
ERES to interchange with many of the Windy City's major Class Is
including the Santa Fe, Erie Lackwanna, Grand Trunk, Louisville &
Nashville, and Norfolk & Western. Ironically, while the railroad
reached Chicago its main offices were located in Huntington, Indiana
along the eastern end of the system (this town was also the company's
primary engine and maintenance facility). Aside from its interchange
partners the Erie Western also had a fairly diverse level of traffic,
which while predominately agriculture based (notably grain) also
included food products, lumber, fertilizer, steel, general merchandise, and plastic.
Unfortunately, the road's early success was shortlived. Within a
year its financial situation was looking grim and by June 24, 1979 had
filed for bankruptcy.
It fell apart so quickly that the company did not even have time to
paint its entire fleet of Alcos into ERES colors as the C420s still
carried former Long Island Railroad paint with number patches. In
today's environment the ERES would likely have survived but during the
1970s when the industry was on the precipice of failure and the public,
in general, had little interest in railroads the shortline had no where
to turn. Following its bankruptcy the Chicago & Indiana Railroad
was formed to try its hand at keeping the property alive but with
funding shortfalls it failed too before the end of 1979 on December 31.
One final attempt along a 16-mile stretch between North Judson and
Monterey was operated by the Tippecanoe Railroad.
Erie Western Railway Locomotive Roster
|Alco||RS3||1600-1603||Acquired June, 1978: Ex-C&NW||4|
|Alco||C420||203, 205, 207||Ex-LIRR||3|
This section survived for over a decade, mostly serving a grain
elevator near Monterey until 1990 when it was renamed as the JK Lines.
The trackage was eventually acquired by historic shortline Toledo,
Peoria & Western which filed to abandon it after the grain elevator
shutdown in 2003. Today, roughly one-mile of this section remains
around North Judson preserved for use by the Hoosier Valley Railroad
Museum. However, the rest of the original Erie Western Railway route
has long since been scrapped although a number of locations have been
retained as walking rail/trails, such as the Monterey Bike Trail. Today, few traces of the Erie's Chicago main line are still intact across the Midwest although the wide right-of-way and many relics related to such can easily be spotted.
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Erie Western Railway