The Erie Lackawanna Railway, The Friendly Service Route
The Erie Lackawanna Railway was created in 1960, the result of a
marriage between the Erie Railroad and Delaware, Lackawanna &
Western as a means to cut costs and better streamline operations. It’s interesting
that despite the railroad lasting only 16 years the EL continues to be
greatly studied and admired by those who enjoy all aspects of
railroading, especially its history. While the merger allowed the EL to
become more efficient than by its two parents remaining competitors, it
was never a strong carrier (mostly the result of a market too saturated
with railroads) overall (part of this was due to the railroad having
massive commuter operations in the eastern portions of its system).
Despite this it’s interesting to wonder what would have become of the EL had Hurricane Agnes in 1972 not dealt the railroad a
devastating blow that, in the end, resulted in its inclusion into the
Conrail system in 1976.
A pair of EL GP35s, #2551 and #2575, pull a manifest freight (the Day Falls Turn) through North Tonawanda, New York on August 14, 1973. These second-generation Geeps were some of the newest power the road ever owned.
The Erie Railroad, the first component of the EL, has a
history which dates back nearly to the beginning of the industry when it
was chartered in 1832 by New York Governor De Witt Clinton with the
hopes of connecting Piermont, New York (just north of New York City)
with Dunkirk, New York, more than 400 miles to the west which lay on
Lake Erie. The line took nearly 20 years to complete but was finally
opened by 1851. In the succeeding year the railroad grew through both
takeover and construction and at one point was one of the most powerful companies of the 19th century.
However, the railroad leveled off its magnificent growth and fell into bankruptcy
in 1893, and again in 1941, exiting as the Erie Railroad. Under the
leadership of Frederick Underwood, and later the Van Sweringen brothers
in the early 20th century, the Erie was able to remain a profitable
operation in a market that was, by that point, dominated by the New York
Central and Pennsylvania railroads. It sustained its place against the
NYC and PRR until its 1960 merger with the DL&W.
The second component of the Erie Lackawanna was the Delaware,
Lackawanna & Western, which dated back to its chartering on March
11, 1853. The DL&W's origins date back to the Liggetts Gap Railroad
of 1832 although nothing ever came about with this company. In the
spring of 1851 its charter was taken over by the Lackawanna &
Western Railroad, which would complete its line between Scranton,
Pennsylvania with Great Bend later that year. Officially, the DL&W
came into being when the L&W merged with the Delaware & Cobbs
Gap Railroad, which already held a line operating south of Scranton.
Essentially, the rest of the Delaware, Lackawannna & Western
system was made up of over lines including the Morris & Essex (which
connected Newark and Morristown, New Jersey), New York, Lackawanna
& Western (which connected Binghamton and Buffalo, New York). These
lines all but completed the Lackawanna's main line between Buffalo and
Hoboken, near New York City.
The success of the EL has often been questioned, and
mostly stems from the fact that the Erie and DL&W served mostly
duplicate markets, thus giving the new railroad few new markets in which
to tap. Officially, the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad was formed on
September 13, 1960 after the Interstate Commerce Commission had approved
the merger although the two companies had been planning for it as early
as the mid-1950s by combining facilities and operations, notably along
the eastern end of their systems.
Through the end of its existence the EL operated commuter service, which certainly helped cause its bankruptcy. Seen here are aging MU commuter cars, dating to the Lackawanna era at Denville, New Jersey on June 17, 1978 during Conrail's early years.
Because the Erie Railroad was so much larger than the DL&W, many
of its routes were retained over the DL&W's. For instance, after
the merger the DL&W's main line through New Jersey and Pennsylvania
which it had spent millions in the early 20th century to reduce grades
and curves, saw a significant decrease in traffic as most through
traffic between New York City, Buffalo, and Chicago was transferred to
the Erie's route. Despite having a main line which, while a bit more circuitous,
was able to compete with the other trunk lines between New York and
Chicago the EL found it difficult to turn a profit,
particularly because the company was burdened by a heavy tax debt
in New Jersey and significant commuter operations the greater New York
Also, the EL faced the problem of the entire railroad
industry in that the regulations of the time made it difficult to both
abandon unprofitable rail lines and passenger trains. As the merger progressed through the early years it slowly began
to see a success in terms of profits. Around 1970 the EL consummated a
deal with the state of New Jersey to upgrade its commuter equipment giving the railroad new General Electric U34CH passenger locomotives to operate along with matching push-pull coaches. The equipment was painted in a unique blue and gray livery with red trim.
Two worn EL GP7s, led by #1214, were still soldiering on in freight service when seen here pulling a transfer freight along the Black Rock Branch near Buffalo on August 21, 1972.
By the late 1960s the EL posted its first ever profits,
which was the result of the railroad being quite adamant in reducing
duplicate operations/services, cutting passenger operations where
possible, upgrading its property and equipment, and aggressively
marketing for new customers. This latter step paid off with the
railroad gaining new intermodal/piggyback services and a contract with
the United Parcel Service (UPS) in 1970 (this gave the EL five new
intermodal trains between New York and Chicago). On March 1, 1968 the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad was renamed the
Erie Lackawanna Railway and placed under control of Dereco, Inc. which
was jointly owned by the Norfolk & Western Railway and Delaware
& Hudson railroads. It was the N&W's intent to maintain control
of the EL and potentially including it in its own merged system without
the liability of the railroad being a direct subsidiary in the event
something went awry. At the time the N&W was debating a merger with
the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and had that occurred the EL likely
would have become part of the new system.
A pair of EL SD45-2s, #3681 and #3680, hustle an eastbound manifest at Norton, Ohio along the road's Chicago-New York main line during December of 1975. Today, much of this corridor is sadly weeds and trails.
However, Hurricane Agnes of 1972 destroyed, literally, any plans
the N&W may have had for the railroad along with the EL
itself. Severe flooding hit its southern lines hard and
already being on the brink of bankruptcy
the natural disaster pushed the company over the edge (which was also
due to the cost of repairs and lost profits because of the service
disruption) and it filed for reorganization in June of that year Not
long after its bankruptcy the N&W sold off its interests in the
company, which was again independent. The EL limped on under bankruptcy
protection through the mid-1970s, along with seemingly every other
Northeastern carrier (the Penn Central had been in bankruptcy
since 1970). While the government created the Consolidated Rail
Corporation in the spring of 1976 to fix the broken rail network in the
Northeast the EL opted out of the system, instead attempting to remain
an independent operation and hoping to eventually merge with the then
An A-B-A set of F7s, still looking good despite their age, and an SW9 power a northbound freight through North Tonawanda, New York on April 8, 1973.
However, the EL missed a chance to join Chessie when
negotiations broke down with the labor unions. After being unable to
right itself from bankruptcy and the unions refusing to join the Chessie
System the railroad opted for inclusion in Conrail in 1976. Conrail,
which had already been formed to pick up the pieces of several other
bankrupt lines in the region, most notably the disastrous Penn Central
Corporation, was not kind to the EL system. Sadly, after the EL folded into the Conrail system most of the
Erie Railroad through Ohio and points west were outright abandoned in
favor of PRR and NYC routes and today few traces of the railroad in
these areas can be found. Today, this wide, double-track, main line
would have been a perfect fit for the intermodal traffic that is now a
major staple of Class I freight profits.