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 City region.

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 Chessie System.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
HH-660302-305 (Ex-Erie)19394
S1306-321 (Ex-Erie)1946-195016
HH-600322-325 (Ex-DL&W)1934-19404
S2500-525, 530-533 (All Ex-Erie), 534-550 (Ex-DL&W)1946-194947
S4526-529 (Ex-Erie)19524
PA-1850-861 (Ex-Erie)194912
PA-2862-863 (Ex-Erie)195112
RS2900-913, 950-954 (All Ex-Erie)194919
RS3914-933, 1005-1056 (All Ex-Erie)1950-195272
C4242401-2415196315
C4252451-2462196410
FA-17251, 7254, 7271, 7274, 7281, 7284, 7321, 7324, 7331, 7334, 7341, 7344, 7351, 7354 (All Ex-Erie)1947-194914
FB-17252-7253, 7282-7283, 7292-7293, 7332-7333, 7342-7343, 7352-7353 (All Ex-Erie)1948-194912
FA-27362-7363, 7372-7373, 7381-7384, 7391-7394 (All Ex-Erie)1950-195112

The Baldwin Locomotive Works/Lima Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
DS-4-4-660381-385 (Ex-Erie)19475
DS-4-4-750386-389 (Ex-Erie)19494
DS-4-4-1000600-616 (Ex-Erie)1946-194917
S12617-628 (Ex-Erie)1951-195212
LS-1000650-659 (Ex-Erie)194910
LS-1200660-665 (Ex-Erie)19506
DRS-4-4-15001100-1105 (Ex-Erie)19496
AS161106-1120, 1140 (All Ex-Erie)1951-195216
DRS-6-6-15001150-1161 (Ex-Erie)195012

Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
SW1349-359 (Ex-DL&W), 360 (Ex-Erie)1940-194812
SW8361-371 (Ex-DL&W)1951-195311
NW2401-427 (Ex-Erie), 441-445 (Ex-DL&W)1945-194932
SW7428-433 (Ex-Erie)19506
SW9434-440 (Ex-Erie), 446-455 (Ex-DL&W)1951-195318
SW1200456-463 (Ex-DL&W)19578
SD45801-803 (Ex-Demonstrators), 3601-36341966-196837
E8A809-819 (Ex-DL&W), 820-833 (Ex-Erie)195125
GP71200-1246 (Ex-Erie), 1270-1284 (Ex-DL&W), 1400-1404 (Ex-Erie), 1406-1409 (Ex-DL&W)1950-195371
GP91260-1265 (Ex-Erie)19566
GP352551-25861964-196536
SDP453635-3668196934
SD45-23669-3681197213
FTA6011, 6014, 6021, 6024, 6031, 6034, 6041, 6044, 6511, 6521, 6531, 6541 (All Ex-DL&W): 7001, 7004, 7051, 7054 (All Ex-Erie)1944-194516
FTB6012, 6022, 6032, 6042, 6512, 6522, 6532, 6542 (All Ex-DL&W): 7002-7003, 7052-7053 (All Ex-Erie)1944-194512
F3A6051, 6054, 6061, 6064, 6111, 6114, 6211, 6214, 6512, 6522, 6571, 6581, 6591, 6601-6602, 6611-6612, 6621-6622, 8411, 8412, 8414, 8421, 8424, 8422, 8431-8432, 8414, 8442, 8451-8452, 8454 (All Ex-DL&W): 7061, 7064, 7081, 7084, 7091-7094, 7101-7104, 7141-7144, 8001, 8004, 8061, 8064 (All Ex-Erie)1946-194852
F3B6052, 6062, 6112, 6212, 6532, 6542, 6572, 6582, 6592 (All Ex-DL&W): 7062-7063, 7082-7083, 8002, 8062 (All Ex-Erie)1946-194815
F7A6311, 6314, 6321, 6331, 6341, 6351, 6361-6362 (All Ex-DL&W): 7111, 7114, 7121, 7124, 7131, 7134 (All Ex-Erie)1948-195214
F7B6322, 6332, 6342, 6352 (All Ex-DL&W): 7112-7113, 7122-7123, 7132-7133 (All Ex-Erie)1949-195210

Fairbanks Morse

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
H24-66 (Train Master)1850-1861, 1930-1935 (All Ex-DL&W)1953-195618

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-Tonner26 (Ex-Erie), 51-53 (Ex-DL&W)19464
U25B2501-25271964-196527
U33C3301-33151964-196915
U36C3316-3328197113
U34CH3351-33821970-197332


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.

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