The Erie Railroad is sometimes forgotten as a classic fallen flag
because of its disappearance over a decade before most other lines began
to fall. Until its merger in 1960 with the Lackawanna (to form the Erie Lackawanna) the railroad was another mid-sized Class I in the East Coast-Midwest market stretching from New York/Jersey City to Chicago. Throughout its existence the company was troubled with bankruptcies and organizations but it was able, through the 1950s, to find a degree
of success in a market extremely saturated with many other, and larger
carries (such as the New York Central, Pennsylvania, and
Baltimore & Ohio just to name a few).
During the early EL era a former Erie FA-1 rests at the yard in Chicago with several other units on April 21, 1964.
The Erie has its beginnings dating all of the way back to 1832, just five years after the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, when it was chartered that year by the Governor of New York, De Witt Clinton as the New York & Erie Railroad to build a rail line in the southern part of the state linking Piermont, New York with Dunkirk on Lake Erie.
It was finally able to complete this main line by 1851. Over the
years it acquired, leased, or built new lines and by the late 19th
century it had reached points such as Buffalo, Rochester, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Having said that, gaining access to these new markets was a very
labor intensive and difficult task because of two reorganizations (as
the Erie Railway in 1859 and Erie Railroad in 1895) and a proxy fight by
Cornelius Vanderbilt (of New York Central fame) to take over the company
in the mid 1860s (which ultimately failed and the Commodore lost all of
his holdings in the railroad).
By the turn of the 20th century things began to look up for the Erie although it did suffer one final reorganization (in 1941).
Under the guidance of Frederick Underwood the railroad carved out a
living in the hotly contested New York-Chicago market and after the Van Sweringen brothers (of Chesapeake & Ohio and Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad fame) gained ownership of the railroad
in the mid-1920s, propelling the railroad to even further heights.
Unfortunately the brothers passed away in the 1930s so it is hard to
tell just what the Northeast rail map would have looked like had they
lived and been allowed to foresee whatever plans they had for the many
properties under their control (they were excellent railroad managers).
Unfortunately for the railroad while the period during World
War II traffic was prosperous, this was short-lived and by the 1950s an
already competitive New York-Chicago market began to become even more so
when other modes of transportation such as trucks and planes began to
eat away at traffic. – As a side note about its passenger operations,
they were meager at best because the railroad was much slower in nearly
every major market to the likes of its larger competitors, although many
of its trains soldiered on until nearly 1970 under the Erie Lackawanna
banner. - During this time along with its long-time competitor, the
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, the two railroads began to see a
benefit of merger and thus started to merge duplicate operations in the
1950s resulting in a joint merger in 1960 as the Erie Lackawanna.
Since color photos of the railroad's original livery are somewhat difficult to come by due to the early date of the EL merger, here is an example of what it looked like, featured on Norfolk Southern heritage unit SD70Ace #1068 at the 30th Anniversary celebration in Spencer, North Carolina on July 3, 2012.
While somewhat successful the merger and the savings it brought could
not stave off the Northeast’s biggest problem starting in the 1960s,
simply too many railroads vying for a smaller and smaller traffic base
as manufacturing centers slowly began to dry up in the region. Despite
the fact that the new railroad soldiered on and attempted to become part
of the Norfolk & Western Railway’s system, Hurricane Agnes of 1972
changed everything and the storm wreaked havoc to EL’s lines and forcing
it into bankruptcy.
EL Alco S2 #524 doesn't appear to be exerting too much effort as it hums along at Hammond, Indiana during a cold spring day on March 31, 1964.
The Baldwin Locomotive Works/Lima Locomotive Works
Class K-1 4-6-2 Pacific #2557 leads a passenger train under the signal tower at CNJ's Jersey City Terminal on December 13, 1948.
The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division
706A-710A, 706D-710D, 800A-806A, 800D-806D
706B-710B, 706C-710C, 800B-806B
711A-712A, 711D-712D, 807A, 807D
711B-712B, 711C-713C, 807B
One of the railroad's hefty 2-8-4 Berkshires, Class S-2 #3327, leads a freight train into Chicago on August 24, 1948.
Steam Locomotive Roster
C1 Through C3
H20 Through H22 (Various)
K1 Through K5 (Various)
N1 Through N3
R1 Through R3
S1 Through S4
Two EL RS3s and other units take a break in Chicago on April 21, 1964.
Notable Passenger Trains
Erie Limited: Connected Jersey City with both Buffalo and Chicago.
Lake Cities: Connected Jersey City with Cleveland, Buffalo, and Chicago.
Pacific Express: (Jersey City - Chicago)
Atlantic Express: (Chicago - Jersey City)
Midlander: (Jersey City - Chicago)
Southern Tier Express: Connected Buffalo with Hornell and Jersey City.
Mountain Express: (Jersey City - Hornell)
Tuxedo: (Jersey City - Port Jervis)
An EL SD45-2, #3676, and SDP45 #3646 head westbound through the yard in Marion, Ohio with a freight in tow during March of 1976.
Already in a precarious financial situation and being turned down by a
possible purchase by the Chessie System the company eventually entered
protection and opted to be included in the new Consolidated Rail
Corporation (Conrail), which already was being formed to pick up the
pieces of several other bankrupt lines in the region, most notably the
disastrous Penn Central Corporation. Sadly, after the EL folded into
the Conrail system most of the Erie through Ohio and points
west were outright abandoned in favor of PRR and NYC routes. Today
few traces of the railroad's superior double-track main line through these areas can be found.