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).
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.
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.
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)
Already in a precarious financial situation and being turned down by a possible purchase by the Chessie System the company eventually entered bankruptcy 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.