The Lehigh and Hudson River Railway (reporting marks, L&HR) was the smallest of the many anthracite railroads that once proliferated the Northeast like the Reading Railroad, Lehigh Valley Railroad, Erie Railroad, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lehigh & New England Railroad, and others. Located right along the intersecting corners of eastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey and southern New York the L&HR had major connections with the CNJ; Lehigh Valley; Pennsylvania Railroad; Erie; New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway; and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. In the early 1970s after teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for a number of years the L&HR finally succumbed, following a path of most of the other railroads in New England, and was forced into Conrail in 1976. Because of the L&HR’s few overall miles and system that was considered more circuitous than other surrounding lines Conrail elected to abandon most of the former L&HR soon after it began operations. Today, virtually nothing remains of this famous little anthracite carrier.
The Lehigh & Hudson River dates back to the Warwick Valley Railroad chartered in 1860 to build a line between Greycourt to Warwick, New York, a distance of about 10 miles, which opened in 1862. The other two railroads which would make up the L&HR include the Pequest & Wallkill Railroad (connecting Belvidere, New Jersey with the New York state line) and the Wawayanda Railroad. Interestingly, when the Warwick Railroad began operations on April 1, 1862 its trains were actually manned and powered by the Erie due to an agreement between the two lines since the WRR did not have either although by 1880 the railroad had acquired both motive power and crews to operate its trains no longer needing the Erie.
Most of the rest of the classic L&HR came together in 1881 when the Lehigh & Hudson River Railroad was formed to build a line from Belvidere to Great Meadows, New Jersey, a distance of about fifty miles. Twenty years after the Warwick Railroad began operations the Lehigh and Hudson River Railway was formed on April 1, 1882 by the merger of the Warwick Railroad and Lehigh & Hudson River Railroad. After the official creation of the L&HR in 1882 the railroad was able to stretch its length somewhat further than its terminus points up to that time (Belvidere and Greycourt), eventually reaching a connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Maybrook, 10 miles north of Greycourt (through the Orange County Railroad of 1888), and Easton, Pennsylvania (through the South Easton and Phillipsburg Railroad of 1889) where it connected with the Lehigh Valley and CNJ.
While the L&HR was mostly just a bridge route stretching between Easton and Maybrook (a distance of roughly 86 miles) it did have one branch from Franklin, New Jersey to Sterling Hill where it hauled zinc and iron from mines located in the area. In later years these mines had been worked out and the railroad abandoned the branch returning it as a linear bridge line. Although not a branch it owned, the railroad also had a connection with the Lackawanna at Port Morris via trackage rights from Andover Junction. What resulted in the eventual bankruptcy of the L&HR was a simple railroad bridge. While traffic had been steadily declining, by the 1960s and early 1970s the Northeast could simply no longer handle so many railroads, the traffic just was not there.
After the Penn Central, which was the merger between the Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central System in 1968, chose to no longer route interchange traffic over the Poughkeepsie Bridge, located just a few miles from the L&HR northern terminus at Maybrook, the railroad lost a significant portion of its remaining revenue. This coupled with the 1970 bankruptcy of the PC itself forced the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway into bankruptcy as well (and to make matters worse, a 1974 arson of the bridge was too expensive for the L&HR to repair). The result of the PC’s bankruptcy was a ripple effect throughout the entire Northeast, as other railroads, which depended on the Penn Central to ferry traffic, no longer had a means to move their freight. It became so bad that the Penn Central was facing total shutdown if financial assistance were not located.
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Realizing the severity of the situation the federal government stepped and setup the Consolidated Rail Corporation, which comprised the skeletons of several bankrupt Northeastern carriers, and began operations on April 1, 1976. With federal backing Conrail began to slowly pull out of the red ink (it took many years) and by the late 1980s was a profitable railroad after thousands of miles of access trackage was abandoned and/or upgraded. Part of Conrail’s abandoned trackage included the L&HR. And, although much of the railroad is gone today portions do remain in operation under Norfolk Southern and the New York, Susquehanna & Western.