The Lehigh Valley Railroad, Route of the Black Diamond
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was another of the many Northeastern carriers built to move anthracite coal from eastern Pennsylvania to points east and west (the Great Lakes). So, its motto, Route Of The Black Diamond,
was quite befitting. The LV has also gained much interest to those who
study American railroading history and the now-fallen flag carriers
along the way; likely because of the railroad’s underdog status in the
markets it served (Buffalo to New York City). Unfortunately the LV was never a strong carrier following the Great Depression
and of all the Northeastern Class I railroads, the LV was without doubt
the weakest, struggling to make ends meet for much of its last four
decades of existence. Following the railroad’s inclusion into Conrail
in 1976 its routes were mostly abandoned in favor of its surrounding
competitors and today, much of the LV is but overgrown paths and walking
A trio of GP38s lead the railroad's priority piggyback freight Apollo 1 westbound at Depew, New York on April 26, 1973.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was officially created in 1853 by Asa Packer,
the accredited founder of the LV, who took over the ailing Delaware,
Lehigh, Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad which was originally
chartered to more efficiently move anthracite coal from the Mauch Chunk
(now known as Jim Thorpe) region. With the help of finances from the
Camden & Amboy Railroad the LV had constructed a connection between
Mauch Chunk and Easton, Pennsylvania by 1855. Throughout the rest of
the 19th century the LV looked to grow and expand
from its home area of the Lehigh River valley/Mauch Chunk. Like all of
the now classic fallen flags it did so through new construction and merging smaller lines into its system.
In the late 1860s the LV began to expand into western New York and
during roughly the same time it began serving New York City via trackage
rights with the Central Railroad of New Jersey (by the mid-1870s it
reached Perth Amboy, NJ via its own rails and served Newark and Jersey City
via trackage rights with the Pennsylvania). By the 1890s the LV’s system would be mostly complete when it reached the Great Lakes
port of Buffalo, New York. One can perhaps argue that the end of the railroad began with the Great Depression. While the depression the entire industry hard it was a double blow for the LV as around the same time Anthracite demand began to fall away and would continue to do so all of the way through the railroad’s final days.
It was also during this time, the early 1930s, that the
Pennsylvania Railroad purchased a controlling interest in the LV,
something it would retain virtually through the railroad’s bankruptcy.
While the surge in war traffic of the 1940s helped right the ship for
the Lehigh Valley Railroad it was not enough to stabilize it, especially
since it had over $8 million in federal loan
debt. Realizing it needed to cut expenses and increase efficiency
when, where, and however possible the LV quickly dieselized with models
ranging from almost every manufacturer and by 1951 it had completed its
transition over from steam.
LV RS3 #216 leads local freight BPL-4 through P&L Junction where it has crossed B&O trackage at Caledonia, New York on March 26, 1976. In just a few days it will be April 1 and the official start of Conrail.
Interestingly, even as earnings continued to sink (the LV would sadly show a profit for
the final time in 1956), the railroad tried its best to remain
competitive by moving bridge traffic via the Delaware & Hudson. It
also introduced power pooling with the Nickel Plate Road
in 1964, allied with the CNJ in using each other’s tracks to reduce
costs, and introduced high speed TOFC trains with names like Apollo and Mercury. The LV also had a modest passenger train fleet, most notably the Black Diamond
but with a system of just over 1,000 miles, and a route that tended to
be slower than its surrounding competitors, passenger traffic was modest
at best (although it did streamline the John Wilkes and Black Diamond complete with lightweight equipment and a beautiful Cornell red and black livery).
Some of the LV's newest power, three GP38-2s have completed their run of the Apollo 1 to Buffalo and are now running light through Bison Yard on August 12, 1973.
Alas, however, these innovations and ideas, while somewhat successful,
could not stem the enormous losses still facing the LV; there simply was not enough traffic to remain profitable (as
the region was just too saturated with railroads). As much as the
railroad tried, it was unable to turn a profit after 1951, sinking
deeper in red ink every year after. LV’s last hope for survival
occurred when the PRR and New York Central attempted the ill-fated Penn
Central merger that came to pass in 1968. After this occurred the LV
was offered to be sold to either the Norfolk & Western or Chesapeake
& Ohio as a means of remaining competition in the Northeast.
However, the LV was in such poor condition that
neither healthy carrier showed much interest and the company was
eventually forced to join Conrail.
During the diesel era the LV experimented with a wide range of liveries despite the fact that it was nearly always in financial distress. This GP9, #301, was the only unit to be painted in a gold and maroon paint scheme as it leads train NE-1 through Tonawanda, New York on July 10, 1973.
As the Penn Central literally began to fall apart after the first day
of operations it came as no surprise that just two years later in 1970
it declared bankruptcy setting up a catastrophic situation as the entire
Northeastern rail grid was threatening total shutdown (which included
the PC, LV, Jersey Central, Reading, Lehigh & Hudson River, and Erie
Lackawanna). As a result the government was forced to step in creating
the Consolidated Rail Corporation or better known as Conrail, which
began operations on April 1, 1976. Of course, it comes as no surprise
that Conrail, in an attempt to streamline operations as quickly as
possible chose the more direct routes of other carriers, such as the
former main lines of the NYC and
PRR, and shed much of the LV’s lines in the process. Today
almost the entire western half of the LV is completely gone and what
remains is mostly operated by the Reading & Northern and Conrail
successor Norfolk Southern.