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 trails.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

Diesel Locomotive Roster

The American Locomotive Company

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
Boxcab10019251
S111719501
S2150-1651942-194916
S4166-16719512
RS2210-2141949-19505
RS3215-21619502
RS11400-40319604
C420404-415196412
FA-1530-548 (Evens)194810
FB-1531-549 (Odds)194810
FA-2580-594 (Evens)1950-19518
FB-2581-587 (Odds)1950-19514
PA-1601-614194814
C628625-6321965-19678

The Baldwin Locomotive Works

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
VO-1000135-13919445
DS-4-4-1000140-1481949-19509
DRS-4-4-150020019481
S12230-243195014

The LV owned a wide collection of Alco power, as seen here with C420s #412 and #413 at the servicing era of the Sayre, Pennsylvania terminal on December 29, 1975.

The Electro-Motive Corporation/Electro-Motive Division

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
SW106-1111937-19386
SW900107, 110, 121, 123, 125, 1301957-19606
SW1112-115, 118-1191939-19506
NW1120-1301937-193811
NW2180-186, 220-2241949-195012
SW8250-2761950-195227
SW9280-292195113
GP9300-30119592
GP18302-30519602
GP38AC310-31319714
GP38-2314-325197210
FTA500-50319454
FTB500B-503B19454
F3A510-528 (Evens)194810
F3B511-529 (Odds)194810
F7A560-574 (Evens)1950-19518
F7B561-571 (Odds)1950-19516

General Electric

Model Type Road Number Date Built Quantity
44-Tonner60-621941-19423
U23B501-512197412

Steam Locomotive Roster

Class Type Wheel Arrangement
F-6Atlantic4-4-2
G-13Switcher0-6-0
J-54, J-55Ten-Wheeler4-6-0
K-5, K-5BSPacific4-6-2
L-3Switcher0-8-0
M-37Consolidation2-8-0
N-5BMikado2-8-2
R-1Santa Fe2-10-2
S-1, S-2Mountain4-8-2
T-1 Through T-3Wyoming4-8-4

Notable Passenger Trains

The Black Diamond

Maple Leaf: (New York - Toronto)

The Star: (New York - Buffalo)

Asa Packer: (New York - Pittston/Hazleton)

The John Wilkes: (New York - Pittston/Hazleton)


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.

For more information and reading regarding the Lehigh Valley, especially its final years of existence consider the book Railroaders in the Lehigh River Valley by Mike Bednar. Mr. Bednar is an excellent historian, especially regarding railroads which operated in the Northeast. The book centers on the operations of railroads in the Lehigh River Valley region like the LV, Reading and others highlighting plenty of classic action during the final years of these famed fallen flags. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.

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LV's "Black Diamond"