The PMcK&Y went on to acquire the McKeesport & Belle Vernon Railroad in 1890 which connected McKeesport with nearby Belle Vernon. In total, the P&LE operated a 123-mile main line (Connellsville - Youngstown) with a network totaling 274 miles. The New York Central subsidiary may not have served Pittsburgh via a through route but the P&LE was nevertheless a successful venture. It was so profitable its main line was eventually expanded to four tracks and earned a nickname as "The Little Giant." According to the book, "New York Central," Railroad by Brian Solomon and Mike Schafer; "...the railroad had such a large concentration of heavy shippers that it earned $100,000 a mile or more for many consecutive quarters...paying a 12% dividend." Much of its tonnage was thanks to its strategic location within the country's bustling steel-production belt. With a direct route from Pittsburgh to the NYC's ore docks along Lake Erie, iron could be transported quickly to the mills.
In addition, coal arrived from nearby mines in central Pennsylvania as well as the Monongahela Railway from the south. Finally, coke (a refined version of coal carrying few impurities for the purpose of steel production) also moved in large volumes. To handle all of these heavy products the P&LE operated a small fleet of Berkshires (2-8-4), Mikados (2-8-2), and Consolidations (2-8-0). Into the diesel era its roster was a sampling of products from Electro-Motive, American Locomotive, General Electric, and even Fairbanks-Morse. These locomotive carried an interesting display of liveries; during the NYC era they usually featured either the Central's classic "Lightning Stripes," two-tone grey scheme or the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie's own green and black design with white lettering and trim. After regaining independence the railroad utilized a simple black livery with yellow lettering, followed by a herald of the company adorning the front nose or flanking the hood.
By operating such a confined network the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie did not handle a great deal of passenger trains. However, parent New York Central did supply it with a small fleet of Alco's streamlined PA diesels for its connections to the Steel City. In addition, it operated regional services, such as the Steel Kings to Cleveland. This train, and all others, died in January of 1957 when the U.S. mail contracts were cancelled. Finally, commuter service survived until 1980; the railroad had continued providing a single weekday operation between Pittsburgh and Beaver Falls (pictured above) through the 1970s. It utilized former NYC, streamlined day coaches. As business declined the railroad tried to discontinue it in 1978 but ran into stiff, local opposition. For a few years the state of Pennsylvania provided subsidies to continue the run but, due to little support, the train was finally cancelled altogether in October of 1980.
Interestingly, famous painter Howard Fogg arguably documented the P&LE better than any photographer; several of his commissioned pieces featured beautiful scenes of the P&LE in its heyday. While the P&LE was a subsidiary it was part of one notable co-ownership; along with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and later Baltimore & Ohio, it operated the coal-hauling Monongahela Railway in southwestern Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia. The Monongahela dates back to 1900 when it was originally created by the PRR and P&LE as the Monongahela Railroad to build a line south of Brownsville Junction (just north of Brownsville where the P&LE and PRR met), following the east bank of the Monongahela River to reach Martin, Pennsylvania; here the railroad tapped several coal mines. Interestingly, this line would be one of the only corridors built by the Monongahela as most of its system was a result of mergers or buyouts of small railroads.
Except for a very brief period when the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie was first chartered it had never been independently operated. When the Penn Central Transportation Company was formed on February 1, 1968 the P&LE became a ward of the badly planned conglomerate. Despite PC's declining status its Pittsburgh subsidiary remained a healthy and profitable system, pumping greatly needed revenue into its parent's coffers. Of course, this money was not enough to stave off PC's eventual bankruptcy (June 21, 1970). However, as Lee Gregory points out in his article, "The Little Giant, Free Again," from the July, 1981 issue of Trains Magazine, the parent was not hesitant to use its subsidiary in offloading debt, $15 million in all including unpaid per-diem charges and joint-facility fees. This issue continued to grow until it all boiled over with the two roads winding up in court; the P&LE wanted the debts written off while Penn Central tried to maintain P&LE's required payments (agreements dating back to the New York Central days). It was a bizarre situation for what amounted to a company suing itself (Penn Central owned more than 90% of P&LE's stock at the time).
Diesel Locomotive Roster
The American Locomotive Company
|GP38-2||2051-2056, 2057-2060 (Ex-CRI&P)||1976-1977||10|
Steam Locomotive Roster
|B-2 Through B-6||Switcher||0-6-0|
|G-1 Through G-3||Ten-Wheeler||4-6-0|
|H-1 Through H-3||Consolidation||2-8-0|
As the litigation continued the Consolidation Rail Corporation launched on April 1, 1976; a government-sponsored railroad which acquired the bankrupt assets of Penn Central and several other Northeastern carriers. The P&LE argued it should not be included in the new operation since it was profitable. The railroad ultimately won its case and was spun-off by the then-Penn Central Company on February 27, 1979, selling its stock to the new Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Company. This corporation was funded by local investment as well as the Beloit Company, a Wisconsin based manufacturer. Interestingly, even by the early 1980s P&LE still relied heavily on Pittsburgh's historic steel industry and handled around 23 million tons annually related to the steel-making business. The once-bustling firms, however, were in their twilight. By
1989 it wanted out of the Monongahela ownership in exchange for cash and
four years later was purchased by CSX Transportation in 1993. Under larger ownership once again, the P&LE was renamed as the
system Three Rivers Transportation by CSX. There is no distinction between equipment although the former P&LE main line is still in service today.
Books Featured In This Article
Pittsburgh & Lake Erie