The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway, Once Gone But Now Reborn!
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (W&LE) of today is another Class
II (regional) railroad with a long and storied past, much like the
Florida East Coast Railway. The history of the W&LE dates back into the latter 19th century where it slowly grew and expanded to serve northeastern Ohio, the northern tip of West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. The road would go through two takeovers in the mid-20th century and was eventually dissolved into Norfolk Southern during the late 1980s. A few years later the Class I sold off most of the W&LE lines to new owners which brought back the old name. In its current form the railroad operates as far west as
Toledo and Lima, Ohio and as far east as Connellsville, Pennsylvania;
and maintains nearly 1,000 miles of track (including trackage rights)
and employs nearly 400 people.
The Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway actually has its beginnings all the
way back to 1871 when the nation’s railroad industry was just getting
started. The W&LE's primary reason for coming into existence was a
need to move coal from the upper Ohio River region around Wheeling, WV
to ports located along Lake Erie (although ironically, today coal makes
up just a very small percentage of its entire traffic base). The
W&LE only survived as an independent company for roughly the first
70 years of its existence. After World War II the railroad was taken
over by the Nickel Plate Road (whose full name was the New York, Chicago
& St. Louis Railroad Company), which became part of the Norfolk & Western in 1962.
The N&W continued to operate the Nickel Plate Road for several years
but it, along with the W&LE, were eventually dissolved after the
N&W merged with the Southern Railway in 1982 to form today’s Norfolk
Southern. While the W&LE no longer existed as a company name after
1989, it did not take long for its name to reappear. In 1990 NS sought
to spin-off much of the former W&LE trackage in northern Ohio, West
Virginia, and Pennsylvania, which was purchased that year by a group of
investors who resurrected the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway name.
The “new” Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway of today operates much of the
original railroad’s trackage, along with lines of the former railroads
Pittsburgh & West Virginia (P&WV) and Akron Canton Youngstown
(ACY). At first the new company held much of its traffic base in coal,
just like the original W&LE, and was faced with much debt.
However, with a dedicated team the “new” railroad continued to
diversify its traffic base and gain new customers, which after only four
years of being in operation saw a huge turnaround and was earning healthy profits. Today the W&LE is going as strong as
ever, with a traffic base in coal, iron ore, steel, aggregates,
plastics, chemicals, forest products, and grain!
The Conrail breakup
has also allowed the W&LE to dabble into the profitable intermodal
business. Because of this, coupled with a strong management
team extremely dedicated to not only the railroad’s success but also
its future growth, things are looking as bright as ever on the W&LE.
If you are interested in visiting the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway
its east-west main line runs between Bellevue, Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA.
However, the “hub” of the railroad’s operations continues to remain in
Brewster, OH, as it has when since the railroad began in 1871. So, you
may want to stop by and ask them for a quick tour of the railroad as I
am sure they would be happy to do so!
For a history of the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway you might want to consider a copy of The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway, Volume 2
by author John Corns, which is the second edition in the series.
Through 128 pages of historic photographs and information Corns' second
book further covers the original W&LE before its takeover by the
Nickel Plate Road, and later dissolution into Norfolk & Western. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing Mr. Corns' book please visit the link below which will
take you to ordering information through Amazon.com.
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