The Black Diamond

Due to its small size and operations in a market dominated by larger railroads like the New York Central; Pennsylvania Railroad; and even the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western; the Lehigh Valley Railroad is not well remembered for its passenger train services.

However, it did have one notable train that has left its mark over the years and was part of the railroad’s slogan, “Route of the Black Diamond,” the flagship Diamond itself. The train operated between New York and Buffalo and is most well known after receiving streamlining in 1940.

Due to stiff competition and slower running times the Lehigh Valley, a marginal railroad after World War II, bowed out of the passenger business by the early 1960's. Today, the Diamond is long gone as it most of the LV's New York-Buffalo main line.

In the modern era it is often fascinating to play "what if's" with so many railroads abandoned since the 1970's. 

There are several corridors which could likely still be profitable today but alas, the LV is unlikely one of them.  There were numerous systems serving the same market and many boasted better routes.

Lehigh Valley PA-1 #613 has the "Black Diamond" (New York - Buffalo) near Trumansburg, New York circa 1959. The train's accommodations at this time included a parlor, cafe diner, and coaches. Today, this section of the old LV main line is abandoned.

The Lehigh Valley Railroad may have been the smallest railroad to serve the Buffalo to New York City market. However, it is one of the most fondly remembered with its colorful locomotives, fascinating history, and local appeal for the communities it served.

The LV was one of the many anthracite railroads which popped up in eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York looking to tap the rich clean coal the region had to offer (other railroads included the Reading, Central Railroad of New Jersey, Lehigh & New England, and Lehigh & Hudson River).

For years the railroad, which dated back to 1853, profited quite nicely from this traffic as it was stable for residents and businesses alike for both fuel and warmth. 

Related Reading...

Lehigh Valley, "Route Of The Black Diamond" 

A History Of The Streamliner

A 1958 Black Diamond Timetable

However, following World War II the LV began to seriously struggle as demand for anthracite dried up as the public stopped using the coal to heat their homes. By 1956 the railroad would show its final annual profit and every year following it slipped further into the red.

With a main line that simply could not compete with nearby competitors like the Pennsylvania, New York Central, and even the Erie/Erie-Lackawanna it was finally forced into bankruptcy in the early 1970s and was absorbed into the Conrail system in 1976.

Today, almost nothing remains of the original LV. Despite the railroad's weak position this did not stop it, however, from competing in the passenger market and even jumped into the streamliner fray when the craze hit in the 1930s.

Lehigh Valley PA-1's have the westbound flagship "Black Diamond" (New York/Jersey City - Buffalo) at Lehighton, Pennsylvania during a cold, wintry day in 1959. Note that the RDC connection for the Hazleton Branch can be seen at right. Doug Wornom photo.

The Black Diamond was not the only notable passenger the LV operated and was actually the last to receive streamlining. The Lehigh Valley began delving into the streamliner market in 1938 when it hired noted industrial designer Otto Kuhler to modernize its train (who also styled such trains as the B&O's Royal Blue, Milwaukee Road's Hiawathas and the GM&O's Rebels).

The first two trains to receive very modest, but noted, streamlining were the Asa Packer and John Wilkes.  After seeing the success these streamlining efforts brought the Lehigh Valley Railroad decided to go all out on its flagship, the Diamond.

(The below Black Diamond timetable is dated effective October of 1940.  For more consist and timetable information about the train please click here.)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #9) Milepost Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #10)
11:05 AM (Dp)0.0
New York, NY (Pennsylvania Station)
8:20 PM (Ar)
11:50 AM26.5
South Plainfield, NJ
7:34 PM
12:49 PM77.0
Easton, PA
6:33 PM
1:05 PM (Ar)88.6
Bethlehem, PA
6:13 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #317/Reading, Philadelphia Section) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #328/Reading, Philadelphia Section)
11:20 AM (Dp)0.0
Philadelphia, PA (Reading Terminal)
8:10 PM (Ar)
11:26 AM2.9
Philadelphia, PA (North Broad Street Station)
8:02 PM
11:31 AM5.1
Wayne Junction, PA
7:58 PM
11:40 AM10.8
Jenkintown, PA
7:49 PM
11:59 AM24.4
Lansdale, PA
7:30 PM
12:03 PM27.1
Hatfield, PA
7:24 PM
12:07 PM29.6
Souderton, PA
7:19 PM
12:10 PM30.9
Telford, PA
7:15 PM
12:15 PM33.6
Sellersville, PA
7:10 PM
12:19 PM35.0
Perkasie, PA
7:07 PM
12:29 PM40.2
Quakertown, PA
6:57 PM
12:55 PM (Ar)56.6
Bethlehem, PA
6:30 PM (Dp)
Time/Leave (Train #9) Milepost Location Time/Arrive (Train #10)
1:14 PM (Dp)88.6
Bethlehem, PA
6:04 PM (Ar)
1:26 PM93.3
Allentown, PA
5:56 PM
2:09 PM122.7
Mauch Chunk, PA
5:13 PM
White Haven, PA
4:28 PM
3:40 PM176.0
Wilkes-Barre, PA
3:32 PM
3:56 PM184.0
Pittston, PA
3:09 PM
4:28 PM207.0
Tunkhannock, PA
2:40 PM
5:18 PM254.8
Towanda, PA
1:48 PM
5:47 PM (Ar)271.0
Sayre, PA
1:20 PM (Dp)
5:52 PM (Dp)271.0
Sayre, PA
1:15 PM (Dp)
6:49 PM307.1
Ithaca, NY
12:25 PM
7:45 PM344.5
Geneva, NY
11:31 AM
7:59 PM354.4
Clifton Springs, NY
11:16 AM
8:33 PM379.5
Rochester Junction, NY
10:46 AM
Caledonia, NY
F 10:30 AM
F 9:08 PM410.5
Batavia, NY
F 10:11 AM
9:50 PM (Ar)447.6
Buffalo, NY (Lehigh Valley Terminal)
9:30 AM (Ar)
Lehigh Valley 4-6-2 #2090 with what is most likely the railroad's premier "Black Diamond" service at Towanda, Pennsylvania in April, 1948.

While the LV did purchase a small fleet of lightweight, streamlined equipment for the Diamond many of the cars used for its streamliner trains were built by its own shop forces of older heavyweight equipment.

The original version of the Black Diamond unveiled by Kuhler featured a handsomely streamlined 4-6-2 Pacific Type steam locomotive bedecked in a striking livery of Cornell red and black, playing on the theme of the railroad’s movement of anthracite coal. 

The interior of the train likewise featured themes of coal and "black diamonds" and was quite classy, even while the Lehigh Valley Railroad was always pressed for cash (the on board attendants even wore uniforms with the name of the train and the diamond logo). 

A pair of Lehigh Valley PA-1's race westbound through Clark Township, New Jersey with train #9, the "Black Diamond," on May 12, 1955. Joe Stark photo.

In 1948, the LV upgraded its power for the Diamond with American Locomotive's beautiful new PA passenger diesels (the Lehigh Valley was the first railroad to test this locomotive on June 26, 1946).

The locomotives were adorned in a striking new version of the LV’s Cornell red and black passenger livery (red replaced black as the dominate color, with the latter used in a pinstriping pattern similar to the “cat whiskers” used on the Pennsylvania Railroad's GG1 electric locomotives).

These locomotives included a fleet of fourteen numbered 601-614 and were stunningly beautiful despite never owning any "B", booster units and the train's only marginal success.

As competition grew through the 1950s and the LV began to sink further and further into red ink it decided it was time to bail out of the passenger business and petitioned the ICC for approval, which was eventually granted, and the railroad ceased all through operations in 1961.

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Wes Barris's is simply the best web resource in the study of steam locomotives. 

The amount of information found there is quite staggering; historical backgrounds of wheel arrangements, types used by virtually every railroad, preserved and operational examples, and even those used in other countries (North America and beyond). 

It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.  It is a must visit!

Researching Rights-Of-Way

A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way. 

Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that. 

If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer

It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!