Erie Western Railway

Last revised: March 14, 2022

By: Adam Burns

The Erie Western Railway, (reporting mark, ERES), was created as a means of preserving rail service over the former Erie Railroad main line in Indiana during the late 1970s.

It was unwanted by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, Conrail, after it began in 1976 and facing abandonment the route was purchased by local investors.

Initially, the ERES had a rather diverse traffic base and became known, somewhat, in the railfan community for its use of first and second-generation American Locomotive Company (Alco) road-switchers.

However, try as it might the railroad's income quickly eroded away and within two years of its startup the Erie Western filed for bankruptcy, ending all services.

Another short line formed in its place but had no better luck with the little remaining traffic available. Today, most of the Erie/EL line is now but a memory although some sections have been converted to hiking trails.

The sad, final days of the "Friendly Service Route." Erie Western RS3 #1603 hosts an excursion for the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society as it eases along through Monterey, Indiana on the former EL's weed-infested main line on August 12, 1978. Arnold Morscher photo.

The history of the Erie Western Railway can be traced back to the early 1970s when the Erie Lackawanna was struggling to survive following the aftermath of the Penn Central bankruptcy and the industry's weak position in general.

Then in the fall of 1972 Hurricane Agnes wreaked havoc on the EL's eastern lines forcing it into bankruptcy as well. After a failed purchase by the Chessie System it was finally decided that the eastern trunk would be included within Conrail.

Unfortunately, however, Conrail saw far more potential in many of the ex-PRR and NYC routes over the EL's including its Chicago main line. Soon after it began on May 1, 1976 Conrail embargoed or abandoned much of it system west of Ohio.

However, the tracks between Wren, Ohio west to Hammond, Indiana were spared, purchased by a collective group of shippers which hoped to retain rail service over the property.

To do so the Trans-Action Associates was created, headed by Craig Burroughs, forming the Erie Western Railway in August of 1977.

Full operations commenced a month later on September 25, 1977 with the road's general superintendent being Thomas Leach. Power consisted of seven Alco road-switchers, all purchased second hand; three C420s as well as four RS3s.

Erie Western power at the road's small terminal (ex-EL) in Huntington, Indiana is seen here on August 11, 1978. The patched C420's are former Long Island Rail Road units. Arnold Morscher photo.

The company gave them a classy but very 1970s livery of white with a blue/green band. In all, the ERES would operate 158 miles of the original Erie route (it also operated a 27-mile branch from Decatur to Portland, Indiana) and thanks to an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) stipulation trackage rights were even granted directly into Chicago over the Chicago & Western Indiana.

By the late 1970s the C&WI was a shell of its former self since it no longer served in its original role of keeping passenger trains flowing into and out of Dearborn Station.

Erie Western RS3 #1603 hosts an excursion for the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society as it rolls through a grade crossing in the small town of Monterey, Indiana on the former EL's weed-infested, double-tracked Chicago main line on August 12, 1978. Arnold Morscher photo.

By those days it essentially acted as a terminal line, operated by the Belt Railway of Chicago.

Regardless, these trackage rights enabled the ERES to interchange with many of the Windy City's major Class Is including the Santa Fe, Erie Lackawanna, Grand Trunk, Louisville & Nashville, and Norfolk & Western.

Ironically, while the railroad reached Chicago its main offices were located in Huntington, Indiana along the eastern end of the system (this town was also the company's primary engine and maintenance facility).

Aside from its interchange partners the Erie Western also had a fairly diverse level of traffic, which while predominately agriculture based (notably grain) also included food products, lumber, fertilizer, steel, general merchandise, and plastic.

Unfortunately, the road's early success was short-lived. Within a year its financial situation was looking grim and by June 24, 1979 had filed for bankruptcy.

It fell apart so quickly that the company did not even have time to paint its entire fleet of Alcos into ERES colors as the C420s still carried former Long Island Railroad paint with number patches.

In today's environment the ERES would likely have survived but during the 1970s when the industry was on the precipice of failure and the public, in general, had little interest in railroads the shortline had no where to turn.

Another scene of Erie Western RS3 #1603 hosting the ELHS excursion on the former Erie Lackawanna main line in Indiana on August 12, 1978. Arnold Morscher photo.

Following its bankruptcy the Chicago & Indiana Railroad was formed to try its hand at keeping the property alive but with funding shortfalls it failed too before the end of 1979 on December 31.

One final attempt along a 16-mile stretch between North Judson and Monterey was operated by the Tippecanoe Railroad.

Erie Western Railway Locomotive Roster

Builder Model Type Road Number Notes Quantity
AlcoRS31600-1603Acquired June, 1978: Ex-C&NW4
AlcoC420203, 205, 207Ex-LIRR3

Erie Western RS3s #1600 and #1601 layover at the former Erie/EL engine terminal in Huntington, Indiana on May 18, 1979 a few months before the road's demise. Doug Kroll photo.

This section survived for over a decade, mostly serving a grain elevator near Monterey until 1990 when it was renamed as the JK Lines.

The trackage was eventually acquired by historic shortline Toledo, Peoria & Western which filed to abandon it after the grain elevator shutdown in 2003.

Today, roughly one-mile of this section remains around North Judson preserved for use by the Hoosier Valley Railroad Museum.

However, the rest of the original Erie Western Railway route has long since been scrapped although a number of locations have been retained as walking rail/trails, such as the Monterey Bike Trail. 

Today, few traces of the Erie's Chicago main line are still intact across the Midwest although the wide right-of-way and many relics related to such can easily be spotted.

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