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The Lehigh Valley Railroad

1) The Company

The Lehigh Valley Railroad finds its earliest roots in the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. This was a combination of the Anthracite Mines in Pennsylvania with a canal company to provide access to the coal fields and the means to transport the 'Black Diamonds' to the people.  

In the mid-1800s many people were starting to realize that the canals would not remain the most efficient means of transporting the coal and the minds turned to the railroad.   Asa Packer was one of these people.  And, in 1846, the Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill & Susquehanna Railroad company was formed.  While the railroad was still being planned, it was renamed to the Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1853. 

The first segment to be built was in Pennsylvania to tap the anthracite.  The route from Mauch Chunk to Easton was completed in 1855.  When the railroad reached the Delaware River, the markets of New York were almost in its grasp.  A bridge was built to cross the river where it connected with the Bel-Del and the Jersey Central.  This bridge as a marvel of engineering at the time.  Since the two connecting railroads ran at different elevations, a double deck bridge with a complicated set off tracks was constructed. Almost as soon as this connection was built, the anthracite traffic began to overwhelm the single-track mainline and forced the LVRR to immediately double track (as they had planned).

This connection with the Bel-Del and Jersey Central also allowed the Valley to run some limited passenger operations...almost as an afterthought that would fore-shadow the 1950s view of such service.  By connections in Philipsburg, the passengers could now travel via the Bel-Del to Philadelphia or New York via the Jersey Central.  This same connection also allowed the Valley to handle a limited amount of general merchandise freight as well. 

In order to guarantee a method of delivery that was not dependant on the competing Jersey Central, the Lehigh Valley leased the Morris Canal in 1871.  This canal traversed Northern New Jersey close to Rt. 80.  This canal provided access to the Hudson river, when the canal's basin was located.  This would later provide the location of the Lehigh Valley's eastern terminus.  The canal also answers the often asked question of "Why is a land-locked town named 'Port Morris'?"

This purchase set the foundation for the Lehigh Valley's entrance into the Garden State.  Asa Packer began by buying the charter to the Bound Brook and Perth Amboy Railroad.  He also formed a new railroad company to run from Philipsburg to Bound Brook.  These two railroads would combine to cross the state to Perth Amboy under the name "Easton and Amboy Railroad".  At Perth Amboy, a large coal dock would be constructed to allow the coal to transport into New York City.   These tracks were laid and started hauling coal in 1875.

Also in 1875, the Lehigh Valley built a connection to the Pennsylvania in Metuchen, NJ.  This connection allowed direct passenger service to the Pennsylvania's Jersey City Terminal.  This shared passenger operation would exist in one form or another until the end of the Valley's passenger service in 1960.

The successful operations on the Valley quickly outpaced the ability of the Perth Amboy yards to handle.  This required to the Lehigh Valley to look for a terminal closer to New York city.  It's Morris Canal property in Jersey City fit the bill nicely.   To get there, the Valley once again turned to the Jersey Central.  A small extension from South Plainfield to Aldene brought the Valley onto the Jersey Central's tracks.  This relationship would only last until the Valley could build its own track and facilities.

To reach Jersey City, the Lehigh Valley built its road piece by piece.  First, the South Plainfield and Roselle Railway.  This was followed by the Newark and Roselle Railway.    Once at Newark, the Lehigh Valley started the Newark Railway to allow trains to connect to the Pennsylvania and thus remove the passenger traffic passing through the Metuchen interchange. 

In 1891, the merging of the individual companies used during construction into the Lehigh Valley Terminal Railway.  The last major  piece, from Newark to Jersey City was built in 1893 under the name "Jersey City, Newark & Western Railway".   This finally allowed the Lehigh Valley access to Jersey City, but not its own freight yards just yet.  That final piece would be under the name "Greenville & Hudson".  This last piece was constructed in 1899.  As the 19th century (1901 being the official start of the 20th century :) came to a close,  the Lehigh Valley had at last achieve its goal of direct access to the New York markets and the end of any major construction in New Jersey.

While the railroad was busy looking East across New Jersey, the road started to get deeper into the Pennsylvania coal fields.   Through a process of building and merging, the Lehigh Valley reached the Wyoming Coal fields near Wilkes-Barre, PA.    The next extension was north for a merger with the Erie at Waverly, NY.  This connection at Waverly gave the Lehigh Valley access to Buffalo and began to transform the Valley into something more then a coal carrier. 

In 1876, the Lehigh Valley purchased the Geneva, Ithaca & Sayre  Railroad.   The city of Geneva now became the northern end of the road.  This town was in between Rochester and Syracuse.  The final piece was built to Buffalo.  This part opened for business in 1892.   

Additional branch lines would be built in New York state to tap the dairy and some minor mineral and merchandise freight.  The only major city reached during this phase was Rochester, NY as the Valley opted not to build into the area's only other major city: Syracuse.

The Lehigh Valley entered the 20th century as a quilt work of independent companies reaching from Jersey City to Buffalo.   In order to simplify the administration of the company and to allow more ready access to additional capital, the railroad made some changes.  The individual companies were merged to form a single corporate entity.  In addition, the Headquarters was moved to New York city to be closer to the financial center of the US.

Passenger trains had continued to run to the Pennsylvania terminal during this time.  However, the Pennsy was growing at an incredible rate.  Soon, there was no room at Jersey City for the Valley.  It was forced to relocate to the Jersey Central terminal, as the Jersey City terminal that the Valley maintained was almost non-existent for passenger service.   This relationship didn't last too long though.  As part of the war effort during WW I, the Valley was 'forced' to route passenger trains to Pennsylvania Station - NYC.   This allowed the Valley the coup of direct passenger service into New York.   The Lehigh Valley would allow the Pennsylvania GG1 to haul passengers under the river from Newark to New York until 1960.

The Lehigh Valley entered the depression in pretty good shape.  The bond situation was in good shape, assuming that the depression didn't continue too long (it didn't).   In addition, the traffic was diverse enough and the facilities new enough to allow for some flexibility should the cash flow change.

(Circa) 1930 - The Lehigh Valley at its apex.

But, it was not the depression that weakened the Valley, it was the automobile.  In the 1930's the automobile was already cutting into the local passenger traffic heavily.   In addition, the long distance trains competed with the short DL&W and faster NYC.  In order to attract some attention to the Valley's offerings, the first streamliners went into service.  This, along with the troop train traffic did a little to boost the passenger service decline. But, the Lehigh Valley exited WWII with a rapidly declining passenger service.  In fact, the Buffalo terminal was too big and expensive to operate.  When New York state came to the Valley cash in hand to buy part of the right of way and the Buffalo terminal area, the Lehigh Valley jumped at the opportunity.  

The Lehigh Valley constructed its last, and most modern, passenger terminal in 1955.  This modern facility was perfect...if traffic levels had held at the 1950 level...It didn't.  In 1956, the Lehigh Valley, along with the DL&W, suffered major damage due to hurricane Diane.  This also proved to be the Valley's last year in the black.

To offset decreasing losses, they started trimming branch lines and decreasing passenger service.  Alone among the Class 1 railroads that passed through NJ, they didn't carry much commuter traffic.  This allow the 1959 petition to discontinue passenger service to be quietly accepted.  In 1961, the last two long distance trains were also cancelled.   This left only a Hazelton branch train running under RDC power remaining.  Unlike the long distance trains, the local community fought this termination.  Finally, in 1964, the Lehigh Valley Railroad became the first Class 1 railroad to cease passenger operations.

Unfortunately, this didn't do much to help the weak road.  Losses continued to mount as the railroad tried harder and harder to cut costs and attract new business.  During this time, several programs were funded to attract more businesses to locate along the Lehigh Valley's ROW.    But, the Northeast rail situation was too bleak.  There were just too many carriers, too little traffic and very little hope.

The Lehigh Valley agreed to join Conrail while still trying to pull out from its dive.  There was some brief cause for joy, when in 1976, the Valley did turn a profit for one quarter.  Were the efforts of the Valley finally producing results? No, it was the sales of real estate that offset the operating losses.  Along with the Jersey Central, Penn-Central, Erie-Lackawanna, Reading, Ann Arbor and Lehigh & Hudson River, the Valley entered Conrail on April 1, 1976.

2) The Equipment

The Lehigh Valley looked a lot like the other Anthracite Roads.  It operated transitioned from American Class to Consolidations and 10 Wheelers.  It operated various sizes of Camelbacks. 

Its most effective steam engine was its T-1 Northern.  This engine had very smooth lines and looked a lot like the Reading T-1.

As the Lehigh Valley deiselized, it first seemed to prefer Alco power. PA Alcos were the last generation of passenger power.  And FA Alcos were gradually replaced by EMD F3 and F7 units.  The biggest diesel power the Lehigh Valley owned were the massive Alco Century series.   

3) Named Trains

The Black Diamond (New York, NY - Buffalo, NY)

The John Wilkes (New York - Wilkes-Barre, PA)

The Asa Packer (New York - Wilkes-Barre - Pittston)

The Pittsburgh Express (Easton, PA - Pittsburgh, PA)

The Maple Leaf (New York, NY - Montreal, Canada)

The Lehigh Limited (New York, NY - Buffalo, NY)

4) What's Left

There is quite a bit left in New Jersey.  Passenger service was removed early, so most of those structures are gone.  But, most of the Lehigh Valley mainline is still in use by NS/CSX in New Jersey.   In New York, most of the Valley's traffic was removed.  The route to Buffalo was redundant to the better DL&W route.

5) For More Information:

"A History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad - The Route of the Black Diamond", Heimburger House Publishing Company, 1977 by Robert Archer

Lehigh Valley Steam Roster - by Clint Chamberlin

Lehigh Valley Diesel Roster - by Clint Chamberlin 

The Lehigh Valley Railroad: 1846-1976