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The Erie Railroad

1) The Company

The Erie railroad did not have much of a presence in the Garden State. It crossed through Bergen and Hudson counties staying in the North East part of the state.

The Erie was chartered as the New York & Erie Railroad in 1832. In its original form it ended a few miles from Buffalo and quite a few miles from New York City. To gain access to the valuable New York markets, it leased the Paterson & Hudson River Railroad in 1853. This lease, along with the lease of the Paterson & Ramapo Railroad established a foot print in New Jersey that never changed by much.

The Erie was built to a wide-gauge of 6'. This was due, in part, to the belief that the extra width provided greater stability along with the fact that the broad gauge discouraged some competition by being non-standard. Like the DL&W, the Erie standardized in one day: 6/22/1880.

Along with the broad gauge, the other early Erie claim to fame was the Stock Market. The Erie became a pawn in a great rich quick scheme involving several famous robber-barons of the day. Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jim Fisk horribly manipulated the stock and the railroad. These dealings left a broken Erie that was forced to file its 2nd bankruptcy in 1873. (The first was in 1859). The financial situation of the Erie was so dismal, that it was stated that "Icicles would form in Hell before the Erie paid a dividend".

When the Erie recovered from the 1873 bankruptcy in 1878, the name was changed to the New York, Lake Erie & Western. This is the name that would appear in 1888 when the Erie built its much needed 2nd Jersey City terminal. The soft land of the Pavonia section made construction of a new elaborate terminal a challenge. Instead, the Erie opted to build the terminal on pilings and almost completely of wood. The terminal was brightly colored and styled in a Gothic image. It would also last 71 years. This is longer then any other Jersey City terminal.

In 1885, the Erie introduced the Erie Limited, its most famous named train. The Erie never really cared too much for passenger service. But, the management did realize that the marquee value of a name train attracted attention. The Erie limited too advantage of its longer New York to Chicago route by timing its trip so that the best scenery along the trip was shown in the best light.

In 1893, the Erie filed for its 3rd bankruptcy. After emerging from this one, the railroad finally was named the "Erie Railroad". When it emerged, it leased another NJ short line - The Hackensack & New York.

The Railroad gradually improved financially, but was never too far in advance of its bond payments. In 1927, the Railroad began a major modernization program. In a very short period of time, most of its locomotive fleet and freight cars were replaced. This is also when the Erie's most effective steam locomotive, the 2-8-4 Berkshire was introduced. This one locomotive shortened delivery times and decreased costs.

The depression cost the Erie deeply. It reacted by cutting costs as expected and looked for new sources of revenues. Less then Car load service was introduced during this time, and cash flow improved slightly. However, it did not stop the Erie from entering its 4th bankruptcy in 1938. In fairness to the Erie, it was the last railroad to enter a depression-caused bankruptcy and did recover fairly quickly. As part of this reorganization, the Erie bought out many leased and cut two companies loose: The New York, Susquehanna & Western and the New York and New Jersey Railroad.

The reorganization along with the boom of WWII traffic lead one newspaper to write "Icicles have finally formed in Hell". In 1941, the Erie paid dividends for the first time in 76 years.

Following the end of WWII, the Erie rushed to complete its dieselization program that it started in 1926. The Erie, like most railroads of its time, split its new orders between Alco and EMD. In doing so, it had a much more balanced fleet then other roads. Finally, in 1953, the last Erie fire was dropped.

Also during WWII, the Erie built its last new passenger stations. One of the last was the station in Paterson, NJ. However, the passenger situation was starting to turn bleak. Fortunately, the Erie did not have much of a commuter system, like its NJ neighbors. But, that did not stop the Erie from wanting to cut the losses that it had. In 1956, the Erie moved most of its trains to the DL&W terminal. This move was designed to save both railroads $1,000,000 per year.

This 1956 arrangement also strengthened the merger talks that has started a few years earlier. The Erie, the DL&W and the Delaware & Hudson all believed that grim times were coming. Although, the D&H and DL&W were still paying dividends and had strong balance sheets, forward looking officers from all the companies saw the need for a merger. In 1957, the Erie's finances once more started slipping and the dividends were suspended. The D&H was nervous about the NJ commuting losses and they pulled out.

Finally, on 10/17/1960 the Erie & the Lackawanna merged. The new company, the Erie-Lackawanna reflected the domination of the merger.

2) The Equipment

The Erie seems to have had a much larger variety of equipment then most similar sized roads. Among the steam engines, it had some very unique pieces.

The Erie Triplex was a locomotive with a set of cylinders under the tender.

The Erie had the only (I think) articulated camelback.

In addition, the Erie had 2-8-8-2 standard Mallets and regular Camelbacks. I am not sure what use the Erie had for the larger Articulated engines or where they were used. The Erie had normal passenger (2-6-2) and freight (2-8-4) engines that were used until the end of the steam era.

In the Diesel Era, the Erie has a fairly standard array of power: EMD F-8,F-3, F-7, GP-7, GP-9s. Alco: PA, RS-3, FA

3) The Named Trains

The Vestibule Limited (NY - Buffalo)

The Erie Limited (NY - Buffalo - Chicago)

The Southern Tier (NY - Buffalo - Chicago)

The Steel King (Cleveland - Pittsburgh)

The Lake Cities

The Atlantic Express

The Pacific Express

4) What's Left

The Greenwood Lake Division, the Pascack Valley Line are the two main pieces of trackage left behind. Most of the passenger stations on those lines are the former Erie buildings.

I was once lost in Paterson, and saw some bridges and buildings that still bore the Erie logo (in 1994), but I didn't have my camera and didn't feel comfortable repeating the trip.

The Jersey City terminal at Pavonia was knocked down in 1959. The Newport Mall is built on some of that land.

5) For more information:

I really don't know of any good books on the Erie. Morning Sun has a book on the Erie, which I have not seen.

"Erie Lackawanna  Death of an American Railroad", by H Roger Grant.  This is a great book on the railroad business and has a few chapters on the Erie.

The Erie Railroad: 1832 - 10/17/1960

(c) 2006 - Phil Paone