Lackawanna Railroad

Last Updated on 14 October 2012
Written by ELHS Admin Hits: 32129

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The Lackawanna's history, like that of many Eastern railroads, is one of mergers, consolidations, and leases. The oldest portion was the Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad, completed in 1834 between Owego and Ithaca, New York. Lackawanna's corporate structure dates from the incorporation of the Liggett's Gap Railroad in 1849. That line was built north from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Susquehanna River and a connection with the Erie at Great Bend, Pa. It was renamed the Lackawanna & Western in 1851, and it opened later that year.

Also incorporated in 1849 was the Delaware & Cobb's Gap Railroad to build a line from the Delaware River over the Pocono Mountains to Cobb's Gap, near Scranton. It was consolidated with the Lackawanna & Western in 1853 to form the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. It was completed in 1856 and almost immediately made a connection with the Central Railroad of New Jersey at Hampton, N. J., through the Warren Railroad, which was leased by the DL&W in 1857.

The Morris & Essex Railroad was chartered in 1835 to construct a line from Morristown, N. J., to New York Harbor. By 1860 it extended west to the Delaware River at Phillipsburg, N. J. The Lackawanna leased it in 1869 to avoid having to use the Central of New Jersey. Also in 1869 the Lackawanna bought the Syracuse, Binghamton & New York Railroad, leased the Oswego & Syracuse, and incorporated the Valley Railroad to build a connection from Great Bend to Binghamton to avoid having to use Erie tracks. In 1870 DL&W leased the Utica, Chenango & Susquehanna Valley and the Greene Railroad. Thus in the space of a couple of years the Lackawanna grew to extend from tidewater to Utica, Syracuse, and Lake Ontario.

On March 15, 1876, the Lackawanna converted its lines from 6-foot gauge (chosen because of the Liggett's Gap Railroad's connection with the Erie) to standard gauge. That year also marked the beginning of a short period of financial difficulty - not enough to cause reorganization, receivership, or bankruptcy, but enough for suspension of dividend payments. In 1880 Jay Gould began buying Lackawanna stock. His empire reached as far east as Buffalo, east end of the Wabash, and he saw that the Lackawanna would be an ideal route to New York if the gap between Binghamton and Buffalo could be closed. Lackawanna management prevented Gould from acquiring control of the road, but Gould's proposed extension to Buffalo was built: The New York, Lackawanna & Western was incorporated in 1880 and leased to the DL&W in 1882, changing the DL&W from a regional railroad to a New York-Buffalo trunk line.

The 1880s brought diversification in Lackawanna's traffic. Anthracite, much of it from railroad-owned mines, had been the reason for the Lackawanna's existence. During the 1880s the coal traffic increased one-third, but Lackawanna's general merchandise traffic increased five times that amount. In addition the DL&W was rapidly becoming a commuter carrier at its east end.

William H. Truesdale became president of the Lackawanna in 1899 and embarked on a rebuilding and upgrading program. The two major items were a 28-mile cutoff straight across western New Jersey between Slateford and Port Morris that bypassed some 40 miles of slow, curvy, hilly track, and a new line north of Scranton. Both new lines were characterized by massive cuts and fills and graceful reinforced-concrete viaducts - Tunkhannock, Paulins Kill, Martins Creek, and Kingsley. Lackawanna's suburban territory came in for track elevation, grade-crossing elimination, and new stations, all as prelude to the 1930 electrification of lines to Dover, Gladstone, and Montclair.

By the late 1930's the New York Central had purchased 25 percent of the Lackawanna's stock, giving it working - but unexercised - control of the DL&W. During World War Two the Lackawanna merged a number of its subsidiaries and leased lines for tax purposes. After the war the Lackawanna began to purchase Nickel Plate stock with an eye to possible merger, but Nickel Plate and New York Central were both opposed to it.

In 1949 Phoebe Snow returned to the Lackawanna. In the early part of the century she had been Lackawanna's symbol. Hers was the gown that stayed white from morn till night upon the Road of Anthracite -anthracite was much cleaner-burning than the bituminous coal used by other roads. Phoebe Snow's return to the road was in the form of a diesel powered maroon and gray streamliner for daytime service between Hoboken and Buffalo.

In 1954 the Lackawanna and parallel rival Erie began to explore the idea of cooperation. The first results were the elimination of duplicate freight facilities at Binghamton and Elmira, and then in 1956 and 1957 the Erie moved its passenger trains from its old Jersey City terminal to Lackawanna's somewhat newer one at Hoboken. The two roads eliminated some duplicate track in western New York. The discussions of cooperation turned into merger talks, at first including the Delaware & Hudson.

Meanwhile DL&W's financial situation took a turn for the worse. Hurricanes in 1955 damaged the Lackawanna's line through the Poconos; the cost of repairs no doubt contributed to deficits, which occurred in 1958 and 1959. DL&W threatened to discontinue all suburban passenger service if the state of New Jersey would not alleviate the losses and rectify the tax situation. The state responded with a minimal subsidy.

DL&W and Erie merged as the Erie-Lackawanna on October 17, 1960.


©1985 by Kalmbach Publishing Co.



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