Northeast PA bids so long to historic D&H

A glance at a map is all you need to get a sense of Delaware & Hudson Railway Co.’s significance to the development of Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lackawanna Valley in particular.

Honesdale is named for Philip Hone, the former New York mayor who served as the first president of Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., the railroad’s predecessor.

Olyphant and Dickson City? Named for George Talbot Olyphant and Thomas Dickson, the company’s fourth and fifth presidents, respectively. Archbald’s namesake, James Archbald, was a D&H senior mechanical engineer.

Early Saturday, after 192 years, the railroad recognized as the nation’s oldest transportation company, and one that drove the region’s growth while helping to fuel the nation’s industrialization, will bid farewell to Northeast Pennsylvania.

The D&H made railroading history in 1829 when, during a short run in Honesdale, its English-built Stourbridge Lion became the first steam locomotive to operate on a commercial rail line in the United States, though the engine proved too heavy for the tracks of the day.

Around the same time, the company opened its 16-mile gravity rail system to haul coal from Carbondale to the canal terminus in Honesdale. It later expanded the system deeper into the valley, where mines opened to meet the demand for anthracite.

“Especially from Scranton to Carbondale, back in the heyday, there were several major breakers up and down the whole valley,” Mr. Kilcullen said. “They provided a lot of jobs and shipped out a lot of coal.”

He said Carbondale in particular “really owes its existence to the D&H,” which eventually established a major railyard and roundhouse there that employed hundreds of people during the height of the steam era.

As the D&H expanded its rail operations in the post-Civil War era, pushing south to Wilkes-Barre and north through New York to Canada, the canal become less important and was abandoned in 1899.

Although it was always a relatively small railroad, the D&H was an innovator, Mr. Kilcullen said. It was among the first railroads to use welded rail and the very first to have centralized traffic control along its mainline.

“It had a lot of firsts even though it was a small operation because it was a fairly rich railroad because of the coal,” Mr. Kilcullen said. “They were a very progressive company and way ahead of a lot of the bigger railroads because they had the money to do it.”

When the anthracite industry died out, D&H became mainly a pass-through carrier of overhead freight, a role it embraced by billing itself as “The Bridge Line to New England and Canada.”

Mr. Barrett said southern carriers who wanted to get traffic to Northeast points had some other options, but the D&H line offered the shortest route to get there.

“Via other railroads, they would get traffic up to the D&H, and the D&H would take it to New England and Canada,” he said.

The average person will likely notice no difference, aside from an eventual increase in rail traffic, he said.

“In the long run, it’s going to be great for the area and great for what they have bought because Norfolk Southern aggressively markets their railroad. They will bring in new customers, and they will provide better service,” Mr. Barrett said. “All in all, my own gut feeling is it’s going to be a good thing.”

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D&H timeline

1823: Charter issued for Delaware & Hudson Canal Co.

1828: D&H completes construction of 108-mile canal from Honesdale to Hudson River.

1829: Gravity railroad from Carbondale to Honesdale becomes operational.

1899: Canal abandoned; corporation renamed Delaware & Hudson Co., operates Delaware & Hudson Railway Co.

1968: D&H taken over by Dereco, holding company for Norfolk and Western Railway.

1988: D&H enters bankruptcy four years after purchase by Guilford Transportation Industries.

1991: Canadian Pacific Railway acquires D&H.

2014: Norfolk Southern Corp. announces it will buy 283 miles of D&H line in Pennsylvania and New York


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