The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad’s Hoboken Terminal is the only active surviving railroad terminal alongside the Hudson River and is a nationally recognized historical site.
The Erie Railroad and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad were merged on October 17, 1960. The new Erie-Lackawanna adopted the rectangular Lackawanna logo and added the Erie diamond. The result was an encircled broken “E” within a diamond. The hyphen later dropped in the name to become Erie Lackawanna. The black and yellow Erie paint scheme prevailed on locomotives at the merger, but within a few years, the old Lackawanna colors – maroon, yellow and grey – returned.
The new railroad was a 3031-mile route between Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo and New York. Merger talks had begun in 1956. William White, Delaware & Hudson president in 1956 had worked for the Erie for 25 years. Original discussions had included the D&H. In 1955, Hurricane Diane had put the DL&W out of business for 29 days. There were other problems with the railroads – for instance, commuters. The DL&W used to be profitable but the Erie had numerous bankruptcies over the years. In 1959, D&H got out of the merger picture. Following the recent history of its parents, Erie Lackawanna had a lifetime of deficit operation except 1965 and 1966.
Other actions had been taken before 1960. The Erie had shifted its terminal from Jersey City to Hoboken in 1956.
The merger was opposed by railroads operating into Buffalo because a combined Erie and Lackawanna could bypass them. One road was the Nickel Plate. NKP had once controlled 54% of Erie but lost it in 1930’s. DL&W had held 15% of NKP but sold in 1959. Seeing formerly friendly connections drying up, it opposed the merger. The merger saw 2199 miles of Erie plus 918 miles of DL&W less 86 miles abandoned equalling 3031 miles. The new road was organized into two districts – the western was all-Erie while the eastern a mix. “Friendly Service Route” was slogan for the new road. It had 31,747 freight cars, 1,158 passenger cars, 695 diesels, 20,000 employees. Erie was the “surviving” entity in merger and the new headquarters was located in Cleveland. The new road had a series of leaders until William White took over in 1963. Before D&H, he had been New York Central president until Robert Young won his famous proxy battle in 1953.
Both roads were a combination of numerous once-independent lines. In the 1940’s, the DL&W had acquired, either by purchase of stock or merger, all 18 of its leased lines. Similar action had occurred on the Erie.
The Delaware Division of the Erie became the Delaware Subdivision of the Susquehanna Division. Over a century old, Port Jervis to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania was opened by 1848. Construction had begun in 1835 near Deposit but was held up by financial problems. A New York City fire and a national business panic bankrupt many supporters. The fact that much construction was on low trestlework rather than on the ground made construction expensive.
A famous point on the Erie route was Gulf Summit. It was 1373 feet high. Pusher locomotives were used until 1963. Erie used Mallet Triplex 2-8-8-8-2’s built in 1914. Also used was the “Matt H. Shay”. The route included Starucca Viaduct and the old station-hotel at Susquehanna. Built in 1865, it was 3 stories high and had also served as the old division office. The former Erie R.R. car shops were located here. The Delaware & Hudson Penn Division between Nineveh, NY and Wilkes-Barre ran under the Starucca Viaduct. There was a connection between the two roads at Jefferson Junction.
The NY & Erie was granted its charter in 1832. It was intended to be a New York State-only road to connect Dunkirk on Lake Erie with the eastern portion of the state and to bolster the Southern Tier which had been hurt economically by the Erie Canal. The whole road from Piermont to Dunkirk opened in 1851. Originally it had been 6-foot guage. The original charter had specified a railhead at Piermont-on-Hudson. There was a 19 mile branch Greycourt to Newburgh. The New York & Erie reached Jersey City by 1861 (Pavonia Terminal). Two early New Jersey roads connected with the Erie at Suffern and eventually were leased by the Erie and finally becoming the main line. Other roads into Jersey City fell under the Erie as time went on. One was the New Jersey & New York to Nanuet and Haverstraw (42 miles). Another was the Pascack Valley Line to Spring Valley. New York & Greenwood Lake and the Bergen County Railroad were added as well as the Northern Railroad of NJ from Nyack.
In 1874 the Erie expanded westward from Salamanaca to Dayton, OH by leasing the Atlantic and Great Western. In 1880, the six-foot guage finally went standard. About this time, Erie got its Chicago access as well as a line to Cincinnati. The Erie also reached Indianapolis and Cleveland by the acquisition route. The Erie had always been eyed by other railroads. James Hill, E.H. Harriman and the Van Sweringen brothers were all stockholders at one time. Erie never electrified its New York commuter operations but did so to its branch between Rochester and Mt. Morris. Erie owned the New York, Susquehanna & Western and the Bath & Hammondsport but lost both.
1909 saw construction of the 43 mile Graham cutoff. Running from Newburgh Junction, it passed under Moodna Viaduct and through Campbell Hall (Maybrook). It rejoins the main at Howells Junction. The Graham cutoff was good for freight as it had low grades.
The Lackawanna began with the Cayuga & Susquehanna in 1834 between Cayuga and Ithaca then with the Morris & Essex in 1836. 1849 marked the beginning of the parent Delaware, Lackawanna & Western when the Liggetts’s Gap Railroad connected Scranton with the Erie at Great Bend, PA. This line consolidated in 1853 with the Delaware & Cobbs Gap which connected Scranton with the Delaware River. Very important was the Scranton Division of the DL&W. The headquarters here had offices and shops. This division included the Tunkhannock Viaduct which was 2375 feet long and 240 feet high. It was completed in 1915 as part of DL&W president William Truesdale’s improvement program. After the 1960 merger, most EL traffic used the old Erie.
DL&W had the shortest passenger route between New York and Buffalo. Erie’s was the longest. In 1960, passengers could reach Erie Lackawanna’s passenger terminal at Hoboken by bus from Rockefeller Center, ferry, or tube (now PATH). The lines famous PHOEBE SNOW left at 10:35 a.m. and arrived in Buffalo 7:15 p.m. Passenger service was eliminated 1970 and most equipment was scrapped. The observation cars went to the Long Island for Montauk service. Later they became business cars for Metro-North.
Some coaches went to the D&H. Four 62-seat lightweight coaches were acquired in September, 1970. Some of these were refurbished for “Adirondack” service and later were used by the New York MTA for Poughkeepsie service. A pair of ex-Erie heavyweight coaches were also used in the 1970’s.
Other Erie Lackawanna equipment went to the New York MTA and saw service on the New Haven. A string of these cars, still in EL markings, ran between Harrison and Grand Central behind FL-9’s.
White died in 1967. In 1968, Erie Lackawanna came under Dereco (A Norfolk & Western “arms length” subsidiary which also picked up D&H). The road went to CONRAIL in 1976. In 1972 Hurricane Agnes flooded 135 miles of the Erie Lackawanna. It caused millions of dollars in losses and brought bankruptcy. More damage was done when the Penn Central merger eliminated interchange at Maybrook. The Penn Central merger had certain conditions that were designed to protect Erie Lackawanna by maintaining trains over the New Haven via Maybrook. Erie Lackawanna claimed its service from Chicago to New England had been slowed by 22 hours. PC countered that EL trains were usually late and improperly blocked for fast addition to PC trains.
Erie had survived Jay Gould (a 19th Century Ivan Boesky) but couldn’t cope with changes in the economy
Built in 1907, Hoboken Terminal still serves. It has six ferry slips (now unused) as DL&W operated ferries to 23rd Street, Christopher Street and Barkley Street. It also connects with PATH trains. 18 tracks served both commuter and long distance traffic.
Lackawanna’s New Jersey territory became a major commuter carrier. A lot of money was spent on grade crossing elimination, track elevation and new stations before electrification in 1930 to Dover, Gladstone and Montclair. Electrification was viewed as the best way to squeeze more trains onto existing tracks.
Erie Lackawanna handled about half of the New Jersey/New York commuter volume with over 35,000 daily passengers riding over 200 trains. Much of the ex-DL&W work was done with equipment that was already over thirty years old at the time of the merger. Ex-Erie diesel routes used World War I-vintage coaches. Erie Lackawanna’s brief life saw both the end of Hudson River ferry service (1967) and long distance passenger service (1970). It also saw the rise of government subsidy for commuter service and the introduction of new equipment with this help. During this period, Erie Lackawanna also ran a commuter service in the Cleveland area.
The Lackawanna cutoff was built in 1911 as part of William H. Trusdale’s improvement program. This 28-mile cutoff between Slateford and Port Morris bypassed some 40 miles of slow, curved, hilly track. After the formation of CONRAIL, Scranton’s future in railroading appeared bleak. However, the D&H struck a deal to take over the former Lackawanna main line to Binghamton plus Taylor Yard on the Bloomsburg Branch. The downtown property also saw a rebirth as the old station was transformed into a 150-room hotel. Finally, Scranton was fortunate to have Steamtown relocate there.
At East Binghamton, the remains of a coal tower and a roundhouse are still there. The yard is now used by the D&H. Binghamton passenger terminal (DL&W) remains as restored offices. Before the merger, the Erie Limited and the Lackawanna Limited met side-by-side only at Binghamton. The Erie’s terminal has long since been wrecked. Binghamton was a major interchange point with the D&H. It was also the junction with the Syracuse and Utica branches. Branchline trains arrived and departed from platforms at the end of the station.
Buffalo-bound trains follow the old Erie main west from Binghamton. The DL&W line is a dead-end spur, as it has been since the 1960 consolidation. In 1869, the Lackawanna built its own line into Binghamton to avoid using the Erie from Great Bend. The road became a New York-Buffalo trunk line in 1882 when it leased the New York, Lackawanna & Western between Binghamton and Buffalo.
Leaving the main at Binghamton, the Utica branch also included a line to Richfield Springs. Around 1870, the Greene Railroad and the Utica, Chenango & Susquehanna Valley Railroad were built. In 1882, this line was leased to the DL&W.
The Syracuse branch went its own way at Chenango Forks and continued to Oswego. Lackawanna had acquired the Syracuse & Binghamton Railroad as an outlet for its anthracite coal. It continued as a prosperous line until declared redundant with the creation of CONRAIL. The S&B had been organized in 1851 and was leased to the DL&W in 1870. Also leased about the same time was the Oswego & Syracuse.
Expansion kept pace with the economic growth of the area. Many areas were double tracked. The 1920’s saw seven or eight daily freights in each direction plus five passenger runs. North of Syracuse, the line passed in front of the New York State Fair Grounds. Before 1938, this led to a huge shuttle business each year. Another big business was hauling limestone for Solvay Process. By the merger, three round trip freights ran to Binghamton. This dropped to two by 1970. Coal trains ran to Oswego until 1963.
Cortland had the largest station between Binghamton and Syracuse. An 18-mile branch to Cincinnatus connected here. Like many other branches, it was abandoned before the Erie Lackawanna merger. Hills near Jamesville required helper locomotives for southbound traffic. Trains for Solvay ran uphill empty and downhill loaded. In Syracuse, both the Lackawanna and the New York Central ran in the middle of city streets. DL&W tracks were elevated in 1940 and a new station was built. Passenger service to Oswego went bus in 1949. Syracuse passenger service lasted until 1958 at which time the station became a bus terminal.
CONRAIL utilizes the north end of the Syracuse branch from Fulton to Oswego for winter month oil shipments to the Niagara-Mohawk power plant. It is named the Baldwinsville Secondary.
Another branch that never made it to the merger was Owego to Ithaca. There was even a genuine switchback on this branch.
Continuing west on the Lackawanna, stations at Apalachin and Nichols still stand but no tracks are nearby. Bath to Wayland became part of the Bath & Hammondsport. There is a 14-mile hiking trail west of Wayland. No more trains climb Dansville hill. The Groveland yard is all grown over. Groveland to Greigsville became part of the Genesee & Wyoming. The Dansville & Mount Morris also runs into Groveland.
Bison Yard in Buffalo was completed in 1963 under joint ownership with the Nickel Plate. In 1971, Erie Lackawanna and Norfolk & Western formed the Buffalo Terminal Division. Before CONRAIL, almost 100 trains per day from six railroads used its facilities. Interchange connections were made with seven others. It was the main connection between EL and Lehigh Valley lines to the east and C&O and N&W lines to the west. Buffalo Terminal lines crossed one another at numerous points and transfer runs with other lines had a choice of routes. Interchanges with Canadian National added an international flavor.
In its heyday, Bison dispatched as many as 4000 cars per day. Hump crews shoved cars through the retarders on a round-the-clock basis. As many as 80 engines per day were fueled, sanded and cleaned.
Bison Yard is gone; it is now an industrial park. The Lackawanna station in Buffalo has been demolished but the trainshed is utilized by the local light rail facility. Buffalo, in general, was decimated by the CONRAIL consolidation.
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