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Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad

Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad
DL&W system map, circa 1922
Reporting mark DLW
Locale Pennsylvania
New York
New Jersey
Dates of operation 1851–1960
Successor Erie Lackawanna Railroad
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
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Headquarters New York City, New York

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company (DL&W or Lackawanna Railroad) was a U.S. Class 1 railroad that connected Buffalo, New York, and Hoboken, New Jersey, a distance of about Script error: No such module "convert".. Incorporated in 1853, the DL&W was profitable during the first two decades of the twentieth century, but its margins were gradually hurt by declining traffic in coal, competition from trucks, and high New Jersey taxes. In 1960, the DL&W merged with rival Erie Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad.


Pre-DL&W (1832–1853)

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad's history, like that of many Eastern U.S. railroads, is one of mergers, consolidations, and leases. Its oldest portion was the Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad, completed in 1834 between Owego and Ithaca, New York. Its corporate structure dates from the 1849 incorporation of the Liggett's Gap Railroad, a line built north from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Susquehanna River and a connection with the Erie Railroad at Great Bend, Pennsylvania. The railroad was renamed the Lackawanna & Western (L&W) in 1851 and opened later that year.[1]

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, Pennsylvania, near Scranton. It was consolidated with the L&W in 1853 to form the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W). The line was completed in 1856 and almost immediately made a connection with the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) in Hampton, New Jersey, through the Warren Railroad, which was leased by the DL&W in 1857.[1]

Expansion (1853-1899)

File:Syracuse, NY.png
DL&W Station at Syracuse, NY, ca. 1900

The Morris & Essex Railroad was chartered in 1835 to construct a line from Morristown, New Jersey, to New York Harbor. By 1860, it extended west to the Delaware River at Phillipsburg, New Jersey. The DL&W leased it in 1869 to avoid having to use the CNJ. That same year, the DL&W purchased the Syracuse, Binghamton & New York Railroad and leased the Oswego & Syracuse Railroad on February 13, 1869. This gave it a branch from Binghamton north and northwest via Syracuse, and incorporated the Valley Railroad to build a connection from Great Bend to Binghamton to avoid having to use Erie's trackage. By 1870, the DL&W leased the Utica, Chenango & Susquehanna Valley Railway and the Greene Railroad. Thus, in a space of several years, the DL&W grew to extend from Tidewater to Utica, Syrcause and Lake Ontario.[1]

On March 15, 1876, the DL&W converted its line to standard gauge from Script error: No such module "convert". gauge (chosen to match the Liggett's Gap Railroad's connection with the Erie). That year also marked the beginning of a short period of financial difficulty—not enough to cause reorganization, receivership, or bankruptcy, but enough to suspend dividend payments. In 1880, Jay Gould began buying DL&W stock. His empire reached as far east as Buffalo, New York, the east end of the Wabash Railroad, and Gould—long vilified as the archetypal robber baron[2]—saw that the DL&W would be an ideal route to New York if the gap between Binghamton and Buffalo could be closed. DL&W management prevented Gould from acquiring control of the railroad, but Gould's proposed extension to Buffalo was built as the New York, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, which was incorporated in 1880 and leased to the DL&W in 1882. This changed the DL&W from a regional railroad to a New York-Buffalo trunk line.[1]

The 1880s brought diversification of the DL&W revenue streams, which had been mostly anthracite coal. It carried upwards of 14% of Pennsylvania's anthracite production, much of it from railroad-owned mines.[1][3] The decade saw DL&W's coal traffic increased one-third, while their general merchandise traffic (dairy products, cattle, lumber, cement, steel, grain) increased fivefold.[citation needed]

In addition, the DL&W was rapidly becoming a commuter carrier at its east end.[1] The Pocono Mountain region, in particular, was one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country—especially among New Yorkers—and several large hotels sat along DL&W lines in Northeastern Pennsylvania, generating much passenger traffic. All of this helped justify the DL&W's expansion of its double-track mainline to three or four tracks.[3]

Truesdale era (1899-1940)

File:Hoboken 060606b.jpg
Hoboken Terminal shortly after its construction

William Truesdale became president of the DL&W in March 1899,[4] and embarked on a rebuilding and upgrading program.[1] The two major accomplishments were a 28.5-mile (46 km) Lackawanna Cut-Off straight across western New Jersey between Slateford Junction and Port Morris Junction that bypassed the "Old Road" (some 40 miles of circuitous, curved, hilly trackage), and a new line north of Scranton. Both new lines were characterized by massive cuts and fills, low grades and graceful reinforced-concrete viaducts — Tunkhannock, Paulins Kill, Martins Creek, and Kingsley. DL&W's suburban territory came in for track elevation, railroad crossing elimination, and new stations, all as a prelude to the 1930 electrification of lines to Dover, Gladstone and Montclair and the introduction of multiple-unit cars over those routes. Significant Beaux-Arts stations were constructed in Hoboken and Scranton.[5]

Further information: Lackawanna Cutoff
File:Lackawanna Limited on Pequest Fill - 1912.jpg
Lackawanna Limited crossing the Lackawanna Cut-Off shortly following its construction, 1912

By the 1920s, DL&W began participating in a three-company long distance train operation. With the Reading Railroad (RDG) and CNJ it offered overnight service including sleeping cars on the Interstate Express from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Syracuse, New York. It had additional connections to Buffalo and Washington, D.C. The service ended around 1955.[citation needed]

By the late 1930s, the New York Central Railroad (NYC) had purchased 25% of DL&W's stock, giving it working — but unexercised — control of the DL&W. During World War II, the DL&W merged a number of its subsidiaries and leased lines for tax purposes. After the war, the DL&W began to purchase Nickel Plate Railroad stock with an eye to possible merger, but both Nickel Plate and NYC opposed the idea.[1][6]

Decline (1940–60)

File:Lackawanna and Buffalo ad 1922.jpg
1922 ad for passenger travel

Post-war changes began to affect eastern railroads, with oil and natural gas becoming the preferred energy sources. Silk and other textile industries shrank as jobs moved to the southern U.S. or overseas. The advent of refrigeration squeezed the business from ice ponds on top of the Pocono Mountains. The DL&W had long enjoyed revenues from milk shipments; many stations had a creamery next to the tracks.[3]

Passenger services were also siphoned off due to the surge in personal automobile ownership. In response, the DL&W resurrected Phoebe Snow, the DL&W's symbol in the early part of the century. The company's advertising campaign stated that "hers was the gown that stayed white from morn till night upon the Road of Anthracite," as anthracite was much cleaner-burning than the bituminous coal used by other railroads, such as the PRR. Phoebe Snow's return to the DL&W was in the form of a diesel-powered maroon and gray streamliner for daytime service between Hoboken and Buffalo.[1]

Further information: Phoebe Snow (passenger train)

Passenger trains

DL&W ran several long-distance trains:[5]

Gradually throughout the 1960s, the Erie Lackawanna would end all long distance passenger service, with the final run occurring in January, 1970.


In 1954, the DL&W and parallel rival Erie Railroad began to explore the idea of cooperation and consolidation. The first results were the elimination of duplicate freight facilities at Binghamton and Elmira, New York, and then in 1956 and 1957 the Erie moved its passenger trains from its old Jersey City terminal to DL&W's somewhat newer one at Hoboken.[1] The two railroads also eliminated some duplicate track in western New York. The discussions of consolidation turned into merger talks, at first including the Delaware & Hudson Railway.[1][3]

Merger talks were hastened by the effects of Hurricane Diane, which resulted in DL&W's financial situation worsening in August 1955.[1] Damage to DL&W's main line through the Pocono Mountain region (Script error: No such module "convert". of track) resulted in shutdowns lasting over a month and passengers being stranded aboard moving trains.[3] Repair costs totalling $8.1 million ($71,310,186 today) contributed to deficits which occurred in 1958 and 1959.[1][3] DL&W threatened to discontinue all suburban passenger services if the state of New Jersey would not alleviate the losses and rectify the tax situation (New Jersey charged exorbitantly high taxes on all railroads that transversed the state). The state ultimately responded with minimal subsidy.[1] The January 1959 Knox Mine Disaster all but obliterated what was left of the region's anthracite industry, making the proposed merger look like a promising way out of a difficult situation.[7][8]

The DL&W and Erie formally merged as the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad (EL) on October 17, 1960, and lasted until its absorption into Conrail in 1976. With the exception of 1965 and 1966, the EL operated at a deficit during its entire 16-year existence.[1]


See also

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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 108–110. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  2. ^ Scranton, Philip. "Fine Line Between Thief and Entrepreneur." Accessed 12 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Taber, Thomas T. (1980). The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, The Route of Phoebe Snow, in the Twentieth Century, 1899-1960. Muncy, Pennsylvania: Thomas T. Taber III. ISBN 9780960339822. 
  4. ^ "May Succeed Samuel Sloan: William H. Truesdale Will Probably Become the President of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western". The New York Times. February 6, 1899. Retrieved November 5, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Lackawanna Railroad's full schedule, April 25, 1954, page 2
  6. ^ "Grouping America's Railroads - The Transportation Act of 1920". Classic Trains: 30–37. Winter 2011. 
  7. ^ The Citizens Voice - Knox mine disaster remains in our memory because it is a story of right and wrong
  8. ^ Rachunis, William; Fortney, Gerald W. (January 22, 1959). Report of Major Mine Inundation Disaster, River Slope Mine, May Shaft Section, Schooley Colliery, Knox Coal Company, Incorporated, Port Griffith, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines. 

Further reading

  • King, Shelden S. (1991). The Route of Phoebe Snow: A Story of the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. Flanders, New Jersey: Railroad Avenue Enterprises. 
  • McCabe, Wayne T.; Gordon, Kate (2003). A Penny A View—An Album of Postcard Views—Building the Lackawanna Cut-off in Sussex and Warren Counties, New Jersey. Newton, New Jersey: Historic Preservation Alternatives. 

External links