The Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Experience

Lackawanna-Railfest-2011 (366)

The Experience Of A Passenger Train:

In the 1880s, the predecessors of the Erie Lackawanna (along with America’s other major railroads) provided some of the best meals in the country in its fleet of dining cars. The ability to serve hundreds of passengers three meals a day while traveling at speeds up to 80 miles per hour is a story worth telling, and worth recreating. These meals were no mere tray meals or sandwiches, only the finest ingredients were freshly prepared on-board the dining car then served on heavy china at a table with the finest linens, polished silver and elegant glassware. The chefs, waiters and stewards were well-versed in providing the best level of service possible.

The Erie Railroad carried passengers between Jersey City, N.J. and Chicago on trains called The Pacific Express, The Atlantic Express Midlander, The Lake Cities and their Flagship Erie Limited.

The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W) operated a smaller system between Hoboken, N.J. and Buffalo, N.Y., offering similarly exceptional passenger service on trains such as The Lackawanna Limited, The Pocono Express, The Owl, The New Yorker, and the premiere Phoebe Snow.

As automobiles and airplanes began to dominate personal travel, the number of nationwide passenger trains declined. Driven by freight competition, the Erie and DL&W railroads merged in 1961 forming the Erie Lackawanna. The Phoebe Snow service ended in 1966 and the last long-distance passenger train on the Erie Lackawanna, The Lake Cities, departed Chicago for the last time in 1970. The Erie Lackawanna, known as The Friendly Service Route right up until the end, faded into Conrail and history in 1976.

Since 1971, Amtrak has operated the long-distance passenger trains in the United States, and while many aspects of passenger train travel remain, the full experience no longer exists in daily service in this country.

About The ELDCPS:

The Erie Lackawanna Dining Car Preservation Society (ELDCPS), a 501c3 non-profit organization, was formed in 2001 to preserve and recreate the experience of rail travel on the Erie Lackawanna. In addition to restoring historical passenger equipment, they strive to maintain as much authenticity as possible. Operating their cars exactly as the EL did; utilizing original pattern china, flatware, coffee pots, tea pots, sugar bowls and water pitchers – from EL, Erie and DL&W patterns, and from most of the original manufacturers.

Paper items such as menus, place mats, napkins, coasters, Chef’s hats, individually wrapped toothpicks and even the famous EL mints have been duplicated from original items in their personal collections.

The Lake Cities Project

The Lake Cities Project is an ambitious project that is very unique in rail preservation. After purchasing their first car, Diner 741, they were given the opportunity to add additional cars to their collection. They decided to broaden their goals to include recreation of an entire Erie Lackawanna passenger train experience, centered around the dining car. With the acquisition of former NKP Pullman sleeping car City of Lima, Erie Lackawanna Diner 770, and DL&W Phoebe Snow Diner 469, They now have four authentic pieces of an Erie Lackawanna through-service passenger train. All four of the cars could be found on the EL-era Lake Cities train, hence the name of the project.

Their Cars:

EL Diner 741
Built by Pullman 1927 and modernized in 1947 by the Erie Railroad, ELDCPS purchased 741 in 2001. The car has underwent significant exterior restoration, including repainting into Erie Lackawanna colors in 2007. ELDCPS will continue interior restoration of the car in Scranton.

EL Diner 770
Built by Budd in 1949 for the DL&W’s premiere train The Phoebe Snow. Purchased by ELDCPS in 2005, and moved to Scranton in 2012. Restoration work will begin once Diners 469 and 741 are completed.

Pullman City of Lima
Built by Pullman in 1950 for the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad, better known as the Nickel Plate Road. Donated to ELDCPS in 2003 and repainted into Nickel Plate colors in 2006. Since arriving in Scranton in 2007, the car has been used on railroad excursions in the Pocono region.

Dieseliner Coaches
Built by Pullman in 1970-1973 for Erie Lackawanna commuter operations in New Jersey. They were originally purchased by the New Jersey Department of Transportation and acquired by ELDCPS in 2010 from NJ Transit for excursion service in the Pocono region.

Donation Information:

ELDCPS is a member-driven organization that relies on dues, donations, and grants for their operations and restoration projects. Membership in the Society starts at $20 per year. Special donation programs are also available. Visit their website for more information.

Contact ELDCPS:

201 South Blakely Street #333
Dunmore, Pa. 18512

Twitter: @eldcps
Phone: (570) 209-5851


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Author:Railfan AC

AC is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, a long haul trucker, a transportation enthusiast and a lifelong lover of trains. AC's mission is to travel America documenting American railroading in the 21st century while educating those who want to know about the importance the railroads play in our daily lives including, but not limited to, the movement of goods, services and more.

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