The History Of Railroading In Northeast Pennsylvania

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Railroading And Northeast Pennsylvania

In the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th, the railroads who served northeast Pennsylvania were major carriers of anthracite; the hard, clean-burning coal found in abundance in NEPA. The popularity of anthracite spurred the growth and expansion of the railroads that served the area. Most notably; The Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, The Central Railroad of New Jersey, The Delaware and Hudson, The Erie, The New York, Ontario and Western,The Lehigh Valley and the great Pennsylvania Railroad.

The Lackawanna and Wyoming Valley Railroad (a.k.a. The Laurel Line), an electric inter-urban shortline, began operating in 1903. It served local passenger and freight needs. Coal and railroads created a huge industrial complex in the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys.

Early eastern railroads, were an amalgam of smaller railroad lines combined through mergers, consolidations and leases (sound familiar?). 

Northeastern Pennsylvania was a “melting pot” for immigrants who chose the Lackawanna and Wyoming Valleys as the place to make a better life for themselves and their families. Those who settled in the area (some 30 ethnic groups) sought employment in silk mills, iron and steel factories, coal mines and with railroads. In fact, at its peak the railroad yards employed thousands of workers, mostly immigrants and the sons and grandsons of immigrants who came to the United States during the last half of the 19th century. 

Northeast Pennsylvania’s economic fortunes followed those of the railroads that served it and began to decline in the mid-1920s when the demand for anthracite coal started to subside. By the 1930s and 40s gas and oil were replacing coal as a home and industrial fuel. The railroads began using diesel locomotives, reducing the need for coal even further.

Many of the railroads various facilities in the area closed from then on all the way through the devastaion of 1972’s Hurricane Agnes and ended with Conrail who by 1980 (think Staggers Act) had cast most of northeast Pennsylvania aside.

Today northeast Pa. is served by several railroads. The Norfolk Southern, The Canadian Pacific, The Reading & Northern, The Lehigh Railway, The Delaware Lackawanna and the Luzerne & Susquehanna. As this is written the CP will be departing this year (2015).

Although most of the northeast Pa.’s rich rail history is long gone now, there’s still a lot of railroading to enjoy…. If you know where to look!