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Numerous railroad companies served the anthracite region at one time or another. {15} Their histories are complex and often confusing  due to the many mergers, acquisitions, interlocking  directories, reorganizations, combinations, consolidations, leases, bankruptcies, interconnections, and granting of trackage rights.  It would be nearly impossible to correctly assign individual rail lines to specific companies at any point in time a century or more ago.  (A "genealogical chart" of the 19th century anthracite railroads would be very interesting -- and extremely "busy.")  Adding to this uncertainty is the changing of geographical names (towns and villages, roads and even streams and mountains) since a century ago.


Several significant railroad-related events preceding and contemporaneous with the peak anthracite production years include:

  • 1861 - Pennsylvania enacts general railroad law facilitating mergers and intercorporate control. {16}

  • 1886 - Standardization of railroad gauges in the U.S. at 4 feet 8-1/2 inches (distance between the inner faces of the rails) is essentially achieved.

  • 1887 - Interstate Commerce Act creates Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

  • 1902 - United Mine Workers (union) strikes in the anthracite fields; President Roosevelt becomes involved; a Federal commission investigates conditions, tales testimony, and reaches accepted compromise.

  • 1902 - ICC begins investigations into railroad practices.

  • 1906 - Hepburn Act greatly expands railroad regulation under the ICC. {17} {18}

  • 1906-1910 - Government cases vs. anthracite railroads begin to reach U.S. Supreme Court; initial decisions favor railroads.

  • April 1917 - U.S. enters World War I.

  • December 1917 - Railroads are temporarily nationalized (leased) by the Federal Possession and Control Act; U.S. Railway Administration (USRA) is formed to control railroad operations.

  • March 1918 - Railroad Control Act mandates railroads to be returned to owners within twenty-one months of the war's end.

  • March 1920 - Transportation Act of 1920 rescinds nationalization of railroads; USRA disbands.

  • Early 1920s - U.S. Supreme Court decisions require total separation of railroad and coal companies under Hepburn and Sherman anti-trust acts.

Early Railroads

The earliest railroads in the anthracite region were horse- or mule-powered lines on wooden track; on several, locomotives subsequently introduced proved too heavy for the trackage.  At first, the railroads merely connected mines to the canals.  By 1842, the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad operated locomotive-powered trains along the entire route of the Schuylkill Canal.  The P&R was the first railroad built to transport coal to market, beginning the era of direct competition between railroads and canals.


Notable "gravity" railroads (some initially mule-powered), using planes with stationary engines were the D&H, Pennsylvania Coal Company, Summit Hill-Mauch Chunk (later known as the "Switchback"), Beaver Meadows, Hazleton Coal Company and Buck Mountain.

The Major Anthracite Railroads


Nine major railroads, discussed below, hauled essentially all the coal leaving the anthracite region in the early twentieth century.  Specific percentages in selected years are indicated in APPENDIX A.


Central of New Jersey (CNJ)

        In 1871, the CNJ leased the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad, including the famous Ashley Planes, from the Lehigh Coal & Navigation Co. {19}  Beginning in 1901, the CNJ was controlled by the Reading Company (see Philadelphia & Reading) via stock purchase.  The CNJ vied with the Lehigh Valley for traffic leaving the coal fields via the Lehigh Water Gap to Allentown, Bethlehem and points east and south.


Delaware & Hudson (D&H)

        In 1829, the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company completed the first gravity railroad, running from Carbondale to Honesdale, and later extended southward from Carbondale to Olyphant.  By 1885, the gravity railroad was converted to locomotive-driven rail.  The D&H lines carried Northern Field coal north and east into New York State from as far south as Wilkes-Barre and Plymouth.


Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W, aka “Lackawanna”)

        The DL&W was founded by the Scranton family, merging two railroads in 1853, to run from the Delaware Water Gap through the Lackawanna Valley.  In 1873, the line reached west to Northumberland via merger.  Not principally a coal road, the DL&W became a trunk line between  New York City and Buffalo, known for construction of the great Tunkhannock Viaduct and for promoting travel and "clean operation" with Phoebe Snow. {20}

Erie (and subsidiaries)

        The Erie was originally chartered in 1832 as the New York & Erie but was not present in the anthracite region until 1898, when it leased the New York, Susquehanna & Western (below) and soon thereafter took over NYSW operations.  In 1901, the Erie purchased both the Erie & Wyoming Valley (below) and the Pennsylvania Coal Company.


Erie & Wyoming Valley (E&WV, Erie)

        The E&WV was organized in 1882 to run from Pittston to Lackawaxen.  In 1885, it absorbed the Pennsylvania Coal Company Gravity Railroad and abandoned the Gravity in favor of a new locomotive-powered railroad generally following the same route from Pittston to Hawley (later extended to Lackawaxen).  The E&WV was purchased by the Erie in 1901.


New York, Susquehanna & Western (NYSW, Erie)

        The NYSW was formed in 1881 from several small railroads.  In 1882, it extended into Pennsylvania to connect with the DL&W near Stroudsburg.  In 1892 the NYSW accessed the Northern Field by forming the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad (below).  The NYSW was leased by the Erie in 1898.


Wilkes-Barre and Eastern (WB&E, Erie)

        The WB&E ran from Wilkes-Barre to Stroudsburg.  It crossed Panther Creek (near present-day Watres Reservoir) with a major viaduct.  The WB&E created the Susquehanna Connecting Railrod in 1896-97.  The Erie gained control of the WB&E (along with the NYSW) in 1898 and diverted traffic from the Wilkes-Barre to Stroudsburg line, allowing it to fall into gradual disuse.

Lehigh & New England (L&NE)

        The L&NE was formed in 1895 from several reorganizations.  Most of the L&NE stock was owned by Lehigh Coal & Navigation after 1904. {21}  The L&NE operated in the southeastern portion of the coal fields, running from Tamaqua to Slatington to the northeast.  It was leased to the Reading in 1926.  In some years prior to 1916 tonnage on the L&NE was tallied as CNJ tonnage, inferring an arrangement between L&NE and CNJ.

Lehigh Valley (LV)

        Construction of a railroad along the Lehigh River was delayed by Lehigh Coal & Navigation to protect its monopoly on river/canal transportation.  (See Beaver Meadows Railroad, below.)  The LV began construction in 1853 and, in 1855, reached Mauch Chunk from Easton.  New construction and consolidation allowed the LV to reach Wilkes-Barre in 1867 and later north to Sayre, Rochester and Buffalo.  The LV vied with the CNJ for anthracite traffic along the Wilkes-Barre/Mauch Chunk/Allentown corridor and aggressively purchased or leased several minor lines to extend westward to Hazleton and Pottsville.

New York, Ontario & Western (NYO&W)

        The NYO&W began in 1866 as a New York railroad.  In 1890, it extended its lines from Cadosia, NY (near Hancock) to Scranton via Carbondale (Scranton Division, initially the Ontario, Carbondale and Scranton).  Anthracite provided an increasing portion of the company's revenue until 1932.


Pennsylvania (PRR)

        The great Pennsylvania Railroad was organized in 1847.  The famous Horseshoe Curve and Allegheny Tunnel were completed in 1854, and track from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh opened in 1855.  By 1900, the PRR system included more than 100 companies.  Transporting anthracite seemed relatively insignificant, but the PRR attempted to maintain traffic between Reading and Sunbury via the Schuylkill River and Shamokin Creek with lines parallel to (and interweaving with) the Philadelphia & Reading.

Philadelphia & Reading (P&R, later "the Reading")

        The P&R's earliest line had been built in 1831, from Tamaqua to Port Clinton, by the Little Schuylkill Navigation, Railroad & Coal Co.  The P&R was chartered in 1833 to carry coal to Reading and Philadelphia and became the largest anthracite railroad.  In 1842, it made the first run from Mt. Carbon to Philadelphia, a distance of 94 miles, in competition with the Schuylkill Canal.  By 1844 the P&R's tonnage already exceeded the canal's.  In about 1870, the P&R Began acquiring anthracite lands as the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Co. {22}  Both companies became properties of the Reading Company, a holding company, in 1896.  Divestiture of coal lands from the P&R was required by the commodities clause of the Hepburn Act.  in 1923, the Reading Company merged the P&R with other companies it owned and became the operating company as the Reading Railroad.

Lesser Railroads

By the beginning of the 20th century, few truly independent railroads were still operating in the anthracite region.  Three of the many earlier railroads might be of special interest and are briefly discussed below.


Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill ("Switchback")

        The Mauch Chunk and Summit Hill Railway was built by the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company to transport coal nine miles from the Summit Hill mines atop Sharp Mountain to Mauch Chunk on the Lehigh River.  It began operation in 1827 as a mule-powered gravity railroad. {23}  A back track with two steam-powered planes (Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Jefferson) was added in 1845, creating an 18-mile loop.  Over time this system became known (inaccurately) as the "Switchback"; the true switchback operated on the north side of Sharp Mountain, between 1845 and 1870.  The Switchback ceased hauling coal in 1872 and was operated by the Central of New Jersey as a recreational tourist attraction until 1933, when the system was abandoned.  (See also Switchback Gravity, below.)


Danville & Pottsville (D&P)

        The little-known D&P was Stephen Girard's railroad, conceived to serve his coal lands in Schuylkill County. {24}  After much debate about its western terminus, the line was planned to connect Pottsville with Sunbury.  By 1834, the D&P completed its initial, ten-mile eastern section from Mt. Carbon (south of Pottsville) north over Broad Mountain to Girardville in the Mahanoy Valley; this route included the first Mahanoy Plane (its best-known feature), five other inclined planes, and a tunnel (Wadesville).  By 1835, the 20-mile western section between Sunbury and Shamokin was operating.  By 1844, however, the eastern section was in disuse, and the envisioned Sunbury-Schuylkill link was initially completed by the Mine Hill & Schuylkill Haven RR.  A subsidiary of the Pennsylvania RR took control of the western section in the 1860s, and some of the western section operated through the 1950s.  The eastern section was in effect replaced by the Mahanoy & Broad Mountain RR, which constructed the second, larger, Mahanoy Plane in 1861-62 and came under the control of the Philadelphia & Reading in 1863.

Beaver Meadows (Railroad and Coal Company, BMRR)

        The BMRR (organized in 1830) began rail operation in 1836, with trackage from the Beaver Meadows mines to Weatherly, thence along Black Creek to Penn Haven, and thence along the Lehigh River south as far as Parryville. {25}  Track crossed the river to the left (east) bank via a bridge at Turn Hole (Glen Onoko). {26}  Initially, two mule-operated planes (along Plane Street) in Weatherly brought coal down to Black Creek; these planes were abandoned in about 1854.  BMRR track below Weatherly along Black Creek was washed out in floods of 1841 and again in 1850.  After this, BMRR worked with Hazleton Coal to develop an alternative way to access Penn Haven, and one of them built the second plane there.  (See Penn Haven Planes, below.)  The Lehigh Valley RR acquired the BMRR, along with its coal holdings, in 1864.

Others of Note

        A few relatively small, independent or semi-independent coal railroads operated within the anthracite region during the early 20th century.  Among these were the Wilkes-Barre Connecting Railroad, {27} the Susquehanna Connecting Railroad, {28} and the Delaware, Schuylkill and Susquehanna Railroad. {29}  A later (1925), short-line road was the West Pittston & Exeter Railroad constructed to haul coal from Pittston to the power plant at Stanton.  The locations of these lines are shown on the maps herein. {30}  Also, there were some non-freight lines, including the Lackawanna & Wyoming Valley ("Laurel Line," electric, 1903-1952), Wilkes-Barre & Hazleton (electric, completed 1907), and Peoples Railroad (probably electric, 1873, Pottsville-Minersville).  The routes of these non-freight lines are not shown on the maps.




​​{15} Heydinger names at least 75 railroads serving the "First" (Southern) and "Second" (Eastern Middle and Western Middle) fields in the 1800s.  Some of the names are merely new names given to the same line, under reorganization.  Many railroad companies had only a few miles of track.  By 1900, most either had gone out of business or had been brought under the umbrella of the major railroads.

{16} "An Act Relating to Railroad Companies," enacted May 1861.


{17} The Hepburn Act is considered the most important legislation regarding railroads in the first half of 20th century; it is still debated whether the Act crippled the railroad industry.

{18} The "commodities clause" of the Hepburn Act essentially prohibited railroads from owning commodities they were to haul in interstate commerce; this had a great effect on the P&R, causing it to relinquish its ownership of the extensive coal resources owned by the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company.

{19} The Lehigh & Susquehanna was created by LC&N in 1837 to reach the head of its Lehigh River navigation system at White Haven from the Wyoming Valley (Northern Field). This connection went into service in 1843.  In the mid-1860s, following the Lehigh River flood of 1862, the L&S extended its  line south from White Haven through the Lehigh Gorge to Mauch Chunk.

{20} In 1908-11 the DL&W constructed the "Lackawanna Cut-off" from Slateford (between Stroudsburg and Portland) to Port Morris, NJ to improve service between Buffalo and New York City (Hoboken, NJ) via Scranton.  Restoration of the cut-off route has been proposed to reopen passenger service between Scranton and New York City.

{21} Heydinger: "It is a most interesting coincidence that this youngest anthracite line, the L. & N. E., was financed by the L. C. & N. Company, which built Pennsylvania's pioneer Mauch Chunk R. R. in 1827."


{22} At one time, the P&R C&I controlled 30 percent of the anthracite lands and was the nation's largest coal producer.

​​{23} The Switchback is said to be the first operating railroad in Pennsylvania and arguably the second in the U.S., following The Granite Railway in Quincy, Massachusetts.

{24} The Girard coal holdings later belonged to the City of Philadelphia, as Girard's heir.

{25} The BMRR was at odds (including armed conflict, according to Heydinger) with Lehigh Coal and Navigation, whose navigation system had not reached Penn Haven from Mauch Chunk until 1835.  The BMRR/LVRR remained the sole railroad through the Lehigh Gorge until LCN's Lehigh & Susquehanna was extended in the mid-1860s, following the 1862 flood.

{26} This bridge was rebuilt after the 1841 flood and again after the 1850 flood.

{27} One source has the WBCRR constructed in 1913, initially a subsidiary of the WB&E, and becoming independent in 1915.  Another source has it formed by the PRR and D&H, becoming operational in 1915, and operated by the PRR.

{28} The SCRR was created in 1896-97 by the WB&E (alternatively, by the NYSW and leased to the WB&E) to access coal breakers in the Old Forge/Moosic area..

{29} The Lehigh Valley bought the DS&S in 1905.

{30} On the maps presented herein, SCRR lines are identified as Erie lines, and DS&S lines are identified as Lehigh Valley lines.

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