Reading Company

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Reading Company
Reading Herald.png
1923 Reading.png
Reading Railroad system map, 1923
Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Terminal, Philadelphia, PA 1893.jpg
Reading Terminal, circa 1893
Reporting mark RDG
Locale Delaware
New Jersey
Dates of operation 1833–1976
Successor Conrail
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Length 1,460 miles (2,350 kilometres)[1]
Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Reading Company (pronounced Redding /ˈrɛdɪŋ/; logotyped as Reading Lines), usually called the Reading Railroad operated in southeast Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Until the decline in anthracite loadings in the Coal Region after World War II, it was one of the most prosperous corporations in the United States.

Reduced coal traffic coupled with highway competition and short hauls forced it into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The railroad was merged into Conrail in 1976, but the corporation lasted into 2000, disposing of real estate holdings.


Philadelphia & Reading Railroad[edit]

Original P&R logo

The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad (P&R) was one of the first railroads constructed in the United States, chartered in 1833. It opened in 1842 from Philadelphia along the Schuylkill River through Reading and Pottsville, Pennsylvania, having the distinction of being the first double track main line in the country.[2] The purpose of the railroad was to carry anthracite from the mines in northeastern Pennsylvania's coal region to Philadelphia.[3] Like many Eastern U.S. railroads, growth occurred by acquiring and leasing other roads. The P&R assisted construction of the Lebanon Valley Railroad from Reading to Harrisburg; in 1858 the Lebanon Valley was merged into the P&R. By 1869 the P&R had acquired the East Pennsylvania Railroad between Reading and Allentown, and in 1870 the P&R leased the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad (PG&N), which had built between 1831 and 1835 from Philadelphia to Germantown and along the east bank of the Schuylkill to Norristown.[3][4]

The P&R's Philadelphia terminus was located at the state-owned Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad (P&C) on the west side of the Schuylkill, from which it ran east on the P&C over the Columbia Bridge and onto the city-owned City Railroad to a depot at the southeast corner of Broad and Cherry Streets.[4]

An extension northwest from Reading to Mount Carbon opened in January 1842, allowing the railroad to compete with the Schuylkill Canal. At Mount Carbon, it connected with the earlier Mount Carbon Railroad, continuing through Pottsville to several mines, and would be extended to Williamsport. On May 17 of that year, a freight branch from West Falls to Port Richmond on the Delaware River north of downtown Philadelphia opened. In January 1851, the Belmont Plane on the P&C was abandoned in favor of a new bypass, and the portion of the line east of it was sold to the P&R, the only company that continued using the old route. In 1859 the P&R leased the Chester Valley Railroad, providing a branch from Bridgeport west to Downingtown, Pennsylvania. It had formerly been operated by the PG&N.[4]

In 1869 Franklin B. Gowen became president of the P&R and began buying coal lands for the railroad. The P&R constructed Port Richmond in Philadelphia to load coal into ships and barges for export. This increased the potential market for anthracite and was key to the P&R's success. Port Richmond was the self-proclaimed "largest privately owned railroad tidewater terminal in the world."[4] The heavy investment in coal paid off quickly. By 1871, the P&R was the largest company in the world, with $170 million gross.[5]

P&R continued their growth at a breakneck pace. The Port Kennedy Railroad, a short branch to quarries at Port Kennedy, was leased in 1870. Also that year, the P&R leased the Pickering Valley Railroad, a branch running west from Phoenixville to Byers, Pennsylvania. P&R then established the Philadelphia & Reading Coal & Iron Company, which acquired approximately 30 percent of the anthracite land in Pennsylvania but the cost of the land put the railroad into receivership in 1880.[1] During Gowen's administration the P&R acquired the North Pennsylvania Railroad, which ran from Philadelphia to Bethlehem (gaining access to the burgeoning steel industry in the Lehigh Valley) and Yardley, and built the Delaware & Bound Brook Railroad from Yardley to a connection with the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ) at Bound Brook, New Jersey.[4] Between 1880 and 1890 the P&R reached out to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, with a line that would eventually carry much of the railroad's bridge traffic, and extended a line from Bound Brook to a new port, Port Reading, on the New Jersey shore of the Arthur Kill, the body of water which separates Staten Island from the mainland.[1]

On its second attempt the railroad emerged from receivership, and Archibald A. McLeod became president on 1890. The P&R leased the CNJ (P&R had previously leased the CNJ between 1883 and 1887) and the Lehigh Valley Railroad (LV); the three railroads transported more than half of the country's mined coal at the time.[6] The RDG supplemented its coal traffic with overhead traffic between the Western Maryland Railway at Shippensburg and connections at Allentown for New York and New England. To get a better grip on the New England coal market, the P&R acquired control of the Poughkeepsie Bridge route, the Boston & Maine, and the New York & New England. The P&R was reaching out for the Old Colony when it collapsed once again into receivership.[1]

Reading Company[edit]

In the reorganization of 1896 the railroad and the coal company both became properties of the Reading Company (RDG), a holding company. In 1898 the RDG leased the Wilmington & Northern Railroad, a line from Reading to Wilmington, Delaware, and in 1901 the RDG acquired control of the CNJ. At that same time the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) purchased a controlling interest in the RDG.[1]

The P&R expanded into New Jersey in 1883 by purchasing the Atlantic City Railroad (AC), a narrow gauge line from Camden to Atlantic City, New Jersey. P&R standard-gauged and double-tracked the line — Philadelphia-Atlantic City passenger traffic was growing — and extended it to Cape May. At the end of 1923 the Reading Company merged a number of wholly owned railroads (the P&R chief among them) and became an operating company, the Reading Railroad.[citation needed]

In Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, a new bridge was constructed over the Schuylkill River in 1903. The bridge connected the P&R main line on the west bank of the river with the Manayunk/Norristown Line on the opposite side, allowing passenger service to Norristown, and a bypass of the old main line.[3] The Ninth Avenue branch — the main thoroughfare into Reading Terminal — was also improved. Between 1907-1914 the double track and street level route was replaced by an elevated quadruple track route that offered greater capacity and safety.[4]

The RDG invested in the construction of new cut-offs, bypasses, and connections. The completion of the Reading belt line in 1902, a 7.2-mile long westerly bypass of downtown Reading, alleviated the heavy rail congestion in the busy city.[3][7]

By the 1930s traffic to the New Jersey seashore was declining on the AC and also on the Pennsylvania Railroad's (PRR) West Jersey & Seashore Railroad (WJ&S), which duplicated the AC at almost every point. In 1932 the RDG and PRR agreed to consolidate operations. PRR bought two-thirds of RDG's AC stock and assigned its lease of the WJ&S to the AC, which was renamed Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. The consolidation took effect June 25, 1933. During the same period, between 1929 and 1933, RDG electrified its Philadelphia suburban service.[citation needed]

Beginning in 1945 the RDG underwent a series of corporate simplifications, merging controlled and leased lines. The line to Byers was cut back to Kimberton in 1948. In 1963 the Reading acquired the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad from Lehigh Coal & Navigation — CNJ's lines in Pennsylvania — and in 1968 Reading acquired the Cornwall Railroad, a 12-mile (19 km) line from Lebanon to Mount Hope, Pennsylvania, from Bethlehem Steel.[citation needed]


As did many railroads after World War II, the Reading experienced significant revenue losses as its coal traffic declined and other freight began to travel by truck. Passenger service lost money for decades, but railroads were usually prohibited from discontinuing it. The Reading entered bankruptcy proceedings on November 23, 1971; its operations were taken over by Conrail on April 1, 1976.[8] Most former freight lines are currently operated by Norfolk Southern Railway (NS); SEPTA assumed operations of the former Reading electrified commuter lines on January 1, 1983.[citation needed]

In the late 1980s Los Angeles lawyer James Cotter gained control of the corporation through holding company Craig Corporation, and liquidated the rest of its assets to finance his cinema chains in Puerto Rico, Australia, and New Zealand. The company sold one of its last railroad-related assets, the Reading Terminal Headhouse, in 1991. In 1996, Cotter reorganized the company as Reading Entertainment. The Craig Corporation merged in 2001 with Citadel Holding Corporation, another Cotter company, and became Reading International, Inc. RDI owns 317 acres of former railroad property, mostly in upper Pennsylvania, along with the Reading Railroad publicity files of approximately 300-600 linear feet (as of 2011).[citation needed]

Most of Reading Entertainment's operations are in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States under the Reading Cinemas trade name. Its logo depicts a railroad track transforming into a filmstrip to tell the story of the history of the brand.[9]

Los Angeles company-based Pacific Theatres sold 15 of the 29 theaters operated by Pacific Theatres Exhibition Corp. and its affiliates, comprising 181 screens in Hawaii and throughout California, outside of Los Angeles, to Reading International on February 22, 2008. These theaters reportedly generate approximately $80 million in revenue annually. Nine of the theaters, comprising 98 screens, are located in Hawaii and operate under the Consolidated Theatres brand name and represented nearly 70% of the Hawaiian box office receipts reported in 2007. Six theaters, comprising 83 screens, in San Diego, Bakersfield, and Rohnert Park, California, operated as Pacific Theatres have been converted to the Reading Cinema brand name. Reading's purchase was financed principally by a combination of debt financing from GE Capital Corporation and seller financing. During 2009 and 2010, much of the seller financing was forgiven as part of contingent purchase price adjustment terms and tests in the original purchase agreement.[citation needed]

In October 2008, Reading Entertainment and Screenvision entered into a long-term contract to provide digital, satellite-based pre show to all Reading Cinemas locations in the United States. Replacing traditional slide show presentation, the digital preshow by Screenvision would cover advertisements from television shows such as: E! Entertainment, ABC Family. and MTV, upcoming films, and business advertisements such as: Verizon Wireless, Dodge, and National Guard, pending on the movie's MPAA rating. The digital preshow would also cover local businesses who purchase time on the pre show.[10] All Reading Cinemas locations in the United States officially began the digital preshow December 2008.[citation needed]

Reading Cinemas began installing digital projection in 4 of its theatres in the United States using DLP projection technology. These projectors are also capable of showing Digital 3-D presentations. Per Reading's 2009 10-K filing: By mid-year (2010), it anticipates Reading will have 3D projectors in not less than 28 out of the 53 cinema locations that it either wholly owns or consolidates.[11]

Passenger operations[edit]

RDG did not operate extensive long distance passenger train service, but it did field a number of named trains, most famous of which was the streamlined Crusader, which connected Philadelphia and Jersey City. Within New Jersey for much of their trips the Reading trains traveled over tracks of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The Intercity trains heading west and southwest from Jersey City were eliminated throughout the 1960s, with the final long distance lines eliminated in 1967 with the closure of the CNJ Terminal in 1967.

Other named trains in the fleet included the following:

  • Harrisburg Special: Jersey City-Harrisburg via Bethlehem
  • King Coal: Philadelphia-Shamokin, Pennsylvania
  • North Penn: Philadelphia-Bethlehem
  • Queen of the Valley: Jersey City-Harrisburg via Bethlehem
  • Schuylkill: Philadelphia-Pottsville
  • Wall Street: Philadelphia-Jersey City[3]

RDG also participated in the joint operation of The Interstate Express with CNJ and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, with service between Philadelphia and Syracuse, New York.[12] RDG also offered through passenger car service with the LV via Bethlehem. Like most railroads the RDG had contracts with the U.S. postal service to haul and sort mail en route. After World War II RDG looked at dropping the mail and in 1961 notified the federal government that it intended to stop mail service on their passenger trains. Postal contracts ended on July 1, 1963.[13]

RDG's passenger trains were deemed commuter trains and therefore not taken over by Amtrak. Philadelphia-Reading-Pottsville and Philadelphia-Bethlehem RDC diesel service was discontinued by SEPTA in July 1981. Philadelphia-New York service, once part of the Royal Blue route operated in partnership with B&O and CNJ, was reduced to a single Newark-West Trenton train when service ended in November 1982.[1]

Further information: SEPTA diesel service

The RDG also operated an extensive commuter operation out of Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, branching off of the Ninth Street Branch powered by small 4-4-0s, 4-4-2s and 4-6-0 camelbacks. RDG electrified the following suburban lines between 1929 and 1933:

The notable exception was the Fox Chase/Newtown branch. With the aid of public funding from the city of Philadelphia, the line was electrified as far as Fox Chase (the last station within city limits) in September 1966.[14] Electrification was to be completed through to Newtown in the 1970s, but government subsidies were not readily available, leaving the Fox Chase-Newtown section as the lone non-electrified suburban commuter route in the RDG system. Passenger service was terminated on January 14, 1983 amid political unrest under the auspices of SEPTA.[15]

Further information: Fox Chase Rapid Transit Line

Reading shops[edit]

In 1900, the Reading shops began construction along the Reading yards and North 6th street, facilitating the maintenance and construction of a greater locomotive and rolling stock fleet. The shops were completed four years later, with their imposing brick architecture. They were the largest railroad shops in the U.S., and unlike most railroads, allowed the RDG to construct its own engines.[3] Larger steam locomotives were introduced to haul the increasing traffic, including the massive N1 class (2-8-8-2) and RDG-built made one M1 class 2-8-2 freight hauler, Baldwin locomotive Works built the rest. Freight haulers were the massive K-1 2-10-2 locomotives, some were built in Reading, Pennsylvania from the mallets, others were built by Baldwin.

The G1 class 4-6-2 were passenger locomotives. These classes were an important break of tradition of the RDG's fleet. The M1s were the first Reading locomotives to include a trailing truck. The G1s were the first RDG passenger locomotives with three coupled driving wheels.[3] In 1945-47 the company took 30 class I-10, 2-8-0 locomotives and rebuilt them at the 6th Street facility into the modern T-1 class 4-8-4 locomotives at a cost of $6 million . This was a move to offset the fact that EMD FT diesel locomotives were hard to obtain. The steamers never ran long enough to pay back this major investment, but it did keep men employed. Of note was the RDG’s investment in smaller 4-4-0s and switcher fleet.[16]

Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
Reading Cornwall B&S
1925 6,775 9 0.8
1933 3,943 3 (incl in RDG)
1944 9,303 13
1960 5,685 8
1970 4,329 (incl in RDG)
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
Reading Cornwall B&S
1925 418 0.6 0.6
1933 150 0.01 (incl in RDG)
1944 541 0
1960 173 0
1970 195 (incl in RDG)

In popular culture[edit]

Although the Reading was habitually overshadowed by the much larger Pennsylvania Railroad, it still managed to make a mark on the public consciousness when railroads dominated the national economy. The railroad was a frequent target for the Molly Maguires, which the company hired Pinkertons to infiltrate and destroy. That conflict is reflected in a number of musicals[17] and printed works.[18]

Perhaps the greatest impact of the Reading on contemporary American imaginations arose from its being included on the Monopoly game board.[19]

Company officers[edit]

The presidents of the Reading were as follows:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f 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. 275–277. ISBN 0-89024-072-8. 
  2. ^ Hinz, Christopher. "The Reading Eagle". The Reading Eagle. Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Plant, Jeremy F. (1996). Reading Steam in Color, Volume 1. Edison, New Jersey: Morning Sun Books Inc. ISBN 1-878887-70-X. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Pennypacker, Bert (2002). Reading Company in Color Volume 2. Scotch Plains, New Jersey: Morning Sun Books Inc. p. 38. ISBN 1-58248-079-6. 
  5. ^ Reading Railroad
  6. ^ Plant, Jeremy F. (1998). Reading Company in Color, Volume 1. Edison, New Jersey: Morning Sun Books, Inc. ISBN 1-878887-95-5. 
  7. ^ Reading Eagle Quote: “1902: Reading Belt Line, which runs through West Reading and bypasses the city, is dedicated, 1900: Construction of new rail shops in Reading begins” ret>6/17/09
  8. ^ Treese, Lorett (2003). Railroads of Pennsylvania: fragments of the past in the Keystone landscape. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books. p. 114. ISBN 978-0-8117-2622-1. OCLC 50228411. 
  9. ^ Reading Cinemas SpecialModernDesign
  10. ^
  11. ^ <>
  12. ^ Greenberg, Jr., William T. "The Interstate Express" Railroad Model Craftsman, August, 2003: pp. 86-97.
  13. ^ READING EAGLE NEWSPAPER thurs.2-13-63."The Erie-Lackawanna Limited". Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  14. ^ "Light Rail". Light Rail Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  15. ^ Newtown Branch history
  16. ^ "Reading Steam roster". Retrieved 2010-07-29. 
  17. ^ E.g., The Dubliners, Molly Maguires.
  18. ^ E.g., Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires. Oxford University Press, New York, 1998. ISBN 978-0-19-510664-0
  19. ^ E.g., Scripophily, which describes the Reading Railroad Company as a "Monopoly Game Railroad"

Further reading[edit]

  • Coates, Wes (1990). "Electric Trains to Reading Terminal." Flanders (NJ), US: Railroad Avenue Enterprises, Inc.
  • Holton, James L. (1989). The Reading Railroad: History of a Coal Age Empire. Vol. I: The Nineteenth Century. Laurys Station, PA: Garrigues House, Publishers. ISBN 0-9620844-1-7
  • Holton, James L. (1992). The Reading Railroad: History of a Coal Age Empire Vol. II: The Twentieth Century. Laurys Station, PA: Garrigues House, Publishers. ISBN 0-9620844-3-3
  • Reading Company (1958). Building a Modern Railroad.
  • Losse, Bobb. "Reading Company Freight Cars: Volume 1, Covered Hopper Cars." Lumberton, NJ: David Carol Publications. ISBN 1-882559010)

External links[edit]