Stourbridge Railroad

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Stourbridge Railroad
Reporting mark SBRR
Locale Northeast Pennsylvania
Dates of operation 1976–2016
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Honesdale, Pennsylvania

The Stourbridge Railroad (reporting mark SBRR) is a shortline railroad that operates a 25 miles (40 km) former Erie Lackawanna Railroad branch line between Honesdale and Norfolk Southern Railway in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania. The line was previously owned by the Lackawaxen-Honesdale Shippers Association and operated under contract by Robey Railroads. The operation was contracted to the Morristown & Erie Railway in January 2009; service ended in 2011. Service was resumed by the Delaware Lackawaxen & Stourbridge Railroad Company May 9, 2015

Early history[edit]

The railroad traces its beginnings to the Delaware & Hudson Canal transporting barges of coal up from Pennsylvania and destined for the Hudson River and eventually the ports of New York City. A gravity railroad was built to carry coal over the mountains from Carbondale to Honesdale in 1829. Coal would be transferred from train to canal boat at Honesdale.

The Stourbridge Lion's first run, as depicted by Clyde Osmer DeLand c. 1916

Seeking to haul greater amounts, the idea of steam-powered locomotion was proposed. The leaders in steam technology at the time were in Great Britain, and so three engines were ordered and delivered to America. According to the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, this is the site of "the first commercial locomotive on rails in the western hemisphere"[i] took place on August 8, 1829. The locomotive was the Stourbridge Lion.[1] A replica of the Stourbridge Lion steam engine is on display in Honesdale to this day. Both the gravity railroad and the canal were shut down by 1898, and the D&H left to pursue other transportation activities.[2]

Erie Railroad era[edit]

In 1860, the Pennsylvania Coal Company began the construction of a 16-mile long railroad from Hawley, Pennsylvania, to a connection with the Erie Railroad at Lackawaxen. This new line was quickly leased to the Erie Railroad, and it was operated as their Hawley Branch. In 1868 the charter of the Jefferson Railroad was reactivated and construction progressed from Hawley towards Honesdale, hoping to reach Carbondale. This extension would never be built, even after the Erie took over in 1870. It would continue operation as the Honesdale Branch, and coal was the primary traffic.[3]

Coal traffic declined through the 1930s, but new local business took its place, warranting a five-day-a-week operation. In 1960 the Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad to form the Erie Lackawanna Railroad (EL). Traffic on the branch remained steady at about 3,000 cars per year.[4]

Hurricane Agnes hit the East on June 22, 1972. After estimating that the damage to EL, principally between Binghamton and Salamanca, New York, amounted to $2 million ($11,451,074 today), EL filed for bankruptcy on June 26, 1972.[5] During the reorganization of the eastern railroads, it was thought that EL might be able to reorganize on its own, and there was a proposal by Chessie System to buy a portion of the EL. However, operating unions could not reach a compromise, and Chessie canceled the agreement. Also, by 1975, the economy in the eastern United States was affected by the 1973 oil crisis, hurting any hopes of EL being able to independently compete with government-rehabilitated Conrail lines. Not surprisingly, EL asked to be included in Conrail. Due to the low density of traffic, the Honesdale Branch would not be included. Wayne County then made plans to purchase the line from EL to avoid abandonment.

Lackawaxen & Stourbridge[edit]

Proposals for short line operation were solicited from the Delaware Otsego Corporation, Rail Service Associates (operators of the Bath & Hammondsport Railroad), and TransAction Associates. Rail Service Associates (RSA) formed the Delaware, Lackawaxen & Western Railroad to take over the branch, and began its feasibility study. Early negotiations for subsidy came with the requirement that former union employees be made an offer for work at their current salary and benefit levels. Discussions with Conrail over rate divisions did not end favorably. In March 1976, with less than a month to go before the start up of Conrail, RSA pulled out of their proposal.[6]

An inquiry was made with Delaware Otsego (DO) to see if they were still interested in operating the line. Building off their recent success with the launch of the Central New York Railroad and the revival of the Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville Railroad (FJ&G), DO was confident the Honesdale Branch would be profitable. With two weeks until the deadline, DO formed the Lackawaxen & Stourbridge Railroad (L&S). A spare locomotive from the FJ&G was shipped down to Lackawaxen in anticipation of the start-up. The ownership of the tracks was still in question, so an emergency order was handed down by the ICC directing L&S to operate the branch after March 30, 1976.[7]

The first L&S train departed from Lackawaxen on April 1, 1976. The railroad's first blow was the loss of the local Agway mill in Honesdale.[8] The railroad was purchased from the estate of EL by the Lackawaxen-Honesdale Shippers Association (LHSA) in 1977, with operation contracted to DO. In 1979, the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce launched seasonal passenger excursions.

Later history[edit]

In June 1989 DO ended L&S operations L&S. The Stourbridge Railroad assumed operations through contract to Robey Railroads, operators of the North Shore Railroad. Seasonal passenger excursions continued to run, sponsored by Wayne County. Ownership of the line was conveyed from PennDOT to L&S on January 31, 2003.[9]

Service was suspended in 2005 when a bridge spanning the Wallenpaupack Creek was destroyed after Pennsylvania Power & Light made emergency water releases from the Lake Wallenpaupack Dam following heavy rains in April 2005: heavy rainfalls in June 2006 further damaged the weakened structure. L&S acquired control of the Stourbridge from Robey in July 2006.[10]

A grant of $800,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, plus $703,278 worth of FEMA money were put towards repairing the trestle over Wallenpaupack Creek. In May 2008, the line was purchased by Paul Brancato, a principal in Ideal Steel Supply Corp. who planned to build a steel fabrication plant at White Mills.

Operation were initially contracted to Central Penn Railroad. The line between Norfolk Southern Railroad and Route 590 in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania was repaired in anticipation of resumed service. It was suddenly announced in September 2008 that operation would transfer from Central Penn Railroad to the Morristown & Erie Railway (M&E); operations began in January 2009 as the Stourbridge Railway.

Passenger excursions to Hawley and Lackawaxen were operated on behalf of Wayne County.

Suspension[edit]

Citing a lack of funds, M&E absconded all funds and fled back to New Jersey. December 2011 that service had ceased indefinitely. A news story dated September 11, 2012 provided additional details, stating "a lack of money is keeping the Stourbridge Line Railroad excursions in Wayne County idle for the first time in more than 30 years... [T]he train needs repairs, and so do the tracks. One reason those repairs are not being made is because the land the tracks run through is up for sale... With the tracks used by the Stourbridge line being up for sale, and all the repairs that need to be made, no one is sure when, or even if, this train will be back up and running."[11]

Reopening[edit]

A target date of May 9, 2015 has been set for the reestablishment of the Stourbridge Line train excursions. The expected date of the first excursion in three years coincides with National Train Day. Mayor Jack Bishop said the Greater Honesdale Partnership has been updated on the return of the train rides and he is excited. “I will be very happy to see that,” said the mayor. The resurgence is being headed by the Delaware Lackawaxen & Stourbridge Railroad, which is owned by the Lackawaxen & Honesdale Shippers Association. The association board has approved agreements allowing the efforts of the DL&S to restart the railroad.[12]

The Stourbridge Line resumed operations on May 9, 2015. Regular public excursions will begin by the end of the month.[13]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Ignoring that steam locomotives had been in commercial operation in Europe for at least 15 years
  1. ^ Bailey, Michael R. (2014). "John Rastrick's Locomotives 1828–29". Loco Motion. The History Press. pp. 39–46. ISBN 978-0-7524-9101-1. 
  2. ^ Lewis, Edward A. (1978). "The DO Lines". The Baggage Car. p. 43. 
  3. ^ Lewis (1978), p. 44.
  4. ^ Lewis (1978), p. 45.
  5. ^ Moody's Transportation Manual, 1986, p. 1275
  6. ^ Lewis (1978), p. 46.
  7. ^ Lewis (1978), p. 47.
  8. ^ Lewis (1978), p. 53.
  9. ^ stb.dot.gov
  10. ^ gpo.gov
  11. ^ wnep.com
  12. ^ neagle.com
  13. ^ Lange, Stacy (May 9, 2015). "Stourbridge Line Back on Track in Wayne County". wnep.com. WNEP-TV. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 

External links[edit]