Lehigh & Hudson River – The Queen Village’s Jewel The Diesel Era by Peter Brill
358 pages, 250 photographs (141 black and white and 109 color), indexed, glossy paper, soft cover.
Expected delivery is June 6th
This volume covers the last quarter century of the L&HR’s existence, from the arrival of the diesel fleet, eleven Alco RS3’s, in 1950 until the Conrail takeover in 1976. In the period 1963-1966, the company purchased nine Alco C420’s and gradually phased out the RS3’s. Over the years, the railroad leased power from the Delaware & Hudson, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western and the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac. Jersey Central power commonly operated between Allentown and Maybrook. Pennsylvania Railroad power made a brief appearance in the 1960’s.
In the diesel era, the railroad was a bridge line carrier. Little traffic originated or terminated along its line. The milk and agricultural traffic of the steam era had either disappeared or been diverted to trucks. New Jersey Zinc’s Franklin operation was the line’s largest customer but the Franklin mine closed in 1954. Fortunately, in 1960, the L&HR was able to buy several miles of abandoned Susquehanna trackage to Ogdensburg where a shuttered New Jersey Zinc operation was eventually revived and became the major online shipper. Still, the L&HR was basically dependent on the fortunes and whims of its connections. The company recognized this and endeavored to build up its customer base but the modest success of this effort was overwhelmed by events beyond its control.
It was an era that began relatively optimistically, despite the long term decline in anthracite traffic, as bridge line competitors, the O&W and the L&NE, faltered and ceased operations. The L&HR celebrated its centennial in 1960. However, the merger of the DL&W and the Erie in 1961 set the L&HR on a downward course as the important DL&W Port Morris connection was soon lost. But, at least, the CNJ/RDG at Allentown and the LV/PRR at Phillipsburg remained.
Tonnage grew rapidly in the mid to late 1960’s as a number of New England utilities in Connecticut and Massachusetts embraced the unit coal train concept advocated by carriers such as the Reading. Unit trains of bituminous coal originating on the Baltimore & Ohio and Western Maryland were forwarded by the Reading to Allentown Yard where L&HR crews waited to forward the heavy trains to the New Haven at Maybrook, utilizing their trackage rights over the Jersey Central and Pennsylvania railroads. Even this traffic was prone to diversion as both CNJ and RDG owned tidewater coal piers that could and did ship barge loads of coal to New England. Unfortunately, the eventual conversion of many generating plants to oil killed bituminous traffic by the early 1970’s.
The formation of Penn Central and its eventual inclusion of the New Haven resulted in the decimation of the all-important Maybrook Yard connection as the former New York Central routes to New England were favored and PC downgraded its service via Maybrook. The L&HR lost its friendly PRR connection at Phillipsburg as well. The company gave up its trackage rights over CNJ into Allentown in late 1971 and retrenched to Hudson Yard in Phillipsburg where CNJ and LV still delivered. Finally, the 1974 Poughkeepsie Bridge fire destroyed what was left of the L&HR’s New England business. Train crews and other employees were laid off to cut expenses. Engines were sold off to raise cash. The shrunken company managed to survive in bankruptcy for a couple more years and then, along with most of its connections, was folded into Conrail in 1976, ending its 116 years of operation.
Although passenger service had ended over a decade before the diesel era, the L&HR saw more than its share of experimental passenger equipment and railfan steam and diesel excursions. Both the ACF Talgo Train and the United Aircraft Turbo Train passed over the railroad. Erie’s “Lake Cities” made a brief appearance on a detour after Hurricane Diane. Thanks to its multiple connections the L&HR was well suited for excursions in the New York metropolitan area and hosted former RDG T-1 4-8-4 No. 2124; Quakertown & Eastern No. 4, a former Buffalo Creek & Gauley 2-8-0; High Iron Company’s former Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No. 1286 and the engine terminal was the temporary home for former Nickel Plate 2-8-4 No 759.