Photographs & History

Photographs and History

The Downingtown & Lancaster Branch

On Philadelphia Division, we take a diverging path from the Main Line and Low Grade as we leave the Lancaster area to explore the former Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad, an interesting branch line operation that may have been the result of early efforts to expand the PRR soon after its charter. 

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the  Lancaster History Archive

The western end of the Downingtown & Lancaster Branch joined the PRR Main Line just east of the Conestoga River bridge. This undated view of ES tower with its classic wood frame structure looks east on the main line where it collapses from four to two tracks to cross the Conestoga. Left and behind the tower you can see the diverging route of the D&L. Image is from the collection of the Lancaster History Archive

Early History: Surviving segment of Thomson’s Poker Game? No sooner than the completion of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Main Line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh the fledging carrier looked to expand its empire by purchasing rights, property and franchises to gain entry to new markets and expand upon their existing system. Largely driven by third president, J. Edgar Thomson, one of the largest single objectives was to gain direct access to Philadelphia. This would require control of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, an 82-mile rail route that connected Philadelphia to the canal system at the P&C’s western terminus Columbia, all of which was part of the state-owned Main Line of Public Works. Though poorly engineered and in deplorable condition due to the mounting debt of the entire operation, the route had potential if the right funding could be secured and a staff of knowledgeable railroad men could be utilized to plan and execute improvements. This however would not be the problem for Thomson; it was more so the state who demanded a hefty sum for the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety with the clause that all parts of the system be improved and remain operational.  Thompson's response? Build another railroad and marginalize the state system.  Thus attention was focused on the recently incorporated Lancaster, Lebanon & Pine Grove Railroad, a start up enterprise looking to establish a connection between the Norristown Railroad and the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad which would essentially make the need for the P&C irrelevant. Founded in 1852, Christian Spangler a prominent Philadelphia businessman was named commissioner of the new line. Spangler, also a PRR board member would soon be named president of the railroad in 1853.  In the spring of the same year survey crews worked between Lebanon and Cornwall doing just enough work to look like the Lancaster & Pine Grove would come to fruition.

Detail of the 1855 map under Chief Engineer H. P Haupt shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad (across the upper center area of the map) which would eliminate the need to purchase the State's failing Main Line of Public Works. Though the route was never built the similarities of the line with Downingtown & Lancaster branch makes one wonder if the property had once been considered to be part of the plan had the Commonwealth and the PRR never came to terms. Map collection of the Library of Congress

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

Detail of a 1911 PRR system map showing the New Holland Branch, symbolic of the corporate restructuring that rolled the D&L franchise into the PRR portfolio of lines and assets. Map Collection of the author

In 1854, facing the reality of an investment that now accounted for almost all of the Commonwealth’s debt, fear of financial ruin motivated the state legislature to pass an act to sell the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety for the highest bidder above 10 Million dollars. The PRR wouldn’t budge; Thomson continued his bluff letting contracts to begin minimal construction with no intention of building an actual railroad but rather to force the hand of canal commissioners to sell on the PRR’s terms and price point.  For the next three years Thomson continued to wage his bets, showing public support for the construction of the Lancaster & Pine Grove. In 1855 the state legislature authorized another sale complete with operational clauses for the State Works to be sold at a minimum bid of $7.5 million; still no takers. Finally in 1857 a third bill was authorized for sale at or above $7.5 million including all rolling stock and property.  With no other offers the PRR took control of the Main Line of Public Works in its entirety on August 1st, 1857.  Now that Thomson had the last piece of railroad to complete a wholly owned main line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh the Lancaster & Pine Grove Railroad would be dropped.

 

While the bidding war for the PRR to assumed control of P&C raged on, the East Brandywine Railroad had chartered in 1854, building an 18 mile line between the main line at Downingtown and Waynesburg (later Honebrook), Pennsylvania. Commencing operations in 1860 and reorganizing as the East Brandywine & Waynesburg Railroad Company the railroad extended another ten miles west to New Holland by 1876 operating in rich agricultural country. The line was operated by the PRR under leases until June of 1888, when the property was sold under foreclosure and the company reorganized as the Downingtown & Lancaster Railroad Company.  The road would later be extended from New Holland to Conestoga Junction, a total of 9.8 miles, opening for traffic in September of 1890 with the PRR operating the entire line as agent. The Downingtown & Lancaster was never intended to operate as a primary route, with a ruling grade of 1.6% westward, but the rural line did service the agricultural region with connections to the main line at both ends. When comparing the proposed route of the Lancaster & Pine Grove on Herman Haupt’s 1855 map the uncanny similarity of the route with parts of the D&L makes one wonder if the alignment is surviving property that was pawn to Thompson’s high stakes poker game to gain control of the P&C. 

 

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The eastern end of contemporary operations is centered around Musselman Lumber in New Holland proper. Trackage here used to feature a wye track for turning locomotives, a freight station (which is now occupied by a screen printing company) and several public delivery tracks. The branch continues to the far eastern end of town and terminates around New Holland Concrete but currently no customers are utilizing rail east of this area

The Downingtown & Lancaster in the 20th Century: In 1903 the 37.5 mile line, property and franchises were officially purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad and operation remained much the same as it had for some time. New Holland was one of the larger centers for traffic on the branch, originally home to New Holland Machine, Musselman Brother’s Feed and Lumber, EM Rutter & Co. among several others. One particular company stood out later becoming a major shipper on the branch; New Holland Machine. Founded in 1875 by Abraham Zimmerman a black smith and mechanical genius, Zimmerman began offering his services to area farmers in need of repair or fabrication of farming equipment. Zimmerman grew his business carefully watching the rising need for the internal combustion engines in the farming industry.  Despite imperfect designs Zimmerman saw potential in these machines and sought to improve them by developing a new freeze proof water-cooled engine.  By 1903 Zimmerman had incorporated the New Holland Machine Company hiring 40 employees to mass-produce the engines in a facility located on Franklin Street.  Other items in Zimmerman’s product line included feed grinders, rock crushers and wood saws. By 1911 the company had grown to 150 employees and in 1927 the company employed 225. In 1947 the Sperry Corporation purchased New Holland Machine becoming Sperry-New Holland. Since the acquisition the company has changed hands several times and is now a brand of CNH Global which is majority owned by Fiat International. The New Holland, PA location remains the North American headquarters and is one of the largest plants for manufacturing hay tools in the world.

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

The frame combination freight and passenger station at Leola provided very modest accommodations for passengers up until 1930 when service was discontinued. 

William L. Seigford hired with the PRR in December of 1959 and was later promoted and transferred from the West Coast territory of the PRR to the Harrisburg Division where he was assigned to the Lancaster Territory. Locally based in the Lancaster area, part of his territory included the New Holland Branch. Among other major shippers, Bill worked closely with Sperry – New Holland, who received both inbound steel from various mills and shipped finished product. At one particular time during the final years of the Penn Central era Sperry was experiencing a surge in production and the railroad had difficulty providing the necessary flat cars on a daily basis to move the finished product. Bill recalls, “Sperry’s traffic manager came up with the idea to charter a small plane to fly over the railroad in order to scout empty flat cars sitting in yards or sidings and insisted I go with them. We flew over Enola then on up the Middle Division to Lewistown where they (Sperry) loaded flatcars at the public delivery tracks with product from their Belleville Plant.” Through a stop off arrangement written in the PRR tariffs, these flat cars would be partially loaded in New Holland then shipped to either the Mountville plant or Lewistown to be completed depending on what dealers out west needed in their shipment. During the early Conrail era, Philadelphia’s marketing offices quickly realized they were loosing money on the additional stop off and sought to put an end to the unprofitable arrangement. Shipment of outbound loads tapered off ending in the early 1980's but the plant continued to received inbound steel for a few more years until Sperry had the necessary trucking companies to haul both. 

The D&L faced several abandonments with the first major change in the 1950’s when 8 miles were abandoned severing the line’s end points. By the 1960’s the entire east end from Downingtown was gone and Honeybrook (formerly Waynesburg) was the far end of the branch from Lancaster. Conrail continued to cut the line back eventually making East Earl the end of the line. Today trackage ends on the far-east end of New Holland near New Holland Cement. The remainder of the extant line in service connects with the former PRR Main Line in Lancaster at Conestoga interlocking continuing 12.8 miles to the end of track. Though Sperry-New Holland doesn’t ship by rail the branch remains very profitable, being served today Monday through Friday by Norfolk Southern's locals H28 and H29 (afternoon relief crew) and is home to major shippers like Dart Container, L&S Sweeteners, RR Donnelley Printing and several others.  

I would like to acknowledge both William L. Seigford and Mark Hoffman for taking the time to show me around the branch and share a wealth of information on the operations and local history of the New Holland branch through its later PRR, PC and Conrail operations.

William H Brown: The Tale of Two Bridges

In a beautiful image by William H. Rau we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In a beautiful image by William H. Rau we see the Conestoga River bridge, one of Brown's first stone bridges. Utilizing the figure and boat as a device for scale in the foreground Rau is looking south, as noted by the finished facade of the bridge. To the left out of view is the Lancaster Water Works which still survives today. Photograph collection American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1881 a rising figure in the Pennsylvania Railroad by the name of William H. Brown was promoted to chief engineer. At 45 years old the Lancaster County native had 31 years under his belt working his way from a rod man on a survey crew in 1850 to the top of one of the most ambitious engineering departments in the railroad world. Brown had a reputation for knowing every grade, curve and crossing on the PRR. As chief engineer his tenure was likely one of the most notable in the transformation of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s physical plant during the 19th and early 20th centuries, implementing various programs of improvements up until his retirement in 1906. According to his obituary in the New York Times he, “made 133 changes and revisions to the Main Line, built fourteen elevated railways through cities, forty-one tunnels, and 163 stone bridges, including [the world's largest] Rockville stone bridge.” The last point was perhaps one his more notable achievements and certainly one of the most recognizable today; the stone masonry arch bridge.

The connection between Brown's first two stone bridges are linked to various correspondence in the planning stages for both locations. Born from the endorsement of stone bridges during the four track expansion, they diverged at the time of design. The Conestoga is two tracks with provisions for expansion (note protruding stone work along the arches) the Conemaugh bridge designed and built with four tracks. Both survive today and remain in active service on Amtrak's Keystone corridor and Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh line respectively. Left detail; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right detail William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

The connection between Brown's first two stone bridges are linked to various correspondence in the planning stages for both locations. Born from the endorsement of stone bridges during the four track expansion, they diverged at the time of design. The Conestoga is two tracks with provisions for expansion (note protruding stone work along the arches) the Conemaugh bridge designed and built with four tracks. Both survive today and remain in active service on Amtrak's Keystone corridor and Norfolk Southern's Pittsburgh line respectively. Left detail; Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Right detail William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Two of the earliest spans Brown designed for the Main Line were the crossing of the Conemaugh River in Johnstown and the Conestoga in Lancaster. Though bid separately both were originally to be constructed utilizing iron truss spans until Pittsburgh Division superintendent Robert Pitcairn endorsed the use of stone to Brown instead. Touting stone’s strength, durability and its abundant supply on the PRR, the stone bridge would be a long term solution, able to support the growing traffic and heavier trains the PRR was becoming accustomed to. It was there that the course divided for the two bridges. The Conemaugh bridge was built as planned with four tracks and the first to prove Pitcairn’s endorsement true surviving the wrath of the great flood of 1889 just a year after its completion.

With bridge renewals a major part of the program to expand the PRR’s trademark four track main line across the state of Pennsylvania, the Brandywine Creek bridge in Coatesville and the Conestoga bridge in Lancaster were the last remaining two track spans west from Philadelphia. As discussed previously, the Lancaster terminal was also a choke point in the movement of traffic necessitating the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off. Just to the east of the junction of this new route with the old main was the Conestoga River, a 61-mile tributary of the Susquehanna. The crossing of the Conestoga saw several successive bridges built for the railroad; the first a 1400’ long series of wood lattice truss spans dating from the P&C which was consumed by fire and later replaced with a fill and a shortened series of iron Whipple trusses around the Civil War. Though Brown had considered another iron design for Conestoga in 1887 its design ultimately followed the fate of the Conemaugh bridge, choosing to use stone instead. Though initial correspondence suggests the Conestoga bridge was to be a four-track span, costs and traffic levels dictated a compromise in design, building a two-track span with provisions in place for expansion. As a result the five arch, 329’ long stone masonry bridge was constructed with foundations to support a four track span. In addition, contractors left stones protruding from the southern side of the bridge, which would allow for any expansion to tie into the existing structure when demand necessitated. Completed in 1888 traffic grew through the next decade but plans were on the horizon that would direct freight off the main line to a new dedicated low-grade from Atglen to Columbia, by-passing Lancaster all together. Though the span in Coatesville was replaced in 1906 to support the combined traffic demands east of Atglen the Conestoga bridge was never expanded, nor was the main line between Lancaster and Royalton since the PRR now had three two-track routes for both freight and passenger moves via the Main Line, Atglen & Susquehanna low grade and the Columbia branch.

Today many of Brown’s bridges are still in service without remark; the only exception of course is Shock’s Mills, which partially failed during Hurricane Agnes in 1972. Building like the Romans for an empire in the transportation world, Mr. Brown and other people like him on competing railroads represented the pinnacle of engineering, design and forethought that built the United States and are largely responsible for the rail networks we have today.

New Line: PRR's Lancaster Cut-Off

1912 Sanborn Map Illustrating the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off which would divert traffic away from the PRR's congested Old Main through the city center. Map collection of the Penn State University Library.

1912 Sanborn Map Illustrating the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off which would divert traffic away from the PRR's congested Old Main through the city center. Map collection of the Penn State University Library.

Opening in 1883 the Lancaster Cut-Off was part of a series of main line improvements to eliminate excessive grades, traffic congestion and operational issues associated with the original main line through downtown Lancaster. Under the direction of chief engineer William H. Brown a two-track bypass running along the city’s north side was constructed between Dillerville and an interlocking named CG where it joined the existing main line just west of the Conestoga River. Though originally designed to divert only through trains away from Lancaster the improved line became the preferred routing because of the continuing problems operating through the busy city center. As a result service to the station on Queen Street declined, stirring complaints from city officials who demanded better passenger rail service.

Interior view of the concourse bridge waiting area in the 1928-29 passenger station that replaced the antiquated Queen Street station facility on the Old Main.

Interior view of the concourse bridge waiting area in the 1928-29 passenger station that replaced the antiquated Queen Street station facility on the Old Main.

Complaints continued well into the 20th century until city officials and the PRR began negotiations for a new passenger station to be located on the Cut-Off. Construction of the new facility began in August of 1928 and was dedicated dedication on April 27th of 1929. Situated between Lititz Pike and North Prince Street the beautiful brick and limestone colonial revival styled station featured a second floor waiting room with large arched windows and limestone walls. A concourse bridge over the main line connected the waiting room with 2 high level platforms while baggage was moved via a subterranean tunnel and elevators from the neighboring express building located immediately west of the station.

This plate drawing of the consolidated CORK interlocking plant circa 1963 illustrates the expansiveness of the consolidated territory which was once controlled be three separate towers. Plate drawing collection of  The Broad Way.

This plate drawing of the consolidated CORK interlocking plant circa 1963 illustrates the expansiveness of the consolidated territory which was once controlled be three separate towers. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way.

The construction of the new facility also necessitated additional track capacity since the old line would be largely abandoned after this project was complete. Sidings and runners were added to the two main tracks through the station complex. A new interlocking tower aptly named Lancaster controlled the new station trackage in addition to consolidating three existing interlocking towers: DV (Dillerville) - junction with the Old Line, Cut-off, Columbia branch and H&L to Harrisburg, CG (Conestoga) junction of the old main, cut-off and main line east and ES - junction with the New Holland Branch and end of the four track main line just east of the Conestoga bridge. Later renamed Cork this standard design tower of the Depression era was constructed of brick with a copper clad bay and hip roof. Inside the tower a 67 lever Union Switch & Signal Model 14 interlocking machine controlled the expansive physical plant.

As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic that did not service the City of Lancaster, today the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off the grade of the Old Line can be spotted at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The expansive area around the main looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and main line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

As built the Lancaster Cut-Off was intended to bypass traffic that did not service the City of Lancaster, today the route is the sole surviving main line for Amtrak and Norfolk Southern operations based out of Dillerville. On the east end of the Cut-Off the grade of the Old Line can be spotted at former CG interlocking where the two lines split. (L) In the brush to the left you can make out the diverging path of the Old Main in the gap in the trees. (R) The expansive area around the main looking east is where the Old Line connected to the Cut-Off and main line east. Just out of view is the Conestoga River Bridge.

Cork remained operational into the 21st century, during the Keystone Corridor rebuild several revisions to the interlocking simplified the infrastructure in the area pairing out the various control points and retrofitting the old building with new CTC like control boards mounted directly to the old interlocking machine. By the close of the first quarter of 2013 Cork’s local control was cut-over to Amtrak’s centralized dispatching center in Delaware, ending 84 years of continual service under three different railroads. Despite the loss of CORK the PRR passenger station continues to serve the city of Lancaster  undergoing a slow and expensive renovation that will renew its facade and interior while adding modern amenities like climate control and new electrical systems. It is unclear to the author if additional retail spaces will be developed in the lower level but the facility seems to be ripe with opportunity for travelers who visit the county seat, home to a vibrant arts and tourism region. Only time will tell what the final development of the Lancaster passenger station will bring but today it continues to serve its intended purpose maintaining the Pennsylvania Railroad's presence in the city of Lancaster.

Dillerville: Lancaster's Western Gateway

Dillerville Junction was a complex interlocking controlling access to several important lines on the PRR in the northwestern corner of Lancaster. This remarkable view looking railroad west from the Lancaster Cut-Off depicts the new line veering off to the right connecting with the H&L line to Harrisburg. The old alignment of the H&L into Dillerville and Lancaster still exists and is where Rau's photographic train is sitting behind the interlocking tower. Straight ahead is the connection to the Columbia Branch while the tracks that fan off to the left from that line in the distance  are the original alignment and connection to the Old Main to the Queen Street station. The last line of note through the junction is the single track passing left to right in front of the tower crossing all of the PRR tracks at grade, this was the Reading Company's Lancaster Branch, part of its Reading & Columbia Division which terminated at the foot of North Prince Street. The meticulous landscaping, track and ballast work reflect a railroad that took great pride in their physical plant. Image circa 1888 by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

Dillerville Junction was a complex interlocking controlling access to several important lines on the PRR in the northwestern corner of Lancaster. This remarkable view looking railroad west from the Lancaster Cut-Off depicts the new line veering off to the right connecting with the H&L line to Harrisburg. The old alignment of the H&L into Dillerville and Lancaster still exists and is where Rau's photographic train is sitting behind the interlocking tower. Straight ahead is the connection to the Columbia Branch while the tracks that fan off to the left from that line in the distance  are the original alignment and connection to the Old Main to the Queen Street station. The last line of note through the junction is the single track passing left to right in front of the tower crossing all of the PRR tracks at grade, this was the Reading Company's Lancaster Branch, part of its Reading & Columbia Division which terminated at the foot of North Prince Street. The meticulous landscaping, track and ballast work reflect a railroad that took great pride in their physical plant. Image circa 1888 by William H. Rau, Collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc. 

In 1835 Revolutionary War officer and Sheriff of Lancaster County, Adam Diller founded Dillerville, a one time separate settlement in Lancaster’s northwest corner. In June of the same year Diller would grant the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad a 1.5-acre plot to construct a depot. From these meager beginnings Dillerville would develop to become the western gateway of the Lancaster terminal, evolving with continual improvements after the PRR assumed control of the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroads.

Originally the location where the PRR predecessors split away heading west on their respective routes, DV interlocking as it became known, developed into a far more complex facility with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-Off in 1883. The second know tower in this location was completed in 1884 for the new cut-off utilizing Armstrong levers to control lower quadrant semaphore signals and switch points throughout the junction. This tower was built in the typical style of that era with Victorian details including a slate shingled hip roof and center cupola similar to surviving examples like LEMO tower now located in Strasburg, PA and SHORE at Frankford Junction in Philadelphia. DV was an important facility, directing trains to the Columbia Branch, Old Main, H&L line to Harrisburg and the Lancaster Cut-Off / Main Line east. On either side of the interlocking there were several yards servicing industries on the Old Main and the later plants of Armstrong World Industries and its predecessors. Adding to the complexity of this interlocking was an at grade crossing of the R&C division of the Reading Company who’s Lancaster Branch terminated at the foot of Prince Street in the north west corner of the city.

This view looks west depicting the first tower at Dillerville around 1880. To the left is the Columbia Branch of the former P&C  and to the right is the former H&L to Harrisburg. Note the sign on this early wood frame octagonal switch tower which proclaims an exact distance of 69 and 30/100 miles to Philadelphia and 283 and 70/100 miles to Pittsburgh. Another noteworthy detail is the early signals utilized to govern traffic at the junction. As evident from Rau's photo in 1888 this junction would be greatly reconfigured with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-off. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

This view looks west depicting the first tower at Dillerville around 1880. To the left is the Columbia Branch of the former P&C  and to the right is the former H&L to Harrisburg. Note the sign on this early wood frame octagonal switch tower which proclaims an exact distance of 69 and 30/100 miles to Philadelphia and 283 and 70/100 miles to Pittsburgh. Another noteworthy detail is the early signals utilized to govern traffic at the junction. As evident from Rau's photo in 1888 this junction would be greatly reconfigured with the addition of the Lancaster Cut-off. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In the late 1920s DV interlocking was part of a consolidation project in preparation for the opening of a new passenger station complex on the Cut-Off centralizing several towers into Lancaster Tower, which was later renamed Cork for its proximity to the PRR’s largest freight customer in the city, Crown Cork & Seal (Armstrong). Another component to this improvements program involved partial abandonment of the Old Line retaining only the segment from West Yard to the freight houses on Water Street. Dillerville Yard continued to serve as a local base of freight operations for the diverse manufacturing and agricultural consignees in the city and beyond on both the Main Line and New Holland Branch.

Views looking east and west from the footbridge off Liberty Street in the Dillerville area of Lancaster. (L) Looking west on the Old Main one can see the catenary poles of the Lancaster Cut-Off in the distance coming in from the right. At DV interlocking this line crossed at grade with the Columbia Branch and connected to the former H&L to head west to Harrisburg. (R) Looking east was the remaining segment of the former Old Main which recently terminated at the foot of Mulberry Street and Harrisburg Avenue. Here a bulk transfer trestle, crew base and engine storage area were all recently abandoned when NS completed the new H. Craig Lewis yard part of  the Lancaster Northwest Gateway redevelopment project. 

Views looking east and west from the footbridge off Liberty Street in the Dillerville area of Lancaster. (L) Looking west on the Old Main one can see the catenary poles of the Lancaster Cut-Off in the distance coming in from the right. At DV interlocking this line crossed at grade with the Columbia Branch and connected to the former H&L to head west to Harrisburg. (R) Looking east was the remaining segment of the former Old Main which recently terminated at the foot of Mulberry Street and Harrisburg Avenue. Here a bulk transfer trestle, crew base and engine storage area were all recently abandoned when NS completed the new H. Craig Lewis yard part of  the Lancaster Northwest Gateway redevelopment project. 

In 2009 Norfolk Southern, successor of PRR operations in the area (through the purchase of Conrail) began a major reconfiguration of Dillerville Yard in order to accommodate the $75 million Lancaster Northwest Gateway Project, which is developing acres of unused brown fields to provide expansion opportunities for both Lancaster General Hospital and Franklin & Marshal College. Earlier this year the last of the remaining PRR era facilities including the pedestrian bridge, trans-load facility and engine terminal were abandoned after NS dedicated new facilities in a yard named after the late H. Craig Lewis state senator and former NS VP of corporate affairs. Part of more than a century of urban renewal the Northwest Gateway Project is the last effort in removing all rail activity from the city center including the industries the railroads once served completing an effort that began in the 1880's with the construction of the Lancaster Cut-Off.

Lancaster Terminal: The Old Main

Postcard view of the ornate Victorian styled PRR station located at N. Queen and E. Chestnut Streets in the city of Lancaster. Collection of the author. 

Postcard view of the ornate Victorian styled PRR station located at N. Queen and E. Chestnut Streets in the city of Lancaster. Collection of the author. 

Lancaster Old Main: The original main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad made a gentle southern arc from the area of Dillerville in the northwest corner of the city limits to where it crossed the Conestoga in the northeast, intersecting busy streets through the growing city of Lancaster. The line was the combination of routes built by the Philadelphia & Columbia (P&C) and Harrisburg & Lancaster (H&L) railroads. The P&C, part of the state built Main Line of Public Works, was a through route connecting Philadelphia to the east and Columbia to the west. The H&L was an early private venture that terminated in Lancaster connecting the P&C via its own main line directly to Elizabethtown and Harrisburg. Shortly after the charter and beginning of construction on the main line between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh the PRR contracted a 20-year agreement with the H&L in 1848, part of an effort to secure a direct route to Philadelphia. J. Edgar Thompson would accomplished this goal when the PRR finally assumed operations of the P&C in 1857, part of its $7.5 million purchase of the Main Line of Public Works. With the reorganization of both lines into the PRR, traffic patterns west from Lancaster evolved to a pattern familiar to contemporary operations with passenger trains favoring the more direct H&L and the P&C for freight traffic.

1912 map detail showing the congested area surrounding the original alignment of the Philadelphia and Columbia route which became the PRR's original main line through Lancaster. The station was located at Queen and Chestnut Streets (location 25 on the map) and the freight terminal was on the corner of Prince and Walnut Streets (upper left from station). Map collection of the Penn State University Library

1912 map detail showing the congested area surrounding the original alignment of the Philadelphia and Columbia route which became the PRR's original main line through Lancaster. The station was located at Queen and Chestnut Streets (location 25 on the map) and the freight terminal was on the corner of Prince and Walnut Streets (upper left from station). Map collection of the Penn State University Library

After the PRR purchased the P&C it immediately took initiatives to replace primitive station facilities run out of a local inn. The result was a beautiful train shed and station built between Queen and North Christian Streets parallel to Chestnut Street. While a drastic improvement from previous arrangements it would prove to be a stopgap measurement for the fast growing railroad. Larger operational issues existed to the west of the station in a maze of trackage servicing both PRR owned freight houses and numerous industries most of which was at grade with the city streets. Adding to the congestion was the connection to the Quarryville Branch and interchange with the Reading Company’s R&C Division all within the city limits.

Images detailing both the freight terminal and industrial tracks the spurred off the main line (left) and the western view from the passenger station shed looking out on the crossing of N. Queen Street. These images reinforce the complicated and dangerous operating conditions the city and railroad faced on a daily basis. Both images courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Images detailing both the freight terminal and industrial tracks the spurred off the main line (left) and the western view from the passenger station shed looking out on the crossing of N. Queen Street. These images reinforce the complicated and dangerous operating conditions the city and railroad faced on a daily basis. Both images courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Serving as the sole through route into the 1880’s the PRR addressed the limitations of the Old Main by constructing a bypass known as the Lancaster Cut-Off. After the 1883 opening of this new route only trains serving Lancaster navigated the city route. Despite the growth and increasing need for more rail transportation the unfortunate reality was the mighty PRR was diverting more and more trains away from the Queen Street station in favor of the new by-pass. The net result meant mounting political pressure on the PRR from city government to provide residents and visitors improved rail transportation, an issue  that would continue well into the 1920’s. This era marks the beginning of an effort of urban renewal that continues to change how people and the railroads interface with the city of Lancaster. In future posts we will continue the discussion of how and when the PRR diverted operations away from the Old Main and how successors have continued to revise and improve local facilities and operations.

Lancaster's Railroad History | A Brief Overview

The city of Lancaster has a rich and diverse history that began in the late 1600’s as a part of the Penn’s Woods Charter, a 45,000 square mile land grant to establish an English Quaker Colony in the New World. The area of Lancaster would develop and flourish around rich agricultural land and the development of iron forges throughout the 1700’s. As iron production increased the need to develop road networks became necessary to bring in raw materials and transport finished product to market, the Philadelphia & Lancaster Turnpike was one of the first, opening in 1795. Lancaster held the honor of being the state capitol from 1799-1812 and was incorporated as a city in 1818 developing at the crossroads of trade routes connecting Philadelphia with manufacturing centers like Columbia, York, Lebanon and Portsmouth (Middletown).

City of Lancaster, circa 1864. David Rumsey Map Collection.

City of Lancaster, circa 1864. David Rumsey Map Collection.

Early in the first quarter of the 19th Century construction of the Erie Canal put the state of New York at a great  advantage over Philadelphia and the Comonwealth in trade and commerce. In an effort to compete, Pennsylvania would embark on a similar project known as the Main Line of Public Works, an ambitious network that utilized a multimodal system of railroads and canals. While the Erie Canal was in use by 1821, Pennsylvania did not break ground until 1828 and the network was not complete until 1834. What would determine success of these networks was ultimately the topography. The Commonwealth was far more challenging than the water level route of the Erie putting the Main Line of Public Works at a major disadvantage. The Main Line of Public Works  network required multiple transfers to move cargo from train to boat in Columbia, back to train in Hollidaysburg, onto inclined planes to surmount the Alleghenies, and back to boat in Johnstown.  Though the trip was a vast improvement over wagon travel, it was still hampered by logistics and weather. Though woefully under-engineered the only potential success of this network was found on the east end, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad which ran the 82 miles between its namesake towns with Lancaster along the way.

Detail of an 1855 map illustrating the Pennsylvania Railroad system and its connections. This map shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pinegrove Railroad which was to bypass the Philadelphia & Columbia to gain access to Philadelphia prior to the Commonwealth and the PRR coming to an agreement on the sale price of the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857. Map collection of the Library of Congress. 

Detail of an 1855 map illustrating the Pennsylvania Railroad system and its connections. This map shows the proposed Lebanon, Lancaster & Pinegrove Railroad which was to bypass the Philadelphia & Columbia to gain access to Philadelphia prior to the Commonwealth and the PRR coming to an agreement on the sale price of the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857. Map collection of the Library of Congress. 

The potential success of this new railroad spurred private ventures to construct connecting lines like the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad (H&L for short) which completed its route in 1838 bypassing the train-boat transfer in Columbia and thus connecting local industry to an all rail route to Philadelphia. Recognizing the overall failure of the Main Line of Public Works the Commonwealth deemed that a private venture should be chartered to construct an all rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh in order to preserve and improve trade and commerce, therefore in 1846 the Pennsylvania Railroad was born. Once the PRR route was complete to Pittsburgh, lines east of Harrisburg including the H&L and P&C became the object of desire for the young railroad striving to complete an exclusive rail network between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An operating arrangement was established with the H&L in 1848 leaving one last lynch pin, the now cash starved P&C. The Commonwealth offered the entire Main Line of Public Works system for sale in 1854 but it wasn’t until 1857 that the PRR would agree to purchase the system for $7.5 million, almost a third of the original asking price. This purchase secured the final segment of a wholly owned rail route between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia while also providing the surplus canal right of way that would be crucial to expanding and improving the main line west of Harrisburg. With the potential for increased traffic the railroad began improvements to its main line system, an endeavor that would continue on and off well into the 20th Century. Antiquated facilities in Lancaster were a continuing concern; construction commenced on a new station in 1860, several bridges were improved, the physical plant expanded and finally a by-pass route was built around the congested city center in 1883. By 1904 the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to the Conestoga River was four tracks wide. In Lancaster the complex terminal reduced down from four tracks to two on the east end, splitting twice, once between the old main and the 1883 Lancaster cut-off and again at Dillerville where the old main (former H&L) connected back to the cut-off and the former P&C diverged to Columbia. Though plagued by the two track bottleneck over the Conestoga for some time, completion of the Atglen & Susquehanna branch in 1906 diverted a considerable amount of freight traffic away from Lancaster to the east and the two track Conestoga Bridge would remain as is, adequate to handle the remaining traffic on the main line.

One of many early improvements in the Lancaster terminal area was the stone bridge over the Conestoga River where the main line from the east entered Lancaster. Designed by Chief Engineer William H. Brown and completed in 1887 the two track Conestoga Bridge is unique in its design as the south side was left with protruding stonework to allow for further expansion had the railroad required additional capacity. Though this bridge was an operational bottleneck when the mai nline east was four-tracked subsequent construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna branch alleviated much of the through freight congestion in the Lancaster area.  Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.     

One of many early improvements in the Lancaster terminal area was the stone bridge over the Conestoga River where the main line from the east entered Lancaster. Designed by Chief Engineer William H. Brown and completed in 1887 the two track Conestoga Bridge is unique in its design as the south side was left with protruding stonework to allow for further expansion had the railroad required additional capacity. Though this bridge was an operational bottleneck when the mai nline east was four-tracked subsequent construction of the Atglen and Susquehanna branch alleviated much of the through freight congestion in the Lancaster area.  Image courtesy of LancasterHistory.org, Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

 

Terminal improvements continued in the 1920’s including the abandonment of the old main and 1860 station in favor of a new passenger station on the cut-off providing expanded train service, the result of political pressure and some gentle encouragement from Armstrong Cork a major PRR customer in Lancaster. Around the same time electrification was sweeping the eastern main line, preparations were being made to modernize area interlocking plants which were centralized to a single tower appropriately named Lancaster (renamed CORK a few years after its construction for the neighboring plant of Armstrong Cork). In 1938 electrification of the Paoli – Harrisburg main line, Low Grade and Columbia branch were complete; Electric locomotives were now hauling the bulk of freight and passenger trains west to Harrisburg, leaving steam and later diesel propulsion to switch sprawling industries scattered about on the remaining sections of the old main, Dillerville area, Quarryville and New Holland branches.

Part of the last wave of Pennsylvania Railroad improvements in the Lancaster area was the 1927 abandonment of the old main line and station through town and the opening of the new passenger station on what was formerly the Lancaster Cut-Off, now essentially the new main line. Further improvements came in 1938 with the completion of the final phase of electrification including the main line from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Low Grade and Columbia branch. Illustrated here in a view looking east is the new station facility and Cork interlocking tower which consolidated control of several interlockings in the Lancaster area. Image collection of the author.

Part of the last wave of Pennsylvania Railroad improvements in the Lancaster area was the 1927 abandonment of the old main line and station through town and the opening of the new passenger station on what was formerly the Lancaster Cut-Off, now essentially the new main line. Further improvements came in 1938 with the completion of the final phase of electrification including the main line from Paoli to Harrisburg, the Low Grade and Columbia branch. Illustrated here in a view looking east is the new station facility and Cork interlocking tower which consolidated control of several interlockings in the Lancaster area. Image collection of the author.

Lancaster and the railroad thrived during the surge of World War II traffic but as peacetime settled in, the PRR began to show its age, left with mounting debts and a worn out physical plant. With a decrease in traffic and increasing competition from trucking the rationing of their physical plant began in the early 1960’s removing two of the main tracks east of the Conestoga Bridge to Parkesburg. Traffic continued to diminish and the ill-fated merger of the NYC and PRR drained cash away from much needed infrastructure improvements. In 1971 Amtrak was created to preserve national passenger train service, on the Harrisburg Line the new company slowly began carving away at money loosing  local, regional and long distance services the PRR once provided. In 1976 Conrail assumed control of freight operations in the Lancaster/Dillerville area which continues to generating traffic from a number of large industrial plants and new distribution warehouses. In the late 1990’s the future of Lancaster’s railroads faced more changes. Conrail was split up by CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Corporation, the later which assumed control of Lancaster freight operations. Amtrak’s Keystone Line was designated a high-speed corridor and work slowly began to rebuild the Harrisburg - Philadelphia main line for hourly electrified service once again. In 2008 Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster General Hospital struck an agreement with NS to develop the land along the former old main that was retained for yard and bulk transfer facilites for the railroad. NS commenced a long-term project to move, reconfigure and expand Dillerville Yard all of which was completed at the close of 2013. Today contractors are removing the remaining traces of the old main changing the local landscape forever. Amtrak’s rebuilding of the former PRR Main Line is largely complete including the tumultuous rehab of Lancaster’s 1929 depot, the streamlining of the physical plant and the closing of Cork tower, one of a few left on the former PRR system. Though the PRR has been absent from the Lancaster area for over 45 years its legacy remains a vital infrastructure to the local economy. Over the next few months we will spend some time exploring the various lines and history of the Lancaster area including current and historic facilities.

Celebrating Labor Day on the Pennsylvania Railroad

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

A remarkable PRR system map from 1855 showing the original main line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh including eastern connections to the Philadelphia & Columbia and Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad. Note the inscription of Chief Engineer Herman Haupt, who succeeded J. Edgar Thompson when he became the third president of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1847 where he would remain until his death in 1874. For 27 years as president, Thompson still played a very active role in engineering the PRR from a single track intrastate carrier to one of the most influential and wealthiest railroads in the land. Map created by J.P. & J. Lesley Jr. Topographers, the collection of the Library of Congress.  

September 1st, 1849 marks a day of significant history in the early years of the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1838 State and Philadelphia officials acknowledged the failure of the Main Line of Public Works and the need for a privately owned all rail route to preserve Philadelphia’s western trade. As a result surveyor, Charles L. Schlatter was sent to the wilds of western Pennsylvania to survey various routes for such a potential venture. Schlatter returned with three options; the one selected would follow the Juniata and Conemaugh Rivers, and by 1845 the legislature was asked to charter such a railroad.

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Trimmers Rock, a location along the Juniata Division of the Main Line of Public Works canal system represents the typical landscape of the original PRR main line to Lewistown, loosely following the canal network the railroad later used to improve and relocate its main line alignment. Photograph by William H. Rau, collection of American Premier Underwriters, Inc

Much to the dislike of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad who was attempting to build a line into Pittsburgh, the State Legislature passed an act on April 13th, 1846 incorporating the Pennsylvania Railroad.  The new company recruited J. Edgar Thomson as Cheif Engineer, and by early in 1847, the railroad let contracts to begin construction of the first 20 miles west of Harrisburg and 15 miles east of Pittsburgh, to meet requirements to make the B&O’s Pennsylvania charter null and void. By the end of 1848 more contracts for the grading of roadbed would total 117 miles of right of way west of Harrisburg to Logans Narrows. The anticipated operations to commence between Harrisburg and Lewistown by 1848, however, due to problems constructing the Susquehanna River bridge, the difficulty of obtaining rails fast enough and the overall lack of labor the opening would be delayed for some time.

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The surviving main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad owes its success to the years of tireless improvements that all began with the charter to build a privately operated railroad connecting Philadelphia to the west in 1846 opening the route between Harrisburg and Lewistown on September 1st, 1849. The Main Line, looking west, Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The first segment of the Pennsylvania Railroad was completed and open for service providing a connection with the Canal and Turnpike system on September 1st, 1849. Though one of the easier segments of the original PRR construction this important date begins a chapter in rail transportation history that would forever change the landscape of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With much fan fare, the first through train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh departed On December 10th, 1852 commencing operation on the PRR which has been in continual service since. With the evolution of the PRR’s route in the 19th Century, advancements in technology and engineering the State’s first east west rail line would develop into a conduit of industry and commerce. The very same route that visionaries like C.L. Schlatter and J. Edgar Thomson laid out and successor William H. Brown improved upon survives today as a vital transportation link in the Norfolk Southern rail network, remaining in regular service for over 165 years.

Though for many of Labor Day marks the end of summer, we should all take a moment to acknowledge the countless men and woman that work to keep our rail networks viable, maintaining a transportation system that has been vital to American life for generations. Have a safe and happy Labor Day Weekend!

Main Line Tour Resumes!

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

Interior detail of the 1929 Lancaster passenger station. Lancaster is the county seat of Lancaster County and was an important junction between the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt Joy and Lancaster Railroad and the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway. After the PRR assumed operations of both railroads, Lancaster remained an important terminal for both passenger and freight operations in the area with many consignees including the large Armstrong Industries facility. 

There is a rich history associated with what became known as the Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Starting in the mid 1830’s the State owned Main Line of Public Works would construct a railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia, Pennsylvania connecting to a network of canals that was intended to compete with the Erie Canal. The system was troubled from the start as the advent of the railroad quickly triumphed over the slow, seasonal travel of the canals. The 1846 charter of the Pennsylvania Railroad eliminated any chance of the system succeeding as the new railroad paralleled the canal from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. Upon arrival at the Ohio River, the young PRR looked to expand from its current terminal points aiming to secure access to lines reaching West as well as to Philadelphia and New York. Initially the PRR had negotiated the right to operate over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway in 1853 but poor track conditions, a result of the Main Line of Public Works financial distress, presented major limitations.

Seeking an alternative to the P&C the PRR surveyed a route in 1853 known as the Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad, a route that would bypass the P&C all together, creating direct competition while taking away some of the State Works only railroad revenue. Construction however never took place, as the PRR finally purchased the failing Main Line of Public Works in 1857 for $7.5 million. This purchase included the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad providing exclusive control of the railroad to Philadelphia.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

At the top of a complicated and dense triangle of heavy freight and passenger traffic funneling west from major costal cities, the Philadelphia Division was the gauntlet that fed traffic to the Middle and Northern Divisions. Map created with help of Elizabeth Timmons.

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Another formative railroad in the evolution of the PRR expansion east from Harrisburg was the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy & Lancaster Railroad. It was chartered in 1837 to connect Harrisburg and Lancaster to the Portsmouth Canal Basin in modern day Middletown. One of its founders and first president was a young James Buchanan who would later become the United State’s 15th President. Indicated by its name, this route provided an attractive connection with the PRR in Harrisburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad in Lancaster via the new line, eliminating part of slow trip on the P&C. In 1848 the PRR contracted a lease for 20 years, which was later extended to 999 years to operate the HPMtJ&L, making it the first of many independent railroads the PRR would absorb to build its empire.

As the railroad expanded and traffic grew, this main line network proved to be outdated to meet the needs of the PRR. Extensive rebuilding, expansion, realignment and added infrastructure continued to alter the railroad landscape in bucolic Lancaster County. By the 1880s Chief engineer William H. Brown had begun improving the main line, expanding the route to the trademark four-track main line, and replacing lighter bridges with the ubiquitous stone arch bridge he became known for. Though these improvements alleviated congestion, the undulating grades of these alignments, which dated from the formative years of American railroad development, were far from ideal for the future.

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Insets: Route guides based on 1954 Employee Timetables of the PRR Philadelphia Division - adjusted for eastward direction and  annotated to simplify presentation. You will see more of these for better reference and context of other locations as we continue our tour of the Main Line and Low Grade. 

Enter PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt who undertook a monumental system improvements project between 1902 and 1906 to eliminate operational bottlenecks and further modernize the PRR network. Cassatt and Brown would begin constructing what Chief Engineer and 3rd PRR President J. Edgar Thompson had envisioned many years before. Building a Low Grade route that provided freight traffic a dedicated right of way free of major grades, obstructions and curvature that would span the system between the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers, with the intention of going as far east as Colonia, New Jersey as well as a by-pass of the original Main Line into Philadelphia along Darby Creek.

A major piece of the this network was the Atglen and Susquehanna Branch, a two track main line that ran from a connection with the Northern Central south of Harrisburg, improving upon existing trackage to a location just south of Columbia, where the branch diverged off on what was the largest piece of new construction the PRR had taken on to date. Running across the rolling hills of Southern Lancaster County through cuts and fills, the A&S would connect back to the Main Line at Parkesburg continuing on a shared right of way to Thorndale where the routes split yet again, with the Low Grade continuing on the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch and the Trenton Cut-Off to Morrisville, and the Main Line into Philadelphia via Paoli. Opening in 1906, the A&S thrived for many years providing the capacity the railroad needed to handle the spike in traffic during World War I and II but would later fall prey to the Penn Central merger and subsequent creation of Conrail. As Amtrak inherited the main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, efforts were made to separate freight and passenger operations on the new railroads, forever changing the PRR network on the Philadelphia Division.

Starting next week we will resume our exploration of both routes, with many new photos, graphics and historical images to tell the story of the evolution of this important division on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Columbia, Pennsylvania: 20th Century and the PRR Improvements Project

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

The area of Columbia along Front Street is host to Cola Interlocking. In this view looking east from the Chestnut Street bridge you can view the eastern limits of expansive interlocking which provides access to the original Philadelphia and Columbia Branch to Lancaster (diverging left) with the original Columbia and Port Deposit (Main Line to the right). To the west the PRR would become known as the York Haven line or Enola Branch. Note the 1877 PRR station, which survives along North Second Street.

By the late 1800’s the Pennsylvania Railroad had developed into a well-heeled transportation system but the rapid growth of industry would necessitate system wide improvements to bring the railroad into the 20th century. In 1902 PRR President Alexander J. Cassatt and Chief Engineer William H. Brown would embark on a series of projects to eliminate bottlenecks and operational problems across the system. 

After the PRR acquired control of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway through the purchase of the Main Line of Public Works in 1857, various segments were improved during the second half of the 19th century. The route between Philadelphia and Lancaster became an integral part of the PRR Main Line connecting with the former Harrisburg & Lancaster creating the line we know today as Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor. The western end of the P&C would become a branch connecting the industrial and agricultural areas of Lancaster and Columbia. Due to the stiff grades both segments were less than ideal for heavy freight traffic. In addition to the P&C property accessing Columbia, the PRR had also gained controlled of the Harrisburg & Lancaster Railroad’s Columbia branch via Royalton and the Columbia & Port Deposit by the mid to late 1800's, further establishing Columbia as an important railroad hub. Though much of these water level alignments provided a network to move freight to Harrisburg, Cassatt sought to build a new route east from Columbia running across Lancaster County to create a modern freight bypass from New York and Philadelphia to the Harrisburg area and the main line west.

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of    The Broad Way   .

Plate drawing circa1963 Cola Interlocking which controlled the junction of the York Haven line, Columbia branch and Columbia and Port Deposit as well as access to the local freight yard. This interlocking was part of a Centralized Traffic Control system that controlled a much larger district of trackage and interlockings. Collection of The Broad Way.

The Low Grade as it was planned would run right through Columbia using the current alignment. From the east and west new construction would connect existing segments of the H&L and C&PD creating an improved main line designed to move freight on a new grade separated line. This new route would divert most freight traffic off the main line all together between Parkesburg and Harrisburg. Enola yard was completed in 1906 as part of the low grade project functioning as the western anchor for all freight trains and motive power between the Philadelphia and Middle Divisions. As a result Columbia importance as a major terminal would diminish due to its close proximity to the new facility, resulting in a significant loss of jobs in the area. Compounded by the diminishing local industry, a result of depleted ore and lumber resources, Columbia’s economy would begin a downward trend that continued through the Great Depression.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

Cola tower was built in 1938 during the electrification to centralize traffic control on this freight network. Its jurisdiction reached forty miles to the east on the Port Road including the connection to the A&S branch while also controlling tracks to Shocks Mill and Lancaster via the Columbia branch.

More change came on the PRR with the electrification of their network of rail lines in the Northeast.  One of the last segments of the ambitious project was completed in 1938 affording the PRR the benefit of electric traction on the Low Grade, Columbia branch and Columbia & Port Deposit. During the electrification project, the PRR also consolidated many of the early towers with two modern CTC facilities controlling most of this freight network. Cola tower in Columbia controlled all trains on the Columbia Branch to Lancaster, roughly forty miles of the Columbia & Port Deposit Branch including the junction with the A&S Branch at Port and the York Haven Line west to Shocks Mill. Cola’s jurisdiction over the C&PD was unique in that most of the line was actually under control of the Baltimore Dispatcher and was considered part of the Chesapeake Division, while Cola was part of the Philadelphia Division.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

View looking west from the Columbia Branch near the Mill Street crossing. This is the original Philadelphia & Columbia alignment and is operated by NS to access Lancaster area industries and Dillerville Yard, the center of freight operations in the area. Note the steep descent of the branch, compared to the Low Grade visible to the left, which utilized heavier catenary supports on account of it supporting high voltage transmission lines to Royalton. In typical PRR fashion the Columbia branch was maintained to high standards including the use of catenary to provide a relief route in the event there was wreck on neighboring lines.

The Low Grade and electrification would survive the Penn Central debacle but ultimately met its demise after the creation of Conrail. Due to the high cost of electric supply charges, the aging infrastructure and the dependency on Amtrak to move trains east of Parkesburg it was decided to abandon an integral part of the system in favor of the neighboring Reading Railroad Main Line ending over 80 years of service on perhaps one of Cassatt and Brown’s greatest achievements. The Columbia and Port Deposit survives as Norfolk Southern’s artery to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and the Port of Baltimore. The former P&C to Lancaster provides NS a dedicated connection to Dillerville yard servicing the industrial areas around the seat of Lancaster County. Though not what used to be Columbia still sees a parade of freight daily, though mostly nocturnal, moving freight as Cassatt had envisioned over a century ago.

Columbia Pennsylvania: Early Transportation History

Modern facade detail of the 1877    Pennsylvania Railroad station in Columbia located along North Front Street.

Modern facade detail of the 1877  Pennsylvania Railroad station in Columbia located along North Front Street.

Columbia Pennsylvania is a town steeped in transportation history, beginning with the area’s settlement led by English Quaker John Wright through the heyday of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Incorporated in 1814 and originally known as Wrights Ferry, settlers aspired to great accomplishments, renaming the town in honor of Christopher Columbus in an effort to entice Congress to select the town as the nation’s capitol. Despite a valuable endorsement by George Washington, Columbia fell just one congressional vote shy of this honorable distinction in 1790. Soon after, in 1812, Columbia lost another bid for distinction when Harrisburg was chosen as the capital of Pennsylvania due to its closer proximity to the Commonwealth's geographic center.

By 1826 Columbia would be central to various modes of transportation including Wright’s Ferry, and a 5690’covered bridge that provided access to the west bank of the Susquehanna River in Wrightsville. More significant was the construction of a series of canals, establishing Columbia as the eastern terminus of the Main Line of Public Works Project. These canals eased travel to points west such as Pittsburgh, Lake Erie and West Virginia, and provided access to the Susquehanna & Tidewater Canal, opening the way east to Baltimore and other seaboard destinations.

PRR in the vicinity of Front and Walnut Streets. Note the passenger station on the right. Date Unkown. Personal collection of Fred Abendschein.

PRR in the vicinity of Front and Walnut Streets. Note the passenger station on the right. Date Unkown. Personal collection of Fred Abendschein.

By the 1834 opening of the canal the town also became the western terminus of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, which connected the namesake towns via Lancaster as the eastern extension of the trans-state Public Works. Though the P&C was far more effective than canal travel to the west, poor construction and inadequate equipment would hinder the railroad from operating efficiently. The 1846 charter granted to the Pennsylvania Railroad dealt a major blow to the Main Line of Public Works. By 1857 the growing private venture secured access to Columbia by purchasing the entirety of the system, including the P&C. Its rebuilding of the P&C and later use of canal alignments created a dedicated, all-rail route from Pittsburgh and points west to Philadelphia and New York City.

Illustration of the June 28th, 1863 Columbia –Wrightsville Bridge burning during the Civil War from Harper’s Weekly. Collection of  The Civil War

Illustration of the June 28th, 1863 Columbia –Wrightsville Bridge burning during the Civil War from Harper’s Weekly. Collection of  The Civil War

The PRR would serve a major strategic asset to the North during the Civil War, and Columbia would also play a part during the Gettysburg campaign.  As the war raged in Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee planned to advance Confederate troops east via the Wrightsville – Columbia bridge to take Harrisburg, Lancaster and Philadelphia.  The citizens of Columbia and the State militia burned the vital bridge preventing Lee’s troops from crossing into Lancaster County foiling their attacks. Shortly there after Northern troops would prevail and Columbia would settle into a time of industrial prosperity.

1894 map of Columbia at the peak of its industrial era by T. M. Fowler. Collection of Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

1894 map of Columbia at the peak of its industrial era by T. M. Fowler. Collection of Library of Congress Geography and Map Division.

The bridge to Wrightsville was rebuilt yet again, and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad would begin serving Columbia by way of the Reading and Columbia branch. With growing popularity the railroads would seal the fate of the remaining canals that survived hauling coal. Columbia was at the heart of an area rich with iron deposits, now being transported by rail, fostering the rapid expansion of anthracite fired steel and iron forges throughout the Chiques, Conewago and Swatara valleys. Textile mills, lumber and the crossroads of passenger transportation also contributed to local economy. As a new century approached, Columbia had overcome early challenges and the ravages of war to reach its industrial peak, becoming a major railroad hub, host to extensive rail shops and yards, employing hundreds of local residents for both the PRR and Phildelphia and Reading railroads.

Susquehanna Reprise

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Approaching thunderstorm and Hill Island from the east bank, Royalton, Pennsylvania.

Though we've discussed the trials and tribulations the Pennsylvania Railroad endured sharing the banks of the Susquehanna River, particularly on the Columbia and York Haven lines, I would like to take a chance to celebrate the river itself. The Susquehanna runs approximately 464 miles from the uplands of New York and Western Pennsylvania to create the longest river on the east coast to drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The river's watershed drains some 27,500 square miles encompassing nearly half of the State of Pennsylvania. The broad shallow river winds a wandering course to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay at Harve De Grace, Maryland. Through various routes including the mainline, York Haven, Port Road and Northern Central the PRR follows considerable lengths of the Susquehanna. In particular, for this post at least, we celebrate some of the natural beauty of the mighty river in context of Lancaster County and the PRR York Haven and Columbia branch. Enjoy!

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Clearing fog, Roundtop Mountain, from the mouth of Chiques Creek. Marietta, Pennsylvania 

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Confluence of Chiques Creek and the Susquehanna, framed by the York Haven Line Bridge. Marietta, Pennsylvania

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Mooring posts and Turkey Hill Point, Washington Boro, Pennsylvania.

Royalton's Early Transportation Roots

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The canal lock that survives along Water Street in Royalton survives in ruin as quiet testimony of rail's triumph over canal transportation in the race to build America. One of 14 locks along the Eastern Division Canal it was part of Pennsylvania’s failed Mainline of Public Works that gave way to the Pennsylvania Railroad.

In a strip of land between the former Harrisburg and Lancaster Railroad's Columbia branch and the Susquehanna River in modern day Royalton, Pennsylvania lays one of the few remaining clues of another transportation empire that succumbed to the practicality of the railroads. The State owned Mainline of Public Works was completed in 1834 creating a multimodal transportation network to connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in direct competition with the Erie Canal. Consisting of over 273 miles of canal and 120 miles of railroad, the system utilized various modes of transport based on  geographic necessity. The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad connected its namesake towns to the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. The Eastern Division ran 43 miles north from Columbia along the east bank of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and Dauphin Counties.  The canal made a northern connection to the Juniata Division Canal at Duncan’s Island and intermediate connections to Harrisburg and the Union Canal in Middletown. The Juniata Division paralelled the Juniata River making connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad in Hollidaysburg where canal boats were then transported by rail over a series of inclined planes to cross the Allegheny ridge at a summit of 2322 feet above sea level. West of the Allegheny summit the Portage Road  made connection to the Western Division Canal in the City of Johnstown following the path of the Conemaugh, Kiskiminetas and Allegheny Rivers westward to Pittsburgh and the Ohio River.

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of  http://maley.net/atlas/ .

1875 map of Londonderry Township illustrates the Eastern Division of the Pennsylvania Canal as well as the railroads that would put the Mainline of Public Works out of business. Map Collection of http://maley.net/atlas/.

The dangerous and slow inclined planes of the Portage Road along with the canals would prove to be the downfall of the Public Works system limited by capacity and the seasonal nature of operations. The vast and diverse infrastructure needed constant work, many cases in remote areas making the system costly to maintain. By the 1840’s some investors began to look to the railroad as a better transportation solution and in 1846 the charter to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, a privately owned rail route from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh would challenge the Public Works System running almost exactly the same route. While the benefit of rail transportation over the Public Works was quickly realized subsequent expansion east to Philadelphia in 1854 would create the first all rail route across the state, dealing the final blow to the canals and Portage Railroad. The PRR eventually purchased most of the bankrupt Public Works system from the state to improve their mainline, often offering favorable routes alongside of towns rather than the early street running alignments of the original 1846 railroad.

Philadelphia Division: Royalton

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of  The Broad Way . 

Plate drawing of Roy Interlocking circa 1957. By this date this facility was a remote interlocking under the control of the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg.  Note the jump over that positions the freight main on the proper side of the passenger mainline to diverge south along the Susquehanna to make connection with the York Haven line at Shock Mills. Plate drawing collection of The Broad Way

Straddling the towns of Middletown and Royalton in Dauphin County, Royalton interlocking was a strategic point where most freight and passenger traffic separated for the trip east to New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Approximately 10 miles east from State Interlocking the mainline and Columbia branch (today Norfolk Southern's Royalton branch) ran along side each other with the freight operating on tracks furthest to the north. The Columbia branch, which drops south along the Susquehanna diverted freight trains away from the main at Royalton requiring traffic to cross into the path of the busy passenger main. To avoid this potential traffic disruption the PRR applied a proven technique of building a fly-over to allow all tracks/trains to gain proper position without the need to physically cross or intersect the other route.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

View of current interlocking looking west at Roy. In the distance one can see the eastbound home signals and Amtrak's Middletown station, the overhead bridge is Burd Street. Note the older style relay hut and air plant on the right side of the tracks, this was the site of the original 2 story frame tower that controlled the interlocking prior to the late 1950’s project which moved control of this interlocking to State. Norfolk Southern operates the line diverging to the left as the Royalton Branch, which connects to the Enola and Port Road branches at Shocks Mill. This was the former PRR Columbia branch and at one time was a double track electrified artery that linked the mainline with the low-grade line to points east.

Prior to the late 1950's Royalton interlocking was controlled by a two story frame tower that sat on the eastern side of the tracks (railroad was oriented north - south here). The early interlocking plant was of an older design using a mechanical armstrong complex to control the switches and signals between the mainline and Columbia branch. The Columbia branch served as a back road connection from the mainline and freight yards in Harrisburg  to the low-grade route via Shocks Mill allowing freight from all directions to bypass congestion in Enola when necessary. In the late 1950’s Royalton interlocking was made a remote facility named Roy with control given to the operator at State Tower in Harrisburg. Evidence of this project survives in the form of a single story relay house that rests on the foundation of the former tower. As part of Amtrak’s Keystone Line rehab, Roy was rebuilt once again providing Amtrak with a set of crossovers for operational flexibility (the line is now governed by Rule 261-allowing bi-directional traffic flow) while maintaining the connection to the Royalton branch.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

The single story brick building next to the westbound home signal protecting the Columbia Branch was a small yard office and maintainers building. The structure survives today to serve Amtrak C&S crews, having recently received new windows and an extension, evident by the different color brick on the left side of the structure.

Special thanks to Mr. Don Rittler, who's input on operations at Royalton provided some insight on this relatively obscure facility on the Pennsylvania Railroad. Don worked as a tower operator for the PRR and its successors in the Harrisburg region from 1937-1979.

Chickies Rock

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

View looking north of Marietta and the York Haven line along the Susquehanna from Chiques Rock, a prominent geological feature which provides a breathtaking view of the river valley. Note the catenary poles here, which still carry a high voltage feeder line from the Safe Harbor Hydroelectric Plant to Amtrak where it supplies catenary power via the substation at Royalton.

Chickies Rock is a unique geological feature along the Susquehanna River known as an anticline, an arch of exposed rock arranged in layers that bend in opposite directions from its peak. Chickies is classified as the largest example of its kind on the East Coast. This particular location also played a significant role during the Civil War. As a highpoint along the Susquehanna River, the bluff was a strategic location for the Union Army during the Confederate’s occupation of Wrightsville across from Columbia during the Gettysburg Campaign. Later the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Railway would build a trolley line north from Columbia to the peak of the Rocks where it also constructed an amusement park. The line scaled 1900 feet up the west side of Chickies Hill Road on a 6% grade abruptly turning toward the peak to access the park. Opening in 1893 the line later extended down to Marietta providing both towns access to the popular recreation area. The trolley line and park continued to operate until its abandonment in April of 1932.

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the  NY Public Library System

Stereo-view of Chickies Rock. This view illustrates the original Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster alignment of what would become the PRR Columbia Branch. Image made by the W. T. Purviance Company between 1870-1880. Collection of the NY Public Library System

Looking to the north from Chickies Rock one can see the PRR York Haven line, the former alignment of the Columbia branch and the town of Marietta. The rail lines converge at the base of the rocks to squeeze south (railroad east) on a narrow flat along side the Susquehanna River. It was at this location during the construction of the low-grade that the PRR decided it would build the York Haven line out on a fill to avoid the curving profile of the older alignment between here and Columbia. As a result Kerbaugh Lake, named after one of the biggest contractors on the low-grade project was created. Though referred to as a lake the area was really a low laying swamp with poor drainage that separated the two alignments. In 1936 the flood prone Susquehanna rose to levels that consumed the new fill destroying the vital low-grade, flooding Kerbaugh Lake and the Columbia branch along the shore. The devastation required months to rebuild the York Haven line and forced the decision to abandon the older Columbia branch alignment. During this period the PRR also filled in Kerbaugh Lake and improved drainage in the area by installing several culverts between the lake and Susquehanna under the right of way. Today most of this area is part of the Chickies Rock Park operated by the Lancaster County Parks Department and provides some beautiful views along various trails following the former Columbia branch between Marietta and old Kerbaugh Lake in addition to park high above on Chickies Rock itself.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1906 USGS topographical map illustrating the former alignments of the PRR, note the newer York Haven line stays close the shore on the Eastern (top) bank of the Susquehanna all the way from Shocks Mills (left) to Columbia (right). This included the fill across a river bend just beneath Hempfield which became known as Kerbaugh Lake. Also noteworthy is the trackage snaking up the inland side of Chickies Ridge, this was the Columbia & Donnegal Electric Railway, a trolley line which operated an amusement park at Chickies Rock.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

A 1956 USGS topographical map showing the changes as a result of the 1936 flood. Note Kerbaugh Lake is filled in, the Columbia branch is gone and the Columbia and Donnegal Electric Trolley and park have been abandoned.

Philadelphia Division: Rowenna - Marietta

Continuing East on the York Haven line from Shocks Mill Bridge, we encounter more history on the fabled low-grade project of Alexander Cassatt. The east bank of the Susquehanna River was host to two major modes of transportation by the mid 1800’s, the Public Works Canal and the Columbia Branch of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad. By the time plans came for the new low-grade the canals had been largely abandoned for some time, however the Columbia Branch became a vital link to the original Philadelphia and Columbia as well as the Columbia & Port Deposit Railroad providing connections to the mainline via Royalton. While designing the new low-grade the Columbia branch was the choice line to connect the Northern Central via the new Shocks Mills bridge, the old alignment would require revisions to fit the requirements of the new line. By the turn of the century Cassatt’s low-grade project would bring big changes to the local railroad scene. With the consolidation and construction of the new freight network many of the older track alignments were abandoned in favor of a separate right of way to avoid pedestrian and street traffic. Common to many locations on the PRR, these abandoned segments were either sold off or utilized as stub end tracks to serve industries still active near the town centers.

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers.     Plate collection of   The Broad Way  .

Interlocking plate of "Shocks" location of the junction of the former Harrisburg and Lancaster branch between Royalton and Columbia and the low-grade York Haven Line. Note the track diverting to the right of the interlocking point titled "to yard", this is the original alignment of the H&L Columbia Branch retained to serve several freight customers. Plate collection of The Broad Way.

In the village of Rowenna, just east of the Shocks Mill Bridge, a segment of the old Harrisburg and Lancaster drops off the embankment where the Royalton - Columbia branch and the York Haven line meet at an interlocking simply known as Shocks. This spur continued parallel to the mainline for several miles accessing agricultural industries and a military transfer depot constructed during World War II. Sill in service today, this branch serves the former Military installation, now an industrial park as well as a feed trans-load facility off Vinegar Ferry Road.

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge  .

Remaining trackage from the old Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad's Royalton - Columbia Branch, now an industrial track retained to serve a few local customers. The active 1902 York Haven line alignment is out of view to the to right on an elevated fill to accommodate trains off the Shocks Mill Bridge.

Just a few miles further east we enter the Borough of Marietta. Established in 1812, Marietta once boasted many river, rail and canal dependent industries. On the south end of town remnants of the old Columbia Branch surface in an isolated area bound by Chiques Creek and Furnace Road. This area, which the creek and a local iron furnace are named after (albeit different spellings) derives from the Native American word Chiquesalunga, or crayfish. In different eras it has been spelled Chickies, Chikis and Chiques but all refer to this common meaning. The Chickies Furnace #1 opened in 1845 with production thriving until the late 1890’s closing due to better, more efficient facilities, most likely in nearby Steelton.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Remaining bridge piers of the former Columbia branch stand up-stream in Chiques Creek. In view is one of William H. Brown's typical stone arch bridges on the active York Have line. This area is located at the former site of the Chickies Furnace, an early site of iron production in the 1800's.

Among the foundations and rubble that remains of the former Chickies Furnace #1, the Columbia branch can be found along the old canal bed. You can spot telltale signs of PRR construction methods, the most immediate is the use of the ubiquitous 3 pipe railings on a bridge over a sluice between the canal and creek. Piers also remain from a deck bridge that carried the branch over the creek prior to the 1936 flood while the former roadbed of cinder ballast provides reference of where the line entered the area from the west. Just down stream on Chiques Creek, the York Haven line crosses the outlet to the Susquehanna on a W. H. Brown trademark 3 arch stone bridge well above high water. The history of when the Columbia branch was abandoned ties into not only the construction of the low-grade but also the great flood of 1936, subject of next week’s post!

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Alternate view looking upstream at Chickies Furnace reveals the dam that fed a channel for the old iron works as well as the various walls that date back to the original 1846 furnace site. Note the piers from the former Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad Columbia branch. The piers were most likely upgraded around the same time the low-grade was built judging by the similarities in the stone when compared to the newer arch bridge down stream.

Philadelphia Division: Shocks Mills Bridge

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

During a developing thunderstorm the Shocks Mills bridge reveals its scars with the back lighting emphasizing the difference between the original stone arches and the replacement deck girder spans to the left. This view is from a large rock cluster in the river looking north from the east bank of the mighty Susquehanna River.

Perhaps the bane of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's existence, the Shocks Mill Bridge is of significant note among the countless stone arch bridges, overpasses and culverts constructed on the PRR during his tenure. Opened in 1903 the Shocks Mills bridge was a part of the low-grade freight only line being constructed to connect Philadelphia and Harrisburg. Situated roughly 8 miles railroad west of Columbia the strategic bridge and accompanying line linked the Northern Central in Wago with existing lines in Columbia and ultimately the new Atglen and Susquehanna further down river. The 28 arch stone bridge was over 2200 feet long spanning the Susquehanna River with trains riding approximately 60 feet above low water. A smaller sister to the beautiful Rockville Bridge further upstream, initial construction cost the PRR $1 million dollars to build the bridge and long fill on the eastern approach. However problems with the bridge developed when piers began to settling in 1904 resulting in more money and time spent to reinforce the compromised areas of the span. After this additional work the bridge endured decades of heavy use and the additional of catenary during the later electrification phase of freight lines in 1937-38.

shocksmills.001

In June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes would batter the East Coast causing record floods throughout the area resulting in over 3 billion dollars in damage and causing over 128 fatalities. Cash starved Penn Central was hit hard having multiple washouts throughout the system but one of more significant would be the loss at Shocks Mill. On July 2nd, 1972 a train crew noticed problems with the center piers of the bridge as flood waters raged below during one of the worst natural disasters in American history. Soon after, six piers toward the center of the stone bridge would collapse rendering the low-grade line useless until the damage could be assessed and rebuilding could take place. Becuase the PC was under bankruptcy protection court permission was sought to rebuild the vital link. Started late in the third quarter of 1972 the new construction was completed by August of 1973 utilizing nine new concrete piers supporting deck girder spans to bridge the void. Until settling compromised a pier on the Rockville bridge in 1997 this would be the only major failure on record of the proven and sturdy construction methods Brown used during his 25 year tenure as Chief Engineer.

Philadelphia Division: Cordorus Creek

CodorusCreek.001

During the construction of the low-grade, surveyors encountered several obstacles in the form of creeks and rivers. At approximately milepost 47 on the York Haven Line, Chief Engineer, William H. Brown handled Codorus Creek like many others around the system utilizing the standard cut stone masonry arch bridge, this one consisting of five arches. The Codorus bridge curves to the east on a high fill as  the mainline climbs toward the Shocks Mill Bridge over the Susquehanna River, less than a mile to the east.

Philadelphia Division: Cly

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Former location of Cly block station and interlocking. The tower actually sat just around the curve, with this bridge supporting the eastbound home signals. Note the extra space on the right, this area was once four tracks wide with the Northern Central and York Haven Lines coming down from Enola.  Four miles east of here the NC would diverge from the York Haven Line at Wago Junction. This location was once part of the electrified low-grade line, evident by the cut steel posts on the left side of the tracks. Norfolk Southern has been doing considerable work here replacing rail, signals and general clean-up. After making this photo the former PRR signal bridge would fall, being cut up, further eliminating the visual clues that speak to the heritage of this line.

Leaving the greater Harrisburg / Enola area from the west bank of the Susquehanna, the PRR's York Haven Line drops down river toward Columbia, PA. This line was a key component of PRR president Alexander J. Cassatt’s plan to build a low-grade freight bypass diverting traffic off the mainline from the Philadelphia area. Existing lines and new construction in the early 1900’s provided access to Baltimore by way of both the Northern Central via York and the Columbia and Port Deposit Branch via mainline connection at Perryville, Philadelphia via the new Atglen & Susquehanna and Lancaster via the original Philadelphia & Columbia. Running a distance of 15 miles east from Enola Yard along the former Northern Central alignment, this “branch” was actually one of the busiest electrified freight arteries in the east. Alongside the Susquehanna River in the town of Cly, the railroad maintained an interlocking here connecting the York Haven Line to the Northern Central. These lines would run parallel to Wago Junco where the NC drops southwest toward the city of York.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of  http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Plate drawing of Cly interlocking circa 1963. Note on the bottom right the Northern Central was already reduced to one track east of the interlocking in the vicinity of Cly tower and Wago Junction where the line physically split off from the York Haven line to Columbia. By this time little freight traffic traveled east of York on the former Northern Central route and passenger traffic no longer warranted double track in many locations. Plate drawings collection of http://broadway.pennsyrr.com/Rail/Prr/Maps/.

Cly tower was constructed in 1906; one of the few PRR interlockings utilizing an Armstrong plant of mechanical levers to control switches over the later US&S electro-mechanical installations.  Constructed of brick the two-story tower was a contrast to neighboring installations built in the late 1930’s like Cola to the east, which controlled long stretches of line utilizing a Centralized Traffic Control installation. Though an important junction the Northern Central to York was never a preferred freight route in later days of the PRR hosting passenger trains and local freight. During the Penn Central years the route suffered heavy damage as a result of Hurricane Agnes. In a dire financial situation, Penn Central opted not to rebuild the route and Cly’s importance as an interlocking diminished resulting in the eventual closing of the tower in the early 1980’s under Conrail. Today there is little left here as Norfolk Southern works to modernize this line, the catenary poles have been cut down and position light signals replaced with modern installations. While connection is still made to the branch to York in a simplified interlocking at Wago the modern Cly is a mere curve and grade crossing at milepost 54 of the Enola Branch.

Philadelphia Division: Middletown

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Amtrak mainline and Norfolk Southern Royalton Branch (former Columbia Branch) in the vicinity of the passenger station. Note the former freight station in the distance, which now serves as an antique dealer. The two closest tracks are Amtrak's Keystone line while the furthest is the Royalton branch, a secondary route to move freight off the Columbia and Port Deposit branch directly into Harrisburg. 

Continuing approximately 7 miles east from Steelton the mainline and Columbia branch arrive at historic Middletown, Pennsylvania. Skipping over Highspire, featured last year in the post, Industry Along The Line,Middletown, originally known as Portsmouth and was a significant place in early transportation history. Founded in 1755 and incorporated in 1828, Middletown is the oldest incorporated community in Dauphin County. Situated in a broad flat plain the Middletown- Royalton area was the eastern end of the Pennsylvania Canal System - part of the mainline of Public Works, the southern end of the Union Canal, and confluence of the Swatara Creek and Susquehanna River. Here many industries including boat building, lumber mills and iron works thrived in early years. The railroads arrived in the 1830's, served by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad via the Lebanon Railway and the Pennsylvania Railroad via the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy & Lancaster. Soon after the railroad arrived in Middletown, the region's significance as a canal hub diminished as railroads triumphed over the inferior system. Both the Reading and PRR served the area for many years to come, but the PRR had a much larger presence with the mainline cutting right through town.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

A four arch stone bridge of Chief Engineer William H. Brown's design carries the mainline and Royalton branch over the Swatara Creek. In the distance is the home signals for Roy interlocking which marks the point where freight would diverge off the mainline south to Columbia.

Today both lines survive, and the town is served by three railroads: Amtrak, Norfolk Southern (both PRR) and the short line Middletown and Hummelston (former RDG) which serves a few remaining industries in addition to operating tourist excursions along Swatara Creek. While Amtrak and NS appear to be on a shared mainline, two tracks are actually Amtrak's Keystone Line while the southernmost track is NS's Royalton branch. Though this segment is part of a expansive interlocking starting in the Middletown area we will discuss this railroad location in greater detail when we reach Royalton.

Mainline Tour: Philadelphia Division Overview

Leaving the City of Harrisburg behind we will begin to explore the various lines radiating east. On the Philadelphia Division trains traverse routes purchased under PRR President, J. Edgar Thompson in an effort to gain access to Philadelphia. Later these routes would be improved upon or supplemented during President Alexander J. Cassatt’s series of system wide improvements which focused on reducing operational problems associated with the older alignments and increasing capacity

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Images of upcoming posts exploring the former Philadelphia Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This series will include coverage on both the Mainline, Northern Central, Atglen & Susquehanna, Columbia and Port Deposit and Columbia Branch.

Understanding this network requires a look back to the early 1800’s during the building of canals as a key national transportation network. Pennsylvania followed suit with construction of the State Mainline of Public Works in 1826which was completed in 1834. The system would utilize a series of canals, inclined planes and railroads to move people and freight across the expansive countryside from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. While some considered the network an engineering marvel the seasonal and logistic limitations quickly proved impractical. In time the Mainline of Public Works would begin to struggle financially. Furthermore the State granted a charter to the Pennsylvania Railroad for construction of a private rail line connecting Harrisburg and Pittsburgh in 1846 which would be in direct competition to the Public Works network. While many protested the new technology, the PRR ultimately won building their right of way in many cases parallel to the canal alignments. Shortly after completion of this line, PRR president J. Edgar Thompson secured access east of Harrisburg via control of the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mt. Joy and Lancaster Railroad (H&L) in 1849 providing  a connection to the Philadelphia and Columbia Railway (P&C) in both Lancaster and Columbia.With this connection to the State operated P&C, the only all rail network between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would be created. With limited funding however, the P&C quickly became the operational lynchpin to quality rail service due to primitive trackage and poor right of way construction. By 1857 the PRR successfully purchased all remaining properties associated with the Public Works system, abandoning most of the canal and inclined plane operations but allowing the PRR to rebuild the P&C to suit the needs of the expanding railroad.

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Detail of Pennsylvania Railroad system map circa 1855 listing connecting service with the Harrisburg & Lancaster RR, Columbia & Harrisburg RR and Columbia Railroad (actually the Philadelphia & Columbia) all which eventually would be taken over by the PRR. (Library of Congress Collection)

Around the same time the PRR would acquire access to Baltimore via control of the Northern Central in 1861 establishing connections to the mainline in Harrisburg and the former P&C and H&L near Columbia.  This line also provided connections to the Anthracite fields in Shamokin, Lake Ontario access via the Elmira Branch and a mainline to Buffalo, New York providing connections with Canadian Railways. During the system improvements of President A. J. Cassatt between 1899-1906 the Northern Central would also become the western anchor of a new freight only low-grade from New York and Philadelphia.  Built to separate heavy freight traffic from the current mainline with its winding curves and undulating grades of the original P&C and H&L, Cassatt and Chief Engineer, William H. Brown surveyed a line connecting with the Columbia and Port Deposit Railroad (C&PD) near Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna River. The C&PD would become the link between Cassatt’s new low-grade, the industrial center Columbia and the Northern Central via a new bridge over the Susquehanna at Shocks Mills, providing access to existing lines to gain access to Harrisburg.  Subsequently the C&PD would also become the route of choice for moving freight to Baltimore via connection to the mainline at Perryville due to the water level alignment and lack of grades making the older NC route the default passenger line.

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of an 1863 system map shows the integration of the lines purchased under J. Edgar Thompson including the Northern Central which comes from the bottom center heading directly toward Hanover Junction. (Rutgers University Collection)

Known as the Atglen and Susquehanna the new line climbed the Susquehanna River valley slowly veering east to cut across the rolling countryside of Lancaster County.  Void of road crossings, major industry, challenging gradients or curves, the line came parallel to the mainline in a hamlet known as Atglen. Junction with the mainline was in neighboring Parkesburg via a fly-over arrangement insuring no delays to both freight and passenger traffic. Continuing east the mainline hosted combined freight and passenger traffic on four track mainline for nine miles to Thorndale where freight once again left on a low-grade line known as the Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch.

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Detail of a 1911 system map showing the completion of Cassatt's low-grade network by way of the Atglen & Susquehanna Branch (lower center to lower right) between Cresswell and Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. (Rutgers University Collection)

Though large parts of this network have been abandoned the mainline still serves Amtrak’s successful Keystone Service while many of the lines along the Susquehanna River still connect the Norfolk Southern network to York and Baltimore via the old NC and C&PD. This segment of the mainline tour will explore the various routes the PRR used to move traffic between the Harrisburg and Philadelphia Terminals, utilizing imagery, maps and text to explain operations specific to each route.