Remnant of an Industrial Past…
The Delaware& Hudson Railway Co.
On this journey, from Scranton to Carbondale, the train travels on 15 miles of track originally built and used by the Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., one of the oldest transportation companies in the USA. The canal, chartered in 1823 and opened 1829, connected Honesdale, PA with Rondout, NY (now Kingston, NY). Its main goal was to ship anthracite from the coalfields of Pennsylvania to New York City. The canal system did not reach the mines due to a mountain, but a gravity railroad operation built by the D&H, joined Honesdale with Carbondale, and eventually extended further south following the LackawannaRiver valley with its abundant anthracite seams below ground. Upon reaching Olyphant, the gravity line became a surface railroad, extending to Providence, now a section of Scranton. In 1866, the first modern steam locomotive was purchased from the Dickson Machine Works in Scranton. This engine, the first of hundreds to be built by Dickson, was an 0-6-0 locomotive named “Lackawanna”. In time, the “Blakely” or “Valley” Railroad would be extended to Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and north to Carbondale. Steam power was used on most of the D&H system, reaching Binghamton and Albany, NY and through Canada to Montreal, Quebec.
With its greatest success in shipping coal to New England and Canada, this rail line was a very busy north-south artery. In 1898, the cost for shipment via gravity and canal was 50¢ more per ton than shipment by rail. This led to abandoning the canal in 1899. After “King Coal” faded in importance, the D&H was in a unique position to connect the railroads in the south with the north as a bridge line, avoiding the congestion of railroad traffic along the eastern seaboard. With the creation of Conrail in 1976, the D&H expanded their territory once more, serving more of the big ports and cities in the northeastern U.S. A re-routing of their main line in Pennsylvania between Scranton and Binghamton, NY made the Penn Division (today’s route) unnecessary as a through route. In 1985, the Lackawanna County Rail Authority bought the Scranton to Carbondale tracks for developing more industrial uses.
As the train departs the Steamtown National Historic Site, once a railroad yard for the Delaware, Lackawanna &Western Railroad, it travels on a branch line known as DL&W’s Diamond Branch. This branch accessed the Diamond Breaker and a few warehouses, and served to interchange freight cars with the D&H. After crossing Lackawanna Ave., it travels a slope known as the Strawberry Hill line to reach the Main Line of the D&H along the LackawannaRiver. Strawberry Hill allowed passenger trains to reach the large brick D&H passenger station on Lackawanna Ave (no longer standing). D&H
Passenger trains in this region were limited to “mine runs,” essentially a commuter service allowing residents up and down the line to reach work and shopping in the various towns on the way. These were not elegant trains
in the 20th Century. With basic coach seats, no diners,
sleepers or other amenities, a traveler’s trip from Montreal or Albany rarely extended to this coal region.
One of the formerly large, more modern coal operations is passed when the train leaves Scranton for DicksonCity. The Marvine Colliery included a vast array of coal processing apparatus, along with clean, whitewashed offices on the grounds. The pitch black of the mining operations here were almost unknown to the casual observer. Along with the closing of the mines, and a decades-long mine fire which finally burned out in the 1970s, the remnants of the colliery now resemble the surface of the moon.
A double-track main line of 115-lb rail linked the valley towns together on the D&H. It is now single-track with no modern signaling as seen in past decades. Heading north through the valley, many abandoned sidings, which served warehouses and factories are still in existence.
From the Green Ridge yard in Scranton, a few branch lines still serve businesses in the city. The D&H was a rail line that traveled through the heart of many of the towns along the way. The back yards of residents in Dickson City, Olyphant, Jessup and Archbald were no strangers to the whistles of steam locos. In addition to the D&H, many of the same towns hosted the New York, Ontario & Western Railway, plus the Erie Railroad.
To make a straight path in the region, the tracks cross the LackawannaRiver three times, in Scranton, Olyphant and Carbondale. Many other creeks are crossed as well. Because the line travels through the towns, instead of around them, there are many points when the tracks cross the streets at grade. If these crossings aren’t properly protected, trains need to slow down to avoid accidents. To bypass some of the busier roads, the D&H rebuilt Green Ridge Yards with concrete viaducts, which keep the tracks above street level, expanding storage space and uses of the yard tracks. In 1928, Green Ridge and Market Streets were spanned this way. Even in a smaller town such as Mayfield, the numerous street crossings were spanned with steel bridges and dirt fills to keep up speeds for entering and leaving Carbondale. Some of the roadway overpasses have been demolished as track use has declined. The huge yard, roundhouse and turntable in Carbondale are gone, leaving just a single track.
Other than the ornate passenger depot in Scranton, the D&H used much smaller, simpler frame buildings in the towns along this rail line. One in evidence is a Freight House in DicksonCity. Since 1995, several excursion platforms, serving as town gathering spots, have been built in partnership with the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority and the towns of Olyphant, Jessup, Archbald and Carbondale. Many towns see these platforms as a catalyst for renewed spirit of their towns, and as important as their town halls and their main streets.
Northeast Pennsylvania offered opportunity in the late 1800s. To quote the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, “they came here to build a new life…and ended up building a nation.” The railroads connected the region to the rest of the country. North of Carbondale the D&H tracks left the LackawannaRiver to climb AraratMountain to reach Lanesboro, PA plus Binghamton and Nineveh, NY. This region, as scenic as it was, produced no traffic, but many operational challenges to the railroad. It was not included in the sale to the Lackawanna County Rail Authority.
It is often said that the D&H line is a more historic route and the DL&W is more scenic. The D&H line takes the visitor through areas where the families lived and worked. As the industrial nature of the nation changed, so did the towns and jobs. However, many of the families remained, and proudly keep their heritage, brought from various parts of the globe, alive. This better reflects the character of the region, and the railroads that tied them together.