The Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road
Wintry Discontent in the Northeastern United States
It's January of 1972 and a blustery winter is the least of the concerns for the management of the Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road. For nearly 90 years the railroad and its predecessor lines have bucked the odds and dismissed the naysayers while they eked out a living from several hundred miles of track in the New York / Pennsylvania / New Jersey tristate region. But now, surrounded by a bankrupt Penn Central, making the ends meet is becoming a formidable challenge for the keys to their success or failure are almost entirely outside of their control.
The concept for the LO&HR is both simple and highly complex. It's simple in that I have strung together a number of railroads, shortlines, and third-party routes, many of which are now long-abandoned, and turned them into a regional railroad that, at face value, is similar to several other such railroads that served the region in question. And it's complex in that I set a goal for myself of providing, at the least, a remotely plausible reason for why these lines weren't abandoned or why they ended up merged together in the fashion that they have. Is this a perfect tale? No. So please consider it a work in progress.
At this writing (4-Jan-2017), the LO&HR was formed in 1965 by merging a handful of commonly owned but mostly independently operated railroads serving upstate New York, northern New Jersey, and north-eastern Pennsylvania. These properties included the shortlines: Middletown & New Jersey, Delaware & Northern, the Unadilla Valley, and the Kanona & Prattsburgh. The major components were the Elmira, Cortland & Northern, the Lehigh & New England, the New York, Susquehanna & Western, and the Oswego & Weehawken - the latter being a post-bankruptcy reorganization of the New York, Ontario & Western. In addition to these lines' historic routes, the O&W owned the DL&W's Binghamton - Buffalo route - a concession sale that was a condition of the Erie Lackawanna merger - and trackage rights over the D&H between Binghamton and Sidney, NY. And then there is the merged system's unexpected namesake...
STOP THE PRESSES!!!
Real Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road Discovered!
Research can lead to new questions - often many new questions - and it can also lead to discoveries of answers you never had the question to prior to your discovery. The LO&HR name is one such pleasant discovery. I chose the name because it best described the merged system without sounding cliché - such as the New York & Buffalo, the Buffalo & Hudson, or the NY,NJ&PA - and added the split "Rail Road" to give it a sense of history, but I wasn't a real fan of it - I wanted and still would like something short and easy that can be spelled out on the side of a locomotive or fitted into a logo. Also, little did I know that its name was far more historical than I could have imagined at the time. While browsing Wikipedia's list of New York railroads, I came across the real LO&HRRR!
Once upon a time, the Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road Co. (yep, even the divided rail and road part) actually existed. Originally chartered in 1848 as the Sackett's Harbor & Saratoga Railroad Company, it was renamed the LO&HR on April 6, 1857. On February 23, 1860, the constructed portion and land in the Adirondacks was transferred to the Adirondack Estate and Railroad Company. All or a portion of the remainder of the right of way was sold on June 11, 1860, to Ex-State Senator Hubbell of Utica for the sum of $5000. The Adirondack Estate and Railroad Company would go on to become the North Creek branch of the Delaware & Hudson Railway.
This unexpected bit of history - much like the unexpected ICC filing by the Maine Central I mention in connection with my Worcester, Nashua & Portland - presents an interesting conundrum. Do I ignore a railroad (name) that lasted only 4 years and was gone 105 years before my LO&HR was formed? Do I add the real LO&HR to the history of my system and have it become the source of the name? Or... do I do something else??? Definitely need to think about this.... BTW, below is proof that the real LO&HR existed: an un-issued bond from 1857.
The Concept Continued...
Let's look a little deeper into the railroad's concept. As I've said, the Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road is a proto-freelanced model railroad concept born of the not-so-simple question of how to keep the New York, Ontario & Western Railway operating after its March, 1957, abandonment date. If we assume that any 'realistic' options at the time would not have worked, then I wanted that something to at least be plausible given how other rail lines in the region have managed to hang on over the past few decades. Presently, the plan is to model the LO&HR as it would have been in January, 1972.
The LO&HR is the product of a July, 1965, merger of the eight railroad properties owned by the Cahill family of Elmira, NY. Since 1884 the family has been involved in railroading in New York State. Initially, this involvement was as an off-shoot of their mercantile interests. In 1884 they purchased the Cazenovia, Canastota & DeRuyter Railway and the Utica, Ithaca & Elmira Railway, and merged them to form the Elmira, Cortland & Northern Railroad. This was followed in 1911 by the Delaware & Northern Railway, in 1915 by the Kanona & Prattsburgh Railway, and by the Unadilla Valley Railway in 1936. Two decades later, in 1956, the family took a huge gamble by acquiring the well-and-truly bankrupt New York, Ontario & Western Railway. They renamed it the Oswego & Weehawken Railroad in a nod to its historical "O&W" nickname.
Despite the change in ownership, the new O&W continued to test everyone's faith in the possibility of the railroad ever turning a profit. Whether by plan or pure luck, the possibility for a return to profitability arose for the O&W out of the Erie - Delaware, Lackawanna & Western merger. As a condition of the merger, the ICC ordered Erie-Lackawanna to sell the Lackawanna's Binghamton - Buffalo mainline to the O&W - the primary reason being to preserve the O&W's share of the Buffalo - Maybrook traffic. To access their new route, trackage rights were gained over the Delaware & Hudson between Sidney and Binghamton. These rights were later cemented when the O&W made a deal for shared ownership of that portion of the D&H.
In 1959, in an effort to expand their traffic base, the Cahills had added the Lehigh & New England Railroad to their little family of railroads. And now, with a healthy amount of freight, and some passenger traffic, between Buffalo and New York City, management again turned its attention toward New Jersey. In March of 1963 they acquired the Middletown & New Jersey Railway, and the following month they bought the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway. They now possessed a friendly connection between the O&W mainline at Middletown, NY, and waterfront of New York Harbor. The only problem, per se, was that neither the M&NJ nor the Susquehanna's Hanford branch were ideally suited to hot manifest freights. Reconstruction was called for!
In addition to upgrading track and bridges, the Cahills decided that it was also time to update the image of their railroads. In a relatively painless process, they requested and received permission to consolidate their eight properties into a single railroad. Effective July 1, 1965, they were merged to form the Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road. As a nod to the long history of their properties, they chose the archaic two-word spelling of railroad, and thus becoming one of only three companies in the United States to use that spelling - the Long Island Rail Road and the Strasburg Rail Road being the other two. As a nod to the long history of their properties, the Cahills chose to reuse the name of company that held the distinction of being the oldest chartered part of the new system. This decision made them one of only three railroads in the United States at the time to use the archaic two-word spelling of railroad - the Long Island Rail Road and the Strasburg Rail Road being the other two.
In May, 1971, the LO&HR joined another unique group of railroads when it opted not to join Amtrak. In 1972 it continues to operate twice daily, year-round passenger service between New York City and Buffalo, seasonal service into the vacation areas of New York and Pennsylvania, and daily commuter trains from Susquehanna Transfer to Butler, NJ, and Middletown, NY.
Lastly, it should once again be noted that all aspects of the design of the LO&HR are a work in progress, and the information above is subject to revision and total alteration at the whim of its author. And as this is a work in progress...
TO BE CONTINUED!
Although I have no plans of moving the railroad beyond January, 1972, that doesn't mean that I've not thought about where the LO&HR is today. To that end, I have several possible scenarios in my head...
Scenario #1: The most realistic scenario is that Hurricane Agnes of June, 1972, delivers a death blow to the LO&HR, forcing it into bankruptcy. It limps along until Conrail and is largely abandoned in the process, with only a couple of segments surviving into the present day as shortlines, or as part of CSX or Norfolk Southern. The Middletown Industrial Railway concept elsewhere on this website is an off-shoot of this possible future.
Scenario #2: In this one, Hurricane Agnes still hits the railroad hard, but there are sufficient resources available to recover without resorting to bankruptcy. Surrounded by bankrupt railroads (Agnes sent Erie-Lackawanna over the edge. Penn Central, Reading, Central RR of New Jersey, and Lehigh Valley were already there.), it sought to strengthen itself through merger with the Delaware & Hudson and the Boston & Maine in late 1973 - which, as it turned out, preserved New England connections lost when the Poughkeepsie Bridge burned the following year. In reaction to Conrail, the LO&HR eventually lost its independence and identity in a multi-railroad merger with the Erie-Lackawanna, Reading, and Boston & Maine, which we'll call the Chicago & New England. The C&NE would eventually be folded into Norfolk Southern and Conrail would go to CSX. In this scenario, too, most of the LO&HR has either been abandoned or spun off as shortlines.
Scenario #3: As with scenario two, Hurricane Agnes still hits the railroad hard, but it recovers and mergers with the Delaware & Hudson and the Boston & Maine in 1973. As part of the formation of Conrail, the LO&HR acquired the former Erie mainline west of Binghamton to Chicago, as well as various ex-Reading and ex-Penn Central lines across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, giving them access to St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, among other locations. It was a skeletal system, but there was enough meat to make a living off of those bones. It's at this point that a few options come to mind...
Scenario #3A: In 1979 or 1980, the LO&HR picks up the bankrupt Rock Island for a song. The new company, let's call it the New York, Rock Island & Pacific, acquires the D&RGW around 1984, and proposes a merger with the Southern Pacific in 1988 (after the failed SP-SF merger). The ICC blocks the merger, but it eventually is approved in 1995. The combined railroad is known as the Trans-National Railway (TNR).
Scenario #3B: In 1977, the LO&HR picks up the Milwaukee Road (prior to the Pacific extension being abandoned) and becomes the New York & Puget Sound. In 1985 the NY&PS adds the Missouri-Kansas-Texas to its system. And in 1990 they add the Santa Fe to the system. The combined railroad is known as the Atlantic, Pacific & Santa Fe (APSF), or Santa Fe for short.
Scenario #3C: In this scenario, the LO&HR acquires the M-K-T in 1985 and the Chicago & North Western in 1992. It remains independent for a couple of decades before being carved up in 2002 by Union Pacific (lines west of Chicago) and Norfolk Southern (lines east) much as Conrail was carved up by CSX and NS.
Scenario #3D: Following its 1976 expansion, the LO&HR quietly goes about its business for the next fifteen or so years, and then stuns the railroad industry by proposing merger with the Santa Fe in 1990. After much debate, the New York & Santa Fe is approved in 1995.
Obviously, this only begins to scratch the surface of possible scenarios. Some are plausible, but most are not, which is part of the reason I decided to set the LO&HR in 1972. While there are some potentially implausible bits in the railroad's history as it is, I feel they are minor compared to the truth-stretching necessary over the 40-odd years between 1972 and today. And thus the scenarios above run from the most likely (#1) to the least likely. I will say that I find it a bit sad that the mega-mergers like BNSF and Union Pacific have robbed us of the plausibility for having a modest sized Class I railroad still operating in the present day.
UPDATE 4-Jan-2017: I've left these rosters up for reference, but consider them an early draft that is up for serious revision in the coming months of 2017.
The rosters below are all-time locomotive rosters from the time the Cahill family bought control of the road up until the LO&HR merger. The LO&HR roster shows what locomotives have been on its roster from the beginning of 1965, through the Merger Day - 1-July-1965 - and up until the "present day", which is January of 1972. Also listed below is an incomplete table of most prototype diesel locomotive models built between the 1930s and the 1970s. This was a guide for designing several of the rosters, and was never intended as a definitive guide for the masses.
UPDATE 3-August-2014: The Oswego & Weehawken roster and the post-merger LO&HR roster have been updated to incorporate purely passenger service locomotives. The thinking is as follows... As part of the Buffalo line acquisition (a condition of the Erie-Lackawanna merger was that the former DL&W Buffalo-Binghamton be sold to the O&W), the O&W leased several groups of locomotives for initial service on the expanded system. Among them were two E8As and three A-B-A sets of F3s equipped with steam generators. The O&W liked the E8s well enough to buy them and ordered a pair of E9A from EMD. The F3 sets, however, were returned mid-way through their one-year lease, and in their place they leased several ex-Erie PA-1s. Ultimately, the O&W leased and then purchased ten of E-L's PA-1s (ex-Erie 850-859). Two more PA-1s would come from the NKP at the end of 1961. A decade later, in 1971, the E8s and E9s (four units total) would be leased to Amtrak, and a pair of FP45s would be bought from the Santa Fe. The E-units tended to be assigned singularly or as protection power, while the PAs formed the backbone of operations, and were occasionally pooled with NKP and D&H power.
Theoretically, passenger service on the new O&W was at its height between 1961 and 1965 - mainly prior to the LO&HR merger. O&W trains #1 & 2 were the "Mountaineer Limited" from Weehawken to Oswego. #3 & 4 were the "Niagara Falls Express" from Weehawken to Buffalo with a Canadian National connection to Toronto. #5 & 6 were the "Montreal Limited" from Weehawken to Sidney where it was handed off to the Delaware & Hudson for service to Montreal. #7 & 8 were the "The Chicagoan / The New Yorker". Originally, this train ran from Weehawken to Buffalo and then, via the NKP, to Chicago. From 1962 to 1965 the train operated to / from Penn Station via the New Haven between NYC and Maybrook - the trains swapped sets of PAs and FL9s at Middletown, NY. Trains 10 & 11 and 14 & 15 were a Scranton-Sidney-Utica connecting service. More on passenger operations later as I work out the details.
Elmire, Cortland & Northern Railroad roster: 1884 - 1965
Delaware & Northern Railway roster: 1911 - 1965
Kanona & Prattsburgh Railway roster: 1915 to 1965
Unadilla Valley Railway roster: 1936 - 1965
Oswego & Western Railroad roster: 1956 - 1965 (updated 3-aug-2014)
Lehigh & New England Railroad roster: 1959 - 1965
Middletown & New Jersey Railway roster: 1963 - 1965
New York, Susquehanna & Western Railway roster: 1963 - 1965
Lake Ontario & Hudson River Rail Road roster: 1965 to Present (1-Jan-1972) (updated 3-aug-2014)
Diesel Locomotive Timeline: 1930s to 1970s