RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Discussion Related to the Reading Company 1833-1976 and it's predecessors Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road and then the Philadelphia and Reading Railway.

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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby pistolpete66 » Sun May 29, 2011 9:35 am

In short, the current fate of the Bethlehem Branch shows the utter failure of American politics on every front. Local township officials only thinking only of themselves, public agencies mired in beauracracy, private RRs with little flexibility...and the victim sits and decays.

The Bethlehem Branch deserved a far better fate than this. It was no little branch line.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby glennk419 » Tue May 31, 2011 1:55 pm

Franklin Gowen wrote:
glennk419 wrote:And as usual, the net result is ZERO.

Sadly, yes. :/ Don't look to SEPTA for salvation in this particular area.

By the way, this thread has just passed 60,000 page-views. I know that's small potatoes over on (for example) the NJ Transit Forum, but for the former Rdg. Co. forum that's absolutely massive. Thanks to all of you who are still interested in the saga of this historic and fascinating former main-line railroad. It's not truly gone as long as we remember it and value it. ;-)

The number of hits that this thread has received - and continues to receive - proves that there's more to this subject than just two cities 56 miles apart, a blind commuter agency in each (SEPTA and LANTA), a sadly-truncated piece of a former secondary mainline, an ill-advised walking trail, and the many ghosts of the past. As this website has changed hands, crashed, risen again, crashed again, etc., this same discussion has been going on for almost a decade. :-)


Franklin, very well orated. Bravo!!
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby BuddCarToBethlehem » Fri Jun 03, 2011 5:36 pm

While I too lament the loss of the Bethlehem Branch, I must admit that it outlived its usefullness. The last 15 years or so that Bethlehem Steel operated the Bethlehem plant, Conrail shipped the iron ore via Reading. The line from the diamond at Union Station to the 4th Street bridge was mostly used for delivering the ore to the ore pit and car storage. The ore trains often stalled while climbing what was one of the steeper grades in the Lehigh Valley. Several times each year the newspapers would have a piece in the police blotter about the some dispatcher for Conrail being fined for blocking traffic on the south side. A few times when I was on the south side and parked on New or Adams streets, I had to walk several blocks to go around a stalled train to get back to my car (I'm too old or too wise to go under trains anymore). The line had way too many grade crossings. Thankfully the state wouldn't pay for any of the trail-conversion because SEPTA does have the right to take the line back. But if service is ever restored, which I unfortunately doubt, the Saucon Yard would be the best place for the terminus. Plenty of space for parking and a station along with I-78 exit right across the street makes it convienent for anyone in western Lehigh or eastern Northampton counties to get the station.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby RDGTRANSMUSEUM » Fri Jun 03, 2011 9:59 pm

We did not stall on that hill as much as we needed to stop to get switches....cut the train in half yard it and come back for the rest. also alot of brakes had to be wound on to keep the cars from running away. i for one dont miss that damn hill. and the ore trains.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby Franklin Gowen » Sun Jun 05, 2011 7:41 pm

BuddCarToBethlehem wrote:While I too lament the loss of the Bethlehem Branch, I must admit that it outlived its usefullness. The last 15 years or so that Bethlehem Steel operated the Bethlehem plant, Conrail shipped the iron ore via Reading.

That's not surprising in the least, since from 1978 to 1993 SEPTA - not Conrail - owned the entire Bethlehem Branch except for the last 11 miles north of Hilltop.

When SEPTA killed the diesel passenger trains to Bethlehem in the summer of 1981, what remained of the branch north of Lansdale was allowed to simply decay in place. Up until that time, SEPTA had already allowed the branch to slip pretty far down the quality scale due to an ever-increasing shortage of cash for needed maintenance. While the full extent of the trackage was still passable despite being increasingly tired, Big Blue was not interested in paying the big bucks needed to maintain and operate a through freight route which it did not own.

Let's not forget that in its early years, Conrail also mercilessly cherry-picked the well-maintained locomotives of the Reading and moved them elsewhere on its new system, while choosing to fulfill those demanding Bethlehem Branch assignments with Erie-Lackawanna and Penn Central engines that were often in poor condition. The ex-PC diesels chosen for this duty were especially prone to be ones that were very under-maintained. Sometimes Conrail had to assign five or more engines to a loaded ore train, in the hopes that at least two of them might still be operating fully by the time they reached Quakertown. I'm not wholly unsympathetic to Conrail's problems in those years, but they made their choices and then reaped the expected results.

BuddCarToBethlehem wrote:The line from the diamond at Union Station to the 4th Street bridge was mostly used for delivering the ore to the ore pit and car storage. The ore trains often stalled while climbing what was one of the steeper grades in the Lehigh Valley. Several times each year the newspapers would have a piece in the police blotter about the some dispatcher for Conrail being fined for blocking traffic on the south side. A few times when I was on the south side and parked on New or Adams streets, I had to walk several blocks to go around a stalled train to get back to my car (I'm too old or too wise to go under trains anymore). The line had way too many grade crossings. Thankfully the state wouldn't pay for any of the trail-conversion because SEPTA does have the right to take the line back.

A shame that there wasn't an alternative route for all of those loaded ore jennies by then. Oh, wait...coming in from the west via Union Station was the alternative. I guess that trackage coming up from the south hadn't outlived its usefulness after all, eh? :-)

BuddCarToBethlehem wrote:But if service is ever restored, which I unfortunately doubt, the Saucon Yard would be the best place for the terminus. Plenty of space for parking and a station along with I-78 exit right across the street makes it convienent for anyone in western Lehigh or eastern Northampton counties to get the station.

I have to agree with you. It's very hard to come up with a superior location. If only we had the funding to do better than those ridiculous hike-and-bike trails. [-heavy sigh-]
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby BuddCarToBethlehem » Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:45 pm

I always wondered a big "WHAT IF?" What if Fred Rooney hadn't lost re-election to Don Ritter in '78 for his congressional seat. If memory serves me corretly, he was the chair of a sub-committee in the transporation area and used his infulence to get the money to extend service to Allentown. He was well respected by the Democratic leadership. I've always wondered if he would have used his influence on the funding and scope of the center city tunnel project. Maybe things would have been different, oh well... Right now I'm just hoping they do extend to Sellersville, better to get a foot in the door than have it shut completely. Although ironicly, I drive from Bethlehem to Ft. Washington to catch the train. I just find it easier and sometimes quicker than dealing traffic in Lansdale.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby pepperandsalt » Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:17 pm

Concerning the grades on the Bethlehem Branch : Maintenance seemed to be the principal problem. 50plus cars full, and 100plus cars empty was once the norm on ore trains, and the Budd cars had long stretches in which these were only held back by speed limit.
Then, as the seventies wore on: Conrail's motley crew of worn-down engines couldn't handle the grades anymore diverting heavy freight to the longer lower-gradient route via Reading. On the passenger side, LANTA wouldn't support Philadelphia or New York service; SEPTA wouldn't provide any direct access to Center City Philadelphia anymore and didn't maintain the RDC's. Three examples of the latter were related to me by a veteran conductor: 1)Transmission fluid and oil were mixed up by Wayne Junction maintenance; 2)A two-car set assigned to Fox Chase to Newtown had only one healthy power plant among its four and had to back up a mile to get a running start to climb the grade out of Pennypack Creek; 3)A Quakertown-Lansdale shuttle had to be temporarily shut down once at Hatfield while the crew ran over to a gas station to buy motor oil for an RDC that had burned/leaked itself dry.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby BuddCarToBethlehem » Tue Jun 21, 2011 1:50 pm

What you say sounds very believable. While I haven't been on a Budd car since 1980, I do remember them as being less the "state-of-the-art" at that time. Until last month, I had never rode anything other than a Silverline IV since it's generally easier to drive directly to Philly from Bethlehem. However I was on a Silverliner II on my return trip. Everytime it stopped at an non-car level platform such as Jenkintown, I could smell the brakes. Let me tell you, that brought back memories of those trips to Reading Terminal
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SEPTA leaving Bethlehem for the last time.

Postby Franklin Gowen » Fri Jul 01, 2011 12:12 am

June 30, 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the loss of SEPTA's Bethlehem Branch passenger service north of Quakertown. Through trains were no more. All of the existing diesel trains were retained, but only as shuttles rolling back and forth between Quakertown and Lansdale. All passengers for points south of Lansdale had to transfer to electric Silverliner trains, which must have been very annoying. Also projected a lovely image of stability and assurance to the riding public, I'm sure (sarcasm X 1,000).

Of course things would devolve well past "annoying" less than a month later, when even the shuttles were wiped off the schedule; never to return. Once that black day finally arrived, it set the stage for a scene of uselessness and decay that was to progress beyond any pro-rail person's worst nightmares. It doesn't matter if you were more interested in the line's freight operations instead of the passenger service -- in the end, both suffered the same fate even though the paths which led them to oblivion took slightly different turns along the way.

It's really amazing that the unused portion of the branch north of Quakertown survived as long as it had: 1981 until 2008. Were it not for the asinine boondoggle that is the present hike-n-bike trail, the right-of-way would still be mostly intact. I'm aware of the utopian clauses in the trail agreement stating that it's legally still SEPTA's property and it can still revert to active railroad use someday. If you believe that's a realistic eventuality, I guess I can also show you a lovely bridge in Brooklyn that needs a buyer.....cash-only, please..... ;-)

I began a little memorial thread over at the SEPTA Forum to commemorate the loss of SEPTA passenger trains to Bethlehem as well as Pottsville and Newtown. You can find it here.
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CSX out, Pennsylvania NorthEasternRailroad in

Postby jrevans » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:49 pm

Well, it appears that the rumors are true about CSX handing over freight operations of the "Landsale Cluster" to another operator.

This just appeared on the STB website:
http://www.stb.dot.gov/filings/all.nsf/ ... enDocument

Get your pictures now of CSX operating in Lansdale....

Interesting looking at the map and seeing the lines that are changing freight operators. Especially interesting to me is the Stony Creek Branch, which PNR is only getting rights on the top three miles of. The next two miles down are listed as "SEPTA owned, CSX maintained", and then the rest of the line is NS. I wonder if PNR can interchange with NS there? They will still need the Stony Creek Branch for high cars, but it's probably going to be tough to get it repaired if those two CSX maintained miles have problems....

My other (unrealistic) thought that popped into my head was; wouldn't it be funny if PNR and ESPN restored the Bethlehem Branch as a through line to offer another freight gateway from Philly to Bethlehem? Totally unrealistic I know, but I smiled when I thought about it. :)
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby BuddCarToBethlehem » Sun Jul 10, 2011 12:52 am

I too smiled... But after consideration, I don't think there is enough potential freight business between Philly & the Lehigh Valley via Bethlehem. If there were, I seriously doubt Conrail would have abandoned frieght service north & south on the RDG Bethlehem Branch. Think aobut this... Conrail gave up on the branch lines to Easton (to 25th St.), Bethlehem (along Stefko Blvd., granted that was a spur off the CNJ line in Bethlehem), Allentown (the West End Branch, the Barber Branch, and of course the old Perkiomen Railroad), but Conrail and its successor Norfolk Southern continue to operate the old Lehigh & New England line to the cement belt (Nazreth, Stockertown, etc.). To me, in my opinion, that shows that profitability is the main focus for line/traffic (for lack of better railroad terminology) decisions.

I live very close to that LNE line, and every spring/early summer traffic increases. I can only speculate that it's due to increased cement shipments because construction season has begun... Of course, I'm not entirely certain because I cannot see the trains (I can only hear the rumbling of the engines and the grade crossing horns because geography blocks my view...), but since the line no longer reaches Martins Creek, there probably isn't too much to deliver on those northbound trains.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby jrevans » Mon Jul 11, 2011 8:40 am

BuddCarToBethlehem wrote:I too smiled... But after consideration, I don't think there is enough potential freight business between Philly & the Lehigh Valley via Bethlehem. If there were, I seriously doubt Conrail would have abandoned frieght service north & south on the RDG Bethlehem Branch. Think aobut this... Conrail gave up on the branch lines to Easton (to 25th St.), Bethlehem (along Stefko Blvd., granted that was a spur off the CNJ line in Bethlehem), Allentown (the West End Branch, the Barber Branch, and of course the old Perkiomen Railroad), but Conrail and its successor Norfolk Southern continue to operate the old Lehigh & New England line to the cement belt (Nazreth, Stockertown, etc.). To me, in my opinion, that shows that profitability is the main focus for line/traffic (for lack of better railroad terminology) decisions.


I prefaced that my smile was based on an unrealistic thought. :)

It seems obvious that NS isn't interested in another route from Philly up to Bethlehem, but the only shred of possible desire would be if another party/railroad wanted a North to South through route which wasn't controlled by NS. Again, it's an unrealistic but entertaining thought.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby hammersklavier » Mon Jul 25, 2011 2:57 pm

Wouldn't it be nice if the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern took over the Bethlehem Branch and Stony Creek Branch and decided to make it a Philadelphia gateway? Of course, since their main runs from the Lackawanna Valley down to Reading and the closest they get to the Lehigh Valley is Lehighton just south of Jim Thorpe, that seems rather unlikely, but it would be nice to dream...
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby MikeMusiowski » Thu Jul 28, 2011 1:38 pm

hammersklavier wrote:Wouldn't it be nice if the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern took over the Bethlehem Branch and Stony Creek Branch and decided to make it a Philadelphia gateway? Of course, since their main runs from the Lackawanna Valley down to Reading and the closest they get to the Lehigh Valley is Lehighton just south of Jim Thorpe, that seems rather unlikely, but it would be nice to dream...




If New Hope and Ivyland RR are still going in for the take over, that would be sweet if they also expanded passenger scenic business onto the Bethlehem Branch as well as able to use the East Penn leased portion for the ride as well. I know the rail trail isn't going anywhere because it's now turned into a major part of their community but if they could atleast get the rails to Coopersberg that would be pretty sweet, the opportunities are endless on what they could do as a scenic railroad rt. Based out of Quakertown, I'd love to see it turned into a multiscenic train excursion rt like Strasburg, utilising both tracks where the northbound and south bound excursion trains would pass around the tunnle area. But then again, also a nice dream... That whole park field right by where they do the Quakertown fireworks would make great for a rail yard, if not just using one of the old sidings that go towards California rd and renovating one of those buildings.
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Re: RDG Co. Bethlehem Branch

Postby glennk419 » Thu Jul 28, 2011 3:14 pm

From what I've read, PNR trackage rights only extend to Telford with East Penn operating BAU form Telford to Quakertown. Of course, PNR is a partnership between NHIR and ESPN so I guess anything's possible but I'm sure they'll have their hands full just getting the freight operations running in the short term.
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