• EL: What If The Hurricane Never Happened

  • Discussion relating to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, the Erie, and the resulting 1960 merger creating the Erie Lackawanna. Visit the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society at http://www.erielackhs.org/.
Discussion relating to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, the Erie, and the resulting 1960 merger creating the Erie Lackawanna. Visit the Erie Lackawanna Historical Society at http://www.erielackhs.org/.

Moderator: blockline4180

  by njtransitrookie
Would the EL have survived had they not endured that last hurricane? Would they have been included in Conrail or been able to make it with the UPS business they had as well as the valuble NY-Chicago route. It would seem to me that at least some of the property and routes they had were worth something. What would have happened if NJ Transit took over all the commuter routes? Could this have had a significant effect on the RR to a point where this would have made them a stronger if not viable operation?
  by henry6
Since the EL unions flatley rejected anything offerd by CSX at the time, the quick answer is that nothing else could happen to the EL but be included in Conrail.

However, there are other things to be considered, like DERECO which was a paper company owned by Norfolk and Western to operate EL and D&H lines which could, or might have, taken a different tac than it did. There were rumbilngs about Sante Fe or somebody else from west of the Miss R. interested, too, but neither the political nor business climate was ready for a true coast to coast (is it really ready now?). Just how attractive could the EL have been?

Oh, maybe hand in hand with the LV in the east and somebody else in the mid west there could have been a wedding of some kind. But that would probably have been nixed by Penn Central, the ICC, and the courts anyway.

In the long run, Agnes or not, EL had to end up in CR because of the political climate and the public apathy of the day.

  by ricebrianrice
I think the simple answer is yes, they were trying to make it without joining Conrail. They were operating on a very thin margin, but were making it. They had the right management, and were doing things correctly. But things change, management leaves, hurricanes happen, economic slow down, contracts expire, etc, so I think eventually they would have hit the same wall.

Then it would have been to late for Conrail, and we might have seen another NYO&W. Bankruptcy, extended out over multiple years, and eventual closure with bits and pieces being picked up by Conrail, NS, and CSX much like today.

Hey but who knows, a nice what if senario
  by henry6
It was close, very close. But Maxwell and company knew how tenuous the situation was and were looking for a reason to file and join CR's push especially without a suitor in sight. Agnes gave them that out.

  by JoeG
No Northeastern railroad was making it in the early 70s. The EL was limping along before the hurricane. Maybe it could have limped along a little longer but it still had its basic structural problems. Another thing is, the implosion of Penn Central accelerated the whole transition from rail freight to trucks in the Northeast. Once an industry paved over its siding and switched to trucks, its business was lost to all railroads.
Conrail succeeded because of a massive infusion of government money, combined with a ruthless pruning of excess railroad miles. EL wouldn't have gotten the needed money by itself, and certainly couldn't have pruned redundant trackage. My sad conclusion is that nothing could have saved EL but a couple of end-to-end mergers--(Maybe NKP, maybe Wabash, maybe even NKP plus a Western road)--but these mergers weren't going to happen. It wasn't really weather that did in the railroad--it just hastened the end.
  by henry6
The NKP-Wabash factor is an intresting facet. One, I believe Wabash was long folded into N&W as NKP was going. N&W also owned Dereco, the holding company for EL and D&H. The fly in the ointment was that NKP was doing great business with run through traffic with competitor LV. It was a canundrum N&W avoided by setting Dereco free to find a home at that time.

  by JoeG
As Henry points out, the Lackawanna's merger efforts were too little and too late. I wonder what might have happened if the Lackawanna had tried for a merger with NKP in 1946. In 1946 railroads were still flush with WWII cash, and travel patterns hadn't yet changed as they would 10 years later. So, its commuter traffic and heavy debt load might not have seemed fatal flaws to merger partners. And, anthracite traffic, while falling, was still a moneymaker. The question would have been, would the ICC have allowed DL&W an end-to-end merger in 1946?

  by washingtonsecondary
Here is an intresting thought. What if the EL had stuck it out into the 1980's to around the time Sealand was looking for a railroad in the east for it's land bridge. Conrail blew them off and NYS&W got the business. Could EL have gotten that business? If that's the case NYS&W might never been restored as it is today.

  by ricebrianrice
If Erie Lackawanna was still around today, there would be no NYS&W. They would have no place to go, since most of where NYS&W runs today, is old EL trackage.

  by washingtonsecondary
True. In NY they run exclusivly on old EL track north of Bingo.
  by henry6
Actually the entire route from Syracuse to NJ would have been EL. And yes, EL probably would have gotten the business because of their high and wide ROW.

  by jmp883
I think Henry6 nailed it. Hurricane Agnes or not, I don't think the EL could have survived on its own.

If EL could have gotten NJDOT to take over the Hoboken commuter service in the early 1970's that might have bought the EL some time but that alone wouldn't have been enough to save the railroad. In addition to giving the commuter service over to the state I believe EL would have had to get rid of either the DL&W or the Erie side in its entirety east of Binghamton, NY. Since the Erie had the better clearances and the lesser grades I think that would have been the route saved.

Would that still have saved EL? I don't think so. There were just too many issues with northeastern railroading in the late 1960's-early 1970's.

It would have been nice though......... :wink:

  by lvrr325
According to all I've read, EL had millions set aside to revamp Marion yard which was wiped out by hurricane damage repairs, and then some.

It was that damage that wiped out their cash reserves entirely and led to bankruptcy. They may not have been 100%, but were more healthy than anyone else to that point, even with the per diem and related losses as a result of everyone else being under bankruptcy protection.

I find it highly unlikely that the road was looking for a merger yet planning to rebuild and modernize a major yard.

Had the hurricane not damaged the EL, most likely it would have followed a course similar to the D&H. I don't remember the when on how Dereco was done away with, but if that control continued most likely the change point would be the NS merger - at that point the EL would have either been merged into NS, or spun off on it's own to a new owner - perhaps even Guilford. The reforms generated by Conrail would have to have still come about for that road to succeed, and EL would also have benefited. It's even likely that with the EL's desire not to use the Tier east of Bingo as a main route, that it might have the same ownership as it does today, along with the Syracuse and Utica branches. (things like that all depend on what philosophy management could have taken, though, it's all armchair quarterbacking).

I agree the EL would have been a weak competitor to Conrail, but would have been in a much better position than the trackage-rights expanded D&H, to compete, especially if they picked up a line south out of the Jersey area to reach friendly connections as a condition of Conrail. They would likely have gotten the Sea-Land trains and would have been in position to be at the forefront of the container revolution, and with a mainline that bypasses a number of congested locations CSX and NS use today may even have been able to offer more competitve schedules on those trains.

I think though the ultimate result would be to see EL and Conrail each combined with one of CSX, NS, CN, CP or perhaps one of the western roads in some form by this point. It's not hard to see would CP still pick up the Soo and D&H, to want the EL as a natural all-US connection between them.

It's important to remember when discussing possible merger partners for the Lackawanna that the PRR owned about half of both the NKP and Wabash. The N&W owned a large percentage if not the entire other half of the two roads. This is why they went to the N&W when the PRR had to sell it's shares in preparation for the PC merger. A DL&W-NKP or DL&W-Wabash merger would have been very difficult to work out.

  by Otto Vondrak
EL was doing better than most of the northeastern roads in the 1970s, but the collapse of Penn Central in 1970 weakened everyone. With Penn Central in Chapter 11, they didnt have to pay out, but everyone else had to keep paying in (switching charges, for instance).

What traffic did EL have that PC didn't? UPS TOFC, for one. With EL in slightly better shape than PC, it stands to reason that container traffic could have been a natural next step.

NKP/N&W already had their link with the LV for acess to New York (the Apollos). You'd think that N&W would make an end-to-end connection with its corporate cousin instead.

But we're talking specifically about the flood/Hurrican Agnes damage. So we should really investigate what damage the weather did to the EL.

So... what happened?

  by henry6
Agnes did wipe out the EL. But Roanoke was not going to let DERECO bring N&W down in face of the Penn Central bankruptcy and thus Agnes gave them a chance to clear out by setting Dereco free. A D&H-EL merger, by then, was out of the question. It probably was Maxwell's best decision during his EL tenure. And the safest for N&W. It was the easy way out but it was also the only way out in a tempest that was just beginning.