• Old Boonton Line

  • 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 Suburbanite
We all know that the Lackawanna's original Boonton Line was cut off through Paterson in 1963; the Erie-Lackawanna and the State of New Jersey short-sightedly deciding that a single track parallel to the new I-80 was not needed, and paying the railroad $2 mm to go away. For a while the E-L ran freights through Montclair along its old Greenwood Lake Railway, but that turned out to be a disaster, and the reconstructed Montclair-Greenwood Lake-Boonton hybrid we have today is (almost?) entirely commuter service.

My question is: does anybody know when the Boonton Line west of Paterson was reduced to a single-tracked route? It used to be at least double-tracked, and triple or quadruple-tracked in places. Because of this decision, it became difficult to offer two-way service all day on this stretch of railroad, which of course led to declining ridership, and the eventual destruction of some historic stations along the line. Who made this decision, and was it prompted by anything more significant than the desire to sell a bit of scrap steel for some more pocket money to a dying railroad?
  by ExCon90
I don't know the specifics of the single-tracking through Boonton, but in New Jersey in general there was a lot more at stake than scrap value of rails. Property taxes were based in part on how many tracks there were; removing one track would cut down significantly on the annual tax assessments -- even taking out a siding and two switches made a difference.
  by Suburbanite
Good point. We know that the NJ legislature was determined to squeeze the railroads 'until the pips squeaked.' I think it was the CEO of the E-L or one of its predecessor lines (or maybe it was the CNJ) who said that the railroad (heavily in the red) would have been well in the black if its operations ceased at the Jersey state line. Result: more abandoned trackage than anywhere else in the U.S. (Of course, industry in the area was leaving, but some of that was due to the same taxing policies. Also, the relatively concentrated exploding suburban population and highly focused commuting patterns—ideally served by railroads, unlike, say, growth in Texas—should have taken up at least part of the slack.)

It has been said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, and then as farce. The railroads are gone, and the airline infrastructure is already publicly-owned. Now the targets are the pharmaceutical industry, and private individuals' property taxes. Of course, this time, the effect will be different . . .
  by Tommy Meehan
It's also been stated on another list -- by a former Erie Lackawanna employee who was personally involved -- that the State of New Jersey offered to maintain a right-of-way for a single-track through Paterson. That it was EL who decided it was not needed contrary to the advice of some of their management people.
  by Suburbanite
I suspect whoever made this decision did NOT live in Montclair or Glen Ridge! (Nor would they have been familiar with the terrain.) The unsuitability of that stretch for freight service was demonstrated by several breakdowns and at least one major derailment: the inhabitants of those towns apparently complained, petitioned, lobbied, and sued the State for allowing heavy freight service on what had been a lightly used mostly commuter line, with almost no industrial customers, numerous curves and some rather steep grades. Some of the better-heeled inhabitants of these towns had the resources to make quite a stink about it. It made the national press at one point.

It is somewhat reassuring to know that not everyone at E-L or in the NJ planning authorities was so stupid . . .
  by Tommy Meehan
There were a couple of derailments on the Greenwood Lake route in Bloomfield/Glen Ridge. Residents also complained about the noise of the rerouted freights, especially in the wee hours, almost as soon as the reroute off the Boonton Line started in 1964. There was a derailment a year or two later that dumped piggyback trailers in backyards and that didn't help matters! NY100 derailed in Montclair in 1973, and in that one again trailers were dumped into Bloomfield/Glen Ridge backyards. There was a lawsuit, however it was clear that under the ICC Act no municipality could dictate how a railroad could run its trains.

I believe the reason EL's upper management decided to sever the Boonton Line was financial. Doing so made it possible to combine Boonton Line commuter trains with Greenwood Lake trains. Another reason was the previously mentioned tax savings. From the early 1950s onward neither Erie nor Lackawanna earned anywhere near an adequate income and management was under huge financial pressure. I think deciding to sever the Boonton Line was done more out of desperation than stupidity. Despite the complaints from the on-line towns the route was used by road haul freight trains all the way into the Conrail era. There were a lot of problems but the trains did get over the road. I would bet that was probably what upper management envisioned when the decision to sever the Boonton Line was made back in the early 1960s.
  by Suburbanite
Well, all the stations continued to be served by commuter trains, except the 3 or 4 already-very lightly used stations on the Greenwood Lake north of Wayne, plus Lackawanna's lightly-used white elephant Paterson Station, West Paterson, and Totowa. Those closer to Hoboken became a part of the re-routed Erie Main, and those west of Wayne/Mountain View were served on the Greenwood Lake/Boonton continuation. They had already planned to abandon the Newark and West Orange Branches, which have nothing to do with the Boonton Line, and the Passaic bypass probably didn't require that this line be solely consecrated to what had been service on the eastern part of the Boonton Line, so I wonder how much they saved there. By 1980, when I began riding it occasionally, I don't think there was much freight traffic left, and by 1984, when I moved to the area, I don't think there were any long-distance freight trains being routed through Montclair at all. So they got $2mm (on which they probably had to pay taxes) to forego the option of a single-track route alongside I-80 and that was probably the bulk of it. Without destroying much additional infrastructure, I don't think this particular cut saved them very much, and they probably lost significant freight revenue over the nine or ten years remaining to the railroad. Not very clever, in my book.

Of course, Conrail brilliantly decided that all the westbound freight traffic should go by the Erie's main line along the Delaware River, but then they ripped out all the block signals, so that only one train could be run on the single-track line between Port Jervis and Susquehanna at a time. There were certainly other factors, but I think the Eastern railroads had a death-wish.
  by s4ny
When the Erie and Lackawanna merged in 1960 they planned to move through freight east of Binghamton on the Erie main line through Port Jervis. Don't forget that the Poughkeepsie bridge was an important link then.

The NY to Buffalo passenger trains would go through Scranton on the former Lackawanna. These were money losers, so they were hoping to abandon all
passenger service through Scranton or Port Jervis anyway.

In the 1950's NJ had no sales tax and no state income tax. Taxes on the railroads helped make that possible. Little wonder the railroad companies removed as much
track as possible.
  by Suburbanite
Anyway, thanks to some local historians in Mountain Lakes, I have received the following information re trackage on the old Boonton Line:

Track no. 4 (which didn't run the whole length of the line, as you can tell from some of the bridges) was torn up during World War II as a patriotic move to provide more scrap steel for the war effort. I don't think it had been added before the 1920s, and may never have been much needed.

Track no. 3 was torn up in 1954.

I still can't find out when track no. 2 was pulled up; older local railfans remember it being there, and then not being there, and one can be pretty sure it was still in place when the line was at least two-tracked through Paterson, and across the Passaic to Mountain View, before 1963. By the late '70s, it was gone, and probably two thirds of the remaining Boonton Line passenger service along with it. Given the incredible mortality of commuter service in October 1966, I'd guess it was about then that the successor E-L essentially threw in the towel on the remainder of Boonton Line service as well, although it's hard to be sure: it is stunning how service on the once-busy Montclair Branch collapsed only when the State of New Jersey took over responsibility for paying the bills. When was that? 1969? 1971?

Still, with a few passing sidings, one could have a two-way all-day service, (as well as freight), as there still is on the Gladstone Branch, which has never been double-tracked. I feel pretty sure that once service is reduced below a certain level, a death-spiral of reduced availability of trains causes reduced ridership, which encourages further reductions in service. Eventually, not only do residents along the route become accustomed to driving, but a self-selection process sets in: those who commute to New York choose not to live in communities with lousy train service, further reducing demand. Eventually, these areas have built up sufficient population that there would be more demand anyway, and the pressure on the highways into the city has become intolerable, but it's too late: the infrastructure is gone. Which is why transportation infrastructure should never be taxed as "property" regardless of the level of use. Some older cities are shrinking (Detroit! Cleveland!); others were supposed to die, but recovered (e.g., Pittsburgh, post-steel.) Imagine if the airports were privately owned, and the owners were persuaded to dig up excess runways and aprons, and sell off hangar space for real estate development. If the population and business activity recover, you have to build a whole new airport, and meanwhile cope with reduced service. It's no way to run a railroad—er, airline.
  by Greg
Suburbanite wrote: I still can't find out when track no. 2 was pulled up; older local railfans remember it being there, and then not being there, and one can be pretty sure it was still in place when the line was at least two-tracked through Paterson, and across the Passaic to Mountain View, before 1963.
That section was always two tracks.
  by timz
10/62 timetable says CTC single track MP 13.8 east of Paterson to MP 28.1 west of Montville.
  by Suburbanite
timz wrote:10/62 timetable says CTC single track MP 13.8 east of Paterson to MP 28.1 west of Montville.
Well, photographs show two tracks, with a third in the process of being ripped up, at Paterson station in 1962 or early '63. They must have put that second track out of service in a hurry to have been down to one between the Clifton-Paterson line and MP 28.1 (which is east of the former Montville Station according to my timetables—unless the employee's timetables used the actual mileage from Hoboken, rather than the theoretical mileage from New York via the Barclay St. ferry). Perhaps management was eager to jump the gun and pretend the Greenwood Lake/Boonton Line connection was already in service, with its one-track bottleneck past Great Notch? As late as 1957, the most recent I have in my possession, there were still a few passenger trains running in opposite directions over that stretch, which would seem to indicate two-track service at least—not to mention the more-frequent freight service of that era. Trackage isn't usually ripped up quite that quickly, and there would have been a use for it for some months more for freight service at least, so I'm a little puzzled by your timetable.