• What if DL&W stuck it out?

  • 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 Cactus Jack
One thing that gets forgotten is that it was the NKP's John Davin that approached DL&W's White about a merger. Regardless of the perceived DL&W debt or commuter service, it was initiated by NKP. Davin died of cancer and some of NKP's board members who were against a NKP-DL&W union for various reasons, hired Lynne White to make sure that it didn't happen.

DL&W was in pretty good shape overall under White and into Shoemaker years. Shoemaker and crew lacked White's saavy as can be evidenced by reading the Annual Reports and the Lackawanna Magazine. Shoemaker naievly wrote in the October 1955 issue of LAckawanna Magazine (page 3) that Diane was a setback, not a calamity. Too much cash paid out as expense on this, the draw bridge repair in 58? and continued investment in passenger equipment and infrastructure even though it was bleeding red ink all contributed to a major decline financially. It is interesting that during the NKP-DL&W talks that DL&W was to be the controlling company by taking over the NKP based on their stock ownership. As it turned out, DL&W a few years later ended up playing a back seat role to the Erie in EL, a bitter pill for many DL&W men.

As far as surviving ? They would have had a tough time and it would have been dependent on what moves and alliances ERIE, D&H, LV and NKP and others would have made. Who knows for sure. The motivation in those days, whether ERIE, D&H, NKP, NYC was to become a part of a larger system. Staying small and independent was not a motivator for most of the North Eastern roads with a few exceptions maybe like L&HR
  by henry6
If it all was based on the DL&W alone you might find arguements. But the whole east coast was changing as industry moved south and west, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened (east coast harbors declined in importantce), the Interstate Highway system was unveiled, and every communtiy was building an airport (like the did railroad stations 50 to 75 years earlier), Anthracite coal was gone. The Erie, LV, DL&W, RDG, CNJ, and O&W all felt the same impact as NYC and PRR. It was either going to explode or implode. Were there smarter choices that weren't made? Therein lies the crackerbarrel and pot bellied stove arguement forever.
  by Engineer Spike
I agree with Spin's comments about the local traffic. Twenty years ago we all heard that the boxcar was a dinosaur. Look how many you see in the next train. The next example is lumber. I work on an international run to Canada. Before the present recession, half of the trains were lumber. Except for the few Home Depot and Lowe's distribution centers, most lumber goes to local lumber yards. How could the railroads ignore this volume?
I have heard railroad officials talk about how bridge traffic was their main concern, as well as major customers, like a major auto plant. Well, now you have this big customer, in which you now depend. What about this recession, where they aren't shipping much? What if they move off line? What if they get a better deal from another railroad? Now you have no line-haul. It just goes to the first interchange point.
There is an expression, " From small acorns come great oak trees." Sure, local work is labor intensive, but you can see my argument. This traffic IS important. Not servicing it would be like Terry Francona telling David Ortiz not to even run unless he gets a grand slam. The cream is nice and profitable, but they ought to go after all profitable traffic. I have worked a local which mainly serves a large GE plant. That is the main reason for the job. Along with it, there are several small customers. GE has already paid for the crew, engine, etc., so why give these small companies a hard time? One of these small customers told the conductor that he had asked for an extra switch, and was told to get screwed, by the railroad. A 5 minute switch could have given the company a few extra bucks, kept the customer happy..........The crew was already out there.....................same old song and dance.......business suffers due to neglect..........Government bailout................................Conrail II......so the song goes.
I think that it is funny how all of the officials read Railway Age. I get it too, just to see what they are thinking. Half the time they are stroking each others' egos (or something else). A good example would be; idiot out of some big university says something, and as crazy as it is, they go right for it. One example is a company which wanted to cut down on the number of yards, and block classifications. Now they get cars from a major interchange partner go 300 miles out of the way, to get switched. They used to make a connection that day. Now it is 1 day there, one to switch, one to come back blocked (hopefully).
Like I said, they come up with crazy ideas, and treat the customers poorly. They think that their poop does not smell. They promote belligerent people to front line managers. What kind of impression does that make on the customers, who call wondering about a switch? My dog has a better mastery of manners in public.
In short, I don't feel sorry for the railroads. They manufacture their own problems.
  by Caseyjim
The Lackawanna would have most likely been bankrupt by 1970 if not sooner and possibly go the way of the New York, Ontario and Western Railway when that railroad gave up the ghost and completely abandoned its system by the end of March, 1957. What the railroads serving New Jersey should have done about the taxation by that state would be refuse to handle any freight or passenger traffic with ANY New Jersey destination until the Governor and Legislature abated the tax rates which bordered on extortion and which I believe contributed to the bankruptcies of the railroads that went into Conrail. New York State was and is just as bad. Now that we have Mr. Magoo as governor, things are only going to get worse, but that's beside the point, which is the railroads are going to keep deferring maintenance as long as they can get away with it. That is what the Lackawanna would have been forced to do if left on its own. Merger with the Erie merely kept the whole business on life support at best.
  by GulfRail
I don't think they would have made it... :(
...On the other hand, perhaps if some group had bought the old DL&W in the mid-70's and combined it with the Southern Tier, then perhaps we would have seen a "new" Pheobe Snow. :-D
  by s4ny
I can imagine a scenario that might have been. Assume that the Erie and DL&W never merged. Also assume that the State of NJ agreed to take
over commuter operations. That leaves the DL&W as a freight only line with a partner in the Nickel Plate. Without the commuter losses, the Nickel Plate might well have merged with the DL&W creating viable competition to the NY Central and Pennsylvania RR.
With these 3 "strong" lines you have to assume that the Erie and Lehigh Valley merge but do not do well and eventually are mostly abandoned.

Now there are still problems, but in this "alternate history" the profitable western railroad companies decide to create competing coast to coast systems.
In this assumtion the ability to abandon unprofitable branch lines or sell them to short lines takes place in the late 1950s, not much later as actually was the case.

So, you wind up with three large transcontinental lines. One Union Pacific based, one Santa Fe based and one Burlington/Northern Pacific based. These 3 companies hook up with the NY Central, Pennsylvania, and Nickel Plate/DL&W in some order.

The Southern Railway, Norfolk & Western, ACL, B&O, C&O, Ill Central all wind up fitting into the three major systems.
Canadian Pacific and Canadian National get into the mix too, perhaps even more aggressively than they did in actuality.

There are other things that might have made this even more likely. Assume an oil shortage in the mid 1950s. The interstate highway system is not built and it is decided that energy shortages dictate that greater funding goes into energy effecient transportation.

So there you have the DL&W a survivor.
  by workextra
I to believe that if the railroads decided not to service anything in the state of NJ then the state would have had to act or compromise by either lowering taxes or by both lowering taxes and subsidizing the commuter/passenger trains.
This may have kept the EL in the game longer to make it into a bridge line or some kind of short line operation.