Reading & Northern’s “North Reading Fast Freight” (NRFF) has captured the imagination of railroad industry watchers, railfans and photographers for its precise, scheduled operation over R&N’s “Main Line” between Reading, Pa., and Pittston (near Scranton), Pennsylvania. Previously, R&N moved freight between its Reading and Lehigh divisions with a daytime NRJT (North Reading to Jim Thorpe). cars destined for points on the Lehigh Division were staged in Jim Thorpe Yard or between Jim Thorpe and Packerton Junction. A nocturnal PILE/LEPI (Pittston to Lehighton) crew swapped blocks in the Packerton/Jim Thorpe area.
Completion of Reading & Northern’s new bridge over the Lehigh River between Jim Thorpe Junction and RIVER in October 2021 formed a wye and enabled a direct run from Reading to Pittston without the side-trip into Jim Thorpe, and crews began the operation of NRFF.
ABOVE: Train NRFF prepares to duck under the PA 437 overpass at Mountain Top, known on the railroad as Solomon’s Gap, Pa., on July 14, 2021. This is former CNJ trackage; the signal guards CP-Solomon’s Gap interlocking. —Tom Nemeth photo
The crew on-duty time at Outer Station was pushed back to 1:30 p.m. to enable growing interchange traffic from NS’ Spring Street Yard in downtown Reading to get sorted out in R&N’s North Reading Yard. After the NRFF cars are drilled out, the NRFF crew runs them non-stop to Pittston, departing North Reading Yard in Muhlenburg Township at 2:14 p.m.
This feature will cover the NRFF journey from Bridgeport (just south of White Haven) northward to Solomon’s Gap, the top of Penobscot Mountain. The August 2021 edition of Railpace covered the NRFF route from North Reading to Glen Onoko, near Jim Thorpe, and a follow-up in the September edition included photos on the Lehigh Division. This installment will offer a detailed look at the Bridgeport-White Haven-Penobscot segment, with several new angles and compete, annotated maps. It’s interesting to note that Reading & Northern designates the entire Reading-Pittston main line at “north-south” while predecessor railroads had differing designations. On the Reading, the direction from Reading to Tamaqua was west. On the Jersey Central branch from Haucks to Jim Thorpe, the direction was east. And on the Lehigh Valley, the direction from the Jim Thorpe area to Pittston was west.
ABOVE: Train NRFF charges across the Lehigh River at a location known as Bridgeport, a half mile south of White Haven, Pa., on August 21, 2020. The train is operating on former Lehigh Valley trackage at this point. —Tom Nemeth photo
When following and photographing the NRFF, your day is essentially split into two parts: The Reading-Port Clinton-Tamaqua–Glen Onoko segment, and about 45 minutes later, the Bridgeport (White Haven)-Penobscot-Pittston segment. That is because the 26 miles of the Lehigh Gorge between Glen Onoko and Tannery (just south of Bridgeport) is inaccessible to motor vehicles. You can hike and bike the Lehigh Gorge State Park trail, and ride through a portion of it aboard daily Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway excursion trains, but for an all-day NRFF chase, you need to head away from the tracks between the Glen Onoko/Jim Thorpe area and Bridgeport…