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The First Decade of the Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad

Pennsylvania Northeastern 5342 has reversed at SEPTA’s Carmel Interlocking in Glenside, Pa., to travel up the Warminster Branch on May 4, 2020. This move as train W230, normally runs overnight to avoid SEPTA commuter trains, however during the pandemic SEPTA severely reduced its schedule and allowed PN to operate daylight moves such as this.

The First Decade of the Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad

October 2021by Dale Woodland/photos by the author except as noted

August 13, 2021, was the tenth anniversary of the Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad, a short line operating in southeastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Northeastern operates on 55.53 miles of SEPTA-owned track, mostly in Bucks and Montgomery counties to the north of Philadelphia, with some lines extending into northern portions of Philadelphia. The lines operated by PN include the former Reading Railroad Bethlehem Branch from Newtown Junction north to Telford, the former Reading Doylestown Branch from Lansdale to Doylestown, the former Reading New Hope Branch from Glenside to Ivyland, the Reading New York Short Line from Jenkintown to Neshaminy Falls, as well as a 3-mile portion of the Reading Stony Creek Branch south of Lansdale. The Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad also operates the Lansdale Yard in Lansdale.

The railroad interchanges with CSXT in Lansdale, the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad in Warminster and the East Penn Railroad at Telford. PN offers various freight rail services including transloading bulk commodities between railcars and trucks, rail access to warehouse facilities including Lansdale Warehouse and AmeriCold Logistics LLC in Hatfield, and railcar storage.

Pennsylvania Northeastern

ABOVE: PN GE C39-8 8212 passes the former Reading Railroad MP 34.1 signal at the Bergey Road crossing in Hatfield Township on November 26, 2019. The Bethlehem Branch north of Lansdale to Quakertown became dark territory when passenger service ended in July 1981.

Most of the territory operated by PN today was originally constructed by the North Pennsylvania Railroad, which completed its line from Philadelphia to Bethlehem, Pa., in 1856. The North Pennsylvania became part of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad in 1879. P&R operated freight and passenger service. Electrified commuter service began in 1931 on the lines closest to Philadelphia. In 1974 ownership and operation was handed over to SEPTA for passenger service and in 1976 to Conrail for freight service. As freight traffic dwindled, Conrail lost interest and planned to turn over operations short line railroad. In 1999 the segment from Telford northward ten miles to Quakertown was turned over the East Penn Railway.

Before Conrail could spin off any more trackage, Norfolk Southern and CSX divided up Conrail. It was expected that the segments around Lansdale would be operated by the newly created Conrail Shared Assets Operation (CSAO) which was designed to give the major partners equal access to terminal areas such as Philadelphia. However, CSX saw an opportunity to acquire access to traffic from Bethlehem Steel and its coke works located at the north end of the former Reading Railroad Bethlehem Branch. When Bethlehem Steel shut down operations in Bethlehem it left CSX operating only local service in the Lansdale area. Traffic continued to dwindle as some of the customers closed shop or moved to other areas…

October 2021Read the rest of this article in the October 2021 issue of Railpace Newsmagazine. Subscribe Today!

This article was posted on: September 28, 2021