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The Last Uses of Erie Lackawanna Dining Cars

Following the end of the Erie Lackawanna’s long-distance passenger service in January 1970, the railroad’s sleepers and diners were stored in the Port Jervis coach yard and whitelined pending disposition. In this July 1971 image, EL diner No. 769 has acquired a few broken windows during its 18 months of storage. It was sold in 1972 and operated in private car service. —Rudy Garbely Collection

The Last Uses of Erie Lackawanna Dining Cars

October 2023by Bill McKelvey/photos as noted

On November 15, 1949, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad inaugurated a new streamlined lightweight passenger train named after its long-dormant promotional icon, Phoebe Snow. Launched by DL&W president William White, the new Phoebe Snow represented the DL&W’s modernization of its passenger train fleet. The DL&W acquired long-distance coaches from ACF Industries, while Budd supplied two dining cars and the two blunt-end tavern-lounge-observation cars.

The Erie and Lackawanna railroads merged on October 17, 1960, and all New York-to-Chicago long-distance trains were moved to the former Lackawanna route through Scranton, Pa., on April 30, 1961. The last dining car to operate on the former Erie through Port Jervis, N.Y., on a regularly scheduled train was April 29, 1961. Thereafter, the only regular use of EL diners was on the former Lackawanna side; dining cars only made appearances on the former Erie for special events throughout the 1960s.

Meanwhile, passenger service on the DL&W’s Sussex Branch in rural New Jersey was down to one daily round trip, and the inevitable end of service was announced in early 1966. With the end of service on the branch drawing near, the Railroadians of America, Inc. rode from Hoboken to Branchville and back on the last Saturday of scheduled Sussex Branch service, July 9, 1966. The group persuaded Erie Lackawanna management to use a pair of EMD E8 locomotives and add an ex-Erie heavyweight diner to the consist, making the end of almost 112 years of passenger service on the Sussex Branch, a memorable occasion.

Erie Lackawanna Dining Car

ABOVE: DL&W Phoebe Snow diner 469 in service on the EL in August 1966.The photographer is Arthur F. Elwyn, the EL’s director of dining services.Arthur F. Elwyn photo, Rudy Garbely collection

On September 17, 1966, the Railroadians organized a Binghamton Loop Trip (Ramble) for their members, using the regularly-scheduled Phoebe Snow westbound on the former Lackawanna through Scranton, and eastbound on the connecting train No. 22 via the former Erie through Port Jervis. Upon boarding their train at Hoboken, the members could avail themselves of coffee and the Lackawanna’s famous Krusty Korn Kobs in the Phoebe Snow’s lightweight diner. The price of their tickets included luncheon (westbound) and dinner (eastbound) on train No. 22, the latter of which had an ex-Erie diner that was specially provided for the group’s use. Each participant received a “Welcome Letter,” meal information, a route description, map, a description of the viaducts on the route, and elevation profiles of both east and west segments.

Westbound, riders traveled over the 1,100-foot-long and 117-foot-high Paulinskill Viaduct; the 1,450-foot-long, 64-foot-high Delaware River Bridge; over Pocono Summit (elevation 1,970 feet at Tobyhanna); over the 2,375-foot-long, 240-foot-high Tunkhannock Viaduct; and over the 1,600-foot-long; 150-foot-high Martins Creek Viaduct. On the return trip on the Erie side, they passed over Gulf Summit (1,373 feet above sea level), the highest elevation on the Erie Railroad. They then crossed the graceful 1,040-foot-long;110-foot-high Starrucca Viaduct. This was the territory where the Erie’s famous Triplex mallet locomotives were once used. The trip followed the Erie Main Line and went via Middletown, N.Y., rather than using the Graham Line or traversing the Moodna Viaduct.

Surely the Railroadians knew that the Erie Lackawanna was planning to discontinue the Phoebe Snow, as well as the Binghamton-to-Hoboken connecting trains (Nos. 21/22 on the former Erie) on November 27, 1966, and this was probably the incentive for the Loop Trip. The two 1949-vintage diners were still assigned to the Phoebe Snow trains, so DL&W diner No. 469 (EL No. 769, which is preserved at Port Jervis) could have been the one used westbound on the Railroadians trip. It is also possible that the Erie No. 941 (EL No. 741, also preserved at Port Jervis) could have been the diner added to train No. 22 for the Railroadians return trip to Hoboken.

The EL’s termination of the Phoebe Snow left the Lake Cities as the railroad’s last long-distance passenger train. The Phoebe Snow dining cars and sleepers were reassigned to the Lake Cities and ran there until it also was discontinued January 5–6, 1970…

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This article was posted on: September 15, 2023