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A GM builder's portrait of the Reading Railroads' EMD FT Diesel Locomotive No. 250.
A Reading Slideshow.
The Reading Company
The Reading Company (pronounced Redding), usually called the Reading Railroad, was a Class I railroad that operated 1,460 miles in southeast Pennsylvania and the neighboring states of Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey. The company was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Until the decline in anthracite loadings in the Coal Region after World War II, it was one of the most prosperous corporations in the United States.
Reduced coal traffic coupled with highway competition and short hauls forced it into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The railroad was merged into Conrail in 1976, but the corporation lasted into 2000.
Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road: 1833–1896
The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R) was one of the first railroads constructed in the United States. Along with the Little Schuylkill, a horse-drawn railroad in the Schuylkill River Valley, it formed the earliest components of what became the Reading Company. Primarily, the P&R was constructed to haul anthracite coal from the mines in northeastern Pennsylvania's Coal Region to Philadelphia.
The original P&R mainline extended south from the mining town of Pottsville to Reading and then onward to Philadelphia, following the gently graded banks of the Schuylkill River for nearly all of the 93-mile journey. The P&R mainline had the distinction of being, upon its 1843 completion, the first double track main line in the United States.
Almost immediately, the P&R became a very profitable business as coal replaced wood as fuel in businesses and homes. Soon the P&R bought or leased many of the railroads in the Schuylkill River Valley and Pennsylvania Coal Region. The Reading also constructed Port Richmond in Philadelphia to load coal into ships and barges for export. This increased the potential market for anthracite and was key to the P&R's success. Port Richmond was the self-proclaimed "Largest privately owned railroad tidewater terminal in the world." In 1871, the Reading established a subsidiary called the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, which set about buying anthracite coal mines in the Coal Region. This vertical expansion gave the P&R almost full control of coal from mining through to market.
The heavy investment in coal paid off quickly. By 1871, the Reading was the largest company in the world, with $170,000,000 in gross value, and may have been the first conglomerate in the world. In 1879, the Reading gained control of the North Pennsylvania Railroad and gained access to the burgeoning steel industry in the Lehigh Valley.
The Reading further expanded its coal empire by reaching New York City through control of the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad in 1879, and the construction of the Port Reading Railroad in 1892. This allowed for the direct delivery of coal to New York City by rail and barge instead of the longer trip by ships from Port Richmond, around Cape May to New York Harbor.
The reliance of the Reading on anthracite eventually ruined the company in the 1870s. Instead of broadening its rail network, the Reading invested its vast wealth in anthracite and its transport in the mid-19th century. In 1890, the Reading under the leadership of Archibald A. McLeod, finally saw that more riches could be earned by expanding its rail network and becoming a trunk railroad. McLeod went about trying to control neighboring railroads in 1891. He was able to gain control of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Boston and Maine Railroad. The Reading almost achieved its goal of becoming a Trunk Road, but the deal failed due to the efforts of people like J.P.Morgan, who did not want more competition in the northeastern railroad business. The Reading was relegated to a regional railroad for the rest of its history.
1833-1893 Expansion History
The Philadelphia and Reading Rail Road was chartered April 4, 1833 to build a line between Philadelphia and Reading along the Schuylkill River. The portion from Reading to Norristown opened July 16, 1838, the full line December 9, 1839. Its Philadelphia terminus was at the state-owned Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad (P&C) on the west side of the Schuylkill River, from which it ran east on the P&C over the Columbia Bridge and onto the city-owned City Railroad to a depot at the southeast corner of Broad and Cherry Streets.
An extension northwest from Reading to Mount Carbon, also on the Schuylkill River, opened on January 13, 1842, allowing the railroad to compete with the Schuylkill Canal. At Mount Carbon, it connected with the earlier Mount Carbon Railroad, continuing through Pottsville to several mines, and would be extended to Williamsport. On May 17 of that year, a freight branch from West Falls to Port Richmond on the Delaware River north of downtown Philadelphia opened. Port Richmond later became a very large coal terminal.
On January 1, 1851, the Belmont Plane on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, just west of the Reading's connection, was abandoned in favor of a new bypass, and the portion of the line east of it was sold to the Reading, the only company that continued using the old route.
The Lebanon Valley Railroad was chartered in 1836 to build from Reading west to Harrisburg. Reading financed the construction of the Rutherford Yard to compete with the PRR's nearby Enola Yard. The Reading took it over and began construction in 1854, opening the line in 1856. This gave the Reading a route from Philadelphia to Harrisburg, for the first time competing directly with the Pennsylvania Railroad, which became its major rival. In 1859 the Reading leased the Chester Valley Railroad, providing a branch from Bridgeport west to Downingtown. It had formerly been operated by the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad.
A new Philadelphia terminal opened on December 24, 1859 at Broad and Callowhill Streets, north of the old one at Cherry Street. The Reading and Columbia Railroad was chartered in 1857 to build from Reading southwest to Columbia on the Susquehanna River. It opened in 1864, using the Lebanon Valley Railroad from Sinking Spring east to Reading. The Reading leased it in 1870.
The early Philadelphia and Reading Railroad named all of their locomotives with names such as Winona or Jefferson, as did most American railroads following in the British precedent, but in December 1871 the P&R replaced all the names with numbers. The Port Kennedy Railroad, a short branch to quarries at Port Kennedy, was leased in 1870. Also that year, the Reading leased the Pickering Valley Railroad, a branch running west from Phoenixville to Byers, which opened in 1871.
During 1875, four of the Camden and Atlantic Board of Directors left, led by Samual Richards who was an officer of the C&A for 24 years, to build a second railroad from Camden, New Jersey to Atlantic City by way of Clementon.
Incorporated on March 24, 1876 . A gauge of 3 foot, 6 inches was selected because narrow gauge was successful at the time and lowered operating costs. Work began in April 1877. The track work was completed in a remarkable ninety days. On Saturday, July 7, 1877 the final spike was driven and the 54.67 miles line was opened. On July 12, 1878 the P&AC Railway slipped into bankruptcy. The Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway was acquired by the CNJ and the Philadelphia and Reading Railway for $1,000,000 on September 20, 1883. The name was then modified to Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railroad effective December 4, 1883. The first major task was to convert all trackage to standard gauge. This was completed on October 5, 1884. The Philadelphia and Reading Railway acquired full control on December 4, 1885.
The Reading leased the North Pennsylvania Railroad on May 14, 1879. This gave it a line from Philadelphia north to Bethlehem, and also the valuable Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad, the descendant of the National Railway project, providing a route to New York City in direct competition with the Pennsylvania Railroad's United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company. At the New York end it used the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Jersey City terminal.
On May 29, 1883 the Reading leased the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The Reading eventually bought a majority of the CNJ's stock.
Effective April 1, 1889, the Philadelphia and Reading Railway consolidated the Philadelphia and Atlantic City Railway, Williamstown & Delaware River Railroad, Glassboro Railroad, Camden, Gloucester and Mt. Ephraim Railway, and the Kaighn's Point Terminal Railroad in southern New Jersey into The Atlantic City Railroad. The Port Reading Railroad was chartered in 1890 and opened in 1892, running east from a junction from the New York main line near Bound Brook to the new port of Port Reading on the Arthur Kill near Perth Amboy.
The Lehigh Valley Railroad was leased on December 1, 1891 under the presidency of Archibald A. McLeod, but that lease was canceled on August 8, 1893 when the Reading went into receivership, an event associated with the Panic of 1893. The Reading also relinquished control of the Central New England Railroad and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Amid the turmoil of the Panic of 1893, Joseph Smith Harris was elected president. Under his leadership, the Reading Company was formed and the P&R was absorbed into it on November 30. Also in 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad built its most famous structure, Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. Reading Terminal served as the terminus for most of the Reading's Philadelphia bound trains, as well as the headquarters for the Company.
Philadelphia and Reading Railway: 1896–1923
After the Panic of 1893, and the failure of Archibald A. McLeod's efforts to turn the Reading into a major trunk line, the Reading was forced to reorganize under suspicions of monopoly. The Reading Company was created to serve as a holding company for the Reading's rail and coal subsidiaries: the Philadelphia and Reading Railway, and the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, respectively. However, in 1906, with the support of the Roosevelt Administration, the Hepburn Act was passed. This required all railroads to divest themselves of all mining properties and operations, and so the Reading Company was forced to sell the P&R Coal and Iron Company.
Even though moving and mining of coal was its primary business, the P&R eventually became more diversified through the development of many on-line industries, averaging almost five industries per mile of main line at one point, and the expanding role of the Reading as a bridge route.
This included its important role on the Alphabet Route, from Boston and New York to Chicago, with traffic from the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central entering the Reading System in Allentown, traveling over the East Penn Branch to Reading, where trains then traveled west over the Lebanon Valley Branch to Harrisburg, and then onward over the Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburg branch, or PH&P to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. There trains connected with the Western Maryland Railroad to continue westward. This route became known as the “Crossline” and became very important. Therefore, the Reading started to pool locomotive power between its connecting railroads to provide a more seamless transfer of freight and passengers.
Even though the Reading was never again to regain its powerful position of the 1870s, it still was a very profitable and important railroad. From the turn of the 20th century to the outbreak of World War I, the Reading was among the most modern and efficient railroads. In keeping with the standards of much larger railroads, The Reading embarked on many improvement projects which typically were not attempted by smaller railroads. This included triple and quadruple tracking many of its major routes, improving signaling and track quality, as well as expanding system capacity and station facilities.
The Reading invested in the construction of new cut-offs, bypasses, and connections, much like the Pennsylvania Railroad's "Low-grade" lines and the Lackawanna Cut-off. The completion of the Reading belt line in 1902, a 7.2 mile long westerly bypass of downtown Reading, alleviated the heavy rail congestion in the busy city.
In Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, a new bridge was constructed over the Schuylkill River in 1903. The bridge connected the P&R main line on the west (south) bank of the river with the Manayunk/Norristown Line on the opposite side, allowing passenger service to Norristown, and a bypass of the old main line, known as the West Side Fright line.
The Ninth Avenue branch—the main thoroughfare into Reading Terminal—was also improved. Between 1907-1914 the old double track and street level route was replaced by an elevated quadruple track route that offered greater capacity and safety. In 1901, the Reading gained a controlling interest in the Central Railroad of New Jersey, allowing the Reading to offer seamless, one-seat rides from Reading Terminal in Philadelphia to the CNJ's Jersey City Communipaw Terminal by way of Bound Brook onto the CNJ mainline. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was also looking for access to the New York market, and in 1903 the B&O gained control over the Reading and thus ensured its trains track rights over the Reading and CNJ to Jersey City.
To the north, the New York Short Line was completed in 1906, and was a cut-off for New York Bound through freights and the B&Os Royal Blue.
In 1900, the Reading Shops began construction along the Reading yards and North 6th street, facilitating the maintenance and construction of a greater locomotive and rolling stock fleet. The shops were completed four years later, with their imposing brick architecture, they were the largest railroad shops in America, and unlike most railroads, allowed the Reading to make its own engines. They still stand today in non RR use. Larger steam locomotives were introduced to haul the increasing traffic, including the massive N1 class 2-8-8-2 Mallet leased from Arthur E. Newbold, and Reading made one M1 class 2-8-2 freight hauler, Baldwin locomotive Works built the rest. Big freight haulers were the massive K-1 2-10-2 locomotives, some were built in Reading, Pennsylvania from the mallets, others were built by Baldwin. The G1 class 4-6-2's were passenger locomotives. These classes were an important break of tradition of the Readings motive power fleet. The M1s were the first Reading locomotives to include a trailing truck, and the first engine with the cab behind the Wootten firebox. Of note, the "lessor" Arthur E. Newbold was reported to the ICC in 1919. This meant some steam power was owned by a second party and leased to the P&R. The G1s were the first Reading passenger locomotives with three coupled driving wheels. In 1945-47 the company took 30 class I-10, 2-8-0 locomotives and rebuilt them at the 6th street facility into the modern T-1 class 4-8-4 locomotives at a cost of 6 million dollars. This was a move to offset the fact that EMD FT diesel locomotives (first choice of Reading management) were very hard to obtain, and in order to have faster, up-to-date, modern power. The steamers never ran long enough to pay back this major investment, had some major problems, but it did keep men employed. Of note was the Reading’s investment in smaller 4-4-0s and switcher fleet.
The Reading Company did not operate extensive long distance passenger train service, but it did field a number of named trains, most famous of which was the streamlined "Crusader", which connected Philadelphia and Jersey City. Other trains in the fleet included the "Harrisburg Special" (between Jersey City and Harrisburg), "King Coal" (between Philadelphia and Shamokin, Pennsylvania), "North Penn" (between Philadelphia and Bethlehem), "Queen of the Valley" (between Jersey City and Harrisburg), "Schuylkill" (between Philadelphia and Pottsville), and "Wall Street" (between Philadelphia and Jersey City). The Reading participated in the joint operation of "The Interstate Express" with the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad, with service between Philadelphia and Syracuse, New York. Reading also offered through passenger car service with the Lehigh Valley Railroad via their connection at Bethlehem. Like most railroads the Reading had contracts with the US Post Office to haul and sort mail en route. After the Second World War the Reading looked at dropping the mail and in 1961 notified the Govt. that it intended to stop mail service on their passenger trains. On July 1, 1963, the Post Office let them out of the contracts (valued at $2,137,000), and the railroad switched to Budd RDC self-propelled cars (instead of locomotive hauled passenger trains) in a cost-cutting measure.
The Reading operated an extensive commuter network out of Reading Terminal in Philadelphia. In the late 1920s most of the suburban system was electrified, the notable exception being the branch to Newtown, Pennsylvania. This line was partly electrified in 1966.
Reading Company: 1924–1976
After the first World War, and the return of the Reading from government control, the Reading decided to streamline their corporate structure. For twenty years the Reading Company, the holding company created for the P&R and the P&R Coal and Iron Company, only controlled the P&R after the sale of the P&R Coal and Iron Company. To simplify corporate structure the P&R ceased operation in 1924 and the Reading Company took over operating the Railroad. The period just after World War I may have been the Reading Company's best, with traffic on the Reading at its peacetime high. Annual volume was about 15 million tons of Anthracite, 25 million tons of Bituminous Coal, with a further 30 million tons of industrial traffic. The Reading had taken great strides to wean itself of anthracite dependency but it still relied heavily on coal revenue, and Pennsylvania anthracite production had peaked in 1917 with 99.7 million tons produced.
Revenue Freight Ton-Miles (Millions)
Year - Reading - Cornwall - B&S
1925 6,775 9 0.8
1933 3,943 3 (incl in RDG)
1944 9,303 13
1960 5,685 8
1970 4,329 (incl in RDG)
Revenue Passenger-Miles (Millions)
Year - Reading - Cornwall - B&S
1925 418 0.6 0.6
1933 150 0.01 (incl in RDG)
1944 541 0
1960 173 0
1970 195 (incl in RDG)
The 1925 "Reading" totals above include all the subsidiaries (C&F, G&H, P&CV etc.) that were operating roads in 1925 but whose totals were included in Reading's after 1929. None of the totals include Atlantic City RR or PRSL.
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Text: wikipedia.org. Images: Public Domain; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (unless otherwise specified) and 17 U.S. Code § 107 fair use. References: Lewis, Robert G. The Handbook of American Railroads. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1951, 2nd Edition 1956. Site Map Contact webmaster HERE.