Frank's Photography Site

CNJ "Backtrack" Line - May 2013 - Wilkes-Barre, PA

The CNJ Backtrack Line ran from Ashley to Penobscot (Mountain Top) around Wilkes-Barre Mountain
for a distance of almost 14 miles. It was built as an alternative to the Ashley Planes line which was on a very steep grade
and required the use of cables. The Ashley Planes line was completed in 1843, and the Backtrack Line in 1870.
After 1948, when the Ashley Planes line was abandoned, all CNJ traffic used the Backtrack Line
to reach Wilkes-Barre and points west/north (to Scranton). The Lehigh Valley Railroad was a parallel line for much of the distance
from New Jersey, and both companies' tracks ran through the Lehigh River gorge north of Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk)
and to the Mountain Top area east of Wilkes-Barre. The LV had a line similar to the CNJ Backtrack Line which
was called its "passenger main". It looped south around the mountain rather than north, but was abandoned in 1965.
The Lehigh Valley's main advantage was its "Mountain Bypass" which continued north from Mountain Top to the Dupont/Pittston area,
bypassing the steep grades, but bypassing Wilkes-Barre as well. Even though the CNJ didn't give up its PA lines until 1972,
beginning in 1965 certain track-use arrangements were made between the LV and CNJ in the Mountain Top area.
Eventually, all the LV's trackage was removed east of Laurel Run in favor of the CNJ trackage, but west of Laurel Run
the line which continues today is the ex-LV trackage. The Reading & Northern is the current operator
between Mehoopany, Pittston (including the Coxton Yard), and Lehighton.

The Backtrack Line became of lesser importance, but was kept in service until around 1972-73, when mine fires on the mountain
made the line unstable. Much of it was removed in the 1974-78 timeframe. The short portion from Ashley to the Allan Industries
scrapyard remained in place until around 1982-83 and saw occasional traffic, according to one source.


Here's the location of the now-gone Main Street crossing in Ashley, and a signal tower has been kept in place.


This is to the left of point "A" on the key below, near the star, and along the upper yellow line.
"C" is the Nanticoke Branch (now also abandoned, but sections of track can still be found).
"D" and "E" are long-gone connectors, and the green lines were the WB&H interurban, abandoned in 1933.
We will be going from point "A" to point "B", which is the Allan Industries scrapyard.


Here we are looking east in the woods and dirt paths just to the right of the letter "A",
a bit east of where the Backtrack Line crossed over the Nanticoke branch on an overpass.
No tracks remnants remain, but the line would have passed to the left of the power pole.


Another spot along the dirt paths just south of the previous photo.
If you followed the right fork, you would arrive at the Nanticoke Branch ROW just east of its Main Street underpass.


For the next photos in this section, I drove into the Ashley trailer park (accessible from Hazleton St),
and to the extreme northeast point at letter "F" in the above key.
Here I parked on the street and walked up to the former ROW area.
Not much to see here, but there were some cinders mixed in with the gravel along the path.


Now I headed east, and we will cross under all four highway overpasses which were built over the former ROW.
The first one is I-81 south, the second two are for Route 309, and the last is I-81 north.
Here's the I-81 south overpass and the gravel path/former ROW just beyond.



Next we come to the first Route 309 overpass, and from here on east, there are plenty of old ties still in place.




Here's the second Route 309 overpass, and a few piles of railroad scrap.




After this point, the ties become very consistent, protrude from the ground more, and there's evidence of a second track.


Approaching the last bridge (I-81 north), there's a huge pile of debris just before the gate marking the entrance
to the Allan Industries scrapyard. This was where the rail line passed through. There's no fence or gate just to the right, though.



Once in the scrap yard itself, the ROW would have passed directly through here, to the left of this small building.


On the next "key" map below, Allan Industries is at "A", lower left. After the above segment,
I headed to Johnson Road, which is at point "B" on the key and comes off Route 309 (W-B Twp. Blvd.).
I took the right fork and headed up the hill, but couldn't find where the ROW would have crossed the road (point "C").
So I went to the top of the hill to point "D" and took a few shots of the scenery,
In the fourth photo I zoomed in to downtown Wilkes-Barre (5/22/13)...






For the last part of the trip, I went to Northampton St. (point "E"), to the point just beyond the last buildings,
where the ROW would have crossed the road. On the north side, there was just a gravel path and a few "natives".



Here we are walking back out to the road, and the ROW would have crossed where you see the hump-ish area in the second photo.



To the left of the former ROW area is a gravel road, and a small park-like area with a parking area.


Almost sure I wouldn't find anything else, suddenly I spotted this bit of rail protruding from the north side of
Northampton Street, near cracks that went across the pavement... a real "ah-ha" moment...


That's all for now from me on this line, but be sure to check out THIS and THIS page on,
where Mike and his party hike further up the Backtrack Line for some interesting photos...

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