Frank's Photography Site
Wilkes-Barre Connecting Railroad - June 2013
(along with additional historical information on Plains area rail lines)
The "Wilkes-Barre Connecting Railroad" runs west and south from the former D&H Hudson Yard area
to the former PRR Buttonwood Yard area in Hanover Township.
First, here's a map of the Hudson, Plains, and northeast Kingston areas:
The current WBCRR alignment is in black on the map, a bit difficult to see, but I've put several labels for it along the line.
As you can see, this area was once quite complex, so a short history of the area will help.
NOTE: As of Saturday, September 19, 2015, Norfolk Southern formally took over operations of the line
from Schenectady south and west to Sunbury, replacing the Canadian Pacific as operator.
The line had been run as the Canadian Pacific "Sunbury Sub", a through route from the Canadian border
over the ex-D&H to Binghamton, ex-DL&W (E-L) to Scranton, the ex-D&H to Hudson,
the WBCRR to Buttonwood, and the ex-PRR to Sunbury.
After the D&H went bankrupt in the late 1980's, CP was picked as successor (eligible to purchase the line)
by the ICC and the D&H trustee (in 1990), and CP soon began operating the line.
Earlier, the D&H purchased the ex-DL&W line (Binghamton-Scranton segment) at the end of 1980,
and abandoned its own "Penn Division" line by late 1982. This line was originally owned by the Erie from Carbondale north,
but the D&H leased it, had running rights, and performed all the maintenance. Both roads ran trains over it.
An earlier player in the Plains area was the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern (green line on the map).
The WB&E was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Susquehanna (NYS&W), and was actually a latecomer, chartered in 1892.
It went bankrupt in 1937 and service ended in 1939, with almost no trace of the line remaining today.
When the line first opened, there were two through passenger trains from Jersey City to Kingston,
but by 1912 just one mixed train to Stroudsburg, as it was never able to compete with the Lehigh Valley.
If you look at the left (Kingston) side of the map, you can see that the WB&E (once crossing its Mill Creek bridge)
had a different aligmnent to its Kingston station, which was at Market Street and Dawes Avenue.
Next, I'm quoting from a thread on the railroad.net forums, where a member is citing info from a Harold Fredericks book:
On the map, the location marked "Plains Sta" became the WB&E endpoint "when the Susquehanna River Bridge
became unsafe for passenger trains". As of 1914, the WB&E still owned the Kingston station,
which was "occupied by a truck farmer who takes care of the property". However, the wooden trestle and track
which had brought the line off the Susquehanna River Bridge to the station were removed in 1908.
According to another source (Jim Guthrie): "The WB&E alignment was closer and parallel to the river. the trestle was on
a sharp curve down to ground level, and was rickety from the start...passenger service became "mixed" almost from the start,
as empty coal cars were hitched to the passenger trains around 1897 or so. There were few passengers, and through service
ended May 15, 1902, at the beginning of the Great Strike... The DL&W had a track on the bridge as well, connecting Prospect
and another one of its collieries - and that included the WBCRR era - at least into the 1920s."
You can see this evidence on the map at the top of this page (at the left), along the area of the two blue stars.
As for the Wilkes-Barre Connecting Railroad itself, it was incorporated at the end of 1912, and construction began in 1913.
It was formed for the joint benefit of the D&H and the Pennsylvania Railroad.
From Buttonwood north to the now-gone line which was once known as the D&H Plymouth Branch, the WBCRR obtained trackage rights
over 1.6 miles of extant track. Then it also gained trackage rights over the WB&E line (now I'm quoting from a web page
which itself is quoting an old D&H document) "from a point 0.75 mile west of Plains Station to a point 0.25 mile west
of a bridge over the Susquehanna River, about 0.854 mile...The total of 2.454 miles of road thus obtained was rehabilitated
and improved to meet the general plan of construction adopted by the Wilkes-Barre Connecting,
which charged the recorded expenditures as improvements on leased railway property.
The entire line of 6.641 miles was completed and placed in operation on March 29, 1915."
Apparently, during this timeframe, the old Mill Creek (WB&E) bridge was replaced by the one we know today, even though
the ROW was still essentially owned by the WB&E. The new Fish Island Bridge to South Wilkes-Barre was also constructed.
Also, here's additional input from Andyt293 on a railfan.net thread: "If you look from the Cross Valley Expressway Bridge
at the WBCRR's bridge across the Susquehanna River when the river is low, you can see a large rock in the river.
That "rock" is actually the remains of a bridge pier from the original WB&E bridge at that site."
Looking at the map above, and gauging .75 miles west of Plains Station, this would put us fairly at the midpoint of the right side
of the large undeveloped triangular area (in Plains just above the 309 expressway), so it may be safe to say that the WBCRR line
east of that point and to Hudson Yard was new construction on a new ROW, essentially paralleling the CNJ Canal Branch.
This would also suggest that the portion of the line east of NC tower for about 1/2 mile was still on the original WB&E alignment,
as well as west to a point 1/4 mile west of the Mill Creek bridge. After the WB&E ceased all operations in 1939,
the WBCRR purchased outright the segment of the line which ran over the former WB&E ROW, including the bridge area.
The CNJ also had a line through Plains, known as the Canal Branch, formerly part of what was once known as the Nanticoke Railroad.
From Hudson Yard to near the 309 expressway, it shared the ROW with the WBCRR, one CNJ track and two WBCRR tracks.
Then it headed north, roughly paralleling the LV line to Coxton, to a junction point with the Erie at a spot just southeast
of the 8th Street bridge, known as Plains Junction (Port Blanchard). From there the Erie had its own line east.
According to Andyt293: "In the 1950's there were two symbol freights that ran nightly between Ashley and Avoca
over the CNJ and the ERIE. The freights would leave Ashley Yard via the Nanticoke Branch, proceed to Gardner's Switch
and rejoin the mainline for a short distance before leaving the main in Miner's Mills to run over
the CNJ's Canal Branch to Plains Junction where a connection was made with ERIE." I'm not sure when this line was abandoned.
Near the south end of the WBCRR, the former D&H "Plymouth Branch" ran on its own ROW from Vulcan Iron Works
(beginning near Parrish and South Main Streets in Wilkes-Barre), heading a few blocks north and then directly west
to cross the river on its own single-tracked bridge to its junction with the DL&W in Plymouth. I'm not sure when this line
was abandoned, but the bridge itself survived into the 1990's, when it was scrapped for levee work done at the time.
The line crossed the WBCRR at "Fish Island Junction", just west of where the Martz Bus garage is today.
Also of interest on the map is the LV Port Bowkley bridge, which once carried passenger trains from Wilkes-Barre to Harveys Lake.
The piers of the bridge remained, jutting out of the river until around 2000, but you can still see traces of them under the water.
According to a source, the bridge was undermined by the river (mine subsidence) and taken down in November 1937-January 1938.
Wilkes-Barre Record article: April 27, 1937: Port Bowkley bridge, abandoned for several years,
is closed to prevent pedestrians from using it.
People began using it as shortcut when the bridge closed to trains. Bridge barricaded with iron fences
and "no trespassing" signs. Here's a Harry Owens collection photo of the bridge:
From Harry: Employee Timetable #1, in effect April 24, 1932, has the bridge in service with trains 503 (westbound) and 506 (eastbound)
using it (passenger trains from Wilkes-Barre to Dallas/Harveys Lake).
Employee Timetable #3, in effect September 25, 1932, does not list Port Bowkley and has both trains using the West Pittston Branch.
The last segment of the LV Bowman's Creek Branch (Luzerne to Dallas), was abandoned on Decemeber 22, 1963.
In this photo set, we will cover the present day WBCRR (CP) line, from Hudson to West End Road, near the Carey Avenue Bridge.
Here's the ex-D&H line (looking east) as it approaches Hudson, along with a siding.
Only a single track remains, and the yard is long gone. The crossing itself is at Rogers & First Streets
in Hudson, along with welded rail and crossing gates. Using a map, it's just east of School Street/Miner Street.
Looking west, a tall white sign indicates "Hudson", and there are fairly new piles of supplies in the area:
Just past here (looking west), the old D&H mainline to Wilkes-Barre branches off to the left, currently operated by Luzerne Susquehanna.
The switch is set for the WBCRR line straight ahead, and the old line is blocked by a de-rail.
Just west of here, the welded rails gleam in the late afternoon sun (looking west).
Here we approach the Mill Street crossing, already beyond the west end of the onetime yard.
The "Polish American Veterans" club is adjacent to the crossing.
The welded rail through here is 115# rail, dated 2008.
Many of the ties have been replaced, but on a pick-and-choose basis.
On North Main Street (North Wilkes-Barre), just past the old LV crossing is the gate-protected WBCRR crossing.
From here, we are looking west along the welded rails.
And again from a point just east of the previous photo:
Just west of here, we arrive at the WBCRR bridge over the former LV line.
The first photo is looking east from the west side of the bridge, and we proceed across it.
Welded rails continue over the bridge, there's a metal-grate walkway of recent construction,
and we can see the LV ROW below. In the last photo, we are looking east from the east end of the bridge.
Along the LV ROW looking east towards the bridge from the back of the medical office parking lot off River Street.
On River Street (looking south towards the General Hospital), a simple overpass.
Above this overpass, looking west, where we would soon approach the Mill Creek (Susquehanna River) bridge.
Thought I'd post a couple photos from 9/8/11.
That day was the peak of the record flood that year. The river peaked at 42.66 feet from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
This was higher than Hurricane Agnes in 1972 (height of nearly 41 feet), flooding downtown with nine feet of water.
The levees had since been built much higher, saving the city (and most areas) from significant damage,
although certain areas were hard-hit again. There were plenty of people here that day, as pedestrian access to most riverfront areas
was blocked off by the police and National Guard. Compare these to the height of the bridge in low water.
The below photos, except for the last two, were primarily taken on June 5 & 6, 2013.
The rest of the series was taken on June 12. Here we are on the Kingston side of the river (6/12/13)
looking east. In the second photo, you can still see the remains of the Laurel Line bridge over Mill Creek, with the hospital behind it.
Turning around, just off the river to the west, one of the piers is made of stone (though later reinforced).
This may have been part of the original Wilkes-Barre & Eastern structure (west, then east view).
Continuing west, and looking west, the high, curving ROW is known as the "gauntlet". The rocks and mound are part of the
levee system, and the trail you see continues a good distance north and south along the river on top of the levee.
In this area, the "gauntlet" continues as a huge impressive viaduct over the landscape. After crossing over 3rd Avenue,
the ROW enters onto a very high fill, a good three stories above the street level, then slowly dropping in elevation as it
approaches downtown Kingston. The entire line is elevated, and there never were any sidings or stations on the west side
of the river on the WBCRR line completed in 1915. It was just meant to be an express freight line bypassing the congestion
of Wilkes-Barre. The last two photos show the actual overpass over 3rd Avenue.
There are only three more street crossings in Kingston, all are overpasses. The first (heading south) is over Pierce Street.
First, the overpass itself, looking west at it. Then north and south from the top of it.
You can see that there was once a second track through here.
Then, the Market Street overpass:
Finally, there's also one over Northampton Street.
From there, the line passes through the south end of Kirby Park and heads for the Fish Island Bridge.
There's also a newer metal-grate walkway over this bridge, and "danger - no trespassing" signs on both ends.
Despite this, I saw several kids walking over it anyway.
Looking over to the Wilkes-Barre side, you can see part of the levee system (and walls) protecting the city.
On the South Wilkes-Barre side, the bridge is a lot more accessible at West Academy & Pickering.
From there south (looking south), it continues elevated through South Wilkes-Barre.
Here the welded rails resume, too, but the entire Kingston segment was sectional track.
The first residential area we approach is behind the Miner Park and school area.
Here, along Firwood Avenue between Grebe Street and Dagobert Street (looking north, then south), the ROW runs on piers
over a parking area for an entire city block. A great spot to do some train watching.
Then, the next 4 successive blocks each have rail overpasses over them, almost identical.
Horton, Lawrence, Oak and Willow (from north to south). I just took one photo at Oak Street.
Finally we arrive at West End Road, which leads to the Carey Avenue road bridge. In the second photo,
looking east, the gap at the right was once a trolley ROW which ran over the former incarnation of the bridge.
There's also a grassy patch in front of the stores a few blocks west supporting this.
From a Harold Cox book, here's a view of the former bridge in August, 1941:
Further down the line, below West End Road, we are now looking north at the last segment of the WBCRR (left), as it
comes down the grade and merges with the old PRR Wilkes-Barre branch (right), coming from center city.
Behind us, to the south, we would be immediately approaching the old PRR Buttonwood Yard.
I'll close this page here, please see my "PRR - Wilkes-Barre area" page for coverage of the continuation of this line to the south.
Thanks for visiting !
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