The Paulinskill Valley Trail travels a former segment of the New York, Susquehanna & Western’s (NYS&W) main line to Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, which was abandoned long ago. The railroad went by a number of different names over the years, from the NYS&W and Susquehanna to simply the “Susie-Q.” It was first conceived in the early 19th century to transport coal, but years of delays resulted in no construction taking place until after the Civil War. Sections of the line were abandoned as early as the World War II era, and it later appeared the entire railroad might have gone under. However, the property was resurrected during the 1980s and has since turned into a great success story as a profitable, Class II regional railroad, operating between New Jersey and New York.
The history of the New York, Susquehanna & Western is a rollercoaster tale of a railroad that was almost never built, became profitable for more than a half-century, saw its fortunes ebb during the second-half of the 20th century, and is once again successful. The earliest roots of the NYS&W date back many years before any rails were laid. According to Edward Kaminski’s book “New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad In New Jersey,” in 1826 an engineer by the name of John Sullivan surveyed a route to transport coal from the rich anthracite seams located in eastern Pennsylvania to the Hudson River. Back in those days coal was as much an important source for home heating as it was a fuel in industrial applications. Unfortunately, delays and lack of strong financial support meant years would pass before the project gained significant traction.
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The earliest predecessor of the later NYS&W was the Hoboken, Ridgefield & Paterson Railroad, chartered in 1866 and which began construction from Bloomingdale, New Jersey, on January 31, 1867. It was later combined with a handful of other small carriers to form the New Jersey Midland Railway (NJM) in 1870, a system that ran from Hackensack to Hanford. Service was soon established to Middletown, New York, via the Middletown, Unionville & Water Gap Railroad; by 1872, the NJM had extended its main line to Jersey City. At Middletown, the NJM interchanged with the New York, Lake Erie & Western (the later Erie Railroad) and New York, Oswego & Midland (later the New York, Ontario & Western).
Unfortunately, the financial Panic of 1873 caused the NJM to fail in 1875; it reorganized as the Midland Railway Company of New Jersey in 1880. During this period coal, was seeing a sharp increase in demand around New York City and other growing metropolitan areas across New England. In northeastern Pennsylvania lay rich deposits of clean-burning, anthracite coal which, among its other uses, became favored as an indoor heating source since it produced little soot. In an effort to serve this region and expand its operations, the Midland Railway of New Jersey merged with several other small railroads to form the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad in June 1881. By 1882, its new line had opened to Gravel Place, slightly north of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where a connection was established with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western (DL&W). A segment of this line, east of the Delaware River in New Jersey, is what now makes up the Paulinskill Valley Trail.
Despite the new DL&W connection, the NYS&W still desired its own route into the Wyoming Valley, allowing it to handle coal over its own rails all of the way to New York City. In 1892, it chartered a new subsidiary known as the Wilkes-Barre & Eastern Railroad to do just that; within a few years it opened to Wilkes-Barre/Kingston. It then built a small subsidiary known as the Susquehanna Connecting Railroad to reach additional coal reserves located around Old Forge, south of Scranton. It further enhanced its position by building docks at Edgewater, New Jersey (north of Jersey City), which provided an eastern outlet for coal shipments.
The growth and success of the NYS&W alarmed its larger surrounding competitors, many of whom were heavily involved in the moving of anthracite themselves. As a result, the railroad was taken over by the Erie in 1898, which elected to ship coal over its own rails instead of using the WB&E. The NYS&W remained under Erie control until it entered bankruptcy in 1937 due in part to the ongoing depression (the Erie, itself, fell into bankruptcy a year later). As part of its reorganization, the company shed the WB&E trackage and cut ties entirely with the Erie after 1940.
New management looked to streamline operations and turn around the company’s outlook, an effort greatly aided by the traffic surge during World War II. Then, the NYS&W also retired its remaining steam locomotives for more efficient diesels. This period also witnessed the railroad continuing to cut back operations by stopping service west of Hainesburg Junction in 1941. When the Lehigh & New England shutdown in 1961, there was little need for even this segment, and service was discontinued west of Sparta Junction in 1962. This had followed the northern retrenchment from Middletown, which had seen little use after the NYO&W discontinued its operations in 1957.
Generally, the postwar years were difficult for the Susquehanna, although it was able to finally reorganize in 1953 and escape court oversight. After years of losses with remaining passenger and commuter operations, these were dropped entirely after June 30, 1966. By 1971, the railroad was operating no farther west than Butler. Just 38 miles remained of what had once been a system stretching some 230 miles to the Wilkes-Barre area. It again fell into bankruptcy in 1976 and all signs pointed to the remaining property being liquidated and removed. However, a turning point came in 1980 when the Delaware Otsego Corporation purchased the railroad, hoping to revitalize the downtrodden operation. It pieced together a respectable system by purchasing former segments of the defunct Lehigh & Hudson River into southern New York and rebuilt the former NYS&W route to Sparta Junction. Additionally, the Delaware Otsego acquired former DL&W branches to Syracuse and Utica from Conrail and reached these lines via trackage rights. This network is largely still operated today, although Conrail is now part of Norfolk Southern, and the Susquehanna has blossomed into a profitable railroad operating about 400 miles of track.
Railroad attractions include the Black River & Western based in Flemington; Cape May Seashore Lines at Tuckahoe; Delaware River Railroad in Phillipsburg; Maywood Station Museum in Maywood; New Jersey Museum of Transportation in Farmingdale; Old Station Museum & Caboose in Mahwah; and the Whippany Railway Museum in Whippany.