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(erielack) RT 17 West OF Binghamton

John and List,

To understand why the DL&W and Erie did what they did pre and post merger you really have to look at it in their context and the environment they were in during the late 1950's.

Simply stated the NE railroad network was overbuilt for the traffic available to it. Federal and state highway projects, trucks, changing patterns in raw materials transport (decline of coal), pipelines, decline in passenger traffic, taxation, were all sapping the income  from the railroads. Rationalization among the railroads in the East was overtaking traditional positions of competition. Additionally the growing network of highways and residential growth were putting pressure on marginal railroad lines for new highway rows. 

NY States desire to built the new RT 17 Quickway through the Catskills required using some of the NYO&W's row which was the primary reason the abandonment of the O&W was favorably endorsed by the state and quickly concluded.

Arguably the DL&W had the better route from New York to Binghamton (shortest, more population, more customers) while the Erie (which got there first) was in the better position West of Binghamton through the rest of the Southern Tier.

Owego, NY is a perfect illustration. The Erie went right through the town (which at one time also had an Erie Shop complex), served all the customers and the passenger station was two blocks off the square adjacent to a main road.

On the other hand the DL&W was on the South side of the Susquehanna River opposite the town. While it was about an equidistant ride or walk one had to climb up to the bridge level and cross a long exposed bridge. The only freight connection was via the Ithaca branch across the river which served only a few customers in the area where it crossed the Erie main at a 90 degree angle. The branch was abandoned before 1959.

This pattern existed to a greater or lesser degree for all points West, such as Waverly, where the Erie ran just behind the buildings on the main st (old NY 17) and the DL&W was on the South side of town.

At the same time as the DL&W West of Vestal was abandoned, the State of New York was hot to expand the Rt 17 Quickway West of Binghamton. Contrary to railroad logic the state wanted to build its four lane expressway on the edges of built up areas where possible, not through them. The DL&W row was prime real estate in that sense and its sale made more sense to the DL&W in that environment than keeping and maintaining a virtually unused route beyond Vestal.

My sense is that the Southern Tier region has yet to recover from the decline of its rich manufacturing past, and that what goods are manufactured there or required to be brought there come mostly by truck. Additionally bridge traffic patterns appear to flow North and South of the Southern Tier with the CP's (ex D&H) traffic through Binghamton-Scranton-Harrisburg being the busiest, and closest major RR activity to the old DL&W West of Binghamton. Current East-West through traffic on the old Erie line seems to be almost a token compared for instance to the 12 to 24 trains a day that NS rolls along on just the single tracked old Reading Hagerstown-Harrisburg route that passes below the mountain I live on near Boiling Springs, PA.

Would route 17 have been built if the DL&W hadn't abandoned the line? I would have to say yes, either through eminent domain or a slightly different route. Fact was that the timing was right through the confluence of the decline/rationalization of the then over-built NE rail net and the public/government desire for expansion of the interstate highway system.

I had the good fortune of summer employment during two of my college years (67-68) in the construction of the route 17 Southern Tier Expressway between Apalachin and Owego. As the concrete batch plant inspector I signed for every cubic yard of concrete that buried my beloved DL&W, a fact that made the job somewhat less satisfying that it might have been. 

Occasionally I also worked with the surveying crew. As we stomped around, the evidence of the evolution of human transport was easy to spot . From the historians point of view I could see the remains of the early roads built upon the trails of the Iroquois, the canal built to improve the navigation of the Susquehanna Valley, and the railroad which largely obliterated the canal and early road, and which we were preparing to bury beneath concrete and steel. As much as I hate to admit it, nearly 50 years after the fact there doesn't seem to be much need for more railroad in the Southern Tier than there now is.

Rusty Recordon

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