As all railroad history buffs know, Pennsylvania played an important role in the growth of the industry and has a great abundance of remaining stations, tunnels, bridges, and tracks.
Pennsylvania became the national leader in railroad development in the late 19th century. By 1860 it held more miles of railroad tracks than all other states. It continued to lead the nation in railroad use well into the 20th century.
To better understand the significance of the many railroads which crisscrossed the state, the PA SHPO has compiled data about individual railroad lines for National Register evaluation.
Railroads in PA
Railroads in Pennsylvania grew from about 2,600 miles of track in 1860 to peak at 11,693 miles of track in 1920. During that period of growth railroads dominated the transportation industry and were constructed throughout the state to serve a variety of needs. Small and large railroads to serve specific industries and areas were established with mergers and leases of tracks adding to complexity of railroad history.
Gaining an understanding of the complicated, changing and often interconnected world of railroads required the development of a SHPO strategy for study.
To date there are approximately 343 railroad lines or segments of railroad lines that have been surveyed in Pennsylvania. Only a few railroad lines have been surveyed in their entirety. Many individual railroad related resources such as stations, bridges and tunnels have been surveyed as well, but most have not been evaluated as part of the railroad line associated with them.
Due to the fragmented past survey efforts and the ongoing challenge of evaluating such a vast network of railroad related properties, the PA SHPO created the “Aggregate Railroad” records to gather information about specific railroad lines and connect related resources from different geographic locations under one historic property file/key number.
What is an Aggregate Railroad?
The Aggregate Railroad files were intended to organize railroad data so that researchers could better understand the history and significance of individual railroad lines and place railroad resources within that context. Using a common key file number provides a link in CRGIS to connect these related railroad resources.
Many Aggregate Railroad files have very limited survey information about the overall significance of the line and few detailed reports about related contributing features. Nonetheless these digital files are linked in CRGIS and show up in reports due to their common historic association with a particular railroad line as shown in the CRGIS report screen.
By linking resources related to a specific railroad line to a common Key number, the PA SHPO created a means to understand surveyed components of the rail line, even when they may exist over a broad area.
The Aggregate Railroads file approach was the best way to link and associate all of the hundreds of individual survey records using our CRGIS system. Currently, all of the SHPO key number files have been scanned and made available online via the CRGIS system
What was the Aggregate Railroad Update?
The initial purpose of the update was to standardize the documentation of railroad related resources for use in the PA SHPO files and the CRGIS mapping system. In an effort to reconcile the expansive railroad related data collected over many years from project submissions, the PA SHPO hired contractors to assist in an information gathering effort to better define the Aggregate Railroad files.
A methodology for the update was created to ensure the collection of all readily available information on the history of railroad lines as well as the presence or absence and current appearance of associated resources in Pennsylvania. The following sources were consulted and information was compiled into inventory sheets for each of the aggregate railroads:
Railroad resources in the PA SHPO’s Key files using a CRGIS search
Railroad company’s annual reports and/or Henry V. Poor’s Manual of the Railroads of the United States. Both of these sources are available online via either Internet Archives or Google Books. As primary documents, they contain a historical sketch, termini and description of the line and its branches, construction of bridges and stations, and other details.
The Pennsylvania Railroad Stations Past & Present website which provides a searchable database of railroad stations by name and county. The website provides historic and current photographs when available, as well as location information.
Online information related to railroads posted by Rails to Trail organizations or found on municipality websites. Sometimes trail visitors post photographs of railroad tunnels or bridges along former railroad tracks that have not been documented in PA SHPO files and images that are not available via online aerials.
PennDOT historic roadway bridge survey completed in 2001 and available online on PennDot’s Historic Bridges website as roadway bridges were built by railroads or the Commonwealth to facilitate railroad/roadway crossings and thus are historically associated with the railroad line.
Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). The National Park Service used the services of both HABS and HAER to document large or significant bridges in the 1980s and beyond. Photographs and historic drawings from those efforts are available online in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division collection.
Google and/or Bing aerials. Aerial images of both modern and older bridges along a railroad corridor can be useful in creating an inventory of related bridges noting style, construction type and number of modern bridges.
The Aggregate Railroad Update resulted in the collection of detailed information on the history and remaining features for 53 railroads. The information collected as part of the update was compiled into inventory sheets. For each railroad, the inventory sheet includes a timeline of development; history; primary resource documentation; and the location, name, type, and photographs of resources along the line.
How will the transition to PASHARE affect Aggregate Railroad Key files?
In January 2021 the PA SHPO is transitioning to a new electronic system called PA-SHARE. In order to make a smooth transition of data from our current CRGIS to this new system, the aggregate file system will cease to exist.
Instead, a new way of linking surveyed resources and connecting them with existing and new data will be put into place. The goal of this new approach will be to seamlessly integrate existing railroad line data with new data. Using the materials gathered in the Aggregate Railroad Update, when new data is received, the SHPO will be able to provide a determination of eligibility for an entire railroad line.
What are the next steps for former Aggregate Railroads?
The PA SHPO is removing the naming convention of “Aggregate” from the 53 records in CRGIS. Railroads will continue to exist as linear historic districts in PA-SHARE. PA SHPO staff will be uploading the inventory sheets as well as the methodology for the Aggregate Railroad Update to each railroad.
In 2021, SHPO staff will use the inventory sheets and existing guidance for evaluating railroads “Guidelines for Documentation and Evaluating Railroads” to assess the National Register eligibility of the former Aggregate Railroads.
Comments, information and suggestions regarding the railroads in Pennsylvania are always welcome and appreciated by PA SHPO staff.
May 2022 Update:
The Aggregate Railroad Update resulted in the collection of detailed information on the history and remaining features for 53 railroads. The information collected as part of the update was compiled into inventory sheets. For each railroad, the inventory sheet includes a timeline of development; history; primary resource documentation; and the location, name, type, and photographs of resources along the line. The inventory sheet is attached to each resource file in PA-SHARE.
The PA SHPO removed the naming convention of “Aggregate” from the 53 records, and in 2021, started to use the inventory sheets and existing guidance for evaluating railroads (“Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office’s Researchers Guide for Documenting and Evaluating Railroads”) to assess the National Register eligibility of the former Aggregate Railroads. Initially, the committee consisted of the two staff members who had been instrumental in developing the aggregate methodology, guidelines and mapping. In 2022, the committee was expanded to three staff members.
Additional information regarding the methodologies are within the “Aggregate Railroad Survey Methodology” and the “Aggregate Railroad Project DOE Methodology” which are attached to each resource file.
The results of the project are as follows:
|Eligible A and C||15 (11)||29%||Of those 15, 2 had already been determined eligible and 1 was part of a listed MPDF (railroad bridges/stations). The committee only verified they still had major built elements thus keeping their previous determinations.|
|Undetermined||2||4%||The committee determined that two of the former aggregate resources did not fit into aggregate railroad model and thus were left as undetermined resources.|
|Total||51||53% NE 43% E 4% U|
|Railroad||Key/Resource #||DOE Decision|
|Maryland & Pennsylvania||156050 2010RE03384||Not eligible|
|Erie Railroad Bradford Branch||155639 2010RE03885||Not eligible|
|Bangor & Portland||155514 2009RE00645||Not eligible|
|New York, Susquehanna & Western||156533 2011RE00157||Not eligible|
|Erie Railroad Jefferson Branch||155628 2010RE02189||Not eligible|
|Erie Railroad Hawley Branch||155646 2010RE00583||Not eligible|
|Delaware, Lackawanna & Western||156166 2010RE02609||Eligible A and C|
|Delaware, Lackawanna & Western RR Winton& Pancoast Branches||200959||Undetermined|
|New York & Erie||155748 2010RE00769||Eligible A and C|
|Erie & Wyoming||155624 2010RE02629||Not eligible|
|New York, Chicago & St Louis||155694 2010RE01707||Not eligible|
|Pittsburgh & Lake Erie||156264 2010RE03867||Eligible A and C|
|Pittsburgh, Youngstown & Ashtabula Railway||156241 2010RE03864||Not eligible|
|Western Maryland||156118 2010RE01808||Eligible A and C|
|New York, Lake Erie & Western||155749 2010RE03834||Eligible A and C|
|Philadelphia & Columbia||156141 2010RE02304||Eligible A and C|
|Montour||155446 2009RE00640||Eligible A and C|
|Philadelphia & Erie||155661 2010RE00089||Not eligible|
|West Chester & Philadelphia||155412 2010RE0085||Not eligible|
|Lehigh Valley||156109 2010RE00722||Eligible A and C|
|Catasauqua & Fogelsville Railroad||156233 2010RE00212||Not eligible|
|Pennsylvania Schuylkill Valley Railroad||155409 2010RE00582||Not eligible|
|Pittsburg & Shawmut||156194 2010RE00204||Eligible C|
|Chartiers Railway||155445 2009RE00081||Not eligible|
|Cornwall & Lebanon||156367 2011RE00137||Not eligible|
|Coudersport & Port Allegany||156339 2010RE02336||Not eligible|
|Erie & Pittsburgh||156894 2012RE00507||Not eligible|
|Northern Central||155735 2010RE03887||Eligible A|
|Columbia & Port Deposit||156240 2010RE03397||Eligible A and C|
|Monongahela||156260 2010RE00735||Eligible A|
|Central Railroad of New Jersey||155754 2010RE03835||Eligible A and C|
|Cornwall||156366 2011RE00203||Not eligible|
|Pittsburgh & West Virginia||156881 2012RE00503||Eligible C|
|Wilmington & Northern||155649 2010RE0008||Not eligible|
|Allegheny Valley Railway||155720 2010RE03886||Not eligible|
|Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad||155731 2010RE01708||Eligible A|
|Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh||156361 2011RE00067||Eligible A|
|Cumberland Valley Railroad||155448 2010RE03283||Eligible A and C|
|Delaware & Hudson Canal Company Gravity RR||155641 2010RE00087||Eligible A and C|
|Delaware & Hudson Steam RR Honesdale Branch||155642 2010RE01706||Not eligible|
|Lehigh & New England||156534 2011RE00082||Eligible A|
|New York, Ontario & Western Railway Scranton Branch||155625 2010RE00086||Not eligible|
|Northern Electric Street||156232 2010RE00211||Not eligible|
|Pennsylvania Coal Company||155622 2010RE03884||Eligible A and C|
|Pittsburg, Shawmut & Northern||156193 2010RE01311||Not eligible|
|Pomeroy & Newark||156056 2010RE03843||Not eligible|
|Stewartstown||156263 2010RE01318||Eligible A and C|
|Tuscarora Valley Railroad||156222 2010RE00208||Not eligible|
|Union Traction||086025 2010RE05780||Undetermined|
|Western New York & Pennsylvania||156895 2012RE00110||Not eligible|
|Philadelphia & Reading||155708 2010RE02630||Eligible A and C|