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Lehigh & New England

Lehigh & New England

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Owner: Vyt Radzivanas

History and Background: In a nutshell, the "new" Lehigh & New England, set in a time frame "a few years from now" when the coming and ultimate oil crisis has hit with the vengeance of finality, is a restored, rebuilt from the ashes of the original abandoned Lehigh & New England Railroad, and expanded, integrated multi-modal transportation company offering freight and passenger transport services both on- and off-line, as well as a number of ancillary support services for its main transport function, focused on linking the newly reactivated and re-invigorated anthracite coal industry in the Shenandoah-Tamaqua-Pottsville metropolitan area with the outside world, through the outshipping of local coal production, suburban and long-distance passenger service given the strong resurgence of demand resulting from the fuel shortage and prices, restoring long-lost freight links to the nation for local regional industry, and providing a bridge line freight and passenger service between the nation and the New England area to fill strategic gaps in the national strategic rail infrastructure left by the breakup of Conrail, taking advantage of its route situated to bypass the congested and discontinuous freight rail links in the New York City area.

The history of the original LNE has been documented in several books and magazine articles and will not be repeated nor altered here. What happened prior to October 1961 happened. Those interested can refer to the existing literature. Suffice it to call attention to the fact in some of these books that several proposed routes and branches of the original LNE and its predecessors were never built, although some were surveyed, others even graded, and some of these have been brought into fruition when the "new" Lehigh & New England was expanded beyond its original extent. By the same token, when the original LNE was abandoned in October 1961, several parts in the Bethlehem and Panther Valley areas were taken over by the Jersey Central, later Conrail, Reading & Northern, and remain in operation today under other owners.

The following history and description starts after the October 1961 abandonment of the original LNE, and will outline the resurrection and transfiguration of the LNE into its "new" modelled form.

The original LNE was a subsidiary of parent Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. As the navigation of coal via canals was gradually replaced by rail, the trading name "Old Company's Lehigh" gradually was adopted for the coal mining operations and the navigation part dropped. Over the years since the 1961 abandonment of rail operations, what was left of Old Company Lehigh's mining operations diminished to a shadow of its former self. Through the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, the several but short-lived oil shortages were not enough to really spur production. Also, there was a general belief that the Anthracite fields were largely played out as far as easily accessed coal was concerned.

As the year 2000 came and went, employees at Old Company's Lehigh's mines saw the handwriting on the wall with each round of layoffs, and following a bitter strike for job preservation the company was on the brink of receivership. The employees decided that a corporate takeover by themselves, followed by a merger with a strong international coal marketeer was the only way to keep the remaining mines and jobs going. Given the large Lithuanian ethnic community in the Anthracite region and the large Lithuanian ethnic workforce in the mines, upon takeover of Old Company's Lehigh the employee-owners naturally turned to Venta, a low key but successful international coal commodity brokerage house owned by Lithuanian-American interests [Author's note: this is not freelanced, but is an actual company owned by Lithuanian-American businessmen. The rest, however, including the mergers, etc, is part of my freelance future scenario. And I still need to do more research regarding the LC&N company itself to tie up some loose ends in the scenario.], for negotiations to team up. The rationale was that Old Company's Lehigh would have a more stable international market for its coal through its own clearing house, and Venta would gain a more reliable coal source of its own for more effective marketing.

Also in the late 1990's, the newly independent republic of Lithuania, having thrown off the shackles of Soviet colonialism in 1990, was still overdependent upon fickle Russian oil supplies, and its Ignalina nuclear power plant, of similar Soviet-era design to that at Chernobyl, was scheduled for gradual de-commissioning provided alternative energy systems could be developed. Being a country of cold winters, the government of Lithuania was looking for new sources of energy. An oil terminal was built at Butinge on the Baltic Sea, but it was not enough. Coal was a possibility, but the country did not have its own sources. The President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, was from a business/public works background, and had lived and worked many years in the USA and with his business contacts his finger was still very much on the pulse of corporate events there, and [Author's note: up to here, this paragraph is fact; beyond here, this paragraph is my freelance future scenario] he watched the saga of Old Company's Lehigh and Venta with interest. The government felt it had a stake in this venture, given its Lithuanian-American community connection, to bring a reliable supply of coal into Lithuania.

The merger deal was made quickly, and with additional financial backing of the Lithuanian government, the Lithuanian-American Coal Mining Company was formed from the merger. For several years it successfully served the interests of all three partners. It kept the anthracite mines and jobs operating, provided a steady coal supply for exports, and brought new energy to Lithuania, in a stable, slow but steady growth manner.

Some time in the early part of the 21st Century, however, the predictions by some scientists that a major oil crisis of actual supply was looming started becoming evident in fact. Within a period of a few months, production was down, prices were up, and this time it wasn't political but real. Everywhere in the world, coal was being given another look. The new company had taken root just in time to be in position to fill this need. Rapid and radical expansion was needed, as well as further geological research to determine the extent of Anthracite still in the ground, and a way of shipping it out.

In recognition of the futility of relying on the atrophied state of existing rail infrastructure in the Anthracite region resulting from decades of disinvestment, it was decided that the only feasible way to mobilize the newly energized anthracite coal industry in the region was to build a new railroad. After looking at a number of options, the most suitable route was one which was similar to that of the erstwhile LNE, which would enable bypassing of New York congestion, connections to all over the USA, access to a port to be established at Kingston on the Hudson River where it was still navigable by ocean-going vessels, and could supplement income by providing bridge line traffic between New England and regions to the south-west disrupted by the Conrail split. Further feasibility studies showed that the most cost-effective and quickest way to achieve this was to actually rebuild on the still largely intact actual LNE route, as new ROW alternatives would be even more disruptive to existing land uses and more politically unacceptable, than to the relatively few which had sprung up on the LNE ROW since October 1961.

Funding beyond the resources of the new company was necessary for the fourfold fold action items: research the in-ground supply, re-invest and expand mine operations, rebuild the LNE, and actually engage in international shipment of coal as well as brokering the sales.

In the late 1990's the coal industry in Australia was also in a state of flux. To keep coal mines operating, the Western Australian government had pledged that new electric power plants being planned would be coal-fired rather than the more advanced gas-fired plants. Natural gas was in overabundant supply and cheap compared to coal, so there was much public resistance to reinvestment in coal facilities. But otherwise, coal usage in Australia was down, and producers were keen to find overseas markets. [Author's note: Again to here this paragraph is fact, from here, is my scenario.] Venta had already had brokerage dealings with the Western Australian coal industry on a lower scale, but when the new Lithuanian-American Coal Company needed funds to invest in the coming coal boom, the West Australians saw in the company's new US and international shipping services the opportunity to join in on a good thing. While not actually merging with the LACMCo, the Western Australian coal interests invested heavily in it to provide the funds for expansion, on two conditions: the corporate headquarters should be in Western Australia, and Western Australian coal be the exclusive soft coal marketed product, leaving the Pennsylvania mines' anthracite to be the company's exclusive hard coal marketed product. The rail and shipping services, of course would handle anybody's coal for a price. And so the company was reorganized as the Lithuanian-American Coal Mining Corporation of Western Australia, (LACMCWA) the new parent which was to steer the phoenix-rise of the "new" LNE from the ashes of the original, as well as to steer the revitalized coal production in Pennsylvania and Western Australia, and all the various ancillary support operations.

Through all this time, because of local familiarity, Pennsylvania coal mining operations and the coal product were still being carried on and marketed under the traditional Old Company's Lehigh trading brand name, and continued to be so into the era of the "new" LNE.

Quick and economical rebuild of the LNE and start of service as soon as possible were the LACMCWA's prime objectives in restoring the LNE to service. Expansions into abandoned parts of connecting roads was necessary in order to establish connectivity with the world, so the "new" LNE roue map differs somewhat from the original LNE's, but the core trunk route is still the "old" LNE's main line Tamaqua to Pine Island.

The "new" Lehigh & New England was expanded to take in nearby portions of routes of several also-previously abandoned neighboring "fallen flags": western portions of the Susquehanna, parts of the Lehigh & Hudson River, some branches of the Lehigh Valley, Reading, Jersey Central, Lackawanna, Erie, portions of nearby New York Central, New Haven (including the Poughkeepsie Bridge route), Middletown & New Jersey, and New York Ontario & Western lines, as well as the entire Wilkes-Barre & Eastern and an also expanded Delaware Valley Traction.

Expansion also took place farther into the Catskill mountain area to tap the tourist/vacation potential by means of a new but nostalgically-inspired narrow gauge line between Port Jervis and Catskill via Monticello, Liberty, Frost Valley, Big Indian, then along old abandoned 3'0" lines in the Catskills, with branches to Hunter Mountain and other resorts. However for both economical and tourist service potential reasons, the entire route was built, and where pre-existing but abandoned, re-built, to Maine-style 2'0" gauge, as a subsidiary under the name Catskill, Monticello, & Port Jervis Railway.

By the same token parts of the original LNE which had been parcelled out to other lines upon its 1961 abandonment remain with those other existing railroads as connections to the "new" LNE, except that in the Panther Valley the "new" LNE parallels the ex-LNE Reading & Northern track in order to maintain route connectivity and to tap into the area mines, especially those owned by the affiliated Old Company's Lehigh.

An arrangement with R&N is that it (R&N) will handle coal shipments from all mines in the Valley to Philadelphia and points south in the eastward direction, and Buffalo/Chicago and points north in the westward direction, while the "new" LNE will load coal in all mines in the Valley for New York and points north in the eastward direction and Cincinnati/St. Louis and points south in the westward direction. Coal for international markets will be handled from all the Valley mines by the "new" LNE due to its corporate affiliation with Old Company's Lehigh mines which now form the majority in the Valley, and because of its international coal trade connection through its multinational corporate parent, LACMCWA, via its port facilities at Kingston on the Hudson River, but will handle R&N unit coal trains to the port of Kingston and anywhere else it routes to from mines elsewhere on the R&N system on R&N's behalf. Similarly, R&N will handle coal connecting from elsewhere on LNE's lines to anywhere it routes to in North America.

While operated as divisions of the "new" LNE, those portions of some neighboring "fallen flags" incorporated into the "new" LNE expansion will still retain or restore the identity and color schemes of their original heritage on the equipment which primarily runs on those divisions (such as the NYO&W), except for those roads which still exist and operate on their own remaining lines, such as the Susquehanna. However, NYS&W trains will still run through under their own power to certain destinations on the "new" LNE.

Getting service off and running quickly to get the coal moving and getting revenues to complete the rebuilding with also meant no waiting for lead times between ordering and taking delivery of new locos and rolling stock. An eclectic fleet of low-cost second and third-hand equipment from abroad (especially from Australia) as well as from around the USA would have to form the backbone of the "new" LNE's operations, supplemented over time by newly ordered equipment trickling in once the desired traffic and performance needs have manifested themselves through the initial few years of operations.

Even steam power hastily leased or purchased outright from museums and tourist lines, as well as surviving hulks of first generation diesels would be restored and pressed into service. Rolling stock and locos long thought to have been scrapped but discovered still resting in scrapyards or carefully squirreled away by savvy employees, were all scoured from their resting places and restored. Mindful of heritage, some were painted in their original owners' traditional colors and lettering.

A number of prewar streamlined cars were located and lovingly rebuilt, along with later models, for passenger service, as new demand for passenger service, both suburban and long distance, was being very obviously generated by the oil crisis, and the ability of Amtrak to rapidly expand to fill those markets was limited by its focus on new state-of the art equipment.

New equipment for the "new" LNE was of course on order too, but for many years the first deliveries, the experimental prototypes (like the demonstrator ACE3000 steam locomotive whose resumed development, after the hiatus of late 1980's and 90's, and production, the "new" LNE's orders were to spur on), American and "foreign" were to coexist, serving up a variety in styles and color schemes.

The mission of being the Anthracite region's main provider of transportation links to the world has required the "new" LNE to expand into multimodal operations, including operating subsidiaries of other transport modes: LNE Road Freight (trucking and intermodal container service), LNE Trailways (bus routes), Trans-Sylvanian Air Services (airline, the name referring to "across Pennsylvania", rather than territory in the Balkans, although its international routes serve there as well), the old name of Lehigh Coal & Navigation now used for the marine operations subsidiary (tugs, carferries, and ocean ships), STP Transit (Shenandoah-Tamaqua-Pottsville urban/suburban multi-modal transit system), Pullman America (North American operating agency of the International Sleeping Car Company [Wagons Lits], to operate sleepers on LNE and entire LNE trains off-line, a sort of private enterprise version of Amtrak focused on the anthracite region as a hub), and LNE Connexions (an umbrella of various connecting minor modes like gravity lines, planes, cable cars, funiculars, etc, scattered around the system). Dining car service, bus route meal stop eating houses, in-flight meals, and ship/ferry restaurant service is provided by farm-to-table food production and service subsidiary Midlantic Catering. The parent corporation (LACMCWA) owns and runs the rail/road/sea interchange facilities at the port of Kingston, and the rail/road/air interchange facilities at New York Stewart Airport.

Several Amtrak services operate over the "new" LNE, and an arrangement has been worked out with Amtrak permitting LNE off-line services to be operated nationally by subsidiary Pullman America on behalf of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons Lits, over railroads with whom Amtak has contractual arrangements. These are mostly weekly "cruise" type classic fleet heritage trains not really infringing into Amtrak's mass market, although fares are at "transportation", not "cruise" levels, and normal end-to-end and intermediate passenger transportation traffic is carried. These "classic fleet" trains are representative of the great streamliner fleets of the 30's, 40's, 50's, and 60's, using original cars found, saved from scrap, restored, and in original colors and lettering, with an occasional new duplicate car built to stand in for those well and truly lost, assembled into representative trains of a "fleet", eg, a "400", a "Hiawatha", a "Zephyr", an "Eagle", a "Rocket", a "City", etc, plus certain other classic individual "stand alone" trains.

Aside from its regular "run of the mill" trains like "The Raven" (playing on the black LNE color scheme), the "new" LNE will have a "fleet" of its own: the "Vectors" (Golden Vector, Silver Vector, Garden State Vector, etc) which will be brand newly built cars of the post-war streamliner type, but with all the recent technical advances and passenger amenities beyond those that were even found on the Century, the Broadway, Super Chief, Panama, or stillborn Chessie. They will be the very last of the postwar streamliner-type cars ever to be built, the passenger train equivalent in an era of Amfleet, Turbo, Superliner, and Acela, of N&W steam loco building in the era of second generation diesels, the last hurrah of the spaciousness of the postwar streamliner style of travel. These trains will be marketed as "THE FINAL WORD" in traditional streamlined train technology: "train travel as it used to be - train travel as it never was".

There will be several singular feature trains made up of particular older actual prototype cars of the streamline era plus a specialized car or two newly built, such as the premiere train "The Empyrean" overnight between Boston and Cleveland via Poughkeepsie, Tamaqua and Williamsport, an all sleeper train, loosely patterned after the Broadway Ltd, with a special color scheme similar to the Broadway's.

The area to the northeast of Tamaqua will also have grown in residential development due to the flow-on economic and business effects of the coal mining revival, requiring suburban service to have been established into Tamaqua from Palmerton and Summit Hill/Lansford, and a multi-modal urban region transit system established linking Shenandoah-Tamaqua-Pottsville.

Paint Schemes: In terms of diesel locomotives and majority of freight cars and cabeese (The reader should by now already realize that the "new" LNE does not suffer from anachrophobia - no, not the movie or insect, read the spelling!), the LNE color scheme is well established in historical precedent by the original LNE, and the scheme is attractive, still very modern in appearance, and striking, so there is no need to revise it. In the paint scheme testing area are schemes for rolling stock for which there is no precedent from the original LNE, in the first instance being streamlined smooth-sided passenger cars, as these form the basis for other types of cars to follow in appropriately modified form. Your assistance in selecting a passenger paint scheme will be appreciated.

Joshua Moldover, Webmaster