Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Railroad That Never Ran

Pretend it’s 1906 and you live in rural Bradford County in northern Pennsylvania. Chances are that you’re a member of a family that lives on a farm and has to transport the products of the farm to the nearest town by wagon – even in town you’re a long way from the larger markets that offer better prices.

You’ve heard rumors about a railroad being built along Towanda Creek in the valley where you live and now comes news that the railroad will actually be built, connecting you to Pittsburgh, PA, Binghamton, NY and other large cities. That railroad will be the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad whose primary purpose will be the transportation of coal from mines in Tioga, Indiana and Clearfield counties – but it will certainly also convey your crops to the cities and bring you higher prices.

In February 1906 there was an advertisement seeking 100,000 ties of oak and chestnut. Rights-of-way were being acquired and work was to begin on March 1. Engines were ordered and bridges were to be built. Work actually began near Powell, PA in April 1906 with over 50 men on the job. In early-May, 60 more workers (reportedly Polish immigrants) were hired to do pick-and-shovel grading.

During the summer of 1906 there were said to be ten steam drills at work at a rock cut east of Franklindale, PA –

 From Tri-Counties Genealogy & History

A newspaper article in the Williamsport Gazette & Bulletin in September, 1906 stated that 1,000 men were grading and building bridges including bridges crossing Schrader and Towanda creeks. 

Grading was done near Canton, PA and a camp for Italian laborers was built; there were predictions that trains would be running early in the winter. Six more locomotives were ordered and the payroll reportedly included 700 names.

And then on December 14, 1906 came an announcement that all work was to be halted and all foreign workers would be laid-off. A month later new officers took over the railroad and a bit of work continued, but two of the railroad’s rented engines were sent to a railroad in New England after the rent hadn't been paid. More stock in the railroad was issued as were more bonds.

Additional work was done in the spring of 1907 and the big rock cut was completed –

 From Tri-Counties Genealogy & History

Bonds were being sold as 1907 came to a close, supposedly to continue work in the spring of 1908. By August of 1908 all work had ended and in September the railroad was declared bankrupt and placed into receivership. The railroad's remaining locomotives were sold to a railroad in Maine. That was the end of the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad, the railroad that never ran.

Over a hundred years later Pennsylvania Route 414, a road I’ve driven frequently, passes through the rock cut on the old railroad grade –

Portions of  the old railroad grade are visible on Google Earth

And in the forests and fields along Towanda Creek the grade can still be seen and followed, something else I’ve often done –

Was the Pittsburgh, Binghamton and Eastern Railroad a failure of good intentions or a scam designed to swindle investors? Perhaps no one knows or will ever know, but I’m inclined to believe the latter.


  1. The story of railroad building across southern Ontario is similarly fascinating and ambitious. Not Many went totally bankrupt, but they changed ownership often. Thankfully many are now rail trails, including the old Northern Railway that ended here in Meaford, now the Georgian Trail.


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