The Alphabet Route

Lehigh & Hudson River Railway



    The Lehigh and Hudson River Railway was the shortest of the alphabet route railroads. It had only 73 route-miles of its own. The L&HR was headquartered in Warwick, NY. In addition to the Alphabet Route, the L&HR was part of the Central States Dispatch, the Blue Ridge Dispatch, and the Lackawanna Line.


   The L&HR dated from 1862 when the "Warwick Valley Railroad" opened as a branch of the New York and Erie Railroad from Greycourt to Warwick, NY. It was operated by the Erie. The Pequest and Wallkill Railroad was chartered in 1870 to build an extension from Belvidere, NJ to the New York state line. The Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad was chartered to run from Belvidere to McAfee, NJ and the Wawayanda Railroad was to connect McAfee to the New York state line. In April or May of 1881, the three companies mergered to form the Lehigh and Hudson River Railway, with the Warwick Valley Railroad joining on April 1, 1882. This extended the line from Belvidere, NJ, to Greycourt, NY (61 miles).

   In 1888, the Orange County Railroad Company was organized by the L&HR to build a line connecting Greycourt, NY, to Maybrook, NY, to connect to the Central New England's (CNE's) new Maybrook yard. This line would be immediately leased to the L&HR and later merged into the company. In 1889, The L&HR obtained trackage rights from the PRR over their Belividere-Delaware Division (Bel-Del) for 99 years. In the same year, the South Easton and Phillipsburg Railroad was organized to build a bridge across the Delaware River between Easton, PA, and Phillipsburg, NJ. The bridge opened in 1890, providing the L&HR with a connection to the Central Railroad Company of New Jersey. This bridge was immediately leased to the L&HR. The result was a line from Easton, PA to Maybrook, NY.


   In 1905, the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (New Haven) acquired the CNE to achieve an all-rail route from New England to Maybrook yard. This brought a significant traffic increase to the L&HR. The L&HR obtained trackage rights on the DL&W's Sussex branch to connect to Port Morris, NJ. This provided the L&HR with its major east-west routings that lasted throughout its history.

   Until the Hell Gate Bridge opened on September 30, 1916, the L&HR hosted many through passenger trains that later passed over the Poughkeepsie Bridge and into New York City. The still famous "Federal Express" was the best known train to take this route. Partly because of this passenger traffic, the entire line had automatic block semaphore signals installed by 1913.


   An additional 30 route-miles were briefly added in the 1920's when the CNJ extended rights to Mauch Chunk (now Jim Thorpe), PA for zinc ore. In July 1939, all passenger service was ceased on the L&HR due to declining revenues. During this time period, color signals replaced the earlier semaphores. Also, all 100 lb rail was replaced with 131 lb rail.


   A major change happened in 1950 when the L&HR purchased 11 Alco RS3's to replace all 16 steam locomotives. The three 6 year old 4-8-2's were stored in case they would be later needed, but were never used again. In 1958, the L&HR became the first railroad in the northeast to completely use a radio installation for communications. Radios were installed in all locomotives and walkie-talkies in all cabooses. The Dispatcher's office (in Warwick), was radio equipped as well as four wayside stations.

   The L&HR filed for bankruptcy on April 19, 1972, due largely to Penn Central's decision to prefer other routes to the Poughkeepsie Bridge. In May, 1974, the Poughkeepsie Bridge suffered major fire damage and Penn Central completely closed the Maybrook route to New England. In 1976, the L&HR officially became part of Conrail. Most of the original route has since been abandoned.