The Alphabet Route

Nickel Plate Road



    The New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad was commonly called the "Nickel Plate Road".  The most likely origin of the name "Nickel Plate" was that it first appeared in an article in Norwalk, Ohio "Chronicle" of March 10, 1881, which reported the arrival of a group of engineers to make a survey for the "great New York and St. Louis double track, nickel plated railroad". 


    On February 3, 1881, the Seney Syndicate met at Seney's New York bank and organized the New York, Chicago, and St. Louis Railroad.  The original proposal was for a 340-mile railroad from Cleveland, OH, to Chicago, IL, and a 325-mile branch to St. Louis, MO.  It was to be built to compete with the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway (owned by William Vanderbilt -- later part of the NYC system). On April 13, 1881, the Nickel Plate purchased the Buffalo, Cleveland, and Chicago Railway (which had surveyed between Buffalo, NY, and Cleveland, OH).  It was decided to start building the Cleveland, OH, to Buffalo, NY, surveyed route.  500 days later, the 513-mile single track mainline from Buffalo, NY, to Chicago, IL, was completed.  The first train over the entire mainline ran on October 16, 1882.  On October 25, 1882, the Seney syndicate sold the Nickel Plate to Vanderbilt for 7.2 million dollars.  Vanderbilt moved most of the traffic to the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, only keeping enough on the Nickel Plate to keep it from falling into receivership.  In 1897, the Nickel Plate obtained trackage rights over the Lake Shore and Michagan Southern Railway from its own line to LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.


    The Van Sweringen brothers of Cleveland, OH, were the next owners of the Nickel Plate.  As early as 1909, they proposed a stub-end terminal on Public Square in downtown Cleveland.  The Nickel Plate started a grade separation projuect on Cleveland's East Side in 1909 (finished in 1913).  In late 1915, the US Attorney General advised the NYC that owning both the Nickel Plate and the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway was in violation of Federal anti-trust laws.  The Van Sweringen brothers purchased the Nickel Plate for 8.5 million dollars on April 13, 1916.  The Van Sweringen brothers did not want to run the Nickel Plate, so hired a NYC vice-president named John J. Bernet to run the railroad.


    John J. Bernet grew the Nickel Plate substantially.  On July 1, 1922, the Nickel Plate secured control of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad Co.  This added 707 miles of trackage from Sandusky, OH, to Peoria, IL with 2 branches in Indiana.  On July 15, 1922, the Nickel Plate entered an affiliation with the Toledo, St. Louis, and Western Railroad (the Clover Leaf Route) adding another 453 miles to the system.  This finally gave the Nickel Plate access to St Louis, MO, as well as the port in Toledo, OH.  Bernet left the Nickel Plate in late 1926...but returned in 1933 until his death in 1935.  In 1934, Bernet ordered the Nickel Plate's famous Berkshires.  On December 29, 1937, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway gained control of the Nickel Plate.   


    In 1947, the Chesapeake and Ohio ended its control of the Nickel Plate.  In 1949, the Nickel Plate received its last Berkshire #779 (also the last locomotive built by the Lima Locomotive Works).  On December 1, 1949, the Nickel Plate leased the Wheeling and Lake Erie Railway (see the W&LE section of this website for more information).


    In 1960, the last steam locomotive was retired from service.  On October 16, 1964, the Nickel Plate, the Wabash, and several other smaller railroads merged with the Norfolk & Western.  In 1982, N&W merged with the Southern Railway to form Norfolk Southern Corporation...which still operates much of the original Nickel Plate routes.