The Reading Railroad

Reading RR Logo The Reading Railroad

Joseph Corso,


The Philadelphia & Reading Railroad was chartered in 1833 to serve the coal fields in Pottstown and deliver coal to the city of Reading.

Construction was started two years later and service began in 1837, under horse-power.

During the 1890's to ward off government efforts to break up monopolies the Pennsylvania & Reading owners created a new holding company named the Reading Company. The Pennsylvania & Reading Railroad and Pennsylvania Reading Coal & Iron were ordered separated under a Supreme Court ruling, in 1924 the Pennsylvania Reading Coal and Iron became an independent line and Reading Railroad became the operating name.

It bought up many smaller railroads in the Schuylkill Valley area of Pennsylvania before setting its sites on the New York market.

In 1879, the Reading entered New Jersey. This was accomplished by leasing the Delaware & Bound Brook railroad for 999 years. This road connected to the Reading in the south and the Jersey Central in the north. In conjunction with its lease and trackage rights on the CNJ, the Reading had its entry into New York Central. At various times, the Reading controlled the CNJ. In the 20th century, the Reading almost always used CNJ tracks and stations in New Jersey.

The Reading filed for bankruptcy three times in the 1800s before becoming a stable and profitable company. It continued to draw steady revenues from coal and passenger service.

Most of the Reading's 20th century activity in the Garden State was in South Jersey. The Reading had controlled the Atlantic City railroad and the Pennsylvania was in competition in the Philadelphia to Atlantic City run.

Realizing that the economy could not support two competing railroads in this area, the Reading and Pennsylvania formed the Pennsylvania Reading Seashore lines to carry freight and passengers in southern Jersey.

In 1945, two important motive power events occurred. The first of the T1 class Northerns arrived. These were rebuilt from previous I-10sa 2-8-0s. Also, the Reading started to dieselize in this year. In 1951, the last of the camelbacks were retired and in 1956 dieselization was completed.

The Reading was still very dependent on coal. With the exception of the Jersey Central, the Reading was in the weakest position to recover should the bottom fall out the coal industry. When it happened, the Reading lost money fast. In 1961, the Reading lost money for the first time this century. The Reading re-entered the black as the result of some clever marketing and cost cutting. One the most innovative ideas during this time was the Bee-Line service. The Bee-line would dispatch an engine on demand to customers wanting to ship more then 5 cars.

The Reading Railroad was made up of the following lines:

Atlantic City Railroad
Catasaqua and Fogelsville Railroad
Gettysburg and Harrisburg Railroad
North East Pennsylvania Railroad
Perkiomen Railroad
Philadelphia and Chester Valley Railroad
Philadelphia, Newtown and New York Railroad
Pickering Valley Railroad
Port Reading Railroad
Reading and Columbia Railroad
Stony Creek Railroad
Williams Valley Railroad
Delaware River Ferry Company of New Jersey
Philadelphia and Reading Railway
Chester and Delaware River Railroad
Middletown and Hummelstown Railroad
Rupert and Bloomsburg Railroad
Tamaqua, Hazleton and Northern Railroad
Norristown Junction Railroad
Philadelphia and Frankfurt Railroad
Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh Railroad
Schuylkill and Lehigh Railroad
Shamokin, Sunbury and Lewisburg Railroad
New York Short Line Railroad
Norristown and Main Line Connecting Railroad
Reading Belt Railroad

But, in 1967 the Reading lost money again. Watching the cash reserves becoming depleted at a very fast rate, the Reading declared bankruptcy for the fourth and final time in 1971. The Reading never had any real chance of making it on its own. But, hurricane Agnes struck in 1972 to make sure that even that small chance was removed.

The Reading entered Conrail along with all its subsidiary railroad properties including the Pennsylvania Reading Seashore lines on April 1, 1976. The Reading estate continued into the 80s and today operates as an entertainment booking company.

By: Joseph Corso, February, 2002

This page last updated December 15, 2014.
All content copyright © 2000-2019 JCRHS chapter of the NRHS.


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