1827 - 1996
Railroads in Delaware, as in all America, developed in the late 1820's as a rapid, all weather, transportation alternative, which also fostered community development away of the cities and waterways.
The Delaware Railroad, established in the late 1850's opened southern Delawares farm markets to the populated cities. They located well inland away from the colonial villages set on navigable waterways , nearer the bay.
Kent county's Felton, was one of many towns that grew with the railways.
Early Delaware railways would link major eastern cities with a reliable
year around network.
The New Castle & Frenchtown Turnpike, opened in 1811, is considered the first road system, connecting Cecil county Maryland's Elk River to New Castle on the Delaware which greatly improved transportation between Baltimore and Philadelphia. In 1830 it became a railroad and was a success until 1843 or about and became part of the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore, part of Wilmington & Susquehanna Railroad System. The western most nine miles were abandoned in 1857.
The NC&F was at first a horse drawn railway which quickly went to steam in its success. .
The PW&B, formed in 1840, brought to Wilmington key suppliers to the railroad industry, such as, Betts, Pusey & Harland, aka Harland & Hollinsworth, well known for their railroad car factory. Other's were Diamond State Iron, Lobdell Wheel Company, Jackson & Sharp. Repair shops opened there in 1865. It dominated Delaware railroading the next 45 years offering fast, dependable, all weather transport between Washington, DC and New York.
Still, poor management, engineering mistakes threatened the existence. . New management, replacing the rail with heavier tracks , improved locomotives and cars and better service so that in 1850 the PW&B was still a factor.
This success gave thought in 1836 and 1847to linking to downstate and Delmarva, but financing was not available. Waterways remained the primary means of downstate transportation. In 1852 the State stepped in, helped by the duPont Family, with money for Delaware Railroad. 1855 saw the operation of the Delaware Railroad Division of the PW&B .
The Delaware Division choose to route on the western side of the state, bypassing the established seaport towns , leaning an eye toward the Maryland's Eastern Shore. Dover was reached by 1856 and Seaford by the end of the year. In 1859 the railroad was at Delmar, a new railroad town, and connected with the Maryland Eastern Shore Railroad.
This railroad improved transportation to market for lower Delaware farm and forest products. Towns of Cheswold, Felton, Viola, Wyoming, Harrington, Greenwood, Seaford and Delmar grew in to shipping points for lumber, peaches, melons and fresh spring fruits and vegetables.
With the main north and south line complete and successful, attention was turned to branches. 1869 saw the Junction & Beakwater from Harrington to Lewes in operation. 1878 found Rehoboth at its last station bringing hundreds of vacationers each summer. 1874 Georgetown to Selbyville was completed. In 1883 the railroad was named Delaware, Maryland & Virginia, DM&V. Branches ran from Smyrna to Oxford, Maryland, Townsend to Massey and Centerville, Seaford to Cambridge.
After the Civil War railroads were reaching all corners of America. It was the country’s big business. In 1869 there were 30,000 miles of track, in 1900 there were 200, 000 miles and they became more standardized. A standard gauge of four feet, eight and one half inch was accepted. Upgrading to heavier structure and equipment, steel instead of wood., was the major project.
The railroad became the dominant form of transportation.
Beside the PW&B, there became the B & O, and Pennsylvania in the Washington to New York corridor. The B & O purchased the PW&B in 1881 but Pennsylvania offered a higher price and gained control of Washington to New York lines. So now Delaware Railroad was part of the Pennsylvania system. The B & O was a parallel competitor during the 1890 era, linking many other railroads in the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and New York – New England area.
A number of other railroads were founded in Delaware, the Wilmington & Northern, Pennsylvania & Delaware, Baltimore & Delaware Bay, The Maryland, Delaware & Virginia, which were smaller players serving local needs as feeders.
Wilmington & Northern, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania to the Delaware River through Wilmington, began in 1866, brought coal to the Wilmington docks. Eventually going to Reading in 1874, it soon became the Reading Railroad in 1899.
Pennsylvania & Delaware , 1869, ran from Pomeroy Pennsylvania to the wharfs at Delaware City, and soon spun off into the Newark & Delaware and the Pomeroy and Newark.
The Delaware peach growing industry in late 19th century, spawned several minor lines . In 1879, Jay Gould of the Southern RR of New Jersey bought tracks from Pierson's Cove at Bombay Hook to Chestertown, with a ferry from Bombay Hook to Bayside, New Jersey. 1902 it merged with Delaware Railroad. The Queen Anne's Railroad was opened 1898 from Love Point, Maryland to Lewes, through Greenwood, Ellendale and Milton, in 1902 became Pennsylvania, and sold out in foreclosure by 1923. This railroad had significance between 1897 and 1931 as the main way to get vacationers from Washington, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia to Rehoboth Beach.
Pennsylvania Railroad was the railroad. Clayton became Delaware's largest railroad center with offices and shops. It was the largest land holder and tax payer in the state, a key political player. Much of the system was doubled tracked. New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk, NYP&N, carried trains across the Chesapeake Bay to the large port of Norfolk. Southern produce, vegetables, fruits, tobacco, cotton, oysters, became common in New York and Boston markets. This brought Kent and Sussex counties alive with their peaches, melon and strawberries. The food processing industry was much benefited and the area had many canneries. Starting in 1902 the railroad upgraded, bridges elevated tracks, stations, freight yards, and four track systems.
The B & O found it necessary to follow suit. The viaduct over the Brandywine in 1910, 1920 the Augustine bridge and the Wilsmere Yards.
Electrification began in 1910, first under the New York city rivers. New Jersey railroads following the trend, gave high speed track service to the railroad. 1928 and after the New Deal WPA made improvements available and electrified high speed passenger and freight service was the norm. The network of overhead electric wire was called 'catenary'.
1917 – 1946 profits, government regulated pticing structures became a problem. Competition of trucks and automobiles, the highway development, cut into the railroads monopoly. Passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1916, and entry into WWI exacerbated railroad woes.
They reorganized, cut expendables but the automobile was moving ahead. The Depression worsened the situtation. Then came WWII, troop movements, decreased coastal ship activity and automobile travel restrictions, thrust transportation burdens back to the railroad.
This was found to be short lived. The industry was physically in sorry shape by WWII's end. The system was punished by deferred maintenance, lack of replacement parts, for the tracks and equipment. Improved highways and the truck industry taking a large percent of business, air travel increase , left the railroad with no place to go but down and out.
1956 saw the end of a monopoly. Delaware removed one of the two tracks. Trucks using the 'piggyback' system for longhaul and cross country shipping did some help to keep railroads alive. There are positives to the railroad existence, such as, the railroad location in the establishment of the Newport General Motors plant and the Newark Chrysler plant.
Mergers brought the Chessie System in 1960's, Penn Central. 1970 Congress created Amtrac. Conrail and CSX came about in 1980. Deregulation with the Staggers Act allowed an improved climate for the railroad business which allows the ownership of other types of transportation such as barges and auto truck lines.
Today, the railroad continues to be an important player in Delaware economy. Amtrak carries a heavy passenger load, Conrail and CSX transport freight. The CSXT line carries Conrail & Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific with freight from outside the Diamond State. Conrails Indian River Secondary Track serves to Frankford. Maryland & Delaware, an independent railroad of the Snow Hill Shippers Association , Townsend & Chestertown, Seaford to Cambridge, Georgetown to Lewes, old Breakwater and Junction, are on line with trains every now and then. .
Wilmington & Western, a private owned tourist attraction , runs through Red Clay Valley, Wilmington to Hockessin. Delaware Valley Railroad, the old Wilmington & Northern & Reading Railroad is a bridge route to Pennsylvania shippers .
Source: “Delaware's Railroad's, 1827 – 1996” is an abstract of an WWW Internet site , perhaps on line at the University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware.