The history of the current Cumberland, Utica, & Toledo Railroad (CU&T) is rich in the history of rail transportation in the United States. The current system was created from the consolidation of routes from the Erie Lackawanna Railway (EL), Central Railroad of New Jersey (CNJ), and Lehigh & Hudson River Railway (L&HR) with portions of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O). The first track on the CU&T’s oldest rail line (the B&O line in Baltimore) was laid on July 4, 1828 by the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. The CU&T therefore carries on an important and historic legacy of over 186 years of continuous rail service.
With the formation of Conrail on April 1, 1976, several rail lines in the northeastern United States were rendered surplus or redundant. The Erie Lackawanna’s former Erie mainline west of Meadville, PA was not conveyed to Conrail, and was abandoned at the end of 1976 after new Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad connections had been built in Ohio to circumvent a long-standing trackage rights agreement on the EL mainline. East of Meadville, the once high-speed freight artery was instantly reduced to a secondary Conrail branch line. The result was crippling for the large industrialized cities along the entire route from New York to Chicago.
To remedy the lack of rail service along one of the nation’s busiest rail corridors, the Youngstown & Northern Ohio Transportation Company (YNOT) was formed in early 1977 by the State of Ohio to resume operations under contract on the former EL mainline between Meadville, PA and Decatur, IN. With additional financial backing from the State of Indiana, the YNOT quickly expanded to operate the line all the way west to Chicago. The revival of rail service to the corridor prevented a mass exodus of many of the large industries in the region, which were eying overseas locations as an alternative to the decaying infrastructure of the American Midwest. Jointly owned by the states of Indiana and Ohio, the YNOT earned enough profit to officially purchase the EL mainline from Meadville to Chicago (as well as secondary lines to Cleveland and Cincinnati) from the EL estate in 1979. Simultaneously, the YNOT became a publicly-traded company.
Now free from its state ownership, the YNOT saw an opportunity to tap New York markets by purchasing the remaining portion of the EL mainline from Meadville to New York, forming a competitive bridge route from to Chicago. By the early 1980s, Conrail was finalizing the rationalization of its routes, and the EL route that had already been deemed surplus was now seen as a liability. The YNOT made overtures to Conrail about the purchase in early 1981, and it was finalized later that year with the provision that the YNOT would only be able to purchase the line from Meadville to Port Jervis, NY, where freight could be interchanged with Conrail for the duration of the trip to and from New York. Long-haul freight operations between Port Jervis and Chicago began on January 1, 1982. Finding the original name of the Ohio-based company no longer fitting for the line’s operational system, the railroad officially changed its name to the Ohio, Youngstown & Eastern Atlantic (OYEA).
Conrail’s line rationalization eventually led to the complete abandonment the L&HR system from Easton, PA to Maybrook, NY in 1983. The CNJ’s mainline across New Jersey to Allentown, PA was also abandoned west of High Bridge, The remaining portion of the CNJ mainline between High Bridge and Elizabeth was handed over to NJDOT, along with several more of the EL and CNJ's lines in New Jersey, for commuter operations. Customers along these lines were rapidly stripped of their option for freight rail service, which had dwindled drastically as freight was rerouted via former Penn Central and Lehigh Valley Railroad routes. Some of these commuter routes, like the former Erie mainline from Hoboken to Suffern, found new freight operators like the Suffern-Hoboken Interstate Transfer (SHIT). Others were left completely without options.
Already tapped into the New York area via the former EL mainline, the OYEA seized the opportunity to expand further in the area. Securing trackage rights over Conrail from Port Jervis to Suffern and the SHIT from Suffern to Hoboken, the OYEA positioned itself to make an offer to NJDOT to provide freight service on commuter lines and other abandoned Conrail freight lines through the state of New Jersey. In late 1983, the OYEA took over freight operations on the former EL Boonton Line and Lackawanna Cutoff from Jersey City to Stroudsburg, PA. They also assumed control of the CNJ mainline from Jersey City to Allentown, PA, as well as the L&HR mainline from the CNJ connection in Easton, PA to the Erie connection in Greycourt, NY. To manage some of the new traffic, the OYEA created a subsidiary railroad, the Totowa, Wanaque and Towaco (TWAT) to operate local freight traffic over the Boonton Line and former Erie Greenwood Lake Branch. A connection between the Lackawanna Cutoff and the L&HR below it was constructed at Andover in 1984 to better facilitate traffic flow.
In 1980, the CSX Corporation was created as a holding company for both the Chessie System and the Seaboard System in preparation for an eventual merger. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) watched closely as the railroads consolidated and streamlined their joint operations. The Norfolk Southern merger in 1982 pushed ahead plans for a merged CSX system. However, when the merger was formally presented to the STB in 1986, the STB rejected it on grounds that the Chessie’s former B&O line to New York City would present the merged CSX system with an unfair advantage over NS. In order for the merger to proceed, the Chessie was ordered to divest itself of its Cumberland-Baltimore-New York route. The Chessie begrudgingly offered the OYEA the route in order to maintain competition with Conrail between New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. To sweeten the deal, the Chessie also included the former B&O line from Lima, OH to Detroit via Toledo, a line that had seen a significant downturn in traffic as the Detroit auto industry slowly succumbed to foreign-made vehicles. The OYEA accepted the offer on the condition that it would also receive trackage rights on the Chessie System between Cumberland and Youngstown in order to access its former EL route to Chicago, as well as trackage rights from Akron to Toledo to fluidly move its new Detroit-bound traffic. The Chessie accepted the concessions, and officially sold the former B&O lines in late 1986. The OYEA, now spanning the majority of the eastern United States, was again renamed to better reflect its ever-expanding route. The new Cumberland, Utica & Toledo Railroad Company (CU&T) began operations on March 31, 1987. At the same time, the Cumberland, Utica & Toledo Rail Corporation (NASDAQ: CTRC) was created as a holding company for the CU&T, the former OYEA subsidiary TWAT, and locomotive leasing companies EDLX, MJLX, and JACX.
As a surprising result of the Chessie’s significant concessions, the Seaboard System withdrew its merger application in early 1987. The Chessie’s loss of its New York mainline made the merger a far less profitable proposition, and the Seaboard was no longer interested. The CSX Corporation holding company was officially disbanded in 1988.
In 1995, NS made a move to purchase Conrail. The STB, having recently approved the BNSF merger and with the UP/SP merger rumored to be in the works, had taken more of a lax attitude towards large-scale railroad mergers than it had taken with the Chessie and Seaboard nine years earlier. The takeover was approved, and NS began operating all former Conrail lines in June of 1996. Existing CU&T trackage rights over Conrail lines in Ohio and New York were retained.
The CU&T acquired the Central Long Island & Tarrytown Railroad (CLIT) in July of 1996. The struggling post-1983 successor to the Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal (BEDT) had overextended itself by acquiring trackage rights over Metro-North from Oak Point Yard via Spuyten Duyvil to Tarrytown to service the General Motors plant there. When the plant closed in June of 1996, the CLIT almost immediately declared bankruptcy and was purchased by the CU&T. Now operated as a CU&T subsidiary, the CLIT serves a state-of-the-art CU&T trash facility built on the former General Motors Tarrytown site, along with several other customers in the Bronx and Brooklyn. The CLIT exchanges traffic with the CU&T via New York's only remaining carfloat operations between Jersey City and Brooklyn, as well as a dedicated trash carfloat between Tarrytown and the CU&T's Piermont Branch.
Today, the CU&T route remains much the same as it was in 1996. However, its collection of other railroads’ cast off lines has been turned into a profitable, high-volume, and high-capacity rail system. A state-of-the-art locomotive rebuilding facility located along the former Erie Greenwood Lake branch in Bloomingdale, NJ keeps the CU&T’s varied and diverse locomotive fleet modernized and in stellar mechanical condition. Several system-wide terminals and classification yards efficiently organize and distribute freight traffic throughout the northeastern United States. Seen as an industry leader in safety (with the slogan “Safety Never Takes a Break”), the CU&T has maintained a stellar safety record throughout its existence, and has won a Jake Award for safety every year since the award’s inception in 1995.
The CU&T hopes to continue its successful rail operations long into the future, so the final pages of the CU&T’s history have yet to be written! In the meantime, the CU&T remains committed to safety, efficiency, reliability, and focus – the four key elements of its continued success.