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TRAINS LEFT DECADES AGO

By KRIS WERNOWSKY kwernowsky@leader.net

Sunday, April 24, 2005     Page: 65

Passenger rail travel in Northeast Pennsylvania became a casualty of the interstate system as post World War II automobiles became cheap and highways turned into the main arteries for metropolitan destinations.
    Ridership on the Lehigh Valley Railroad passenger trains alone dropped from 2.5 million in 1946 to 781,000 in 1957, according to Robert F. Archer's book, "The History of the Lehigh Valley Railroad: The Route of the Black Diamond."
    Dominic Keating, president of the Avanti Cigar Co. in Scranton, is a knowledgeable mine of Luzerne County passenger railroad history gathered from years of devotion and interest in trains.
    In 1960, his father needed to get to Canada for a meeting on short notice.
    Keating booked his dad on a Maple Leaf passenger train bound for Toronto. Less than a year later, the Maple Leaf was no more.
    "I can't tell you the parts of my anatomy I would give up to have ridden on that train," Keating said.
    "That was a beautiful passenger train."
    Passenger trains of the time were more luxurious than their contemporary successors. According to Archer's book, the Black Diamond Express and Maple Leaf passenger trains on the Lehigh Valley Line featured first-class dining and smoking lounges for the gentleman.
    Keating says many believe the last passenger train left Wilkes-Barre in February 1961 when the final westbound Maple Leaf left the Lehigh Valley station in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
    In fact, he said, the Central Railroad of New Jersey carried passengers between Wilkes-Barre and Jim Thorpe under the cover of night until March of 1963.
    The train was a remnant of the Interstate Express that at one time carried passengers from Philadelphia to Syracuse and made a 2 a.m. departure from downtown Wilkes-Barre.
    Prior to the end of the Lehigh Valley and Central Railroad of New Jersey's passenger service to Wilkes-Barre, several other rail lines fell by the wayside according to Keating.
    * The Wilkes-Barre and Eastern Railroad Co. originally had a terminal along the waterfront in Kingston. The company closed the Kingston station in 1909 and moved to a small station in Plains Township.
    Passengers could ride a mixed train of passengers and freight to Stroudsburg. The entire railroad was abandoned in 1938, just before World War II.
    * The Pennsylvania Railroad Co. ran passenger service from Wilkes-Barre to Sunbury, where it made connections for Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. The service ended in 1953.
    * The Delaware and Hudson Railroad took passengers from the Lehigh Valley station in downtown Wilkes-Barre to Scranton and Carbondale until 1940.
   
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