The Sunbury and Lewistown Railroad was a Class I Railroad connecting Lewistown, Pennsylvania with Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Completed in December 1871, the line was placed under an immediate lease by the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), upon its completion. Although retaining its own board of directors and track maintenance, all locomotive traffic was owned by the PRR. For over eighty years, the line operated between Sunbury and Lewistown, serving as a relief line for both the Pennsylvania Main Line and Bald Eagle Valley Railroad through Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The line was noteworthy as a proving ground for new railroad technology in the United States, such as the "X"-shaped railroad crossing signs in 1917 (now nearly ubiquitous in the United States) and Pulse Code Cab Signaling technology in 1925. It is now a fallen flag railway, the name "Sunbury and Lewistown" having been phased out in 1901 when the line became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad's Sunbury Division.
1895 Railroad Maps Showing Route of the Lewistown Branch
In the mid-1860s, residents of Snyder County wanted to capitalize on the transportation and commerce possibilities of the recently constructed Northern Central Railway, which was located across the Susquehanna River in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. The Northern Central, completed in the 1850s, connected Sunbury to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, York, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore, Maryland, thus giving Snyder County a better connection to the surrounding region and beyond. To this end, the Middle Creek Railroad was formed in Selinsgrove in 1868, with the intention of planning, grading, and constructing a route. Without any ties to a major railroad, the Middle Creek Railroad only got as far as choosing the route and the completion of some grading before the company ran out of money and folded. The assets of the company were bought up and reorganized as the "Sunbury and Lewistown Railroad" in 1871.
With minimal financial backing (initially) from the Pennsylvania Railroad and Northern Central Railway, construction of the nearly 50-mile line continued at a slow pace for the next three years, with work progressing inward from both the eastern and western termini. The western group covered more territory, as the completion of the line's eastern end was contingent on the construction of the half-mile-long Selinsgrove Bridge spanning the Susquehanna River. The PRR signed a 99-year lease on the line in October 1871 and purchased half the outstanding stock of the line, and the entire line was completed in December 1871. Almost immediately, it became clear that the demand for such a line was not as high as its proprietors had anticipated, and the railroad ceased to operate.
The line was sold at sheriff's sale in May 1874, and reorganized as the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway on Feb. 1, 1876.
The Pennsylvania Railroad, a lessor and major shareholder, assumed operation of the route. Thus, "Sunbury and Lewistown" functioned only in name for the most part - the rolling stock and motive power came from the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Effective October 1, 1896, the shareholders of the Mifflin & Centre County Railroad Company and the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company approved the consolidation of the two companies into the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company. The Pennsylvania Railroad then executed a new 79-year operating lease.
Effective June 1, 1900, the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company and four other PRR-affiliated railroads merged into a new entity, the Schuylkill & Juniata Railroad Company. It was immediately leased to the Pennsy under a 20-year operating agreement. Effective April 1, 1902, the Schuylkill & Juniata Railroad Company was merged into the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
Under PRR control, the line served as an important shortcut for moving Wilkes-Barre anthracite westward to Pittsburgh steel mills, avoiding Harrisburg, and for moving perishables to New York markets via an interchange with the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Mt. Carmel, avoiding both Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Freight traffic peaked on the line between 1900 and 1908, possibly in preparation for a planned (but canceled) PRR yard north of Selinsgrove in Shamokin Dam. Although the PRR bought a large tract of land planning for a yard or car shop, the proposed trunk yard was instead constructed at Northumberland, in 1912, resulting in a loss of significance to the older route through Snyder County. Declining passenger numbers after the first World War led to a cancellation of all passenger traffic in January 1932, followed by a cessation of through traffic in the 1950s. The PRR sold its large tract to Pennsylvania Power & Light Co. for a new coal-fired power plant in 1945, to be served by both a PRR spur north from the S&L at a wye on the west end of the Susquehanna River Bridge and a spur south from the Reading Railroad at Clement Station, opposite Sunbury.
On June 22, 1955 (PRR Chronology), the board of directors approved the retirement of the Lewistown Branch between Lewistown and McClure (15.52 miles), all to be done by Dec. 31, 1958.
Track between Maitland, Mifflin County, and Paxtonville, west of Middleburg, was removed in stages between 1958 and 1965. The remaining eastern segment, running west from Selinsgrove Junction (south of Sunbury) and then across the Susquehanna River to Paxtonville via Selinsgrove, was operated by the Pennsylvania Railroad until 1968, then came under the control of Penn Central (merger of the PRR and the New York Central), Conrail. The segment between Paxtonville and Kreamer, Pennsylvania was abandoned with the beginning of Conrail in April 1976. The remaining segment is operated today under the ownership of the Norfolk Southern Railway, which took over portions of Conrail in 1999. Conrail also operated the segment between Lewistown Junction and Maitland until the line, along with spurs to Milroy and an industrial park, were sold to the SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority, and operation transferred to the Juniata Valley Railroad on August 19, 1996. Today, parts of the railroad grade between Kreamer and Maitland are still visible, though sixty years of development in the area have erased some segments.
As of February 2022, the Susquehanna Economic Development Agency-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) Joint Rail Authority has acquired the operating rights to 9 miles of the line. The track involved is 7.7 miles from Selinsgrove Junction to Kreamer on Norfolk Southern’s Buffalo line, plus 1.3 miles the former Sunbury Generation Station power plant. At present, the line has one regular customer, the Kreamer Feed Mill at its western end, along with occasional cards to K&L Feeds at its midpoint.
Incorporated in 1868 as the Middle Creek Railroad.
Re-organized in 1871 as the Sunbury and Lewistown Railroad and leased by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Re-organized in 1876 as the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway.
As of 1884 (Form 76), the line was in the Pennsylvania Railroad Division, Lewistown Division as the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway ("S&L").
In 1896, the Mifflin & Centre County Railroad Company and the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company into the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company. A new lease was executed with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
As of 1900 (CT1000), the line was in the Pennsylvania Railroad Division, Lewistown Division as the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway ("S&L").
In 1900, the Sunbury & Lewistown Railway Company and four other PRR-affiliated railroads merged into a new entity, the Schuylkill & Juniata Railroad Company. It was immediately leased to the Pennsy.
In 1902, the Schuylkill & Juniata Railroad Company was merged into the Pennsylvania Railroad Company.
As of 1923 (CT1000), the line was in the Eastern Region, Central Pennsylvania Division, Sunbury Division as the Main Line.
As of 1945 (CT1000), the line was in the Eastern Region, Middle Division as the Lewistown Secondary. A "secondary" is usually applied to a track segment with no passenger service and restricted speeds.
As of April 29, 1951 (ETT), the line was in the reently created Eastern Region, Susquehanna Division, as the Selinsgrove Secondary.
As of September 26, 1954 (ETT), the line was still in the Eastern Region, Susquehanna Division, as the Selinsgrove Secondary.
A 1960 Northern Region Susquehanna District track chart shows the track between Maitland and McClure removed as of 1959.
The Lewistown Secondary from Lewistown through Maitland remains in service to this day, serviced by the Juniata Valley Railroad. Selinsgrove continues to be services by Norfolk Southern.
Leaving south from the station at Sunbury, S&L traffic shared track with the Northern Central, which had been constructed a decade earlier. At Selinsgrove Junction station, on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, the line split, with the NCRR continuing south towards Harrisburg and the S&L crossing the River on the Selinsgrove Bridge. The original bridge over the river was wooden, but has been replaced several times since the opening of the line. The oldest segments of the current bridge date from 1888.
The line enters the borough of Selinsgrove on the Isle of Que, then crosses Penn's Creek on a smaller bridge into Selinsgrove proper, where the station still stands today, although it has not seen passenger traffic since the 1930s. Passing through what was once the industrial center of Selinsgrove, the line turns south, skirting around the edge of the campus of Susquehanna University, where it turns west. West of Selinsgrove, several minor stations once existed that were closed in the late 1800s as they were not used enough to be financially viable. Winding its way through the Middle Creek (Penns Creek) valley, the route passed through the villages or towns of Clifford, Kreamer, Middleburg, Paxtonville (known to the railroad for a brief period as "Benfer"), Beavertown, Beaver Springs, and McClure, before arcing to the southwest to follow Jacks Creek into Mifflin County. In Mifflin County, the railroad passed through Wagner, Shindle and Maitland before entering Lewistown from the east. The S&L track was laid directly onto Chestnut Street, connecting with the Pennsylvania Railroad for the final leg to Lewistown. On average the route took a little over an hour to complete, but a special train run shortly after the line's opening in 1871 made it from Sunbury to Lewistown in under forty five minutes.
The line was used for moving anthracite from PRR-controlled coal fields in the Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre areas westward to Pittsburgh, avoiding Harrisburg, and for moving perishables to New York markets via interchange with the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Mt. Carmel, avoiding both Harrisburg and Philadelphia. Until a great deal of traffic was diverted to the Bald Eagle line between Williamsport and Tyrone in September 1908 for its lower grade profiles, the Selinsgrove line saw as many as seventy trains and a thousand carloads a day.
During the First World War, over forty trains a day, freight and passenger, traversed the line.
Passenger service, which typically amounted to two trains each way a day except on Sundays, ceased in January 1932.
In 1953, the PRR began running out-and-back locals out of Northumberland and Lewistown rather than a through train over the line daily.
The following is a tour of the Wilkes-Barre Division Lewistown Branch, starting in Lewistown, Pa. (exclusive), to Sunbury, Pa. (exclusive), based on the 1945 edition of the Pennsylvania Railroad CT1000 -- List of Stations and Sidings.
Click on the link of a location for more information (if available). The line was also used for occasional, and sometimes frequent, detours around wrecks on the Middle Division or on the nearby Bald Eagle line between Tyrone and Williamsport.
|Junc. Middle Division - Lewistown Secondary|
|4004||Jack's Creek, Pa.|
|4007||American Viscose Corp.|
|4014||Rager's Summit, Pa.|
|4020||Raubs Mills, Pa.|
|4023||Beaver Springs, Pa.|
|4028||J. C. Stahl Est., Beavertown Block Co. and Superior Asphalt Products Corp.|
|633||Selinsgrove Junction, Pa.||Junc. Williamsport Division - Main Line|