PENNSYRR.COM by Jerry Britton

robert gunnarssonbill caloroso 

The Northern Central Railway (NCRY) caught my attention early in my love for the Pennsy. Two excellent reads on the line are Robert Gunnarsson's The Story of the Northern Central Railway and Bill Caloroso's Pennsylvania Railroad's Elmira Branch (pictured above).

The Northern Central Railway was a Class I Railroad connecting Baltimore, Maryland with Sunbury, Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River. Completed in 1858, the line came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) in 1861, when the PRR acquired a controlling interest in the Northern Central's stock to compete with the rival Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O). For eleven decades the Northern Central operated as a subsidiary of the PRR until much of its Maryland trackage was washed out by Hurricane Agnes in 1972; after which most of its operations ceased as the Penn Central declined to repair sections.

The Pennsylvania Railroad's Northern Central line was double-tracked and equipped with block signals between Baltimore and Harrisburg by World War I. The line carried heavy passenger and freight traffic until the 1950s. On-line freight included flour, paper, milk, farm products, coal, and less-than-carload shipments between such settlements as White Hall, Parkton, Bentley Springs, Lutherville, and the city of Baltimore. Local commuter service, referred to as the "Parkton local", operated over the 28 miles between Calvert Station in Baltimore and Parkton, Maryland. Long distance passenger trains equipped with sleepers and dining cars were also operated by the PRR over the line from Baltimore Penn Station to Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri, with through-sleeping car service as far as Houston, Texas. Much of the PRR through freight service to points west was routed via its electrified Port Road Branch along the Susquehanna River to Enola Yard in Harrisburg, however, instead of the Northern Central line.

With the decline in rail passenger and freight service in the 1950s, accelerated by completion of the Baltimore-Harrisburg Expressway (I-83), the "Parkton locals" were dropped in 1959 and the line was reduced from double-track to single-track. Some long-distance trains, such as the General to Chicago and the Buffalo Day Express, continued to operate until the late 1960s. In 1972, when Hurricane Agnes caused bridge damage and washouts along the line, it ceased operations completely. One of the oldest rail lines in the country, it had run for a total of 134 years.

Contemporary Track Segments

In the 1911 the NCR was fully absorbed into the PRR. Its track segments were cut up and assigned to various PRR divisions. As of 1945 the divisions were as follows:

Original Name Transit 1945 PRR Name
Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad1 Baltimore to Pennsylvania State Line Maryland Division - Northern Central Railway
York and Maryland Line Rail Road1 Maryland State Line to York
York and Cumberland Railroad1 York to Wago Junction
Wago Junction to Lemoyne Philadelphia Division - York Haven Line
Cumberland Valley Railroad (trackage rights) Lemoyne to Harrisburg (passenger traffic only) Philadelphia Division - Cumberland Valley Branch
Pennsylvania Railroad (trackage rights)

Harrisburg to Rockville
(passenger traffic only)

Philadelphia Division - Main Line
Susquehanna Railroad1 Lemoyne to Sunbury Williamsport Division2Main Line
Sunbury & Erie Railroad (Philadelphia & Erie Railroad) (trackage rights) Sunbury to Williamsport Williamsport Division2Main Line
Elmira & Williamsport Railroad Williamsport to Elmira Williamsport Division2Elmira Branch (Elmira & Williamsport Railroad)
Erie Railroad (trackage rights) Elmira Erie Railroad (trackage rights)
Chemung Rairoad4 Elmira to Canandaigua   Williamsport Division2 - Elmira Branch (Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad) 
Elmira, Jefferson & Canandaigua Railroad4
Sodus Bay & Southern Railroad Stanley to Sodus Point

1 Consolidated into the Northern Central Railway on December 16, 1854.

2 The PRR Williamsport Division was absorbed into the new Susquehanna Division in 1951.

3 The Elmira & Williamsport Railroad was leased by the Northern Central Railway in 1863.

4 The Chemung Railroad and the Elmira, Jefferson & Canandaigua Railroad were leased by the Northern Central Railway in 1866.


Chronological Statement

Of the construction of the Northern Central Railway...

Year Sections Miles Constructed By  
1831  Baltimore to Relay House, near Ruxton, Md. 7.00 Baltimore & Susquehanna R. R. Co.  
1832 Hollins to Turnpike, Md.  10.00 Baltimore & Susquehanna R. R. Co. Entire line sold to Western Maryland R. R. Co. in 1857; Hollins to Green Spring Junction 8.61 miles reconveyed in 1874.
Relay House, near Ruxton to Timonium, Md. 5.00 Baltimore & Susquehanna R. R. Co.  
1838 Timonium to Maryland-Pennsylvania State Line 23.64 Baltimore & Susquehanna R. R. Co.  
Maryland-Pennsylvania State Line to York, Pa. 22.00 York & Maryland Line R. R. Co.  
1851 York to Lemoyne, Pa. 26.00 York & Cumberland R. R. Co.  
1856 Dauphin to Millersburg, Pa. 18.80 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
1857 Millersburg to Trevorton Bridge, Pa. 15.40 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
1858 Trevorton Bridge to Sunbury, Pa. 8.58 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
Lemoyne to Dauphin, Pa. 9.45 Northern Central Ry. Co. Bridge over Susquehanna River between Marysville and Dauphin, Pa., 0.84 of a mile, removed in 1884 (P. R. R. bridge used thereafter).
1931  Connection at Selinsgrove, Pa. 0.06 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
Connection at Lemoyne, Pa, 0.18 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
1935 Revision and reclassification of tracks at Baltimore, Md. 0.82 Northern Central Ry. Co.  
1937  Connection at Sunbury, Pa. 0.11 Northern Central Ry. Co.  


Corporate Chart

The Northern Central Railway Company

Incorporated December 16, 1854 by consolidation of (a), (b), (c) and (d), Operated by The Pennsylvania Railroad, effective January 1, 1911.

  1. Baltimore and Susquehanna Rail Road Company, incorporated February 13, 1828.
  2. York and Maryland Line Rail Road Company, incorporated April 9, 1835.
  3. York and Cumberland Rail Road Company, incorporated September 4, 1848.
  4. Susquehanna Railroad Company, incorporated May 22, 1852.

Historical Sketch

The Northern Central Railway Company

Northern Central 1913The Northern Central Railway Co. was constructed by predecessor companies from Baltimore, Maryland, as far as Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, opposite Harrisburg, as follows:

The Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad Co. commenced construction at Baltimore in 1829 and opened its line to Relay House (near Ruxton), Maryland, about 7 miles, on July 4, 1831. The following year the road was extended five miles further to Timonium, Maryland; and the Green Spring Branch from Hollins to Turnpike Maryland; and the Green Spring Branch from Hollins to Turnpike, Maryland, was also completed that same year. Work continued on the main line and it was completed to the Maryland-Pennsylvania line in 1838.

The line in Pennsylvania from the state line to York, Pennsylvania, was completed in 1838, under the name of the York & Maryland Line Railroad Co. which was controlled by the Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad Co. This latter company, through the York & Cumberland Railroad Co., which it controlled also, extended the line from York to Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, in 1851.

The Susquehanna Railroad Co. was incorporated in 1851 to build a railroad from Lemoyne to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and started construction in 1853, but was suspended in 1854 when this company, together with the three other companies named above, were consolidated to form The Northern Central Railway Company.

The Northern Central Railway Co. completed the line from Dauphin to Trevorton Bridge (Selinsgrove Junction), Pennsylvania, in 1857, and the next year finished the line from Lemoyne to Dauphin, including the bridge over the Susquehanna River, and from Trevorton Bridge to Sunbury, Pennsylvania, where it connected with the Sunbury & Erie Railroad which was under construction between Sunbury and Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The Elmira & Williamsport Railroad was leased by The Northern Central Railway Co. in 1863, which gave the latter company an outlet over the Erie Railroad from Elmira to Buffalo and Rochester, New York. The Erie's predecessorm the New York & Erie Railroad Co., at this time operated the lines which are now part of the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad between Horseheads and Canandaigua, New York. The arrangement for interchange with the Erie Railroad at Elmira, New York, was unsatisfactory owing to the differenes in gauge of the two railroads, and in 1866, The Northern Central Railway Company, under an arrangement with the Erie Railroad Company, took over the lines reaching Canandaigua and thereafter the interchange of traffic from the Northern Central Railway, principally coal, was made with the New York Central Railroad at Canandaigua, New York.

The Northern Central Railway Company purchased control of the stock of the Chemung and the Elmira, Jefferson & Canandaigua railroad companies in 1872 and, thereafter, operated these lines under lease until 1886 when they and the Sodus Bay & Southern Railroad Company, mentioned below, which road came under control of The Northern Central Railway Company in 1884, were consolidated to form the Elmira & Lake Ontario Railroad Company. The line of the Sodus Bay & Southern Railroad Co. from Stanley to Sodus Point was completed by one of its predecessor companies in 1873.

The Shamokin Valley & Pottsville Railroad was leased by The Northern Central Railway Company from February 27, 1863, and operated as part of its system.

December 31, 1945, the railroad owned by the company consisted of 143.30 miles of line, 45.07 miles of which were in Maryland and 98.23 miles in Pennsylvania. There were 135.86 miles of second track, 17.58 miles of third track, 17.64 miles of fourth track, and 192.36 miles of side tracks, making a total length of wholly owned tracks of 506.74 miles. In addition the company owned an interest in the tracks in Enola, Orangeville, and Northumberland yards. 82.92 miles of the company's tracks were electrified. The termini are Baltimore, Maryland, and Marysville, Dauphin, and Sunbury, Pennsylvania, with a branch at Hollins to Green Spring Junction, Maryland.

The railroad of this company is operated by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, lessee, under lease dated July 29, 1914, retroactive to January 1, 1911. The yearly rental paid is 8% on the capital stock ($31,433,750), interest on the debt, and organizational expenses.

December 31, 1945, the property investment of this company, as carried on its books, was $54,376,856 in addition to which The Pennsylvania Railroad Company expended $357,708, making the aggregate property investment of $54,734,564.

In addition, this company and the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington Railroad Co. each owns an undivided 50% interest in 3.83 miles of side tracks in Orangeville Yard, Baltimore. The company owns also a 43.5% interest in 75.56 miles of side tracks in Northumberland Yard, and a 25% interest in 3.16 miles of first main track, 3.14 miles of second main track, and 126.06 miles of side track between West Fairview and Marysville (Enola Classification Yard). The remaining interest is owned by The Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

In addition, 0.63 of a mile of the joint side tracks in Orangeville Yard, Baltimore, is electrified. Also, 1.35 miles of first main track, 0.81 of a mile of second main track, and 24.76 miles of side track in Enola Yard, are electrified.

Additions and Betterments

When this company began operations, its line was single-track throughout. There were but few passing sidings, yard tracks and station buildings. The track was laid with light iron rails and practically no ballast. The bridges were of wood. The need for improving the track and for additional facilities soon became pressing. The more important items provided through the years are shown below.

Additional Main Tracks:
1863 Second track, Baltimore to Relay (Hollins), 7.0 miles
1864 Second track Relay to Cockeysville, 8.0 miles.
Second track Summit #1 to Glenrock, 7 miles.
1865 Second track completed Baltimore to York, 57 miles.
1869  Second track Dauphin to near Millersburg, 23 miles, making 80 mikes of second track in use.
1876  Second track Selinsgrove to Sunbury, 5 miles.
1882 Connecting track Dauphin to connection with the Pennsylvania Railroad at Rockville, Pa.
1883 Second track at York and third track at Mt. Vernon.
New line Union Station to Calvert Station, Baltimore.
1886  Second track Summit to Conewago, 4.15 miles, and Millersburg to Mahantongo, 6.35 miles.
1887  Second track Selinsgrove to Fishersm 3.89 miles. In 1888 there were 97.00 miles of second track in use.
1890 Second track York to Summit [Mt. Wolf], 3.9 miles.
1891 Second track Conewago to Falls [Cly], 3.0 miles, New Cumberland to Bridgeport [Lemoyne], 2.25 miles, and Herndon to Fishers Ferry, 3.6 miles.
1892  Second track Marysville, 2.2 miles. Mahantongo to Georgetown, 4.3 miles.
1893  Second track Falls [Cly] to Goldsboro, 2.68 miles.
1897  Second track Goldsboro to New Cumberland, 8.1 miles, and Georgetown to Herndon, 3.0 miles, completing second track Baltimore to Sunbury except 5.5 miles Bridgeport [Lemoyne] to Marysville.
1902 Second track Bridgeport [Lemoyne] to Enola, and Hecks to Dauphin, 1.1 miles.
Second, third and fourth tracks York Haven to Bridgeport, about 15 miles. In service, November 12, 1905.
Other Additional Tracks:  
 1879 Yard tracks at Canton.
1883  Yard tracks at Sunbury.
1903  Re-arrangement of Marysville Yard. Yards at Sunbury and Timonium. Terminal facilities at Baltimore and Canton.
1904 Enola (Fairview) Classification Yard [joint project with The Pennsylvania Railroad], and terminal facilities at Baltimore.
1905  Enola Yard.
Northumberland Yard. Completed in August 1911.
Changes at Mt. Vernon Yard.
1913 Baltimore Yard. York Yard.
1922 Enola Yard and Shops.
Car retarders in eastbound classification yard at Enola.
1941 Enola Yard -- Extension of eastbound receiving yard and coaling station.
Yard at Baltimore. Pull-out tracks at West Fairview; car retarders in westbound classification yard at Enola.
1891 Interlocker at Junction of the Northern Central Railway, Baltimore.
1906 Block system on Frederick Division.
Automatic signals and train-stop system Baltimore to Harrisburg.
Other Important Additions and Betterments:
1863 Use of 64 lb. rails (iron) begun.
1865 Freight house at Baltimore.
1866 Use of steel rails begun.
1867 Wharf property and warehouse at Baltimore.
1871 Line Bolton to North Street, Baltimore in service August 6.
1875 Warehouse at Canton.
Real estate at and addition to shops at Mt. Vernon, new pier 100' x 500' at Canton, and transfer bridge.
1876 Grain elevator at Canton (500,000 bushels) completed November 6.
General office building, Baltimore.
Coal pier, Canton 100' x 1200' completed April 1.
 1880 Iron ore pier 120' x 200' at Canton.
 1881 Land for new elevator at Canton.
Pier and extension to pier #3 and tracks at Canton.
Extension of warehouse at Baltimore.
1884  Additions to piers and sheds at Canton.
1885  Freight house at Calvert Street, Baltimore.
1886 Union Station 60' x 200' at Baltimorem completed April 1.
Brick enginehouse, Baltimore.
Warehouse 70' x 270' at Canton.
Pier 60' x 700' at 13th Street, Canton, for ore.
Coal pier at Clinton Street.
 1890 Brick passenger station 45' x 130' and freight station 33' x 448' at York.
 1891 Grain elevator with capacity for 1,000,000 bushels at Canton to replace old elevator burned. Completed in August. A second grain elevator with capacity for 500,000 bushels.
1892  Freight car repair shop at Canton.
1897 Freight house 20' x 450' at Sunbury.
Pier 120' x 934' and yard at Canton. Real estate at Canton.
Extension to Calvert Street freight station, Baltimore.
Extension to grain elevator #3 at Canton to hold 1,000,000 bushels.
1909  Wharf property, Canton.
Union Station, Baltimore. Opened September 15, 1911.
Orangeville enginehouse.
1913  Extension to piers #3 and #4 at Canton.
Coal pier and rearrangement of tracks at Canton. Overhead bridge at Charles Street and Orangeville enginehouse additions.
Pier and grain elevator and tracks, extension of Yard #3, etc., at Canton.
1922  Elimination of grade crossing at Bolton Street, Baltimore.
Freight Yard at Bolton Street and Calvert Street, and warehouse at Bolton Street.

Canton pier and elevator.
Change of line at Phoenix, w mile, reducing curvature.

Following an order of the Interstate Commerce Commission to a number of railroads to install either an automatic block or a speed-control system, a three-speed continuous train-control system, with three-indication cab signals, was placed in service on this railroad July 11, 1923, between Lewistown Junction and Sunbury, this being the first system of the kind ever installed. No tripping devices or ramps were used, the track rails being used for carrying the current. This system, in modified form, was installed also between Baltimore and Harrisburg, the stop and forestaller being substituted for the speed control but the cab signals were retained.

1927  Mt. Washington overhead bridge.
1930  Grade crossing elimination at Sunbury.
Baltimore warehouse.
1931  Grade crossing elimination at Cockeysville.
Mt. Vernon perishable freight facilities.
Parkton grade crossing elimination.
1932 Bare Hills grade crossing elimination.
1933 Export pier at Canton.
1934 Improvements at Baltimore, consisting of a new double-track Union Railroad tunnel, 3405 feet long with a cast-iron lining, elimination of several crossings, extension of platforms, and track changes at the passenger station and through Baltimore, and electrification of lines within the city commenced in 1929 and completed in 1934, jointly by this company, the Union Railroad Company of Baltimore, and Phildelphia, Baltimore & Washington Raikroad Co,
Electrification, Enola to Wago Junction.
1935 Liverpool grade crossing elimination.
1939 Extension of pier at Canton.
1943 Float bridge at Canton.

Other Railroads Operated by this Company

Lykens Valley Railroad and Coal Company - July 1, 1880 to January 1, 1911.

Shamokin Valley and Pottsville Railroad - February 27, 1863 to January 1, 1911.

Elmira and Lake Ontario Railroad - December 31, 1886 to January 1, 1911.

Elmira and Williamsport Railroad - May 1, 1863 to January 1, 1911.

York, Hanover and Frederick Railroad - June 1, 1902 to January 1, 1911.

Summit Branch Mining Company railroad - June 1, 1902 to January 1, 1911.

All of the above mentioned leases and agency agreements were assigned to The Pennsylvania Railroad Company, effective January 1, 1911, in the lease of the Northern Central Railway to The Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

Elmira , Jefferson and Canandaigua Railroad - May 1, 1866 to Decvember 31, 1878.

Sodus Bay and Southern Railroad - July 1, 1884 to December 31, 1878.

Canandaigua Lake Railroad - September 1887 to December 31, 1888.

Wrightsville, York and Gettysburg Railroad - December 16, 1854 to June 21, 1870.

Chemung Railroad - May 10, 1872 to December 31, 1886.


Caloroso, William, Pennsylvania Railroad's Elmira Branch, Andover Publications, 1993, ISBN 0-944119-12-3.

Coverdale and Colpitts, The Pennsylvania Railroad -- Corporate, Financial and Construction History of Lines Owned, Operated and Controlled to December 31, 1945.

Gunnarsson, Robert The Story of the Northern Central Railway, Greenburg Publications, 1991, ISBN 0-89778-157-0.