Branch Line Empires

Branch Line Empires

The Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads
Michael Bezilla, with Luther Gette
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 11/06/2017
Format: Hardback 26 b&w illus., 4 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-02958-4
Bookmark and Share

Other formats available:

Buy from Amazon


The Pennsylvania and the New York Central railroads helped to develop central Pennsylvania as the largest source of bituminous coal for the nation. By the late 19th century, the two lines were among America’s largest businesses and would soon become legendary archrivals. The PRR first arrived in the 1860s. Within a few years, it was sourcing as much as four million tons of coal annually from Centre County and the Moshannon Valley and would continue do so for a quarter-century. The New York Central, through its Beech Creek Railroad affiliate, invaded the region in the 1880s, first seeking a dependable, long-term source of coal to fuel its locomotives but soon aggressively attempting to break its rival’s lock on transporting the area’s immense wealth of mineral and forest products.

Beginning around 1900, the two companies transitioned from an era of growth and competition to a time when each tacitly recognized the other’s domain and sought to achieve maximum operating efficiencies by adopting new technology such as air brakes, automatic couplers, all-steel cars, and diesel locomotives. Over the next few decades, each line began to face common problems in the form of competition from other forms of transportation and government regulation; in 1968 the two businesses merged.

Branch Line Empires offers a thorough and captivating analysis of how a changing world turned competition into cooperation between two railroad industry titans.

Author Bio

Michael Bezilla is author or coauthor of seven books, four of them works of railroad history, and has contributed more than 25 articles about railroads to scholarly and enthusiast publications. He retired from Penn State University, where he received a doctorate in the history of technology, after a 36-year career in institutional advancement.


“An absorbing, well-written account, which will appeal to American history scholars and railroad enthusiasts. . . . Recommended.”
 — Choice

“The book is a most welcome and worthy addition to the literature of Pennsylvania's rich railroading heritage. ”
 — Pennsylvania Heritage

Customer Reviews

There are currently no reviews
Write a review on this title.

Table of Contents

1. Switchbacks and Rattlesnakes: The Bellefonte and Snow Shoe Railroad
2. Moshannon’s Black Gold: The Tyrone and Clearfield Railroad
3. The PRR Tightens Its Grip: The Bald Eagle Valley Railroad
4. Forever Divided: The Lewisburg and Tyrone Railroad
5. Uniting the Branch Lines: The PRR’s Tyrone Division
6. Breaking the Monopoly: Beech Creek Railroad/New York Central
7. Nittany Valley Short Lines: Bellefonte Central Railroad/Central Railroad of Pennsylvania/Nittany Valley Railroad
8. Railroads at High Tide
9. The Tide Recedes: Passenger Service
10. The Pennsylvania and the New York Central on the Plateau, 1918-1968
11. Railroading in the Valleys, 1918-1968
12. Empires Dismantled: Penn Central and Beyond

Related Titles