The following is a letter from Sobieski Ross to Gen. George B. McClellan, President Atlantic and Great Western Railroad Company explaining why the Pine Creek route is the ideal eastern connection for the A&GW.


PHILADELPHIA, December 1, 1871

SIR: In reply to your inquiry as to the best and most feasible route for a railroad line connecting Salamanca, the eastern terminus of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, with New-York City, allow me to state that I consider the route known as the Pine Creek route not only as the most favorable one for your purpose, but as the only true natural route between New-York and the great West; commencing at Salamanca, thence following up the Alleghany River to a point nine miles east of Coudersport, where you strike the head waters of the west branch of Pine Creek; following the same to its mouth on the Susquehanna River, twelve miles above Williamsport; from Williamsport by the Catawissa Railroad, Lehigh and Susquehanna, and New-Jersey Central, to New-York City. The distances by the above routes are as follows:

From Salamanca to Williamsport by the surveyed line of the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo Railway 148 miles.

From Williamsport, by Catawissa Railroad, to Tamenend Junction, Lehigh and Susquehanna Railroad 92 "

From junction by Nesquehoning Railroad, owned by New-Jersey Central, to Mauch Chunk 16 "

From Mauch Chunk by Lehigh Railroad, owned by New-Jersey Central, to Easton 46 "

From Easton, by New-Jersey Central, to New-York City 76 "

Making a total of 378 miles.

The distance from Salamanca to New-York by the Erie Railway is 415 miles, making a saving by the above route of 37 miles, which can be further increased by 12 miles by changing the present location of the Catawissa, making in all a shortening of the distance by 49 miles, or nearly 12 per cent on the entire length of the Erie Railroad.

Of the three great East and West routes, the Pennsylvania Central is the shortest. The Atlantic and Great Western crosses the Pennsylvania Central (or its extension, the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago,) at Mansfield, Ohio. From this point of junction, the Pennsylvania Central is only 22 miles shorter to New-York than the Atlantic and Great Western by way of the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo route, and the latter can be shortened 12 miles more, as stated. At the same time, the grades on this latter route are infinitely more favorable than those on the Pennsylvania Central, as will be seen by a comparison of the figures given below, while, in addition, the Atlantic and Great Western would have the advantage of running into New-York over the line of one of the most popular companies in the United States, the New-Jersey Central Railroad Company.

There is no need of calling your attention to the great importance of this fact, in connection with traffic, as you are perfectly familiar with the subject, or to the absolute necessity, in a financial point of view, for the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad Company to secure a line independent of the Erie Company, whose gross-mismanagement is but too notorious. I will simply confine myself to a more particular description of the link which yet remains to be supplied in the above line.

The Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo Railway Company was organized in the spring of 1870, under a grant from the Legislature of Pennsylvania of a charter containing very ample powers and privileges. In fact, I know of no railroad charter in this State with more valuable franchises. It has authority to hold lands, build branches, (not exceeding 30 miles in length,) connect with other roads in the State, or out of it, and to borrow money on bonds secured by mortgage, at a rate of interest not exceeding 7 3/10 per cent per annum.

The line is one of comparatively cheap construction. That portion of it along the Alleghany River to near the Summit is remarkable for low grades and light work in construction, requiring only three bridges, with no heavy cuttings or deep fills. The greater portion of the work along Pine Creek and Susquehanna River is of the same character. The only heavy work is in passing the narrows on Pine Creek below Manchester, a distance of about 10 miles, and in constructing a tunnel between the waters of Pine Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna, and Mill Creek, a tributary of the Alleghany. The length of the tunnel will be about 2300 feet, passing through a soft and easily-wrought laminated rock. This tunnel can be avoided, but at the cost of an increase in grades, and a lengthening, of the line nearly three miles. Timber, stone, and all materials for construction, with the exception of rails, are convenient and very cheap along the entire line. The right of way for that portion between Jersey Shore and the State line, not included in the original charter, can be secured at very little cost; the remainder, to Salamanca, at a slight cost compared to other railroads in New-York and Pennsylvania. The grades of the whole line, as tested by a survey made in the summer of 1870 by Mr. Leuffer, an old and experienced engineer, who formerly had charge of the construction of the Pennsylvania Central Railroad west of the Alleghany Mountains, are very easy, ranging from 5 to 35 feet to the mile, with the exception of 6 miles approaching the tunnel from the east, where the grade rises to 58 feet to the mile, and descends to the west at a grade of 65 feet for a distance of 8 miles. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crosses the Alleghanies with grades as high as 110 feet to the mile; the Pennsylvania Central, at 96 feet to the mile; the Philadelphia and Erie, at 105 feet to the mile; while on the Erie Railway, there are two summits which are crossed with grades reaching 80 feet to the mile. The advantage on the side of the Jersey Shore route is too evident to need comment.

In reference to the traffic of the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo Railway, I submit:

1st Local.-The road will pass for its entire length through a virgin country, rich in timber, iron ore, and bituminous coal. It will divide into nearly equal parts the most valuable body of timber-lands in Pennsylvania, not far from 500,000 acres, which will yield at least 300,000,000 feet, board measure, of white-pine lumber; 400,000,000 feet hemlock lumber; together with, at the lowest estimate, 40,000,000 cords of hemlock bark, for tanning purposes; to these must be added vast quantities of oak, chestnut, white-wood, cherry, black-birch, ash, and other woods, now becoming, very valuable in the Eastern markets, Philadelphia, New-York and Boston.

BITUMINOUS COAL.-For 2 miles along Upper Pine Creek, and 10 miles at the head of the Alleghany River, there are rich veins of bituminous coal, from 2, to 6 feet in thickness, some of which have been tested and pronounced very superior for gas, which must eventually make a great change in the source of supply for gas-coals, by the above route, as they can be placed in New-York City at a cost of transportation of $4.35 per ton, estimated upon a basis of 1 cents per ton, per mile, for 290 miles; while the cost of transporting a ton of gas-coal from Cumberland, Maryland, or Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, to New-York is about $5.75, making a difference of $1.40 per ton in favor of the Pine Creek coal-fields. There is shipped annually from Cumberland and Westmoreland to New-York about one million tons. By a lessening of price, the consumption will be largely increased. It must be borne in mind that there will also be a very large Western and Northern demand for both gas and steam- coal at Buffalo, for Canada and the lake trade. I need hardly call your attention to that which is common to all railroads opening up a country rich in the crude materials for manufacturing any of the necessary articles of commerce, that factories and towns will spring up, increasing from year to year the local trade. From Jersey Shore to Port Alleghany the country is well adapted to the manufacture of iron, and is probably, all things considered--cheapness of materials, nearness to market, etc.--the best location for the production of agricultural implements, building materials, car-building, and tanning in the United States. Within a few years, tanning must of necessity, from the scarcity of bark in other sections, be confined to the belt of country through which this road passes. Another important item of local trade will arise, in the course of a few years, in supplying all the timber used in the Schuylkill coal-mines. It is estimated by P. W. Shaffer, Esq., of Pottsville, an old and experienced mining engineer, that the annual consumption of timber for props, etc., in that county alone, is fifty million cubic feet, all of which, within five years, will have to be supplied from Pine Creek and the Upper Susquehanna.

2d. Railroad Connections and Through Traffic. - At Williamsport, it will connect with the Catawissa Railroad, furnishing a direct line to Philadelphia by the Catawissa and Reading, and the shortest and best route to New-York City by the Catawissa and New Jersey Central; also, at Williamsport, with the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad, making a direct line to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington by the Northern Central and its connecting lines. At the west, on the Alleghany River, it will connect with the Buffalo, New-York, and Philadelphia Railroad, which will be completed by the 1st day of January next, furnishing the shortest route by some 10 miles between New-York and Buffalo, with far easier grades than the Erie, and about 35 miles less in distance than the New- York Central; while between Buffalo, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington it will make a saving of 40 miles over other routes. I have already shown that, as regards the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, there will be a saving of 49 miles by this route over the Erie or any other road by which it can reach New-York City.

I need not enter into details to show the immense demand for anthracite coal at Buffalo, for the Canada and lake trade, or the markets that can be supplied by the Atlantic and Great Western through its main line and branches. I wish, however, in this connection to call your attention to one very important fact. It is well known that the coal from the old Lehigh mines is worth, and commands in all markets, 50 cents per ton more than the coals from either the Schuylkill or Luzerne regions. By the completion of the Nesquehoning tunnel, which will be accomplished before the 1st day of January, 1872 this coal can be shipped by the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo Railway to the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad and the Buffalo market, at 75 cents per ton cheaper than it impossible for it to be furnished by any other route, as will be readily seen by reference to a railroad map and table of distances. The tunnel is near the Nesquehoning Railroad, some 7 miles east of Tamenend junction on the Catawissa Railroad.

The Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, with its 400 miles of main line, to say nothing of its branches and connections westward, which I understand are very important, passing, as it does, through a rich agricultural and manufacturing country, with many important towns and cities, must, under proper management, have an immense local trade, and furnish an extensive demand for Pennsylvania coal and lumber for distribution, which can only be economically supplied by the Pine Creek road. This route, by giving it an independent through line to New-York, must largely increase its through traffic, and change it from a mere branch of the Erie to a great east and west through line.

A few words to show that the Pine Creek Road will be a paying enterprise. The local trade alone within three years of completion will pay running expenses and 6 per cent per annum on cost; add to this the through traffic of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, together with the trade from and to Buffalo, over the Buffalo, New-York, and Philadelphia Railroad, grain, cattle, etc., that now centre at that point, and must always continue to do so, as it is the great Eastern port for all shipping upon the lakes, and an important railroad centre; and further consider that, upon the completion of the International Bridge, which is only a question of a few years, when the entire system of the railways of Canada West and Michigan will centre there, that the Eastern trade will be very large. For all this immense trade the Pine Creek route will be in a very favorable position to contend, being the shortest line, with the lowest grades to the sea-board, occupying a still more formidable position when we come to consider the coal trade from Pennsylvania to the lakes and Canada. The bituminous coals of the Upper Alleghany and Pine Creek will come into competition with those now furnished from Ohio, Mercer County, Pa., and Blossburgh, under favorable circumstances, having less distance for delivery, and being of equal, if not superior, quality. I refer, in this connection, to the coals for general use. As to gas-coals, there can be no competition, so far as discoveries to this date have developed. Anthracite can be delivered in Buffalo, by this route, at 75 cents a ton cheaper from the Schuylkill and Lehigh regions than by any other route; and to show further its decided advantages, you must bear in mind what I have before stated about the superior quality of the coal from the old Lehigh mines, and the extra price it commands in all markets.

From the foregoing we find the following decided advantages for the Pine Creek Route:

1st. A large local trade in coal, timber, etc.

2d. The eastern and western through traffic of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.

3d. The through traffic of the Buffalo, New-York, and Philadelphia Railroad, to and from New-York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.

4th. Bituminous gas-coal trade to New-York and eastward.

5th. Anthracite and bituminous coal-trade to Buffalo, Canada, and the lakes; which, combined, I believe, must convince all, not directly interested in rival lines, that the trade upon this road would be very large, requiring a double track; that it will pay large dividends to its shareholders, and be ample security for bonds to an amount equaling its entire cost. I believe it would be a perfect security for more than double the debt that is proposed to be placed upon it, and at the same time pay fair dividends to the shareholders.

The cost of a good single-track road from Williamsport to Salamanca, (148 miles,) fully equipped, will be a little under five millions of dollars; (104 miles, from Williamsport to Port Allegheny, have been carefully estimated by Mr. Leuffer at $3,200,000.) A double track will be required, which will add some three millions of dollars to the cost. It would be prudent to grade and bridge for a double track at once, thereby saving largely in the ultimate cost. It would also be advisable to provide, at once, one million five hundred thousand dollars, to be used in securing control of one of the connecting links, which I explained to you fully in our interview. (By the laws of Pennsylvania, a railroad company has the right to hold the stock or bonds of another connecting road.)

You will need to provide the following amounts:

Cost of road and equipment, 148 miles, with double tracks, shops, depots, etc $8,000,000

To purchase controlling stock of connecting links 1,500,000

Total $9,500,000

As the money will be needed, at least the larger portion, in order to make the enterprise a complete success, faster than it can be raised by stock subscriptions, which can only be called, ten per cent every thirty days, I would advise the issuing of six millions of bonds, to be secured by a first mortgage upon the road and its franchises. This may seem to be a large amount of debt for the length of road, but it is less, for a double track, per mile, than some of the single track roads in the United States. It is a matter of economy to have all the money ready, without resorting to, a second, third, and even fourth mortgage, as some companies have been compelled to do, thereby making their roads cost from 25 to 50 per cent (in some instances, from 50 to 100 per cent) more than they would have done if the money had all been provided at the commencement of the undertaking. It is a far better plan, for both the bond and shareholders, to have every dollar of their money represent a hundred cents, economically applied to the construction of their road; for the bondholders, as giving more ample security--for the shareholders, as securing larger dividends on their investments.

In conclusion, I do not know of any completed or projected railroad that promises larger returns for the money required in its construction, than this connecting link between two important lines upon the west, and three upon the east.

Respectfully yours,

Sobieski Ross.

To Gen. GEORGE B. MCCLELLAN, President Atlantic and Great Western Railroad Company, New-York.

References

  • Letter in the archives of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.