Lancaster, Pa. Area


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This is taken from a post of mine on RAILROAD. When I get around to it (when you all bug me enough!), I'll draw a map. I'll proceed generally west to east.

Lancaster has considerably less freight traffic since Conrail took their freights off the Pennsy and onto the Reading, and since the total abandonment of the nearby Low Grade Cutoff. However, Dillerville Yard has more traffic, I hear, since the closing of the yard in Thorndale.

OK. Out to the west, accessible from the old (no median) section of PA 283 (do not confuse PA 283 with I-283!) is Landisville, if you want to catch Amtrak going past a signal and catenary substation. Straightaway.

On the west end of town is the Rohrerstown Road crossing where the RR curves around a little hill. The original road is cut off at the RR (too many people committed suicide here -- really), the new road now going up and over. Accessible from PA-283 again.

Accessible from the Park City (mall, used to be largest in world) lot, and a hike down the tracks, is the connection with the Reading. Reading color- light and PRR position-light signals on the same catenary bridge.

Proceeding SE down PA-72, turn right on [Prince or Queen] St. (note that Lancaster is a pre-Revolution town, unlike Harrisburg!). Sorry, I don't recall which (of Prince or Queen) goes N, and which goes S. Pass the street in front of the station, which is one way the wrong way, and come around the block. Several stations very similar to, or identical to, the one in Lancaster were built by the PRR. Next to the station with its high-level platforms is Amtrak's signal shop and CORK tower.

From here, I'll go W, since it's closest. Proceeding straight W from CORK is the Columbia Branch (then Secondary, now Industrial Track). This branch goes along Dillerville Yard. From the station, the yard is most easily accessed by driving S from the station, then turning R (W) onto West James, which immediately splits straight and diagonally right (NW). Turn diagonally R (NW) onto Harrisburg Pike. Pass my alma mater ( Franklin & Marshall College) on the left and the less used section of Dillerville on the right, and just before the new, green bridge over Harrisburg Pike, turn R to Dillerville. Also accessible from President St.

The Columbia Br. has a number of nice vistas, e.g. at Marietta and Moundville, but action is sparce. Better luck would be had by driving to Columbia, where COLA tower still stands as a C&S shed, and where you can see trains rounding Chickie's Rock to the north. Nice vistas from the top of the Rock, but BE CAREFUL climbing it! Columbia Yard is mostly gone. Recall that this was the original terminus of the Main Line of Public Works, where goods were transloaded onto ships for the canal journey to Hollidaysburg and the Allegheny Portage RR.

The "Port Road" has its own beautiful spots, many of them, but you asked about Lancaster, so I'll cease and desist, except for mentioning Perryville, the C&PD terminus, and the Susquehanna River bridge that you doubtless know about already, and the several tunnels along the line. The catenary wire through these parts was pulled down in 1985.

Back at the Lancaster station, travel S and E into town, ignoring the industrialized, and not terribly pretty, portion of track E of the station. Go all the way to King St. downtown, turn L (E), then travel until the steep downgrade. Turn L (N) along the Conestoga River. This road was rebuilt recently and I did not, when there briefly, see a good parking spot, but the stone RR bridge over the Conestoga is a "must see". This is a 2-track structure, but it was planned for expansion to 4 tracks when originally built. In fact, there used to be 4 tracks on either side of it, and Amtrak to this day calls the tracks #1 (E/B) and #4 (W/B) from here to Parkesburg, where the 2-track Low Grade came in and 4 tracks existed until fairly recently (~1985). At any rate, you'll see, on the S side of this bridge, that every other stone on this bridge hangs out partway, in much the same way as one staggers bricks when building a house. Proof that this is not just "normal" is that the N side of the bridge is not built this way, nor is any other bridge in the area.

Farther E of Lancaster, there are several access points, such as where the RR curves over Old Philadelphia Pike, and a road crossing at Irishtown Rd.. Otherwise, the line wanders through the Old Older Amish farms. For some silly reason, this portion of the road was built with E/W straightaways, with 4 sets of sharp curves to move the rails to the south (as one proceeds east). Probably made sense in the day of the John Bull, but certainly not now. In fact, the proposed High Speed Rail project wanted to bypass this area. Seeing how successful the Amish have been in preventing US-30 from being completed as an expressway from Lancaster to Coatesville, I doubt a project like this could be built, either.

If you want to go farther E, take US-30 to Paradise, where the road passes over the RR at Leaman ("lemon") Place, where the Strasburg joins. Finally, a little farther east is Gap (PA 41), where the RR makes a sharp turn (50 MPH speed restriction on otherwise 90 (now 80) MPH track) through "Gap Hill". Gap is the highest point on the main line between Philadelphia and Harrisburg.

How far E do you want to go? E of Gap is Parkesburg with its flyover connection to the former Low Grade (one dead-end track used by SEPTA to store trains); Coatesville, sporting a beautiful stone viaduct at the W end of town; THORN tower in Thorndale, with more flyovers to get the Trenton Cutoff going and 8-lights-in-a-circle phase break signals (visible from US-30); and Whitford, with the massive iron bridge (no tracks anymore), which takes the Trenton Cutoff (to Morrisville and Trenton) over the main line to Paoli and Philadelphia.

Want to do RR achaeology? Go along the Low Grade, or else follow the stub (Harrisburg Pike) and of Dillerville Yard down Water Street and out the south end of town toward Quarryville. Also, the Parkesburg -- Christiana -- Gap area has a number of stone bridges (some people call them "viaducts", but to me, such a monicker requires more than one arch) dating from the original Philadelphia & Columbia (Main Line of Public Works); there are others W of Lancaster.

Of course, Harrisburg is not far away, with Enola Yard (R.I.P.) and the new RoadRailer terminal at Rutherford Yard, which is now minus its coal tower, Rockville Bridge, etc. etc..

BTW, please pronounce it LANG-kus-ter [the right way :-), like they say it in Britain]. If you pronounce it LAN-KAS-ter (as in Burt), you'll give yourself away. And finally, remember:

You be careful out there among them English!

Mark D. Bej
+1 216-444-0119