The Decline and Fall of E-L Passenger Service

The following list tracks the decline and eventual elimination of EL long-distance passenger service from the date of the merger, October 30, 1960, to the last run of the Lake Cities, January 4, 1970.


As with most railroads in the 1960s, the EL responded both responsibly and aggressively to declining demand from the public for long distance passenger service, and the financial deficits caused by this. The “responsible” strategy was to maintain a passenger train’s quality level as long as possible, i.e. maintain amenities such as dining cars, sleeper service, convenient station facilities, and fast schedules until the train itself could be abolished. This philosophy often made it harder to convince the public regulators (the ICC and the state regulatory boards) that the service was a needless economic burden to the railroad, since there still were some people without autos who wanted to use the train. The “aggressive” strategy was to make the remaining service as unattractive to the public as possible as quickly as possible, so that residual public demand was choked off and the railroad could easily convince the public regulators that the service was no longer needed.

Obviously, many railroads took the “aggressive” approach to eliminating passenger trains, including the Pennsylvania, the New York Central and the Southern Pacific. Remaining passengers on those roads had to ride perpetually late trains with dirty coaches having uncleaned toilets, trains that were too hot in the summer and cold in the winter, with minimal and unappetizing food service options such as sandwich machines. Other lines, such as the Baltimore and Ohio and Santa Fe, tried to maintain service quality until their lawyers could finally convince the regulators that continuing the trains would bankrupt the railroad. Passengers on those lines were treated fairly well up to the end. This cost more money, but it avoided public bad will.

The EL went into an aggressive elimination mode in 1962 when the railroad faced a cash crisis due to rapidly declining freight and passenger revenues. Sleepers and dining car services were reduced, coaches were seldom cleaned, and locomotive maintenance was cut back, thus causing frequent mechanical failures. The 1962 replacement of the Lackawanna’s downtown passenger station in Buffalo with the Babcock Street facility at East Buffalo freight yard, together with the abandonment of the ex-DL&W route into Buffalo and shift of Buffalo trains to the slower ex-Erie Hornell freight route clearly destroyed the good will that the Lackawanna had developed among Buffalo area rail passengers. Another example of aggressive strategy was the late-1963 rescheduling of train 21, the Phoebe Snow connection from Hoboken to Binghamton via the Southern Tier line. The train’s departure from Hoboken went from a reasonable 9 am departure with a 30 minute wait in Binghamton for the Phoebe Snow to a 7:30 am departure with a 90 minute wait; this allowed the EL to use the same coaches on train 22, the eastbound connection train. Although slightly more efficient for the railroad, this move diminished the good will that the Erie had previously built up amidst passengers to the lower Catskill resort region.

However, in many ways, the EL also acted “responsibly”, especially after William White became chairman in mid-1963. White upgraded Hoboken to Chicago service in late 1963, bringing back the Phoebe Snow observation cars that were eliminated during the 1962 service downgrades. Unfortunately, despite the hopes of revived traffic due to the 1964 - 65 New York World’s Fair, the trains continued to lose large sums of money. Also, the US Post Office continued to withdraw mail traffic from EL passenger runs. Thus the EL sought elimination of its remaining Chicago service (and the remaining mail trains to Buffalo), but did so in a gradual manner without turning the trains into filthy, unreliable "rolling tenements".

The EL probably could have gotten rid of the Lake Cities run to Chicago and the Buffalo mail trains by mid-1968, had it become “aggressive” again after the death of William White in April, 1967. But to its credit, the EL kept the trains clean and reasonably on-time, and continued to offer limited sleeper and dining car services on the Lake Cities. Thus, the EL did not finally end service to Buffalo until May, 1969 and to Chicago until January, 1970. I’m sure this cost the EL’s new owners (the N&W) some money, but it probably helped maintain morale and arguably kept the EL from sinking into the depths of managerial dysfunction that the Penn Central was experiencing at the time.



Three trains each way from Hoboken to Chicago:

  • Erie Limited, 1 and 2, daylight service from Hoboken to eastern Ohio, overnight from Youngstown / Akron area to Chicago.
  • Lake Cities, 5 and 6, overnight from Hoboken to Youngstown (and Cleveland via connecting trains, see below), daylight service across Ohio and Indiana to Chicago.
  • Atlantic and Pacific Express, 7 and 8, mail trains having late night departures from Hoboken and Chicago, daylight service across “middle belt” from middle Ohio to eastern New York State, arrive Chicago and Hoboken after a 24 hour run.
  • Steel King, 623 and 624, from Cleveland to Youngstown thence to Pittsburgh via P&LE, through coaches and parlor-diner. Also, commuter runs 686, 630, 628 eastbound and 625, 627 and 629 westbound between Youngstown and Cleveland, with train 625 connecting from train 5 "Lake Cities", and trains 628 and 630 connecting to train 6 "Lake Cities", at Youngstown.
Sleeper service:
  • Hoboken - Chicago (w/b and e/b, Erie Limited and Lake Cities); 10 rmts, 6 db
  • Hoboken - Youngstown (w/b and e/b, Lake Cities); 6 rmts, 6 secns, 4 db
  • Hoboken - Salamanca (w/b Pacific Express and e/b Lake Cities); 6 rmts, 6 secns, 4 db
  • Akron - Chicago (w/b Erie Limited and e/b Atlantic Express); 10 rmts, 6 db
  • Youngstown - Chicago (w/b Erie Limited); 10 rmts, 5 db
  • Chicago - Meadville (e/b Atlantic Express); 10 rmts, 5 db

Four trains each way from Hoboken to Buffalo:

  • Phoebe Snow, 3 and 6, premier daylight run with observation lounge; w/b run has through coach to Chicago via NKP
  • Westerner / New Yorker, 7 and 8, overnight runs to Buffalo, through coaches and sleepers to Chicago via NKP
  • Twilight / Pocono Express, 5 and 2, early evening w/b from Hoboken w/early AM arrival Buffalo; e/b, pre-dawn departure from Buffalo with mid-afternoon arrival in Hoboken.
  • Owl / New York Mail, 15 and 10, mail trains; w/b train 15, late night departure from Hoboken; e/b train 10, mid-afternoon departure from Buffalo.
  • Scranton locals 47 (via Boonton Line) and 44 (via Morristown / Newark).
Sleeper Service:
  • Hoboken - Buffalo (w/b and e/b, on both Westerner / New Yorker and Owl / New York Mail); 10 rmts, 6 db
  • Hoboken - Chicago via NKP (w/b on Westerner and e/b on New Yorker); 10 rmts, 6 db


  • October 30, 1960: All Erie and DL&W services preserved as before the merger. Erie trains given an “E” prefix, DL&W trains received “L” prefix. Erie Limited renamed “Erie-Lackawanna Limited”.
  • April 30, 1961: The big merger consolidation. "Erie-Lackawanna Limited" (hereinafter "E-L Limited") consolidated with "Phoebe Snow" from Hoboken to Elmira (via Scranton). "Phoebe Snow" still operates Elmira - Buffalo via former DL&W as train 31 and 32, with buffet car. W/B "Lake Cities" consolidated with former "Westerner" to Elmira (via Scranton), "Westerner" name dropped. At Elmira, train is split; "Chicago Lake Cities" (train 5) heads for Hornell and Chicago, "Buffalo Lake Cities" (train 35) runs to Buffalo via former DL&W route via Mt. Morris. E/b "Lake Cities" (train 6) from Chicago now runs via Scranton, combines at Elmira with "Buffalo Lake Cities" train 36 from Buffalo, former "New Yorker". W/b and e/b "Buffalo Lake Cities" service continues to carry through Chicago sleeper via NKP’s "Westerner" / "New Yorker" from / to Buffalo. Connection trains 21 (w/b) and 22 (e/b) over former Erie Delaware Division line from Hoboken to Binghamton via Port Jervis are established to connect with "E-L Limited", replacing former "Erie Limited" service on Erie’s Delaware River route; likewise, trains 25 and 26 established via Port Jervis connecting with "Chicago / Buffalo Lake Cities" in Binghamton. "Twilight" and "Pocono Express" renumbered 43 and 40, abolished from Elmira to Buffalo (first significant service cut-back). Dining car to and from Scranton remains on these runs. Sunday "Twilight" train 27 is abolished. Phoebe Snow Observation car shifted to "Twilight" train 43 from Hoboken to Binghamton (43 continues with coaches only to Elmira), and e/b from Binghamton to Hoboken on "E-L Limited", train 2.
  • June 25, 1961: Through coach from w/b "Phoebe Snow" to NKP "City of Chicago" via Buffalo is abolished. Hoboken - Buffalo sleepers on #15 and 10 (Owl and NY Mail), and Hoboken - Salamanca sleepers on #7 and 8 (Pacific and Atlantic Express) are abolished, replaced by Hoboken to Hornell sleeper w/b on #7, "Pacific Express", e/b on #10, "NY Mail", using a 10 rmt - 6 db car. E/b sleeper on #10 runs only from Elmira to Hoboken. Buffet-lounge service on #15 (Binghamton-Buffalo) and #10 (Buffalo-Scranton) abolished, no food service on these trains. #15 is now coach-only. Combination point for Buffalo Lake Cities train 36 and Chicago Lake Cities train 6 is moved from Elmira to Binghamton.
  • October 29, 1961: E/b "Buffalo Lake Cities", train 36, now runs separately all the way from Buffalo to Hoboken, does not combine with "Chicago Lake Cities" train 6; leaves Buffalo 10 minutes later. Former Phoebe Snow observation now used on w/b and e/b "E-L Limited", trains 1 and 2, between Hoboken and Salamanca. Parlor - Diner car on "Steel King" between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, trains 623 and 624, abolished.
  • April 29, 1962: “Buffalo Lake Cities” and "Chicago Lake Cities" names dropped, now simply "The Lake Cities"; "Lake Cities" Buffalo connections, trains 35 and 36, now run via former Erie line to Buffalo via Hornell, connecting to trains 5 and 6 at Hornell. Former eastbound “Buffalo Lake Cities” train 36 thus does not run through to Hoboken as previously. Akron to Chicago sleeper service on train 1 (w/b “E-L Limited") and train 8 (e/b “Atlantic Express”) abolished. Diner-lounge service on trains 7 and 8 (Pacific and Atlantic Express) between Binghampton and Akron abolished, no food service on these trains.
  • July 1, 1962: Buffalo passenger trains removed from DL&W route from Corning to Buffalo via Mt. Morris, re-routed via ex-Erie line to Buffalo via Hornell and Warsaw. 31 and 32 to and from Buffalo connect to 1 and 2 “E-L Limited” in Hornell (trains 35 and 36, Buffalo connections to 5 and 6 the “Lake Cities”, previously moved to Hornell route). Connecting sleeper from "Lake Cities" to w/b NKP “Westerner” and e/b “New Yorker” cut back from Chicago - Hoboken to Cleveland - Hoboken.
  • Oct. 28, 1962: Lackawanna downtown / lakefront Buffalo station abandoned. All EL Buffalo passenger trains and NKP passenger trains now use Babcock Street facility in East Buffalo Yard. Former DLW observation car from Phoebe Snow no longer in use. Phoebe Snow name no longer used for 31 and 32 Hornell - Buffalo connecting trains from “E-L Limited”. No more buffet car on 31 and 32 to Buffalo, coach only. “E-L Limited” (1 and 2) sleeper service cut back from Hoboken - Chicago to Binghamton - Chicago. Hoboken to Chicago sleeper on “Lake Cities” (5 and 6) abolished (Hoboken - Youngstown sleeper remains, but is now a 10 rmt / 6 db car; was previously the last 6 rmt / 6 secn / 4 db sleeper in use on EL). Scranton Local 47 now numbered 41. Train 15, w/b Owl (train 17 on Sunday AM) and train 7, w/b Pacific Express (train 7-9 on Sunday AM) combined between Binghamton and Hornell. Sleeping car (10 rmt - 6 DB) on train 10 (New York Mail) now runs from Hornell to Hoboken, previously from Elmira.
  • April 28, 1963: Former Erie Main Line via Passaic and Rutherford re-routed via Lyndhurst; trains 21 / 22 / 25 / 26 / 7 / 8 now operating via the “new Main Line” over portion of former DLW Boonton Line through Passaic and Lyndhurst.
  • June 2, 1963: NKP's “Westerner” and “New Yorker” make last runs; through EL - NKP coach between Hoboken and Chicago and through sleeper between Hoboken and Cleveland are thus abolished. EL trains 35 and 36 between Hornell and Buffalo, which carried through NKP cars to/from Hoboken by connecting with 5 and 6, the Lake Cities, at Hornell make last runs. NKP service from Buffalo to Chicago down to one train each way, no through car connections from EL any more. These trains ("City of Chicago" w/b, "City of Cleveland" e/b) make last run in mid-1965. EL Trains 623 and 624, "Steel King" service from Cleveland to Pittsburg via P&LE from Youngstown, abolished on Sunday, still runs Mon-Sat.
  • September 29, 1963: Trains 1 and 2, “E-L Limited”, renamed “Phoebe Snow” all the way to Chicago; ex-DLW observation cars are reported back in use on 1 and 2 from Hoboken to Meadville, but not listed in timetable. Trains 25 and 26, connection trains to “Lake Cities” via Erie route through Port Jervis, abolished. "Twilight" and "Pocono Express", trains 43 and 40, cut back from Elmira to Binghamton (with diner-lounge Scranton-Hoboken).
  • October 27, 1963: Hoboken to Hornell sleeper w/b on train 7 “Pacific Express”, and Hornell to Hoboken sleeper e/b on train 10 “New York Mail” are abolished. Chicago - Meadville sleeper on train 8, "Atlantic Express", moved to train 2, "Phoebe Snow" as a Chicago - Youngstown sleeper (w/b Youngstown - Chicago sleeper on "Phoebe Snow" train 1 continues; this service still using ex-Erie 10 rmt. 5 double bedroom sleepers). Phoebe Snow observation-lounge cars now listed in service between Hoboken and Meadville on trains 1 and 2, "The Phoebe Snow". Trains 7, 8, 10 and 15 are thus listed as coach-only mail trains with food service available during certain station stops. Diner-Lounge on "Lake Cities" trains 5 and 6 replaced with Buffet Lounge. Sleeper service between Binghamton and Chicago on trains 1 and 2 "Phoebe Snow" cut back to Hornell-Chicago (e/b and w/b). Hoboken - Scranton local train 41 abolished; e/b local 44 still running. Trains 623 and 624 between Pittsburgh(via P&LE), Youngstown and Cleveland abolished (former "Steel King" between Cleveland and Pittsburgh via EL - P&LE). Train 627 from Youngstown to Cleveland on Sunday only is abolished. Train 686 from Cleveland to Y'Town daily is abolished. Train 625 from Youngstown to Cleveland (connection at Y'Town from train 5, "Lake Cities") is changed from daily to Saturday, Sunday and Holiday only. Timetable advises passengers from train 5 bound for Cleveland on weekdays to use a Greyhound bus from Youngstown. Trains 628 (Mon-Sat) and 630 (Sunday) continue to run Cleveland to Y'town, connecting to e/b "Lake Cities" train 6. Train 629, Y'Town to Cleveland is changed from Monday-Saturday to Monday-Friday; Saturday run abolished.
  • December 4, 1963: Train 21, Hoboken-Binghamton Southern Tier line connection for Phoebe Snow, train 1, rescheduled from 9 am Hoboken departure to 7:30 am departure, allowing equipment to be turned and return as train 22 back to Hoboken. This requires a longer passenger wait at Binghamton for passengers connecting to w/b “Phoebe Snow” train 1, however. Trains 1 and 2 "Phoebe Snow" now have through sleeper between Hoboken and Chicago, was previously Hornell-Chicago. Diner-Lounge service on "Lake Cities" trains 5 and 6 restored in lieu of previous buffet-lounge.
  • April 26, 1964: Trains 5 and 6 renamed “Worlds Fair” (from "Lake Cities") for summer season, as EL seeks business from NY Worlds Fair tourists. Sleeper service between Youngstown and Chicago on trains 1 and 2 now using 10 rmt / 6 db cars instead of ex-Erie 10 rmt / 5 db cars; thus, all EL sleeper assignments are now 10 rmt / 6 db. W/b "Owl", train 15, and w/b "Pacific Express", train 7, now running separately again from Binghamton to Hornell, except on Sunday AM.
  • May 31, 1964: Sunday only train 45 from Scranton to Hoboken abolished.
  • October 25, 1964: Trains 5 and 6 back to being called "Lake Cities". Youngstown to Chicago sleeper service w/b and e/b on Phoebe Snow trains 1 and 2 is abolished; however, Hoboken to Chicago sleeper remains. Scranton to Hoboken local 44 abolished.
  • December 6, 1964: Trains 40 / 43, "Pocono Express" and "Twilight", cut from Hoboken - Binghamton to Hoboken - Scranton. Dining car service to Scranton remains, however.
  • April 25, 1965: Trains 5 and 6 renamed "Worlds Fair" (from "Lake Cities") for summer season once more.
  • August 1, 1965: Trains 7 and 8, the Pacific and Atlantic Express, abolished as passenger runs, replaced by mail / express only trains 3 and 4. Weekend/holiday Youngstown-Cleveland train 625, connecting from Lake Cities train 5 at Youngstown, makes last run, along with e/b Sunday-only counterpart 630, which connected to e/b "Lake Cities" train 6 at Youngstown on Sunday. Weekday rail connection from Cleveland to "Lake Cities" train 6 at Youngstown remains as train 28 (former 628, but now running Mon-Fri only, Saturday run abolished). Passengers on train 5 advised to use Greyhound bus service Youngstown to Cleveland, train 6 passengers from Cleveland to use bus to Y'Town on weekends. Train 629 from Youngstown to Cleveland renamed 29, which along with 28 will continue to run until 1977, one year after the EL is absorbed into Conrail.
  • October 31, 1965: Trains 5 and 6 go back to being called “The Lake Cities”, from “The Worlds Fair”.
  • December 13, 1965: Trains 40 / 43, “Pocono Express” and “Twilight” between Scranton and Hoboken abolished. Trains 31 and 32 between Hornell and Buffalo abolished (Buffalo connections to 1 and 2, “Phoebe Snow”).
  • April 24, 1966: Bus service between Hoboken and Rockefeller Center in Manhattan (started by Erie RR) connecting with long-distance trains 1, 2, 5 and 6 is discontinued.
  • October 3, 1966: Commuter service in New York metro area cut back; service abolished on Northern Branch to Nyack, NY, Newark Branch to Paterson, NJ, Greenwood Lake Line to Wanaque, NJ, Old Road to Washington, NJ, Sussex Branch to Augusta and Branchville, NJ, and Carlton Hill Branch to Carlton Hill (Rutherford), NJ. Reduced service continues on Main Line to Suffern and Port Jervis, NY, Bergen County Line via Ridgewood NJ to Suffern NY, New Jersey & New York to Spring Valley, NY, Morristown Line to Dover, NJ, and Greenwood Lake - Boonton Line service to Dover and Netcong, NJ. After 1967, service on remaining lines will be gradually increased through subsidy agreement with State of New Jersey.
  • November 27, 1966: Trains 1 and 2, “Phoebe Snow” between Hoboken and Chicago, make last runs, along with trains 21 and 22, Hoboken to Binghamton connections via Port Jervis. Sleeper from Hoboken - Youngstown on trains 5 and 6 “Lake Cities” extended to Chicago (both directions).
  • Aug 1, 1967: Sleeper service on Lake Cities 5 and 6 cut back from Hoboken - Chicago to Hoboken - Marion.
  • Nov. 22, 1967: Ferryboat service from Hoboken, NJ terminal to Barclay St. in lower Manhattan is abolished. Connections to Manhattan via PATH subway and local bus line continue.
  • Oct. 29, 1967: Sleeper service on “Lake Cities” 5 and 6 cut back from Hoboken - Marion to Hoboken -Youngstown.
  • June 9, 1968: Train 17, Saturday night - Sunday AM coach-only run from Hoboken - Buffalo (in lieu of train 15), abolished.
  • April 27, 1969: Trains 10 and 15, former New York Mail / Owl, now listed as unnamed trains.
  • May 30, 1969: Trains 10 and 15, former New York Mail / Owl, make last runs; last EL service to Buffalo.

    Train 5, the Lake Cities, final run, Hoboken, NJ, January 4, 1970
  • January 4, 1970: Trains 5 and 6, Lake Cities from Hoboken to Chicago, make last runs. End of long distance passenger service on EL. Commuter service continued in New York metro area, to be re-equipped with U34CH locos and Comet I coaches starting in 1971. Trains 28 and 29 (formerly 628 and 629) continued to provide commuter service between Youngstown and Cleveland; continued in operation through Conrail takeover, making last runs on January 14,1977.