Northumberland is home to perhaps the most unique set
of Pennsy Position Light (PL) signals in existence.
In addition to the signals, Northumberland offers the
railfan several railroad stations, a fair size yard, and the
North Shore RR.
Northumberland is in the middle of hardcore "Snake
Eyes', or "Red Eye" territory. These signals have had the RED aspect
replaced with red lenses, leaving the center lamp "out" when displaying
STOP. One theory was to make the signals more readable through the fog
laden valleys along the Susquehanna River.
There are 3 depots in Northumberland, apparently all still
around, the date column indicates when the depot was built.
The arrow is pointing at the remains of the turntable.
the North Shore Railroad
I have only been to
Northumberland once, back in 2008, and it was impossible to
catch pictures of the engines without trespassing, altho I have
to admit, I was here on a Sunday with my daughter Jennifer.
The North Shore Railroad (reporting mark NSHR)
is a short line railroad that operates 44 miles (71 km) of track
in Northumberland, Montour, Columbia, and Luzerne counties in
Pennsylvania in the United States. The line runs generally
northeast between Northumberland (in Northumberland County) and
the unincorporated village of Beach Haven in Salem Township (in
Other communities served include Danville
(in Montour County), Bloomsburg, and Berwick (both in Columbia
The system has trackage rights via the
Norfolk Southern line. These allow the North Shore Railroad to
connect to the south with the Shamokin Valley Railroad (at
Sunbury), and to the north and west with the Union County
Industrial Railroad (at Milton), the Lycoming Valley Railroad
(at Muncy and at Linden) and the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad
(at Lock Haven).
The rail line runs generally northeast
along the north shore of the North Branch of the Susquehanna
River, roughly following U.S. Route 11. There are 10 miles (16
km) of SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority track in Northumberland
County, 12 miles (19 km) in Montour County, and 15 in Columbia
County. Beach Haven is just east of Berwick and the Columbia
County - Luzerne County line.
The corporate offices are located in
Northumberland, where there is a connection to the Norfolk
Southern Railway line (as well as an indirect connection to
Canadian Pacific Railway service).
was formed in July, 1983 to continue to provide rail
service to communities whose rail lines Conrail had
decided to abandon. In 1984 the JRA took over the
line along the north shore of the Susquehanna River
from Northumberland to Beach Haven and renamed it
the "North Shore Railroad".
These two signals are perhaps the most unique Pennsylvania
Railroad type Position Light (PL) signals to be found anywhere, bar none.
The Domino type signals used at the Chicago Union Station approach are
similar, but were a standardized design so they appeared in the catalog.
No-one I am aware of knows anything about their history. Our best
guess is that they are custom made by the Pennsy.
The reasoning for these signals is the close clearance on
the bridge coming over from the Sunbury side. If full size PL signals
were used, they would not have been seen from an approaching train.
Here is yet another view of the
signals from the engineers viewpoint,
Thanks to Rob Blackford, who was riding up the Buffalo Line in a Sperry Car.
A Domino signal for comparison purposes.
Signals at the Station
Signals for eastbound traffic headed to Sunbury.
USGS Quadrangle Map From 1891
Sunbury, originally the Indian town of Shamokin, was laid
out as the county seat in 1772. Because of Sunbury’s location at the
forks of the Susquehanna River, by the beginning of the nineteenth century
it was the hub of Northumberland County. The seven original townships
in Northumberland County, also created in 1772, included Bald Eagle,
Buffalo, Penn’s, Turbot, Augusta, Wyoming, and Muncy. The seven
townships were divided and subdivided into new townships and counties as
areas grew in population and the need for local government increased.
Sunbury remains the county seat in Northumberland County. Of the seven
original townships, only Turbot and Augusta were located in what is now
Northumberland County. As these large sections of land began to
develop and more settlers moved into the region, pressure for localized
government was exerted until new communities were formed.
The line was originally chartered on April 8,
1826 as the Danville and Pottsville Railroad, making it the third oldest
line in the United States. It was to run from the Ferry House opposite
Danville, Pa. to the Schuylkill Canal at Pottsville, Pa. Before
construction began, the terminus was changed from Danville to Sunbury.
Construction began in July 1834 on the 20 mile
section between Sunbury and Shamokin and was completed in the summer of
1835. The line was soon extended to Mt. Carmel, Pa.
The transportation of Anthracite Coal was the principal business of the rail
road. Coal was brought from the mines in two ton dump cars pulled by
horses or mules. The road entered Sunbury through Raspberry Alley, out
to the river front to wharves, where the coal was dumped into canal boats to
be taken across the river to the canal and then to market. However,
with the collapse of the Canal System, the line was never extended to
The railroads of the day were very different from what we usually think.
The rails were wooden stringers topped with flat iron bars, and the motive
power was horses and mules! The first passenger cars were the
"Shamokin" and the "Mahonoy" and were each pulled by two horses. In
1837, 3 small steam engines, the "North Star", "the Mountaineer", and the
"Pioneer", were purchased and put to work on the road. In 1839, the
road went back to using 'Horse Power" because the weight of the steam
engines proved to be too heavy for the track. In 1852 the line became
the first rail line in the world to use iron T rails made by the nearby
Danville Iron Company, and the line secured six more steam engines. It
was over these tracks, that in 1861, the first troops from this area left
for service in the Civil War. The Line went through several name
changes before becoming the Shamokin Valley Branch of the Pennsylvania
Railroad. Passenger service on this line continued until 1938.
The Shamokin, Sunbury, and Lewisburg Railroad was chartered in 1882, and was
absorbed by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1883. This line
was built on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River and followed the
route of the old canal system to Sunbury. It then crossed over the
River and paralleled the Shamokin Valley Branch through our area. In
Shamokin, the two Railroad Stations were only one block apart and the tracks
were within several yards of each Passenger service on this line continued
until Friday, June 28, 1963, when No. 863, the "King Coal" made the final
run of her daily passenger service between Shamokin and Philadelphia.
Completed on August 6, 1911, the Northumberland Classification Yard
contained an area of 700 acres and 70 miles of track, round house, and
shops. During it's 1950's, over 1500 railroad cars passed through the
yard each day for receiving, dispatching, or reclassifying!
Before the opening of the Saint Lawrence Sea Way, the Shamokin Valley Branch
was used to haul iron ore from the docks on Lake Erie to the Lehigh Valley
Railroad interchange at Mt. Carmel on its way to the Bethlehem Steel Mills.
During the 1950's the Shamokin Valley Branch was one of the last to give up
her Steam engines. The Pennsylvania Railroad used four I1's to pull
and push 100 ore cars over the 2% grades of the line between Northumberland
and Mt. Carmel. Due to the weight of the iron ore, it could only be
loaded directly over the trucks to prevent buckling of the hoppers. At
the Lehigh Valley interchange, the train was broken into three sections and
the Lehigh Valley used four "modern diesel engines" to haul each section!
Twelve "modern diesels" to do what four of the mighty PRR I1 steam engines
The above describes the railroads of the area needed
to build a model RR layout: The Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club is
located on the second floor of the American Legion Building (above the
Public Library) at 210 East Independence Street, Shamokin PA. Our Club
has built and operates: The Shamokin Lines
which is a 3,000 square foot HO scale model railroad. The area being
modeled is Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. We begin at the
Pennsylvania Railroad yards in Northumberland, Pa, through the City of
Sunbury, and then follow the 27 mile long Shamokin Valley Branch of the
Pennsylvania Railroad, the lines of the Reading Railroad that paralleled it,
(sometimes within a few yards), and the interchange with the Lehigh Valley
Railroad in Mt. Carmel.
The settlement of Northumberland County is related to the
development of the transportation system throughout the County.
Many of the routes in Northumberland County were established by the original
Native American inhabitants, who had an elaborate system of trade routes
that connected much of Northumberland County. Generally the trade
routes followed the natural contour of the land, covering natural stream
beds, flat lands, and gently sloping grade levels over mountains. As
the white settlers moved into Northumberland County, the Indian trails were
replaced by bridle paths supporting travel on horseback. The bridle
paths gave way to the roads and highways that supported travel by wagons and
the movement of herds of animals. By 1885 canals and railroads had
been constructed, often paralleling the Centre Turnpike (present day Route
61), thereby removing much of the heavy, bulky freight that had the
potential to generate the greatest revenue for the road.
The construction of the Pennsylvania Canal was envisioned as part of the
longest chain of canal navigation in the world supporting an unbroken line
of internal navigation uniting the Chesapeake Bay with Lake Erie, Lake
Ontario, Lake Champlain, and the Hudson River. The idea to connect
these interior waterways with the sea had been visualized by William Penn in
1690. The need for a means of transportation in order to establish an
economic base for the previously separated counties, which had only
primitive means of distributing their products, led to the establishment of
six divisions of the Pennsylvania canal. The Susquehanna Division was
formed in Northumberland County. The Susquehanna Division stretched 39
miles along the west side of the river to the end of the bridge at
Northumberland. In the Susquehanna Division, two branches existed: a) the
North Branch connecting Northumberland with Naticoke; and b) the West Branch
connecting Northumberland with Muncy.
By 1838, only ten years after its inception, the canal system had been
rendered useless. The advent of the railroads, coupled with the cost
of the canal system in Pennsylvania, led to its failure. The
Northern Central Railroad was building
along the east shore of the Susquehanna River, reaching Sunbury in 1858.
By 1858 the railroads completely swallowed the canal system in
Northumberland County. For years, the railroad was the major employer
in the Sunbury area. The history of the railroads in Northumberland
County is bound to the history of coal. It was the demand for
anthracite that was the direct cause of the construction of nearly every
rail line in Northumberland County. When the demand for coal dropped
off, the railroads went into a decline with the result that every rail line
in Northumberland County went bankrupt. In Northumberland County there
was not enough industry replacing coal to keep up the demand for rail
service and what industry that did appear was generally not rail-oriented.
Encouraged in the 19th Century by the need for an economical fuel located
near metropolitan centers, anthracite prospered until the beginning of the
20th Century when, plagued by work strikes and environmental legislation,
new energy sources appeared and anthracite began a rapid decline.
Disclaimers: Every effort has
been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this
railfan guide is correct. Once in a while, an error may creep in,
especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.
Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these
locations. I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words",
and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the
railfan over a simple text description of the area. Since the main focus
of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the
signal fan being able to locate them. Since most of us railheads don't have just
trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites
of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other
significant historical or geographical feature. While some may feel they
shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more
interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to
realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the
1830's!!! Beware: ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as
possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.