Northeastern Section - 53rd Annual Meeting - 2018

Paper No. 34-17
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


FLETCHER, Frank W., Susquehanna University (emeritus), 4 Thompson Court, Reedville, VA 22539, KOVACH, Jim T., J T Kovach & Associates PC, 375 N. 24th St., Lebanon, PA 17078, INNERS, Jon D., Pennsylvania Geological Survey (retired), 1915 Columbia Avenue, Camp Hill, PA 17011 and FLUHR, George J., Shohola Railroad and Historical Society, 249 Lackawaxen Road, Shohola, PA 18458

On 15 July 1864, a head-on collision between a W-bound 15-car prisoner-of-war train and an E-bound 50-car coal train occurred along the Erie Railway’s single-track mainline between Shohola and Lackawaxen in Pike County, PA. The prison train, carrying 833 Confederate prisoners and 122 Union soldiers, was en route to the Civil War Prison Camp at Elmira, NY. At least 50 of the Confederate prisoners, as well as 17 Union guards and 4 trainmen, lost their lives. While the major cause of the accident was failure to hold the E-bound train at Lackawaxen pending safe passage of the W-bound train, the topography and geology at the site of the crash certainly contributed to the magnitude of the tragedy.

The Erie's predecessor, the New York & Erie RR, was chartered in 1832 with the initial condition that it be confined to New York State. But in the section north of Port Jervis, NY, in the late 1840’s it was forced to the PA side of the Delaware River because of the presence of the Delaware & Hudson Canal on the E-side. It crossed the river 5 mi N of Port Jervis and continued for 30 mi in PA through terrain of the glaciated Allegheny Plateau underlain by gently N-dipping strata of the U. Devonian Catskill Fm. Construction there required the blasting of numerous rock cuts, one of the longest and deepest being King and Fuller’s cut in the braided-stream strata of the Delaware River Mbr. just beyond the curve where the collision occurred. The combination of sharp curve, deep cut, and single-track mainline was a recipe for disaster.

The SE-flowing Delaware River in the plateau above Port Jervis probably came into existence no later than the Miocene (c. 20 Ma). Since that time of reduced topographic relief, the river has cut down 500+ ft through a belt of hills irregularly cresting at 1100-1200 ft in the vicinity of Shohola and Lackawaxen. Underlain by sandstones and conglomerates of the Delaware River and Lackawaxen Mbrs., these resistant hills restricted the widening of the valley upriver from Shohola. Extreme vigilance and strict adherence to operating rules would have been required to avoid head-on wrecks on a single-track railroad through such country.

Aftermath: On 16-17 July a 76-ft-long trench was dug between the railroad and the river for the burial of the wreck’s victims. There they remained until 1911 when the bodies were exhumed and taken to Elmira for final burial.

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