Daily Post: Lackawanna’s Paulins Kill Viaduct


An Eerie Shadow of Another Era.

Paulins Kill as captured on Fujichrome slide film with a Contax G2 Rangefinder with 45mm lens.
Paulins Kill as captured on Fujichrome slide film with a Contax G2 Rangefinder with 45mm lens. The old ‘telegraph pole’ (code line) provides a sense of scale.

Here we have an immense abandoned bridge, rising above the trees like some Tolkienesq ruin from an ancient empire, the vestige of some lost civilization.

I was researching for my book North American Railroad Bridges in March 2007, when Pat Yough and I ferreted out the former Lackawanna Railroad Bridge in western New Jersey at Paulins Kill.

This was no ordinary railroad bridge. Lackawanna’s Slateford Cutoff (Port Morris, New Jersey, 28.5 miles to Slateford Junction, Pennsylvania) was built beginning in 1908 to shorten its mainline and lower operating costs by reducing gradient and curvature. The line was showcase for reinforced concrete construction.

Here’s an excerpt of my text on the Paulins Kill bridge:

The seven-span Paulins Kill Viaduct was 1,100 feet long and 117 feet tall at its highest point, and required an estimated 43,212 cubic yards of concrete and 735 tons of steel.

It was part of a super railroad and one of the best engineered lines of the early 20th century. Here the vision of Lackawanna president William H. Truesdale prevailed to invest private capital to the improve efficiency and capacity of his railroad.

Yet, by the 1970s this railroad was no longer valued. Its route was deemed redundant, its traditional traffic had vanished, and so Conrail which reluctantly inherited the line from Erie-Lackawanna, abandoned it.

While this was a gross waste of infrastructure and, to my mind, demonstrated a lack of vision on the part of planners and governments, it does make for fascinating photographs.

Someday, hopefully, the Slateford Cutoff may again see trains.

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