"The Erie was built as a broad-gauge line, having 6 feet between the rail as opposed to the standard 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. This enabled the Erie to carry wider and larger items than it's standard-gauge competitors, but made it difficult to interchange with them. In 1880 the entire mainline of the Erie was converted to standard-gauge in a single day."


The Erie Third Rail - In 1876, the standard gauge Lehigh Valley advanced the Erie Railroad some $2 million to lay a third rail from Waverly to Buffalo so that freight no longer had to be broken at the former point and transferred to wide gauge cars. This view, discovered by the late Joseph Boyd of Elmira, shows Erie engine 199 on the mainline next to the gravel pit at Cameron Mills, which may have been a source for stone ballast. There is evidence that Lehigh Valley locomotives pulled through freights to Buffalo this way before it opened its own main line west of Waverly in 1893.

Thanks to Richard Palmer for the research and submittal of the information below extracted from local area newspapers of the time period.

Cincinnati Commercial, Jan. 4, 1879

Erie's Narrow Gauge
The Laying of the Third Rail.
Advantages of the New Gauge.

New York Tribune. - In April last of the Erie Railway reorganized, and under the new management the familiar name was changed to New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad. But the new management made other changes besides that of name. The most important of these has been change of the gauge of the road, which has been accomplished by the laying of a third rail. This work was begun in 1876, when the alteration was made on the Buffalo, and a part of the Susquehanna Division, so that narrow-gauge cars of the
Lehigh Valley Line were run from Philadelphia through to Buffalo on the Erie Road from Waverly.

Last summer the laying of the third rail was continued to Binghamton, connection being there made with Albany by the Susquehanna Railroad. The work was completed last when the additional rail was finally laid to Jersey City, and yesterday the first train passed over to Port Jervis, the end of the Eastern Division. Hereafter it will be in constant use.

Octave Chanute, Assistant Superintendent of the railroad, yesterday gave the following account of the adoption of the old gauge, and its change:
"When Stephenson built the first railroad the gauge adopted was five feet between the centers of the rails. The rails were then U- shaped, they had a trough in the center about three inches in width, for the wheel to run in. But this form was soon abandoned, because
the dirt collected in it, and the edge, or T-shaped rail was adopted. In order to adapt this to the rolling stock then in use, it was found necessary to measure the gauge on the inside of the rails, and this four-feet eight and one half inches, which thus became the standard

The managers of the Great Western Railway of England believed that more power could be gained by having a broad base to the boiler, and that greater security would be insured by a broader gauge. So they adopted seven feet. When the Erie was built three ideas
prevailed, and the six-foot or broad gauge was chosen. But these principles have since been proved to be fallacious; no advantage has been gained by the extra width, and the cost of rolling-stock has been much increased."

"What will be the advantage to the road of the new rail?"  "The great saving will be in running freight through without breaking bulk. Time and money will be saved by not having to change the loads of cars when they come on our line. We have saved the
unloading of through cars by changing trucks at Buffalo, but this cost forty cents for each car and took considerable time. The way it has been done is this: Two cars, one on broad-gauge trucks and the other on narrow, were run in side by side. By hoisting machines the cars were raised and the trucks changed; one car went on west by the
narrow gauge track and the other ran to this city on the broad-gauge. By the new regulations, cars of both gauges may be run on the same train. We have been doing that on portions of the road already provided with three rails. No difficulty is found, as we use a patent coupler, which causes a direct draft between the two widths. Much care is necessary at the switches, however, and extra caution is enjoined upon all employees. To simplify matters as much as possible, we try to keep all cars of the same width together."
"Has the company purchased any new rolling-stock for the narrow- gauge?"

"We have ordered thirty new engines, which are being made in Patterson, and 3,000 new freight cars. The present rolling-stock will not be altered but will be replaced as fast as worn out by those of narrower gauge. It would cost only about half a million to change all
the cars, but more than three times that mount would be necessary to alter new locomotives, as new boilers would be required. No change has been made in connections with other lines. It is quite probable that some arrangements may be made with other lines, such as the Midland, which meets us at Middletown, but so far the only change has
been with the Montclair and Greenwood Lake Road. Of this road's stock we bought a large share at its recent sale, and the third rail will permit the running of their trains to our depot in Jersey City.

The trains of that road have been running to the depot of the Pennsylvania Central, but tomorrow the change will be made, and hereafter all passenger and freight trains of the road will run to and from our depot only. A general notice to that effect has just
been printed. All business on that line will be noted at our offices. "John N. Abbott, General Passenger Agent, was asked if the completion of the new gauge would make any change in the running of passenger trains. "Our broad-gauge passenger and sleeping coaches," he said, "give us an advantage over other lines in the comfort of passenger. We have quite a reputation in this respect between here and Buffalo, and we expect to keep it. Through trains of broad-gauge cars will be continued over our own line and our broad-gauge connection, the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad, to Rochester, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

"To points which we don't reach by broad-gauge we shall run narrow-gauge cars, as to Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit. The fast St. Louis express, leaving here at 6 P.M., will be made up of narrow- gauge cars, to run through. We had fifty new narrow cars built for us
in the Centennial year, and placed on broad trucks, these we can change to use on the narrow gauge, if we wish. Of course, we shall build no new broad-gauge coaches, although they are pleasanter to ride in from their roominess, and run more steadily, from their broader base."



Cuba Patriot, March 23, 1883   Researched & Submitted by Richard Palmer

The Erie and the Narrow Gauges


The statement that the R.G. Taylor system of narrow gauges has been leased outright to the Erie road is both reported and denied. It is probably an error. However an arrangement has been entered into which brings these small roads into even closer communion with the Erie than has been.

They have at all times been favored by the Erie, sing at points of junction their depots, having switch room furnished, and working together in the control of freight and passenger traffic as though under one management. 

The treasurer of the Erie road,  B.W. Spencer, is treasurer of the narrow gauges, and officials of the former have been among the directors of the latter. They have been emphatically "Erie roads," and it is hard to see how they could be more intimately-connected, except under positive leases.


It is said that the new arrangement definitely provides for the transfer of traffic between the two, and that the Erie guarantees the outstanding bonds of the various narrow gauges o the amount of $1,500,000. This will raise them to the rank of prime securities.


The system includes 157 miles of road, made up of the Tonawanda Valley & Cuba, Bradford, Eldred & Cuba, the Bradford, Bordell & Kinzua, and the Bradford & Smethport road.