|Lehigh and Hudson River Railway|
|Dates of operation||1882–1976|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||97 miles (156 kilometres)|
|Headquarters||Warwick, New York|
The Lehigh and Hudson River Railway (L&HR) was the smallest of the six railroads that were merged into Conrail in 1976. It was a bridge line running northeast-southwest across northwestern New Jersey, connecting the line to the Poughkeepsie Bridge at Maybrook, New York with Easton, Pennsylvania, where it interchanged with various other companies.
The Warwick Valley Railroad was chartered March 8, 1860 to build a line from Warwick to Greycourt, New York on the New York & Erie Railroad. It was opened in 1862, and until 1880, when it narrowed its tracks from 6 feet to standard gauge, it operated with Erie cars and locomotives.
The line was extended southwest to serve iron mines, then all the way to the Delaware River at Belvidere, New Jersey, as the Lehigh & Hudson River Railroad (L&HR) in 1882. The construction of the Poughkeepsie Bridge across the Hudson River prompted a 10-mile extension from Greycourt to Maybrook, New York, opened in 1890. (The bridge was begun by Pennsylvania Railroad [PRR] interests; by the time it was opened, it was part of the Central New England Railway, which soon came under control of the Reading Company [RDG].) At the other end of the line, the Delaware River was bridged and the L&HR and PRR traded trackage rights: L&HR over PRR between Belvidere and Phillipsburg, New Jersey and PRR over L&HR to access the Poughkeepsie Bridge.
Initial traffic was agricultural, but soon coal became predominant. The principal industry of the L&HR was a mine and crushing plant of the New Jersey Zinc Company in Sterling Hill, New Jersey, which was reached via a branch originating in Franklin, New Jersey. The purchase of the CNE and Poughkeepsie Bridge by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH) turned the L&HR into a bridge route. At the insistence of the NH, the L&HR was purchased in 1905 by several major railroads to ensure the NH's connections with those lines.
From October 1912 until January 1916, the L&HR hosted the PRR's Federal Express passenger trains on the Poughkeepsie Bridge Route between Phillipsburg and Maybrook. With the completion of the Hell Gate Bridge in New York City on September 9, 1917, the Federal Express resumed service via Penn Station and the NH.
The only major change in ownership between 1929 and 1975 was that the 20% interest held by Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company, owner of the Lehigh & New England Railroad, passed more or less equally to the PRR and Lehigh Valley Railroad (LVRR) about 1950. Ownership in 1975 (prior to being merged in Conrail) was as follows:
Traffic patterns began to change in the 1960s. The merger of the Erie Railroad and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (forming the Erie Lackawanna Railway) shifted traffic off the L&HR to the former Erie line, which connected directly with the NH. With the creation of the Penn Central, traffic between New England and the South that had moved over the Poughkeepsie Bridge was rerouted through Selkirk, New York via the ex-New York Central Railroad West Shore and Boston & Albany lines.
L&HR filed for bankruptcy protection on April 18, 1972. What little traffic remained disappeared when the Poughkeepsie Bridge burned on May 8, 1974. L&HR's property transferred to Conrail on April 1, 1976.
Post-bankruptcy, the L&HR continued to operate a nocturnal daily freight. During the mid-1970s, the L&HR became part of a proposal to run "Bunny Ski Trains" between Hoboken, New Jersey and the Playboy Resort (Great Gorge) in Vernon, New Jersey. The proposed service, which would have run on weekends during the winter, would have retrieved passengers westbound along the EL's Morristown Line to Netcong, New Jersey, then run along a short section of the remaining Sussex Branch to Andover Junction in Andover, New Jersey, and then northbound along the L&HR to the Playboy Club. The service would have utilized EL's new commuter consists, but was met with opposition from EL management, which was anticipating a merger with other northeastern U.S. railroads and did not want to enter into a venture that it viewed as a potential money-loser. The Bunny Ski Train remained a viable proposal until the remaining vestige of the Sussex Branch was removed in July 1977.
The Belvidere-Sparta Junction section was abandoned during the Conrail era, with trackage removed in 1988 when the right-of-way was acquired by land developer Gerald Turco. This was subsequently sold to the State of New Jersey for use as the Pequest Wildlife Management Area Trail and Paulinskill Valley Trail, both rail trails. The line from Warwick to Campbell Hall, New York is currently leased to the Middletown & New Jersey Railroad (MNJ).
In New Jersey, the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railway (NYS&W) owns the L&HR line north of Sparta to the state line. North of the state line, it is owned by NS which had acquired the line during the breakup of Conrail. Both portions of the line are leased to and operated by MNJ. The line was conveyed to Conrail and subsequently acquired by NS and NYS&W, who lease their portions to MNJ.