The Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad, with its corporate headquarters in Port Clinton, is a privately held railroad company serving major businesses in nine Eastern Pennsylvania counties, (Berks, Bradford, Carbon, Columbia, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Wyoming). The railroad runs about 320 miles from Reading PA to Mehoopany PA and it also operates the 7 mile rail line from Towanda to Monroeton in Bradford County. We offer both freight services and passenger excursion operations and we currently employ over 150 employees.
The company began operations in September of 1983, starting as a 13 mile short line, operating a state-owned branch line between Hamburg and Temple PA. Named The Blue Mountain & Reading, we were successful in rehabilitating the line, and providing service to freight customers. A passenger excursion business was also developed.
Within a few years, the BM&R took on the operations of 3 more state-owned branch lines, to provide reliable freight service to many eastern Pennsylvania Industries.
In December 1990, Conrail was looking to sell off over 150 miles of branch lines in the Anthracite Coal Regions. The BM&R took on this challenge, and expanded the company, changing the name to Reading Blue Mountain and Northern. Operations began on December 15, 1990.
The first few years saw massive amounts of work to repair the badly neglected trackage, and to develop a steady pattern of service for the many industries that relied on rail service.
In July of 1992, Conrail sold some additional track near Hazelton, to serve the Jeddo Coal Company. This would allow the bulk of all remaining rail shipments of Anthracite coal to be funneled through Reading. At the same time RBMN also acquired the connection from East Mahanoy Jct. to Oneida and the line to Delano from Schuylkill County.
In order to have better control over the supply of empty hopper-cars for coal shipments, in 1995 RBMN began to purchase a fleet of cars, starting with 265 cars dedicated to Quebec Iron & Titanium Service. By the end of 2013, RBMN has purchased over 1000 freight cars.
The RBMN had been operating from several former Conrail offices around the system. In late 1995 these offices were combined into a new corporate headquarters at Port Clinton.
As Conrail continued their program of spinning off rail lines that did not fit into its core network, the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern expanded again. In August of 1996, RBMN acquired a portion of Conrail’s Lehigh Division. Comprised of over one hundred miles of mostly ex- Lehigh Valley Railroad trackage, the Lehigh rail line stretches from the southern foot of the Pocono Mountains at Lehighton through Wilkes-Barre and Scranton and onward to Wyoming County. To connect its two divisions, RBMN negotiated trackage rights over the Carbon-County owned 18-mile railroad between Hometown and Jim Thorpe.
In the fall of 1996 Conrail announced an intention to merge with CSX. After a fierce fight over the future of Conrail, CSX ultimately agreed to split Conrail with its main rival, Norfolk Southern Railway. On June 1, 1999, NS took over all of the portions of Conrail that connected with RBMN.
To meet the demands of this expanded traffic base, in 2001 RBMN purchased a fleet of high horsepower six-axle locomotives, and retired some of the older units that had begun to wear out. RBMN was now entirely an EMD powered railroad.
In August of 2001, RBMN completed negotiations with NS and Procter & Gamble to take over exclusive service to P&G’s largest manufacturing facility, at Mehoopany, PA. Working with NS we were able to provide P&G with an excellent service and rate package, which ensured that inbound raw material continued to move by rail.
In November of 2001, RBMN reached an agreement to take over the ownership of the track within the Crestwood Industrial Park. With this agreement in place, we were able to guarantee good long-term rail service to the many customers located there.
Having worked to ensure a steady stream of customer business along our Lehigh Division, we turned our attention to reaching agreements for the use of the line as a key transportation corridor. Both Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific were interested in using the Lehigh Line as a north-south corridor for goods moving from the Northeast and Canada to the New York City market via Allentown, as well as points south and east of Reading. In June of 2002, we entered into a trackage rights agreement with NS, and in August 2002 we renewed a prior agreement with CP. Combined, these two carriers use the Lehigh Line to move over eighty thousand carloads a year.
In the summer of 2002, RBMN began a critical step to enable the direct physical connection of our two Divisions without the need to run over any foreign track. In July, we entered into a long-term lease of two abandoned railroad bridges over the Lehigh River from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. With that agreement in place, we were able to turn our attention to restoration of the bridges and rail infrastructure, and the necessary work along the Lehigh River to connect the railroads. The project would culminate in the opening of the bridge in November of 2003.
The two Divisions were now connected and the Lehigh Line had a solid business base from both on-line customers and overhead trackage rights revenues. RBMN had begun restoring the yard at Penobscot in 2000, which resulted in an agreement made in May of 2003 to have NS deliver inbound interchange cars there, allowing greatly improved car cycle time.
By the time RBMN celebrated its twentieth anniversary in the fall of 2003, we were a very successful shortline. We had built solid traffic bases on both our Lehigh and Reading Divisions, and we had put in place an excellent operation with upgraded track, locomotives, and freight cars. We were gaining a reputation for customer service and attention to detail. Evidence of our customer focus became clear to all when, in 2002, the rail industry publication Railway Age chose the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad as Regional Railroad of the Year. We won the award by creating an innovative sand/stone backhaul move, which involved three railroads and took thousands of trucks off the highway. We followed that up in 2004 when we were awarded a Marketing Award from the NS Agriculture Products Group for our outstanding business development.
In 2005, RBMN took a big step forward to expand its passenger excursion business. With the acquisition of the Lehigh Line and the new connections between Jim Thorpe and the Lehigh River Gorge, RBMN was now positioned to offer the region a quality tourist attraction. In May of 2005, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway was born. Every weekend and holiday from May to Christmas, hundreds of visitors to Jim Thorpe board our passenger coaches for a ride into the Gorge.
As our operation and business expanded, the need to upgrade facilities grew as well. In the spring of 2006, we proudly opened our brand new Penobscot Yard office building.
As RBMN grew, so did its commitment to its employees. Along with regular pay increases and profit sharing checks, the Company decided to offer its employees the best health care plan in the region, and with no deductibles! RBMN also decided to go smoke-free and instituted a policy of not hiring smokers.
With a solid freight business in hand and a growing passenger operation underway, Andy Muller decided to begin the renovation of his steam engines. At the end of 2007, No. 425 was back in service, pulling passenger trains and occasionally the company Office Car Specials, to take thousands of guests on steam excursion trips throughout our operating territory.
The RBMN system expanded again in 2009, with the addition of the seven mile Towanda line near the New York state border. This line is located in the heart of the Marcellus Shale region.
In 2011 RBMN again was recognized by Railway Age as Regional Railroad of the Year for the development of port operations for the export of anthracite coal.
In 2012 Reading & Northern entered into an agreement with CAN DO to purchase the rail assets of the Humboldt Industrial Park in Hazleton, the region's largest rail-served industrial park. Reading & Northern is scheduled to take over service to Humboldt in 2017 at the latest.
The evolution of the Reading & Northern has been a wonderful ride. You can keep abreast of the latest RBMN developments by coming to this website, and by reading our quarterly newsletter.
Thanks for your interest and your support.