Todd's Railfan Guide to

In General
Getting Here


In General

Northumberland is home to perhaps the most unique set of Pennsy Position Light (PL) signals in existence.

In addition to the signals, Northumberland offers the railfan several railroad stations, a fair size yard, and the North Shore RR.

Northumberland is in the middle of hardcore "Snake Eyes', or "Red Eye" territory.  These signals have had the RED aspect replaced with red lenses, leaving the center lamp "out" when displaying STOP.  One theory was to make the signals more readable through the fog laden valleys along the Susquehanna River.

Across the Susquehanna River is Sunbury.

I came across some old B&W pictures here

Pictures are always needed if anyone feels inclined to take 'em, send 'em, and share 'em, or if you have something to add or correct.... credit is always given! Contact info is here

Getting Here

From Harrisburg, head straight up US 11/15 about 45 miles.

It is about 35 miles south of Williamsport PA, via I-190 and PA 147.

If you're coming in from the west (Cleveland/Youngstown) or east (New York City for instance), I-80 brings you about 10 miles to the north, via exit 212.



    1      ex PRR Front St Station

The stations website is here

There are 3 depots in Northumberland, apparently all still around, the date column indicates when the depot was built.   Found here.

    2      Northumberland Yard

The arrow is pointing at the remains of the turntable.

    3      the North Shore Railroad

I have only been to Northumberland once, back in 2008, and it was impossible to catch pictures of the engines without trespassing, altho I have to admit, I was here on a Sunday with my daughter Jennifer.

The North Shore Railroad (reporting mark NSHR) is a short line railroad that operates 44 miles (71 km) of track in Northumberland, Montour, Columbia, and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania in the United States. The line runs generally northeast between Northumberland (in Northumberland County) and the unincorporated village of Beach Haven in Salem Township (in Luzerne County).

Other communities served include Danville (in Montour County), Bloomsburg, and Berwick (both in Columbia County).

The system has trackage rights via the Norfolk Southern line. These allow the North Shore Railroad to connect to the south with the Shamokin Valley Railroad (at Sunbury), and to the north and west with the Union County Industrial Railroad (at Milton), the Lycoming Valley Railroad (at Muncy and at Linden) and the Nittany and Bald Eagle Railroad (at Lock Haven).

The rail line runs generally northeast along the north shore of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River, roughly following U.S. Route 11. There are 10 miles (16 km) of SEDA-COG Joint Rail Authority track in Northumberland County, 12 miles (19 km) in Montour County, and 15 in Columbia County. Beach Haven is just east of Berwick and the Columbia County - Luzerne County line.

The corporate offices are located in Northumberland, where there is a connection to the Norfolk Southern Railway line (as well as an indirect connection to Canadian Pacific Railway service).

Quick RR History: The North Shore Railroad's line first was built in 1852 as part of the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg Railroad. This was in turn acquired by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad in 1873. The DL&W merged with the Erie Railroad in 1960, forming the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, and was absorbed into Conrail in 1976.

SEDA-COG JRA was formed in July, 1983 to continue to provide rail service to communities whose rail lines Conrail had decided to abandon. In 1984 the JRA took over the line along the north shore of the Susquehanna River from Northumberland to Beach Haven and renamed it the "North Shore Railroad".

The railroad's Facebook page is here

Photo from Wikipedia, taken by Ruhrfisch

    4      Susquehanna River Bridge




    1      One of a Kind PL Signals

These two signals are perhaps the most unique Pennsylvania Railroad type Position Light (PL) signals to be found anywhere, bar none.  The Domino type signals used at the Chicago Union Station approach are similar, but were a standardized design so they appeared in the catalog.  No-one I am aware of knows anything about their history.  Our best guess is that they are custom made by the Pennsy. 

The reasoning for these signals is the close clearance on the bridge coming over from the Sunbury side.  If full size PL signals were used, they would not have been seen from an approaching train.




Here is yet another view of the signals from the engineers viewpoint,
Thanks to Rob Blackford, who was riding up the Buffalo Line in a Sperry Car.

A Domino signal for comparison purposes.

    2      Signals at the Station

Signals for eastbound traffic headed to Sunbury.



USGS Quadrangle Map From 1891


Sunbury, originally the Indian town of Shamokin, was laid out as the county seat in 1772.  Because of Sunbury’s location at the forks of the Susquehanna River, by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was the hub of Northumberland County.  The seven original townships in Northumberland County, also created in 1772, included Bald Eagle, Buffalo, Penn’s, Turbot, Augusta, Wyoming, and Muncy.  The seven townships were divided and subdivided into new townships and counties as areas grew in population and the need for local government increased.  Sunbury remains the county seat in Northumberland County. Of the seven original townships, only Turbot and Augusta were located in what is now Northumberland County.  As these large sections of land began to develop and more settlers moved into the region, pressure for localized government was exerted until new communities were formed.

The line was originally chartered on April 8, 1826 as the Danville and Pottsville Railroad, making it the third oldest line in the United States.  It was to run from the Ferry House opposite Danville, Pa. to the Schuylkill Canal at Pottsville, Pa.  Before construction began, the terminus was changed from Danville to Sunbury.

Construction began in July 1834 on the 20 mile section between Sunbury and Shamokin and was completed in the summer of 1835.  The line was soon extended to Mt. Carmel, Pa.

The transportation of Anthracite Coal was the principal business of the rail road.  Coal was brought from the mines in two ton dump cars pulled by horses or mules.  The road entered Sunbury through Raspberry Alley, out to the river front to wharves, where the coal was dumped into canal boats to be taken across the river to the canal and then to market.  However, with the collapse of the Canal System, the line was never extended to Pottsville!

The railroads of the day were very different from what we usually think.  The rails were wooden stringers topped with flat iron bars, and the motive power was horses and mules!  The first passenger cars were the "Shamokin" and the "Mahonoy" and were each pulled by two horses.  In 1837, 3 small steam engines, the "North Star", "the Mountaineer", and the "Pioneer", were purchased and put to work on the road.  In 1839, the road went back to using 'Horse Power" because the weight of the steam engines proved to be too heavy for the track.  In 1852 the line became the first rail line in the world to use iron T rails made by the nearby Danville Iron Company, and the line secured six more steam engines.  It was over these tracks, that in 1861, the first troops from this area left for service in the Civil War.  The Line went through several name changes before becoming the Shamokin Valley Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.  Passenger service on this line continued until 1938.

The Shamokin, Sunbury, and Lewisburg Railroad was chartered in 1882, and was absorbed by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in 1883.  This line was built on the opposite shore of the Susquehanna River and followed the route of the old canal system to Sunbury.  It then crossed over the River and paralleled the Shamokin Valley Branch through our area.  In Shamokin, the two Railroad Stations were only one block apart and the tracks were within several yards of each Passenger service on this line continued until Friday, June 28, 1963, when No. 863, the "King Coal" made the final run of her daily passenger service between Shamokin and Philadelphia.

Completed on August 6, 1911, the Northumberland Classification Yard contained an area of 700 acres and 70 miles of track, round house, and shops.  During it's 1950's, over 1500 railroad cars passed through the yard each day for receiving, dispatching, or reclassifying!

Before the opening of the Saint Lawrence Sea Way, the Shamokin Valley Branch was used to haul iron ore from the docks on Lake Erie to the Lehigh Valley Railroad interchange at Mt. Carmel on its way to the Bethlehem Steel Mills.  During the 1950's the Shamokin Valley Branch was one of the last to give up her Steam engines.  The Pennsylvania Railroad used four I1's to pull and push 100 ore cars over the 2% grades of the line between Northumberland and Mt. Carmel.  Due to the weight of the iron ore, it could only be loaded directly over the trucks to prevent buckling of the hoppers.  At the Lehigh Valley interchange, the train was broken into three sections and the Lehigh Valley used four "modern diesel engines" to haul each section! Twelve "modern diesels" to do what four of the mighty PRR I1 steam engines could do!

The above describes the railroads of the area needed to build a model RR layout: The Lower Anthracite Model Railroad Club is located on the second floor of the American Legion Building (above the Public Library) at 210 East Independence Street, Shamokin PA.  Our Club has built and operates: The Shamokin Lines which is a 3,000 square foot HO scale model railroad.  The area being modeled is Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.  We begin at the Pennsylvania Railroad yards in Northumberland, Pa, through the City of Sunbury, and then follow the 27 mile long Shamokin Valley Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the lines of the Reading Railroad that paralleled it, (sometimes within a few yards), and the interchange with the Lehigh Valley Railroad in Mt. Carmel.

I found the above here

The settlement of Northumberland County is related to the development of the transportation system throughout the County.   Many of the routes in Northumberland County were established by the original Native American inhabitants, who had an elaborate system of trade routes that connected much of Northumberland County.  Generally the trade routes followed the natural contour of the land, covering natural stream beds, flat lands, and gently sloping grade levels over mountains.  As the white settlers moved into Northumberland County, the Indian trails were replaced by bridle paths supporting travel on horseback.  The bridle paths gave way to the roads and highways that supported travel by wagons and the movement of herds of animals.  By 1885 canals and railroads had been constructed, often paralleling the Centre Turnpike (present day Route 61), thereby removing much of the heavy, bulky freight that had the potential to generate the greatest revenue for the road.

The construction of the Pennsylvania Canal was envisioned as part of the longest chain of canal navigation in the world supporting an unbroken line of internal navigation uniting the Chesapeake Bay with Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and the Hudson River.  The idea to connect these interior waterways with the sea had been visualized by William Penn in 1690.  The need for a means of transportation in order to establish an economic base for the previously separated counties, which had only primitive means of distributing their products, led to the establishment of six divisions of the Pennsylvania canal.  The Susquehanna Division was formed in Northumberland County.  The Susquehanna Division stretched 39 miles along the west side of the river to the end of the bridge at Northumberland. In the Susquehanna Division, two branches existed: a) the North Branch connecting Northumberland with Naticoke; and b) the West Branch connecting Northumberland with Muncy.

By 1838, only ten years after its inception, the canal system had been rendered useless.  The advent of the railroads, coupled with the cost of the canal system in Pennsylvania, led to its failure.  The Northern Central Railroad was building along the east shore of the Susquehanna River, reaching Sunbury in 1858.  By 1858 the railroads completely swallowed the canal system in Northumberland County.  For years, the railroad was the major employer in the Sunbury area.  The history of the railroads in Northumberland County is bound to the history of coal.  It was the demand for anthracite that was the direct cause of the construction of nearly every rail line in Northumberland County.  When the demand for coal dropped off, the railroads went into a decline with the result that every rail line in Northumberland County went bankrupt.  In Northumberland County there was not enough industry replacing coal to keep up the demand for rail service and what industry that did appear was generally not rail-oriented.  Encouraged in the 19th Century by the need for an economical fuel located near metropolitan centers, anthracite prospered until the beginning of the 20th Century when, plagued by work strikes and environmental legislation, new energy sources appeared and anthracite began a rapid decline.

I found the above here


Disclaimers: Every effort has been made to make sure that the information contained on this map and in this railfan guide is correct.  Once in a while, an error may creep in, especially if restaurants or gas stations open, close, or change names.  Most of my maps are a result of personal observation after visiting these locations.  I have always felt that a picture is worth a thousand words", and I feel annotated maps such as the ones I work up do the same justice for the railfan over a simple text description of the area.  Since the main focus of my website is railroad signals, the railfan guides are oriented towards the signal fan being able to locate them.  Since most of us railheads don't have just trains as a hobby, I have also tried to point out where other interesting sites of the area are.... things like fire stations, neat bridges, or other significant historical or geographical feature.  While some may feel they shouldn't be included, these other things tend to make MY trips a lot more interesting.... stuff like where the C&O Canal has a bridge going over a river (the Monocacy Aqueduct) between Point of Rocks and Gaithersburg MD, it's way cool to realize this bridge to support a water "road" over a river was built in the 1830's!!!   Beware: ANYTHING from Wikipedia must be treated as possibly being inaccurate, wrong, or not true.


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NEW 10/01/2012
Last Modified 07-Aug-2016