The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway (W&LE) is a Class I railroad that operates mostly within Ohio. Throughout its long history, it has been a part of the NIckel Plate, Norfolk & Western and Norfolk Southern. In 1989, the original W&LE was dissolved as a corporate entity only to be renewed as the the W&LE in 1990 by a group of investors, acquiring most of the original W&LE routes from Norfolk Southern.

Tracks through Adena

Tracks through Adena


The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad (W&LE) was established on April 6, 1871 with the goal of connecting a site near Martins Ferry, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Sandusky and Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie.1 The railroad wanted to tap into Ohio coal deposits that the PRR was ignoring for mines in Pennsylvania.6 Capitalists were willing to construct the line at $15,000 per mile provided that citizens along the route would subscribe $10,000 per mile. By the end of 1871, all of the right-of-way within six miles of Wooster, with the exception of a dozen farms, was secured. A subscription of nearly $1 million had also been received.

Construction began in early 1872 but a lawsuit filed by a taxpayer halted any work on the line.6 The suit claimed that a $300,000 grant by the city of Wheeling to the W&LE was illegal. Not soon after, a nationwide financial panic set, delaying the railroad for five years.

The W&LE, originally conceived as a standard gauge line, was constructed as a narrow gauge between Huron, along Lake Erie, and Huron, a distance of 12.5 miles.1 The route between Huron and Milan followed the Huron River while the route from Milan to Norwalk followed an old canal. Service began on May 31, 1877 but by December, there were fears that the railroad project could be stalled due to claims of fraud. The ambitious project was abandoned in 1879.6

In 1880, Jay Gould, who intended to complete the W&LE as a freight route between the Wabash Railroad in Toledo and the Central Railroad of New Jersey, began purchasing W&LE securities.1 The route that was selected was from Toledo to Sandusky, then onward to Huron, Norwalk, Orville and southeast to Wheeling.

The W&LE was in operation between Huron and Massillon in January 1882, to Fremont in April and to the east bank of the Maumee River in Toledo by July.1 6 A bridge over the Maumee was completed in August, along with an eastward extension to Zoar Station (Valley Junction).6

Gould then negotiated trackage rights over the C&P to Dover in September 1882 and began operating the C&M in April 1883.1 6

Further east, work was progressing on Folk’s Station Tunnel east of Jewett.1 The tunnel, 450-feet in length, was constructed by the Rexford Brothers from August 1888 to July 1889 and passed under the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railroad’s Cadiz Branch. An earlier tunnel, begun in the 1870’s, was abandoned. By 1889, the W&LE had reached Martins Ferry, across the Ohio River from Wheeling.6

In 1891, the W&LE completed a branch to Steubenville.By the 1900’s, Adena was the hub of coal mining activity.9 Located 14 miles west of Martins Ferry, the town boasted 17 deep coal mines and five strip coal mines that produced 17,000 tons of coal daily.

On October 23, 1930, two men were killed and a third seriously injured when a railroad tunnel northwest of Adena partially collapsed on a passing freight train caboose.10 Approximately 300 feet of the 800 feet tunnel had fallen in.11 The victims were recovered after six hours of excavation surrounded by a crowd of 3,000 that had gathered around to watch progress of the rescue.10


The oldest predecessor to the W&LE was the Carrollton & Lodi Railroad in 1837 to connect Carrollton and Lodi to the Sandy Beaver Canal.1 In 1846, the railroad was reorganized as the Carroll County Railroad (CC) which was amended in March 1850. The CC provided service beginning between Carrollton and Oneida beginning in May 1853. At Oneida, it connected with the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad’s (C&P) Tuscarawas Branch.5 Despite the connection, the railroad could not pay down its debt.3 It was sold to two individuals in 1859 who operated it for several years before selling it in February 1866 to a group of investors who reorganized the railroad as the Carrollton & Oneida Railroad (C&O).

E.R. Eckley, a Carrollton lawyer, former congressman and a general of the Civil War, formed the Ohio & Toledo Railroad in May 1872, with the goal of building a railroad between Toledo and the Ohio River via Massillon.5 Eckley purchased the Carrollton & Oneida Railroad in July 1873 for just $1 and rebuilt the line. The railroad opened with an extension to Minerva in October 1874.

The Ohio & Toledo went bankrupt in 1878 and was acquired by the Youngstown & Connotton Valley Railroad (Y&CV), organized in August 1877 too build a line between Bowerston and Youngstown.5 The Y&CV eventually built a line from Minerva to Canton by May 1880. An extension to Sherrodsville opened in January 1882. The railroad was renamed the Connotton Valley Railway (CV) in June 1880.

The CV opened another extension to Bedford in July 1881 and to Cleveland in November 1882.5 It then proceeded south to Navarre in July 1882 and to Beach City in December. It reached Coschocton in June 1883 and to Zanesville by June 1889.

In May 1885, the CV reorganized as the Cleveland, Canton & Southern Railroad (CC&S). The crew converted the narrow gauge line to standard gauge in a single day on November 18, 1888.5 Traffic declined on the CC&S after many of Cleveland’s industries switched from coal to oil to fire their furnaces.6

The CC&S went into foreclosure in 1899 and was sold to the W&LE, becoming W&LE’s Cleveland Division.


The Ohio & Toledo Railway (O&T) was formed on May 7, 1872 by E.R. Eckley, where Eckley acquired a line from Carrollton to Oneida.1 The line was extended south to Dell Roy and northeast to Minerva. Eckley intended the O&T to connect to the Painesville & Youngstown and the Alliance & Lake Erie Railroad (A&LE) near Youngstown. In 1875, the Painesville, Canton & Bridgeport Railroad was incorporated to construct the railroad between Minerva and Painesville, but the only section built was between Chagrin Falls and Solon in 1877.


The Lake Erie, Alliance & Wheeling Railroad (LEA&W) was formed by Hugh Bleakley of Alliance to operate from Bridgeport, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Fairport Harbor at Painesville.4 It was incorporated on February 16, 1874 and ground was broken for the narrow gauge in Alliance on July 31, 1875.

The plan was to connect the Painesville & Youngstown (P&Y) near Southington to Bridgeport by the way of Alliance, Bowerston and Cadiz.4 F.W. Kellogg was hired to build the railroad for $3,000 and $14,000 in bonds per mile. The LEA&W reached Palmyra by 1876 and Braceville along the Erie Railroad in May 1877.

Unable to pay its debts, the railroad was sold in May 1878 to the Cleveland Rolling Mill Company who reorganized the railroad as the Alliance & Lake Erie Railroad (A&LE) with the goal of building north to Fairport Harbor.4 The railroad was only able to get as far north as Phalanx on the Erie Railroad’s Cleveland Branch by 1879. The railroad was still unsuccessful and in March 1881, was passed to the newly organized Cleveland, Youngstown & Pittsburgh Railway (CY&P) who had intended to connect the the P&Y near Southington to the Connotton Valley (CV) near Streetsboro. The CY&P merged the A&LE into itself in July 1882 but soon changed plans. It proposed instead to extend the A&LE south to the coalfields and to convert the narrow gauge to standard gauge.

By November 1883, the railroad had been converted to standard gauge and extended south to Bergholz.4 The CY&P was put into receivership in March 1884 and reorganized in 1887 as the Lake Erie, Alliance & Southern (LEA&S). The line was operated as the Alliance & Northern Railroad until 1901, when the company was renamed the Lake Erie, Alliance & Wheeling Railroad. The railroad was extended south to Dillonvale, only 17 miles from Wheeling, but nothing further was built.

In 1905, the LEA&W was passed into the hands of the New York Central (NYC) and the railroad, which connected Phalanx to Dillonvalle, became a NYC branch used mostly coal hauls.4 The railroad was abandoned between Phalanx and Braceville by the NYC in 1962 and Braceville and Newton Falls by the Penn Central, NYC’s successor, in 1969. It was then abandoned between Newton Falls and Alliance by Conrail, Penn Central’s successor, in 1976.


In 1914, the Adena, Cadiz & New Athens Railway (AC&NA) was formed to construct a six-mile railroad from Adena west to Duncanwood (Duncan) to serve the Short Creek Coal Company.17 The line was completed in November 1917. In the same year, the AC&NA was acquired by the W&LE.


In 1949, the W&LE was leased by the New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (Nickel Plate Road).

Near Cadiz, the Hanna Coal Company began strip mine operations and constructed the Georgetown Coal Preparation Plant in 1951.14 The plant, one of the largest in the world, could process 1,275 tons per hour of clean coal. In response, both the Pennsylvania Railroad and the AC&NA built branches to serve the Coal Preparation Plant.16 The AC&NA connection, 11½ miles in length, was named the Georgetown Branch by the W&LE and connected the coal preparation plant to Adena. The AC&NA branch was an extension of their line from Duncanwood west to Georgetown.

Additionally,Georgetown was also connected by a 108 mile coal pipeline, the first long-distance pipeline for coal built in the world.15 Opened on September 12, 1956, it could move more than one million tons of coal per year to the Cleveland Illuminating Company Eastlake, Ohio power plant.

In 1964, the Nickel Plate Road merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W). In 1982, the N&W was merged with the Southern Railway to form Norfolk Southern (NS). In 1989, the original W&LE was dissolved as a corporate entity only to be renewed as the the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway in 1990 by a group of investors, acquiring most of the original W&LE routes from NS.7 The new W&LE also incorporated portions of the Pittsburgh & West Virginia (PWV) and the Akron, Canton & Youngstown (ACY) lines. The W&LE boasted 576 miles of tracks and combined with trackage rights from NS, could run on 840 miles.

The W&LE restructured in 1994 which placed the railroad in better financial terms.7 It then acquired the Akron & Barberton Belt Railroad and some Conrail lines in the Akron, Ohio area, renaming it the Akron Barberton Cluster Railway.

In October 1997, the W&LE filed a notice to abandon the Georgetown Branch, from the former Georgetown Coal Preparation Plant to Adena.12 No traffic had moved over the line since 1995 when the coal preparation plant closed. It was subsequently approved and the line was placed out of service.

On July 1, 1999, the railroad filed a notice to abandon 18 miles of its Valley Line, from milepost 188½ near Unionvale to milepost 205½ near Warrenton.13 The proposal included the stations of East Cadiz (milepost 185), Kenwood (milepost 189), Adena (milepost 192), Dillonvale (milepost 199.9) and Warrenton (milepost 204). The request was subsequently approved and the line was placed out of service.

Sources