When the Lackawanna and Western RR was formed in 1851 a 53 mile line was created from Scranton PA to Great Bend PA. Part of this line included a the need for a tunnel through Tunkhannock Mountain near Nicholson PA. Work began on a 2250 ft bore while trains used a temporary switchback over the mountain. By the time the tunnel was completed in April 1854 the Lackawanna and Western had merged with the Delaware & Cobbs Gap RR to form the Delaware Lackawanna and Western RR. (Or The Lackawanna as it is more widely known) Upon the tunnels completion the railroad celebrated the event with an excursion for employees and their families. Not 30 years had gone by and rail traffic on the Lackawanna had increased to the point where a second bore was necessary to accommodate the increasing operations and on June 8 1883 the second tunnel had formally opened to allow double trackage flow through the mountain. The twin tunnels enjoyed a useful life until November of 1915 when they were taken out of service and the Lackawanna’s realignment of their mainline was complete. The Clarks Summit Halstead Realignment as the project was known used a series of fills, cuts, a 3600 ft double track tunnel (to replace the two older ones) and most notably two enormous reinforced concrete viaducts as part of a campaign by the railroad to eliminate grade crossings and promote uninterrupted movement. The old mainline was sold to the state of Pennsylvania and went on to become US 11. The tunnels were abandoned and in a photograph of them in the early 1920’s there was no track visible. Today these tunnels sit largely unnoticed, just feet from US 11 and are in remarkably good condition for their respective ages of 151 and 122 years. Overall condition of both seem to be unchanged since their last days of use aside from one of the airshafts in the original tunnel having been capped. Also notable is that the 1883 tunnel appears to have been built approximately 8-10 feet taller than the older tunnel most likely to accommodate equipment that was gradually increasing in size. Probably the most interesting find in the taller tunnel was soot from the steam engine exhaust stack that still remains stuck to the tunnel sides from a distance of 12 feet and up… Today they continue to stand as testament to a great railroad and engineers who designed something that not only provided service for a half century or more but have come almost a hundred years beyond that and still remain in exceptionally good condition.
Our photos from the site in the early 2000s.
Contributor: John F. Vail