“THE WHEELING WAY”
The story of Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway (WLE) began in 1871 with the need for a connection between the Wheeling, WV coal fields and Lake Erie port cities and facilities. Enthusiasm was offset by capital constraints and financial difficulties which slowed the progression of the line until 1877 when interest began again in earnest to move coal to and ore from the Lake. 1913 brought the main offices to Brewster, OH where they remain today.
After World War II, WLE had various owners -- first the Nickel Plate leased the line, then the Norfolk & Western took control, and finally, the Norfolk & Western and Southern (NS) merged. The WLE was dissolved as an entity in 1989. A spin off renewed the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway in 1990 with a group of investors who intended to put the WLE back on the map with a purchase from Norfolk Southern of 575.8 miles of track made up of a combination of the former WLE, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia (PWV) and the Akron Canton Youngstown (ACY) lines. These 575.8 miles of track, in conjunction with further trackage rights from NS, encompassed 840 miles, thus beginning the development of the “new” WLE.
After initial financial struggles, including debt restructuring in 1994, the success of the new WLE is apparent with the annual gross revenue of approximately $50 million, with trains operating in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland, as well as employing nearly 400 people. The WLE lines interchange with three major Class I railroads (Canadian National, CSX Transportation, and Norfolk Southern) which has provided a continually growing customer base for building new marketing avenues in various commodities. Many of the major commodities remain the same as in the early days but new customers bring greater quantities moved by WLE: coal from Harrison Mining; iron ore from the Great Lakes region; steel from five different mills; aggregates from four quarries; plus, chemicals, forest products, and grain, generating approximately 130,000 carloads annually.
As a result of the breakup of Conrail, additional trackage rights were granted by the Surface Transportation Board to WLE. Approximately 56 miles of track provided access to Toledo from Bellevue, OH where WLE connects with Canadian National (CN) and the Ann Arbor Railroad. This connection initiated a partnership between CN and WLE to market, operate, and utilize the struggling intermodal facility in Navarre, OH, as well as to provide the connection between WLE and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Railroad for an intermodal terminal in the Pittsburgh area. And, trackage rights of approximately 53 miles of track over CSX gave WLE access to Lima from Carey, OH providing hopes for developing future business with the Indiana & Ohio Railroad.
An asset that has proved lucrative for the new WLE is the Brewster shop complex. As far back as 1910 when the brand new WLE 0-8-0 steam engine was constructed in the Brewster locomotive shop, this car and locomotive rebuild complex has been a valuable asset of the WLE, offering repairs, upgrading, and fabrication services to other railroads. The extensive facilities can accommodate the repair of 50 cars under roof and 50 additional cars outside with a storage yard area for 1000 cars.
Despite the long term challenge of the recent Conrail merger, the reborn WLE is looking at a promising future. With the varied traffic base of bulk commodities, heavy on-line traffic, and interline potential, WLE has a strong foundation on which to continue building. Under aggressive and efficient management, the WLE is determined in becoming one of the more successful regionals to emerge in recent railroad history. WLE’s legacy requires it.
WLE has committed many hours in helping to develop community awareness of railroad/highway safety through Operation Lifesaver and has received four national safety awards in the last seven years for employee safety. WLE intends for its employees, its customers, and the communities it serves to benefit from this new Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway.