TRAINS Chase guide: Nickel Plate Road 765, Scranton, Pa., to the Delaware Water Gap

Posted by Dave Crosby
on Friday, August 28, 2015

Steam fans will long consider 2015 as one of the most exciting years in recent memory, considering the return to steam of Norfolk & Western 611 as well as Southern 4501 on the mainline for the first time in decades. As if these events weren’t enough, as a grand finale to the summer steam excursion season, Nickel Plate Road 765 will power on trips over routes that would have seemed unfeasible just a few short years ago.

For the first time ever, No. 765 will operate on the former Delaware Lackawanna & Western rail lines out of Scranton, Pa., east to the Delaware Water Gap and west to Binghamton, N.Y. The latter includes passage over the world famous Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct, more on that later.

No. 765 will operate on the former Delaware Lackawanna & Western rail lines over Labor Day weekend.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, and Monday Sept. 7, No. 765 will lead trips over the “Pocono Main” now operated by the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad into the Delaware Water Gap, a scenic National Recreation Area situated on the river of the same name. On these trips No. 765 will head east in the morning and west in the afternoon, essentially following the sunlight the entire route. There is no one road that parallels the entire route, but knowing some of the major routes will help you leap frog ahead of the train, which will average 30 mph. Most of the original stations are still in place along the line and make for good vantage points on public property.

Eastbound to the Water Gap:

Departing Steamtown, the Pocono Main immediately begins a steep climb out of Scranton. For those who want to witness the sights and sounds of the 765 as it works hard leaving the city, I suggest you head to the University of Scranton. A 1.5 percent grade and several crossings will provide ample noise for videographers and audiophiles. The former DL&W passenger station – now a hotel – is also located nearby and can be worked into photographs with ease. A word of caution here, it is possible that cars may be stored on adjacent tracks at this location, so it would be wise to scout this location before departure time. Just east of this area the train will pass through the Nay Aug tunnel, although the east facing portal cannot be reached without trespassing on railroad property, which of course is a big no-no. It is very likely that cars will be placed on the adjacent siding at the tunnel anyway, so best to leave this location for the westbound trip. I’ll cover that later.

A shot of Steamtown Yard.

After witnessing No. 765 leave town, you’ll want to make a beeline for Interstate 81 North, whereupon you’ll pass through a succession of interchanges within a few short miles. Follow signs for Interstate 84 East. For those that would like to put some decent mileage between them and the 765, stay on Route 84 for about two miles and you’ll wind up on Interstate 380 South. Fifteen miles of highway speeds will place you well ahead of the train should you wish to exit at Tobyhanna, whose original station is now a museum. Another five miles on Route 380 will bring you to Mount Pocono where another station remains, though in derelict condition. This stretch of interstate will be your only real chance to put distance between you and the excursion.

For those that feel more adventurous, or that didn’t stay in Scranton to watch the 765 get underway, you’ll have another option. After following Route 81 North to 84 East, you’ll immediately want to get in the left hand lane and take the exit for PA Route 435. Then in about 4 miles you’ll pass over the right of way on a bridge. From here you can make a right and drive a short distance to track level or make a left and drive three miles to Moscow where the former freight and passenger stations have been nicely restored. Route 435 follows the tracks closely here, so be prepared for crowds, slow drivers, and speed limits that drop quickly.

The University of Scranton will provide a view of the 765 as it leaves the city.

From Moscow one can either work their way to back Interstate 380 South to head further down the line or follow Rote 435 and several other back roads to the towns of Lehigh and Gouldsboro. For those that chose the back roads, keep in mind that narrow lanes and occasional gravel surfaces will slow you down considerably. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to make it to Lehigh or Gouldsboro if you stop at Moscow. However, the investment may be worth it, as the right of way crosses several lakes though what many consider the most scenic part of today’s route. Shooting across these picturesque lakes may be your best chance to get a wide-open view of the train. For those who like to include buildings, the station at Gouldsboro has also been restored to near original condition. From Gouldsboro, one can follow the aptly named Tobyhanna Road to reach the town by the same name, or return to Route 435 and I-380 which although a more circuitous route will avoid traffic. You take the faster interstate route to East Stroudsburg or a convoluted route from Tobyhanna through the mountains which may afford you one or two more photo locations.

A view from Lehigh.

For the intrepid photographer, leaving Tobyhanna, follow Route 611 towards Mount Pocono for five miles before making a left onto PA Route 940, which after another 5 miles becomes PA Route 191. After about 7 miles Route 191 will return to trackside near Analomink. Between Mount Pocono and Analomink the railroad takes a circuitous path down the East Slope of the Pocono Mountains, doubling back on itself more than once. At times the engine will face north, south, and even west on its journey. For perspective, there are 12 road-miles between Mt. Pocono and Analomink as compared to some 17 track-miles. A number of country roads lead from Routes 940/191 to the hamlets of Devil’s Hole, Cresco, and Henryville. Do your homework, pick a spot and let the train come to you. Many chasers will head to Cresco, which is home to yet another restored station.

At Analomink, which no longer has a station, the railroad returns to a relatively straight and level path. Just east of town look for PA Route 447 and follow that into East Stroudsburg where a number of crossings and businesses allow for trackside access. Keep in mind that East Stroudsburg has traffic issues on a good day, so unless you arrive well before the train, expect delays. This will be especially true on Monday, when passengers detrain at the restored East Stroudsburg depot for a two hour layover.

Leaving East Stroudsburg, the railroad follows the banks of Broadhead Creek and then the Delaware River. Head for Route 80 East, after a few short miles of interstate driving you’ll see an exit for the town of Delaware Water Gap. Exit here and follow Route 611 for about three miles into the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area for one final eastbound photo. There are several vantage points, the most notable of which is called “Point of Gap.” An overpass at Slateford Road allows for a view of the modest yard at the end of Delaware-Lackawanna trackage.

Westbound to Scranton:

On Saturday, passengers will be detraining at the Water Gap Station for a layover. The station itself is unrestored and somewhat difficult to reach on a one-lane access road. I’d suggest forgoing this location for one within the National Recreation Area. With the station stop, you should ample time to find a spot within the park. As of this writing, plans call for the 765 and train to be turned on Norfolk Southern property at Portland, just south of the Delaware Water Gap. Take this time to pick up lunch or visit the restrooms at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center near Interstate 80. If you’ve seen enough of the Delaware Water Gap, I suggest picking a spot at Minisink Park on River Road, just past the welcome center. A large soccer field and a slightly elevated right of way make for a somewhat open vantage point; you’ll have plenty of time because the westbound will be stopping to pick up passengers before reaching this location. Ample off-street parking should accommodate the large crowds that will surely gather here.

A tunnel overlook provides a great westbound view.

On the Monday trip, passengers will be detrain for their layover in the village of East Stroudsburg. Once again, this will provide an opportunity to get ahead of the train before it reaches the Delaware Water Gap. With the East Stroudsburg stop westbound, there should be time to see the train in the Gap or at Minisink Park before heading to locations west of the East Stroudsburg boarding site.

Westbound to Scranton:

The westbound climb promises to be a show for the ages as the 765 pulls its train up the 1.59 percent ruling grade between Analomink and Mount Pocono. Again, most people will flock to Cresco and for good reason: The grade here is near its steepest and the entire depot area is located inside the DL&W’s version of Horseshoe Curve. You will actually hear the train miles before it arrives and miles after it passes. An overhead bridge allows for a panoramic view of the station and right of way, get here early and you’ll be rewarded. Two things to remember: the property south side of the track is owned by a lumber yard that rigorously enforces their no trespassing policy and just as importantly, do not park on the overhead bridge as local police will ticket vehicles that block the narrow span and approaching roadway. Just follow 191 from Analomink to Cresco. From Cresco, take Route 191 to Route 390, a shortcut that will lead back to Route 940 and Mount Pocono.

Lackawanna Station.

For those that wish to bypass Cresco, head to Devil’s Hole via the namesake road. Two generations ago sister Nickel Plate Road Berkshire 759 stalled on an excursion of its own. The grade here is over 1.6 percent and there is a reverse curve. Take Route 191 to Route 940. In a little less than 2 miles, make a right turn onto Devil’s Hole Road.

After witnessing No. 765 assault the grade, buy yourself distance by following route 940 to Interstate 380 North. The Stations at Tobyhanna and Moscow both offer decent views of westbound trains in afternoon light. Moscow has a slight upper hand with a super-elevated curve near the depot.

Remember the tunnel from this morning? Now is your chance to catch a train here as it exits the west portal. You’ll need to find your way into Scranton’s Nay Aug Park and locate the Davis Trail. Here an observation deck provides a view of the tunnel. Follow signs for Geisinger Community Medical Center, as Nay Aug Park is right next door. Park in the large, lower lot for the quickest walk to the observation deck. Check out http://www.scrantonpa.gov/nayaug_park.html for more background and a map. A tip for those headed to Nay Aug Park – the nearby Harrison Avenue Bridge is an active construction site. Be sure to leave extra time if you want this to be your last shot of the day.

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