Former US railroad, running from New York City through the far south of New York state to Buffalo and on, around the southern shore of Lake Erie, to Chicago.
The Erie was the first railway in the country to be conceived from the outset as a trunk line (a long-distance main line, rather than a collection of short lines). In the 1860s and 1870s, the company became a byword for financial malpractice, as its directors (such as Jay Gould, Daniel Drew, and Jim Fisk) manipulated stocks, embezzled funds, and bribed state legislatures. In 1960 it merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad Company to become the Erie Lackawanna, but in 1975 went bankrupt and was taken over by the government-owned Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail).
The company was incorporated in 1832 as the New York and Erie Railroad, to connect the New York City area with the Great Lakes. The planned route ran through New York's Southern Tier, providing an alternative to the Erie Canal and serving a comparatively neglected part of the state. By 1851 the line had reached Dunkirk on Lake Erie, a distance of 740 km/460 mi across some extremely difficult terrain. Construction costs, the decision to use unorthodox (1.83 m/6 ft gauge) track that later had to be replaced, and the location of the Erie's eastern terminus at Piermont, a village in Rockland County some distance (29 km/18 mi north of midtown Manhattan by boat) from New York City, brought perpetual financial crisis. Nevertheless, the Erie was known as the ‘Work of the Age’, for such engineering feats as the 366 m/1,200 ft-high Starrucca Viaduct (near Susquehanna, Pennsylvania). It eventually extended from Piermont south to Hoboken, New Jersey, for New York service, and from Dunkirk north to Buffalo, and built a line to Hammond City, Indiana (for Chicago service) via Marion, Ohio.