The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE) began operation in 1879 after the 1878 consolidation with the Youngstown & Pittsburgh Railroad Company. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., the P&LE line began as a single track railroad connecting Pittsburgh to Youngstown, Ohio. The railroad began its affiliation with the New York Central System in 1883 and, by 1890, was one of the principle rail routes in the eastern United States. Financed in part by the Harmony Society, a communal religious sect located just north of Pittsburgh in Economy, Pa., and in part by William Henry Vanderbilt’s Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway, the P&LE had extended south to Connellsville, Pa., and handled six times the amount of freight it had in 1880, earning its nickname, the “Little Giant.”
The P&LE continued to progress into the twentieth century thanks, in part, to the advances in railroad technology. The development of all-steel cars made it possible to carry a load of up to 50-tons. Additionally, advancements made in train brakes through the Westinghouse air brake system and automatic couplers, allowed P&LE trains to run safely at faster speeds and carry heavier coal loads.
The P&LE also operated as a passenger line. Beginning with its first passenger train in February 1879, the railroad became a heavily used line by travelers and commuters. Although passenger trips were relatively small, the average trip was around 20 miles. Until 1941, the passenger trains accounted for one-half the miles of the freight trains. However, the rise of popularity of motor trucks, private cars, and buses led to the eventual decline of train travel. By the mid-1970s, only one commuter train remained on the P&LE line.
While the early 1970s brought a decline in passenger travel, the freight lines continued to grow. In 1976, following the 1970 bankruptcy of the Penn Central System, the railroad obtained trackage rights over former Penn Central lines to Ashtabula Harbor, Oh., located on Lake Erie and through Sharon to Shenango, Pa. The railroad was purchased by CSX Transportation in 1993.