The NEW YORK CENTRAL RAILROAD was one of 3 major components of the CONRAIL network, which also included the ERIE-LACKAWANNA RAILROAD and the PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD. The New York Central operations in Cleveland date back to 14 March 1836 when the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad was chartered. The financial panic of 1837 shelved all construction plans for the CCC until 1845, when commerce revived enough to make the railroad feasible for freight and passenger service. A $200,000 line of credit from the city and an additional $65,000 from private sources enabled construction to begin in 1847, when ground was broken in the FLATS. The railroad ran from St. Clair to Superior parallel to River (W. 11th) St., and exited the city through Walworth Run. In 1849 the first train in Cleveland pulled wooden flatcars into the city along River St. at 6 mph. In Nov. 1849 the city council passed the first ordinance regulating train speeds down to a safe 4-5 mph. Beginning in 1862, the CCC bought a number of rail lines, which by 1882 gave the system a through line between Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. In 1889 the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis, known as the "Bee Line," merged with the Indianapolis & St. Louis and the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago (the original "Big 4"), to create the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad. Stock in the new "Big 4" was gradually acquired by New York Central executives, and in July 1929 the ICC authorized the NYC to acquire control of the "Big 4" under a 99-year lease as part of its unification plan. Cleveland operations benefited from the acquisition as a new $100,000 passenger depot and switchyards were constructed at Grand Ave. near LINNDALE in 1929, and the COLLINWOOD YARDS were improved. In 1931 the subsidiary "Big 4," which had been headquartered in Cincinnati, centralized its base operations in Cleveland and New York. At its height, the "Big 4" operated 2,629 mi. of track.
The Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad was the NYC's western territory connection. Incorporated in 1869, the Lake Shore line was a union of 3 disjointed roads that ran from Buffalo through Erie and Cleveland to Chicago. The Cleveland-to-Toledo development of the Lake Shore Line began in 1846 when Ohio chartered the Junction Railroad Co. to build track from a point on the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati. In 1850 the Toledo, Norwalk & Cleveland Railroad was incorporated to build a narrow gauge line from Toledo eastward to Grafton, passing through Norwalk and connecting with the CCC line at Wellington. In 1852 the Port Clinton Railroad Co. was chartered to extend to Toledo. The merger of these 3 lines in 1853 produced the Cleveland & Toledo Railroad Co. and completed the development of the Lake Shore Line from Cleveland to Chicago.
The Cleveland-Erie connection of the Lake Shore Line began when the Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad was chartered in 1848. The CP&A was built eastward from Cleveland through Painesville and Ashtabula to the state line—the first step in forging a connecting link between Buffalo and Cleveland. Construction began in 1850, and although the City of Cleveland had pledged a $100,000 credit line, financing still was difficult. Double track was laid on 100-foot roadway costing $15,000 a mile. Traffic on the line was handled by 6 30-ton woodburning engines, 2 of which were built in OHIO CITY by the CUYAHOGA STEAM FURNACE CO. After completing the route to the state line in 1852, the CP&A was extended across northwest Pennsylvania through Erie to connect with the NYC at Buffalo, establishing a through link between New York and Cincinnati via Buffalo and Cleveland. In 1867 the CP&A leased the Cleveland & Toledo Co. and they merged with the Lake Shore Line. In 1869 the expanded Lake Shore Line united with the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana Railroad to form the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern. Absorption of the Buffalo & Erie later that year brought 1,013 miles of track into one massive system. In 1873 the LS&MS merged with the New York Central, consolidating its western territorial connection and providing a through line from New York to Chicago along the shoreline of the lower Great Lakes. The Lake Shore Line, a strategic component of the NYC, was a great factor in Cleveland's growth. The New York Central Building, a 5-story structure originally built in 1883 for the Lake Shore Line, was one of the largest and most imposing buildings in downtown Cleveland before the city began to expand east of PUBLIC SQUARE. In addition the NYC owned substantial real estate interests in the city.
The New York Central was heavily involved in the development of the Van Sweringens' Terminal Tower complex. In 1916 the NYC sold the NICKEL PLATE RAILROAD, which it had owned since 1882, to the Van Sweringens, who needed a portion of it as right-of-way for a rapid-transit line from SHAKER HTS. to downtown Cleveland. In 1921 the NYC joined with its subsidiary, the "Big 4," and the Van Sweringen-owned Nickel Plate to form the Cleveland Union Terminal Co., one of 3 companies that owned the terminal complex. The NYC moved their operations from the old union depot to the terminal when it opened in 1929. It turned out to be an expensive venture for the NYC, as the bonds were still outstanding even after the last passenger train had departed from the terminal in 1971. The NYC's robust passenger traffic along the lake shore declined in the post-World War II period. With only 4 trains daily between Cleveland and New York in 1961, the Empire State Express provided the fastest service, completing the trip in 12 1/ 2 hours. The New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1968 to form the PENN CENTRAL, which in turn was taken over by ConRail in 1976.