The first railroad company to operate over local rails was the Ithaca & Owego line, organized in 1828 as the second such enterprise chartered in New York State. The railroad, running between the namesake towns in Tioga and Tompkins Counties, began operation in 1834 using horses as its first "motive power." Light railcars were towed along cross-tied longitudinal timbers with iron strap rails fastened to them. By the early 1840s the road had purchased its first steam locomotive, a woodburner named PIONEER. Because of its belching and clanking noises, cantankerousness and perpetual leaking of steam and water from numerous orifices, the engine was eventually nicknamed "OLD PUFF". The locomotive did not meet expectations and, after an accident on the line which resulted in death of the engineer and serious injuries to its fireman, the engine was retired and later sold to the DL&W.
By the mid-1840s the I&O, plagued by financial problems, was sold out to a group of investors from northeastern Pennsylvania who changed the name of the line to Cayuga & Susquehanna Railroad Co. The DL&W in turn bought out the line in the 1850s and made the Ithaca-Owego route its Cayuga Branch. Several decades later it became designated as the Ithaca Branch of the DL&W. It operated until its abandonment in the late 1950s.
The second major company to operate through the area was the New York & Erie Railroad, chartered by the State of New York in 1832 to build the nation's first long-distance railroad, from a point on the west bank of the Hudson River, above New York City, across New York's Southern Tier to a point near Dunkirk, NY on the east bank of Lake Erie, a distance of over 450 miles. One of the most celebrated sights along the old Erie remains the Starrucca Viaduct at Lanesboro, PA. Completed in 1851, the road soon made junction at Great Bend, PA with another new company, the Lackawanna & Western. The latter had built up from the vicinity of Slocum's Hollow, PA (present-day Scranton) to bring coal from the mining regions to markets in Central New York. Within the next four years the Lackawanna & Western was reorganized as the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, to connect a new rail corridor running from Hoboken, NJ to the aforementioned temporary junction with the Erie at Great Bend, PA. Both the Erie and the Lackawanna lines were initially built to a track gauge of six feet. By the early 1880s this would be all changed to the standard gauge of four feet, eight and one-half inches. Also in the early 1880s the DL&W built its own separate line west from Binghamton to Buffalo.
The Erie and the Lackawanna became intense rivals, but also realized their importance to each other. In 1851 the Lackawanna initially obtained trackage rights over the Erie to access the main station and yard facilities at Binghamton, as well as to have access to their Ithaca-Owego line. In 1854 the Lackawanna became a stockholder in another major regional enterprise, the Syracuse, Binghamton and New York Railroad which had been built recently to connect those two namesake cities. The Erie, the DL&W and the SB&NY gave exemplary service during the Civil War years. Before the war ended, another company, the Albany & Susquehanna, was begun to connect Binghamton and Albany, NY. The A&S people struggled over the years to complete their road, conquering a large impediment formed by Belden Hill in eastern Broome County. The famed Belden Hill Tunnel was completed so that the road could be opened early in 1869. At that time, the Erie was being run by Jay Gould, one of the most notorious financial manipulators ever seen in the railroad industry. Gould saw many advantages in acquiring the A&S, the prime one being access to vast markets in New England. Failing at takeover through business channels, Gould ordered several hundred Erie railroad men to seize the Albany-Binghamton line by force. This effort resulted in the famed "Fight at the Tunnel" at Belden Hill in August, 1869. A&S forces confonted the Eriemen there in what some observers of the time called a general melee involving men using fists, clubs, rocks, tools and, we understand, a few firearms. No one was killed, however. The New York State Militia was called out keep order, and a New York State judge soon ruled that the Erie people had no claim to the railroad. The A&S people were so unnerved about the takeover attempt that they sought a new operator to lease the line. The Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, a long-established hauler of coal and other commodities in northeastern Pennsylvania, became the new party to run the A&S. D&H later bought out the entire A&S interests, and retained the line until bought out by the Canadian Pacific Railway Company in the late 1990s.
The foundations for over a century and a half of regional railroad history had thus been laid back in the 1830s. Numerous families would make railroad employment their livelihoods. The railroads played key positions in the transportation of immigrants to work in local industries. Until the beginning of 1970 a traveler could still catch a scheduled passenger train at the Binghamton E-L station. Through historical theme programs and participation in several commemorative or educational events annually, Susquehanna Valley Railway Historical Society has endeavored to keep memories of the local railroad heritage alive. As the beginning of the 2000s unfolds, there will be many more opportunities to mark railroading's milestones and educate the public in its rich history.