The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad was chartered in 1875. The railroad linked the “steel centers” of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Youngstown, Ohio by 1879. The New York Central took an interest in the road early on, and by 1879 had a 15 percent interest. In 1881, the Pittsburgh, McKeesport & Youghiogheny was opened as a joint venture between the P&LE and the NYC. This line constituted the majority of trackage south of Pittsburgh. By 1889, NYC took full control of the P&LE.
The P&LE owned a one-third stake in the coal-hauling Monongahela Railroad. The P&LE also controlled stakes in the Montour Railroad and the Lake Erie & Eastern. In 1934, the Baltimore & Ohio negotiated trackage rights over the P&LE between McKeesport and New Castle. B&O’s long-distance passenger trains were also moved to the P&LE’s station in downtown Pittsburgh.
The P&LE remained a highly profitable part of the NYC system, through to the Penn Central years. After Penn Central declared bankruptcy in June 1970, the P&LE was able to emerge as an independent railroad years later. In 1993, as the steel industry was in decline, the entire P&LE was acquired by CSX Transportation.