Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

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Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun May 29, 2016 1:25 pm

For Penn Central's passenger trains:

Was there anything about them that was better than Amtrak's trains? For example, was the PC's Broadway Limited classier at all than Amtrak's version of the train?

I almost never hear anything positive about the PC but surely there was something good about it.

Thanks.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Hamhock » Sun May 29, 2016 2:33 pm

SouthernRailway wrote:I almost never hear anything positive about the PC but surely there was something good about it.


Its demise?
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Philly Amtrak Fan » Sun May 29, 2016 2:42 pm

I can think of one reason PC (PRR) was better than Amtrak is now...
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Sun May 29, 2016 2:53 pm

I commuted between Fleetwood and GCT in 1970-71 and in Philadelphia in 1971-76 (still operated by PC), and the service was quite good, particularly on the Harlem, but that was in electric mus; inter-city service or anything else involving locomotive-hauled coaches (none built after 1952 that I can think of, and not many of those) was another story; you just hoped for a car with working air-conditioning. Metroliner service was generally good--with a technician riding every train--and continued that way under Amtrak. Without being able to check, I think overall on-time performance was better on PC than Amtrak.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Sun May 29, 2016 2:55 pm

Philly Amtrak Fan wrote:I can think of one reason PC (PRR) was better than Amtrak is now...

Yes, we know. (Actually, by that standard, Amtrak was better than it is now.)
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby TomNelligan » Sun May 29, 2016 3:28 pm

Was there anything about them that was better than Amtrak's trains?


Not unless you liked dirty equipment, broken air conditioning, demoralized crews, and frequent lateness. The only good thing about the 1968-1971 period was that there were a lot more passenger trains on the non-Northeast Corridor portion of Penn Central than were left after Amtrak took over, although riders had to tolerate the conditions I listed above along with a general lack of any sort of food or beverage service on secondary routes.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby mtuandrew » Sun May 29, 2016 3:48 pm

More passenger equipment (some dating from the Wilson administration)
More routes (and slower/rougher)
Priority over freights (which didn't necessarily help anything)

Otherwise... that's about all I can imagine.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Rockingham Racer » Sun May 29, 2016 4:41 pm

They also ran parlor cars. Something that Amtrak wants nothing to do with in the NEC.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby twropr » Sun May 29, 2016 9:46 pm

The PC had many more employees involved with its passenger service (and the passenger service if ran under contract for Amtrak during the period from 1971 thru 1976 (when Amtrak acquired the NEC and Conrail assumed operation of PC). I rode several conventional trains between NY and WAS and Empire trains between GCT and Syracuse during this time period. Whereas many of the amenities that the PRR and NYC had offered, such as dining car service, had been eliminated and some of the equipment was dirty, I never experienced problems with on time operation like we experience today. When a mechanical problem occurred, there were experienced people in place who were in a position to respond, so there were few train cancellations or delays exceeding an hour.
I rode the BROADWAY LIMITED in Aug. '70 from Newark to Chicago, including a cab ride from Ft Wayne to Chicago. The equipment was clean and comfortable and the food in the twin unit dining car was OK. We were on time until Leaman Place, PA, where we received train orders to run against the current of traffic on TK 1 to the crossover at Longs Park (just west of Lancaster, PA). We were held just east of Lancaster for DUQUENSE #16, which after working Lancaster, had to reverse to Longs Park. Our train (#41) then proceeded to Lancaster, did its station work and went thru the Longs Park crossover at 15 MPH. All this brought #41 into Harrisburg 28" LT. At HAR GG1s 4875-4934 were replaced by 4289-4083-4221 (E8-E8-E7); leaving HAR 31" LT the train was 1'28" LT arriving Chicago. The engineer I rode with FTW-CHI told me one of the units was off line and that he was having trouble making track speed with the 14-car train. He also told me that prior to the PC bankruptcy that the engineers could select the best power available for the BROADWAY and that changed after the bankruptcy with the train usually drawing junk power.
The first winter following the 1970 bankruptcy resulted in much of the frost damage to the right-of-way not being fixed in a timely manner following a rough winter. From that point on until the takeover of the NEC by Amtrak and other lines by CR, temporary speed restrictions began to mushroom. Although Amtrak began to add time to its schedules, the slow orders seemed to mushroom to the point where the trains (except between NY and WAS) could not maintain the longer schedules. Nevertheless, I was unaware of any cancellations or catastrophic delays due to mechanical failures.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Station Aficionado » Mon May 30, 2016 10:13 am

Well, they had the peculiar intertwining snakes logo--was that better than the early Amtrak imagery? :-D More seriously, for those who were around, did PC do much to advertise its service?
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby TomNelligan » Mon May 30, 2016 10:51 am

PC did advertise the Metroliners in newspaper ads when that service began. It was the one notable improvement in PC passenger service during the railroad's existence, although of course it was initiated by the Department of Transportation in PRR days. At the Boston end, the Turbotrains also got some ads when they started up; again, that was a DOT project. I'm not aware of any PC passenger advertising outside the Northeast Corridor, although living in the Boston area I might have missed something farther west.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby SRich » Mon May 30, 2016 11:48 am

I think that 1 owner of all stuff, is beter then multiple owner on the NEC, for infrastructure purpose.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby bingdude » Tue May 31, 2016 9:10 am

Since 40 + years have passed this is really a hard comparison. Even though PC was bankrupt and the track and rolling stock were neglected, PC still had people on the ground and could work around problems (like signal failures). The entire Railroad business is different now. All automated and in many cases traffic is managed from an office several states away. Situations arise today where something as simple as a fuse blown in one of the trackside boxes can cause hours of delay and mostly because there are no people close by on the RR to either fix the problem or work around it. And sadly, most of this is beyond Amtrak's control. The cars are newer and cleaner. Sometimes the on-board staff are friendly. Best way to describe it is a different kind of bad.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Tue May 31, 2016 9:37 am

The Penn Central does deserve credit for some things, such as with passenger locomotive assignments.

First, they reassigned the FL-9's to where they were needed - and away from where they were not (and never really were). Much easier to justify a New Haven engine change for another 157 miles to Boston, then for 31 miles from Harmon and about same from White Plains North than from wherever the trains originated on those two divisions.

They initiated GG-1 run throughs of Penn; while I understand some modifications to the pantographs were necessary for such, they appeared minor in nature; who knows why PRR and NH as independent roads never came together on that point (I can think of some, but a little "yes we can" rather than the usual railroad "why we can't" could have prevailed).

While of course Black passenger E-8 locomotives adorned with "worms in love" looked hideous, the engines had been given a top to bottom remanufacturing. Such is why Amtrak was quick to gobble them up when offered for sale and banish NH power in their favor on the East End.

Freight locomotives were also likewise reassigned so that one type of motive power was prevalent at a terminal.

I'm not really sticking up for PC - an institution that showed the world just how sick was railroading - and that so much of the sickness emanated internally, but I'm just trying to point out from the perspective of one employed by an "almost as sick" road, that "it wasn't all bad".

Finally, allow me to note regarding Mr. Dude's immediate thought; railroads, even after WWII, employed over 1M of people for a 225K system. That means one employee for every 1/4 mile of road. No wonder there were armies of Section and Signalmen to take care of problems as they arose.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby jonnhrr » Tue May 31, 2016 1:43 pm

As others have noted, there were more trains. The PC had a separate "East/West timetable" to list all of the many trains that still ran between the East and Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati etc. Although some of them had been requested for discontinuance and were running under court order. For example there were still 2 Philadelphia - Pittsbugh trains (Duquesne and Juniata) and multiple Chicago trains, not just the Broadway. There were oddities such as Harrisburg - Buffalo, that ran on alternate days. It was great for railfans, probably not so much for people actually trying to travel somewhere. Many trains even long distance were down to coaches and head end only.

In the NEC, some trains Boston - NY still had real dining cars, although service and availability of items could be spotty (I recall ordering scrambled eggs on a morning train just out of Boston and being informed they had "run out of eggs").

It was a great time to be a rail fan, there were more long distance trains with through equipment from exotic sounding railroads (for a New Englander) such as RF&P, Southern, SAL, ACL, etc. Then again, riding a clocker in a couple dirty P70 coaches on a dreary winter's day got you thinking maybe the bus would have been better.

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