Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

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

Postby leviramsey » Sun Jun 12, 2016 8:07 am

edbear wrote:In most instances, other regulated industries had no competition from another operator in the same territory. Most regions of a particular state had only one company in a particular field; one gas company, one electric company, one phone company. The regulators of those industries guaranteed a certain return on investment; if the return was deficient a rate hike, if an excess a rate reduction. Quite often, until recent years, many of these utilities, except the phone company didn't even cross state lines. The non-railroad utilities were regulated when they were growth industries. Railroads were regulated by states from the start, but when the ICC started regulating them, they were pretty much a mature industry. With railroads, they sometimes had competition from another railroad and they also had bus, truck and air and even waterway competition. For years railroads which cited passenger losses were not allowed to tinker with their service very much because freight profits could absorb the losses and the railroads could still be profitable overall. Look how fast regulators responded when utility customers complained that the bills they paid were subsidizing the transit operations of New Orleans Public Service and Public Service Gas and Electric in NJ. They raised a big enough stink and the transit operations were dumped, fast.


It wasn't the regulators there, it was New Deal legislation (specifically the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, which effectively barred electric companies from engaging in activities not directly related to the core businesses).

That the regulators at the ICC typically came from a background (common to the "progressive" politics of the day) that viewed railroads as inherently evil and the stuff of robber barons etc., and who tended to be of the view that moving all passenger transportation to car and bus and freight to truck would be a great leap forward for society, did not help the railroads.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Tadman » Sun Jun 12, 2016 12:50 pm

mtuandrew wrote: Don Phillips alleges that Saunders was primarily inspecting naked flight attendants on the Penn Central business jet. (As a result, Phillips says, when word got to the senator in charge of banking, he permanently quashed a Federal bridge loan to PC; in hindsight, wise financially as well as morally.)

Sorry, no direct quote available, I don't have a copy in front of me.


Neither does Don Phillips. He is the master of telling us all the insider info from his insider sources in his continuing tirades and smear pieces. He rarely mentions the name of a source or produces a supporting document. I think he is a bitter old man with many axes to grind. I do not take his ramblings seriously nor should anybody else. The Washington Post sure didn't, as they canned him years ago.

If you don't believe me, read his last year of columns in Trains. Every one is a slam on Amtrak. Many cite unhappy anonymous employees. It gets old.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Sun Jun 12, 2016 2:11 pm

As to the comments above about the ICC (both quite true), a common dilemma in government regulation is that you want regulators who know what they're doing but have no ties to the industry being regulated. What that amounts to is that someone knowledgeable about the industry most likely came from the industry and thus knows many people who he can "take care of"--in either sense--whereas someone without that baggage almost certainly knows very little about the industry. For that reason, many commissioners have been politically connected lawyers (some of them former administrative assistants to senators or congressmen, or congressmen who were redistricted out of a seat and needed a port in a storm) who were free of ties to the industry but had little knowledge and experience. If such appointees were a "quick study" and learned rapidly they could get up to speed with reasonable promptness, but not all of them did. However, they did like to micromanage. I have had occasion to read decisions from the 1920's and -30's and was struck by how many of them acknowledged that it was no part of the ICC's function to substitute its business decisions for those of railroad management. The next sentence invariably began with the word "however..." , and the decision proceeded to do just that. The ICC's position generally boiled down to "if you can't prove in advance that the proposed change will be profitable, we won't let you do it." Any normal business is able to try something new, and if it doesn't work out, drop it and try something else--see the Edsel and New Coke. The only thing the ICC made more difficult for a railroad than trying a new idea was dropping it if it didn't work. And as edbear pointed out, no railroad had an exclusive territory as the electric utilities did, so raising the rates was often not an option.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby John_Perkowski » Fri Jun 17, 2016 10:59 am

One reason the railroads could respond to the airline strike was the Pullman Company had more equipment on the property than they actually needed for regular daily operations. They were able to get that equipment into play in support of their member roads.

Amtrak? Add a car? Bite your tongue.


Gilbert B Norman wrote:Mr. Ex-Con, I believe the last hurrah for overnight passenger service was the airline strike during July 1966. This resulted in a loss of some 60% of the available seat miles.

Observing consists during that period, I'd say that both the Broadway and the Capitol Limited added three to four additional Sleepers to their consists. I was unable to observe any Century consists during that strike period.

Reportedly the B&O put best foot forward, but to no avail. For as fast as the reservations came in when the planes stopped flying, as soon as they were flying again, the cancellations came in just as fast.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Noel Weaver » Fri Jun 17, 2016 12:17 pm

John_Perkowski wrote:One reason the railroads could respond to the airline strike was the Pullman Company had more equipment on the property than they actually needed for regular daily operations. They were able to get that equipment into play in support of their member roads.

Amtrak? Add a car? Bite your tongue.


Unfortunately when Amtrak was put in to operation they only took as many cars as they thought they would really need and in this situation they eliminated many decent cars that were well maintained and had a lot of good miles left on them. Today they are still paying for this policy as they still have just enough equipment to get by with and not enough reserve fleet to fall back on when something happens and in the railroad industry a lot of things can and do happen usually with little or no advance warning. Penn Central on the other hand had lots of company owned cars from Boston to St. Louis and Chicago they had coach yards with various coaches in a so called reserve status. This was especially so in the east where Sunnyside, Washington, Philadelphia, New Haven and Boston all had commuter fleets that could help to fill out trains especially in rush periods. Amtrak does not have this option and it sometimes shows. The seats in some of the old Penn Central cars were not particularly nice but they were seats and the folks got to where they wanted to go and the vast majority of them had seats. I remember more than one ride in the Northeast Corridor in an old P-70 or an old New Haven commuter coach but I got where I wanted to go.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Fri Jun 17, 2016 2:09 pm

Also, when Amtrak was formed, the last thing most people expected was traffic growth. They acquired the minimum fleet they could operate with, expecting that the trains would eventually wither away and all the equipment would be gradually retired. I can't recall now, but was there even a requirement in the legislation that Amtrak could not acquire any equipment not actually needed at the time? I think Congress was out to ensure that the railroads didn't "profit" by having Amtrak acquire unneeded equipment with taxpayers' money.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby BandA » Sat Jun 18, 2016 11:16 pm

If Amtrak has adequate storage yards, the borrowing costs of the US Treasury are about the lowest in the world. Not sure what the maintenance and overhead on equipment not being used is, but a reserve or expansion fleet would be wise.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Station Aficionado » Sun Jun 19, 2016 10:28 pm

Agreed, but that's up to the overlords in DC. Some years back, GAO (a congressional, not executive agency) was all over Amtrak's case for having any spare equipment.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby John_Perkowski » Mon Jun 20, 2016 3:01 pm

Union Pacific actually sold a very good part of its fleet to Auto-Train ahead of A-Day. Virtually the entire dome fleet went, and so did more than a few of the sleepers.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby dowlingm » Wed Jul 13, 2016 1:28 pm

Station Aficionado wrote:Agreed, but that's up to the overlords in DC. Some years back, GAO (a congressional, not executive agency) was all over Amtrak's case for having any spare equipment.
Given the current SEPTA snafu where NJT, Amtrak and MARC are providing equipment, some of which likely not easily given up given capacity shortages at those agencies, it would be helpful if Congress could somehow create the conditions for a passenger rolling stock leasing company or companies to thrive as they do in the aircraft industry. My sense is that the current funding and regulatory realities are not very helpful in that respect.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Wed Jul 13, 2016 2:59 pm

Mr. Dowling, concerns such as ILFC, or International Lease Finance Corporation, are in the business of providing capital to airlines for the aircraft that they need. They are not any kind of "Hertz in the sky".
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby lstone19 » Wed Jul 13, 2016 4:05 pm

dowlingm wrote:
Station Aficionado wrote:Agreed, but that's up to the overlords in DC. Some years back, GAO (a congressional, not executive agency) was all over Amtrak's case for having any spare equipment.
Given the current SEPTA snafu where NJT, Amtrak and MARC are providing equipment, some of which likely not easily given up given capacity shortages at those agencies, it would be helpful if Congress could somehow create the conditions for a passenger rolling stock leasing company or companies to thrive as they do in the aircraft industry. My sense is that the current funding and regulatory realities are not very helpful in that respect.

Agree with GBN. Aircraft leasing is really a form of purchase financing. It's lease by the decade, not by the day. Many leased aircraft spend all their time with a single operator. You'd be surprised to find out how many planes that you'd assume are owned by an airline are actually leased.
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Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby TCurtin » Sat Sep 09, 2017 12:28 pm

Did the remaining NY-Chicago "nice" thru train via the ex-NYC route --- I believe it was trains 61-62 --- retain its niceties, like the twin unit diner and either a tavern lounge or at least a6-BR lounnge, all the way to the end on 5/1/71?
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby John Laubenheimer » Sat Sep 09, 2017 1:49 pm

TCurtin wrote:Did the remaining NY-Chicago "nice" thru train via the ex-NYC route --- I believe it was trains 61-62 --- retain its niceties, like the twin unit diner and either a tavern lounge or at least a6-BR lounnge, all the way to the end on 5/1/71?

At least by the summer of 1970, 61-62 was down to a single unit diner. There was no 6-dbr lounge. I can't recall if there was a separate lounge. There was an ex-NYC sleepercoach, some variety of 10 rmt-6 dbr sleeper, and 6 rmt-6 sec-4 dbr sleeper (ex-NH). The sections were used as the crew dormitory.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Noel Weaver » Sun Sep 10, 2017 8:42 am

Comparing Penn Central of the period (1969-1971) to Amtrak (whatever period you want) is more or less like comparing apples to oranges. Amtrak had too many top people who had little or no experience in the railroad industry and they made a lot of decisions that made little or no sense then or today. We might still have had a Chicago - Florida train today if they had stayed on the Illinois Central route with it excellent high speed track and the spirit of their management to do their best with their remaining trains and they did that right up until day one of Amtrak. As for Penn Central they let everything or at least almost everything go steadily downhill until things really got bad. Penn Central's best trains were the Empire Service trains between New York - Albany and Buffalo. They fixed up a bunch of coaches with new interiors, good AC and much more and they ran decent although less service on this route. Penn Central covered all over the northeast and midwest from Illinois east with at least passenger service even though much of it was not that great. One day time train over many routes kept places accessible, something that Amtrak does not provide today. I rode a few former PRR trains, some better than others, once a day or less between Chicago and Cincinnati via the former PRR and the former NYC, Harrisburg - Buffalo an old P-70 but still fairly comfortable and the AC worked, a Buffalo - Chicago day train with two coaches and a crabby conductor who moved the passengers from the coach with working AC to a hot car and not in a nice way. Indianapolis - Cleveland on the former "Big Four" with a former NYC 2600 that was clean and comfortable. My worst trip ever was on the PRR before the merger on train 50 (The Admiral) from Chicago to New York with two crummy and dirty coaches, a diner that was way overdue for shop and a sleeper that I didn't go near. We were hours late into NYP and I swore off the PRR west of the corridor for a while after that one. Perlman once stated that he wanted much less passenger service but the trains that had to operate would be clean and decent or something to that effect and for the most part he lived up to it. At its start up Amtrak kept the wrong route between New York and Chicago, the New York Central was in better shape (maybe not too much better by this time) and west of Pittsburgh the PRR served little. In short there was more local passenger service under Penn Central in the midwest than now but in many cases the rides were less than good. Looking that the two railroads before and right after the merger the PRR was allowed to go downhill to a greater extant than the NYC was and it showed in the passenger services of the period. Penn Central - best trains were the Metroliners, next were the Florida trains operated in conjunction with the SCL and third was the Empire Service trains between New York and Buffalo.
OH WELL!! It is what it is. Today we have better corridor type services with Amtrak tailored to area travel, nicely equipped and for the most part, clean, warm or cool as the case may be, usually on or close to schedule and manned by folks who care about their railroad and their jobs.
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