PC Electric Freight on NEC

Discussion relating to the Penn Central, up until its 1976 inclusion in Conrail. Visit the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society for more information.

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PC Electric Freight on NEC

Postby Tadman » Thu Feb 21, 2013 6:00 pm

These days, there is no electric freight on the NEC and far less freight overall than PRR and PC operated during their ownership of the corridor. Given that the GG1's were 30+ at the time of the PC merger, did the PC ever have plans to replace the G's with more E44's or dieselize the corridor's freight traffic like Conrail did? It's clear that they wanted the ex-New Haven traffic running through Selkirk, so it was thusly dieselized, but it appears they ran pretty heavy electric freight traffic between NYC, DC, and H'burg.
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Re: PC Electric Freight on NEC

Postby Noel Weaver » Fri Feb 22, 2013 3:13 am

The real downfall of electric freight operation at least south of New York came with the start up of Conrail. At the time Amtrak wanted as much as possible for the NEC to be a passenger railroad and the charges for all freight movements esclated during that period. In addiltion Conrail by their start up and take over of the Reading, Lehigh Valley and the others had an equally good railroad with covered virtually everything that the former Pennsylvania did although there are of course some small sections where they had to run over Amtrak. Conrail by this move ended up with an all diesel freight operation for their freight trains. Although I ran electric locomotives on the New Haven in freight service and liked them, this move made much sense because not all of the routes were electrified and by this time power was running through between east coast terminals and Chicago, St. Louis or whereever the train was headed. Even in Penn Central days some trains had through power all the way between Weehawken/North Bergen and Chicago. Another thing in the 70's and more so in the 80's diesel electric locomotives were vastlly improved on in many respects and the most efficient use of them was on long runs. To be a bit more specific during 1974 and 1975 while I was frequently working the River Line the Pot Yard jobs generally ran with motors south of the Meadows while the Harrisburg jobs (Enola) usually ran through with diesels between Enola and Selkirk.
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Last edited by Noel Weaver on Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: PC Electric Freight on NEC

Postby Allen Hazen » Fri Feb 22, 2013 7:40 pm

A couple of general points. I've followed railroad news for a long time, but I'm not a professional: somebody PLEASE post and correct me if what I say sounds wrong!

(1) Electric freight on the New Haven was probably a lost cause. The tunnels through Penn Station in NYC are not suitable for freight operation (clearances, steep grades), as I understand it, so the New Haven's electrification would be an isolated 80-mile line: not economically worth maintaining a separate locomotive fleet for and changing engines when freights entered or left the district. (Why had it been worthwhile earlier? I think the economics were different! Time and labor costs of engine changes are more significant now than they were when NYNHHRR ran electric freights. And, of course, the New Haven's last electric freight locomotives -- the EF-4 a.k.a. E-33 -- were acquired second-hand at what was undoubtedly a bargain price: they might not have re-instituted electric freight operations in the early 1960s if they had had to pay new-locomotive prices.)

(2) I think that the Conrail management when they started weren't sure what would be the best strategy: I doubt they were committed from the outset to an all-diesel operation, and if things had worked out a bit differently (Amtrak offering lower prices for using their tracks, for example) they might have kept electric freight operations. In 1976 there were people who saw a bright possible future for freight electrification:
-------EMD built two demonstrator freight electrics, and GE rebuilt one E-44 to a 6000 hp rating: I doubt the two big locomotive builders would have invested in these projects if Conrail had let them know right from the start that they were going to phase out electric freight a.s.a.p. (Mind you, 1976 was a time of widespread awareness of energy issues -- the Arab oil boycott and 55 mph speed limits were fresh in people's minds -- so the idea of new electrifications in North America didn't seem totally ridiculous! So maybe the locomotive builders weren't JUST hoping for Conrail orders!)
-------There was some talk in the trade press (I recall, vaguely, and article in "Railway Age," but don't recall details) about extending the former PRR electrification to Pittsburgh in the period around the formation of Conrail. Remember that Conrail received a lot of government money to help it get on its feet: the idea that the Feds might lend, or underwrite a private loan, for an ambitious rail infrastructure program wasn't totally outlandish.
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