What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

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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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby theastralcity » Sat Apr 13, 2013 2:22 am

In my opinion Bevan would have said anything to make himself look better. Saunders was notoriously anxious to get the PRR married off, and his reasons for this weren't all bad. However, there was a feeling at the time that mergers somehow saved money, even when redundant costs couldn't be cut deeply, as was the case with the PC.

I agree that if the merger had been called off something would have had to have happened with the NH, it just was not solvent in any way. I also generally agree with the idea that eventually the PRR and the NYC would have gone bankrupt, but it could have been held off at least a couple of years longer. The most staggering thought to me is the one that was posted above that there could have been a belt of bankrupt lines across the entire country, what with the RI in such horrible shape and the Milwaukee making some of the worst business decisions of any line in American history. Eventually government would have to act in some way.

An interesting thought that occurs to me, if there were the string of smaller (compared to PC) lines going broke across the entire nation, would the Nixon administration have had the stomach to create something like existed in Canada at the time? It could have been possible to create, through controlled mergers, a 2 railroad solution, one private and one that was at least temporarily government owned. To their credit, the ICC was at least somewhat interested in maintaining competition between railroads, and always feared a nation-wide nationalization of the entire system. The Canadian model could serve as a basis for how the US could have dealt with the problem, especially if the federally-funded railroad were privatized in a manner like Conrail was.

The question I still have on that though, would it have been politically possible at all?
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby Tommy Meehan » Sat Apr 13, 2013 9:53 am

theastralcity wrote:In my opinion Bevan would have said anything to make himself look better...


You mean that Bevan was saying that after the fact to separate himself from the disaster Penn Central became?

Okay but if you would read the book I mentioned, "No Way To Run a Railroad," or even skim through it, I think you'll find Bevans was saying that they should merge upper management first, the physical plant later (ala the way C&O absorbed B&O) -- and documents it -- before the merger took place.
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby Backshophoss » Sat Apr 13, 2013 7:03 pm

When the merger was approved,too much was attempted at the same time to "create" savings,the New Haven "shotgun" wedding
only made things worse,years later as UP took over smaller western US RR's ,when UP+SP merger was approved,UP followed the same path,
but over time(years) was able to overcome the "too much-too soon" mistake that PC made.
The "Green vs Red" fights within the mangement team didn't help. and that "fight" made it down to the operations level as well.
I remember reading the "Wreck of the Penn Central" as a paper back book,back in the early '70's,where the 1st hints of "too much-too soon"
popped up.
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby Tommy Meehan » Sun Apr 14, 2013 9:41 am

Backshophoss wrote:...years later as UP took over smaller western US RR's ,when UP+SP merger was approved,UP followed the same path, but over time(years) was able to overcome the "too much-too soon" mistake that PC made.


You're right, and with all the resources Union Pacific has (which Penn Central didn't have) I was surprised that they had so many of the same problems -- confusion over interchanges, lost cars, plugged yards, dead trains -- following the SP takeover. UP had assured the public that wasn't going to happen. Yet, people have told me that the same thing pretty much happened when UP tookover C&NW. Chaos for months.

One of the things that has been forgotten about Penn Central, however, is that by early 1970 all the indicators -- yard time, trains delayed or annulled, average transit time -- had actually begun to come down. It looked like they were starting to get a handle on the expanded system. Saunders and Perlman said they were, and I think even Bevan agreed. Unfortunately by then the damage had been done, the railroad operations had lost hundreds of millions of dollars in 1968-69 and PC was running out of money.
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby theastralcity » Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:15 am

Tommy Meehan wrote:
theastralcity wrote:In my opinion Bevan would have said anything to make himself look better...


You mean that Bevan was saying that after the fact to separate himself from the disaster Penn Central became?

Okay but if you would read the book I mentioned, "No Way To Run a Railroad," or even skim through it, I think you'll find Bevans was saying that they should merge upper management first, the physical plant later (ala the way C&O absorbed B&O) -- and documents it -- before the merger took place.


Ah alright that clears it up a bit. I've been meaning to read "No Way To Run a Railroad" for some time now actually, but sadly haven't gotten a copy. It's been moved to the top of my list though.

The only thing I would wonder though if that had been attempted is if it would have killed the whole process very early on. The C&O from the outset was taking over and integrating the B&O into its system. There were few if any illusions of a "merger of equals" such as the PC was supposed to be. The command structure integration would probably have still resulted in a Red Hat/Green Hat rivalry which probably would have seriously impeded progress. Given the admittedly hidden, but dire financial situation of the PRR going in (the NYC not being much better either) such infighting could have dragged the merger down before a better physical plant and operations integration plan was hammered out. Overall Bevan was being much smarter about it, and it does make sense, but I don't think anyone in the upper levels at the PRR or NYC really understood just how much they would end up hating each other once they shared an office.
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby Tommy Meehan » Tue Apr 16, 2013 9:41 am

If you really want to understand what happened with Penn Central I would highly recommend reading "The Wreck of the Penn Central" first, then read, "No Way To Run a Railroad." The authors of Wreck, Joseph Daughen and Peter Binzen, were Philadelphia Inquirer reporters who followed the merger from the ICC hearings to the bankruptcy. They represent the "outsiders" view of PC, but I think they do it pretty well. Salsbury in No Way, greatly assisted by the many interviews he had with Bevan and the many internal documents Bevan provided, represents the "insiders" view.

Taken together they're invaluable in providing a real understanding of what happened.
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby FLRailFan1 » Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:37 pm

Now looking at this article, I wonder what would have happened if the Stegers Act (the act helping the railroads to sell lines) was in place around 1967 (as part of the Penn Central merger). I mean, when you look at a railroad map of 1965 and today, Connecticut has about 60% of the New Haven lines. I wonder if PC could have sold the canal, Midland and Airline routes to companies like G&W in the 70s...
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Re: What If The PC Merger Had Been Called Off?

Postby Noel Weaver » Mon Jul 24, 2017 10:48 pm

I worked and rode the Canal Line a good number of times and it was in decent condition with freight train speed of 35 MPH between Plainville and Westfield. I got a group together in May, 1968 and we chartered a Budd Car and rode from New Haven to Northampton via Mildale returning via New Britain and Berlin. It was a great trip and the tracks were in good shape. I was saddened when the line was no longer needed and torn up. The same thing happened to a lot more trackage New England, there is simply no more business and you can't run a railroad on wishes and wind pudding. Yes I well remember those wonderful old branches, I rode most of them and worked several of them as well. Fortunately a few of these branches are still with us. Changing traffic patterns and excessive physical plant are ripe for abandonment action and not even a short line could manage to survive. There was way more physical plant than existing traffic could possibly support. The result is a lot of gone but not forgotten. Want to bring back memories? Get active in one of the excellent railroad museum operations in Essex, Thomaston, Danbury or one of the wonderful trolley museums in Branford or Warehouse Point, you can enjoy your hobby and meet some fine folks as well plus you can learn a lot about railroading, the opportunities are endless.
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PS To add to the part above about the Canal Line; the protion between New Haven and Plainville has lost nearly everythiing that used the rail line to either plant/facility closing or moving out of the area, no freight business left. The part between Plainville and Westfield did not have very much local business anyway, a siding here and there but not much, all gone today. The really good part of this territory at least in New Haven days was Westfield and even more Holyoke. There was enough local business in Holyoke alone to keep a yard switcher busy all day long with some days well over eight hours. There were a lot of local customers in Holyoke. Westfield also had a good amount of business and two local freights were busy, one did the Westfield work and went south to Granby as required. The other did the work north to Northampton and sometimes further, lots of work there too. Northampton today what remains is served by the Boston and Maine/Pan AM. Westfield and Holyoke are served by the Pioneer Valley and as far as I know they are doing just fine. Once Penn Central took over the New Haven the traffic out of Holyoke and Westfield went to Selkirk rather than Cedar Hill and those customers still got decent service.
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