Penn Central Intercity Passenger Service

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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Noel Weaver
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Post by Noel Weaver » Sat Nov 18, 2006 6:37 am

Even though I have stated more than once how bad Penn Central
passenger service was, actually, there were some things about it that
were better than things are now, for example:
New York - Chicago, Amtrak train 49 the Lake Shore takes 19 hours to go
from New York to Chicago where as the last Penn Central timetable of
March 3, 1971 shows train 61 making the same trip in 17 hours and 50
minutes and that train was called the "great steel fleet" by some of us
because it represented the remains of what the New York Central once
called its streamliners between the east and the midwest cities. There
were six trains between New York and Chicago, three via Buffalo and
three more via Pittsburgh. While some of these trains were pretty poor
trains with just a snack bar and a couple of old "rattle box" coaches, they
offered service that was much more convient to use. There were six trains in one direction and seven in the other direction between New York
and/or Philadelphia and Pittsburg compared with only one today. There
were five trains between Buffalo and New York compared with four today
and the running time end to end was somewhat faster especially west of
Albany. Actually, the New York Central made a pretty decent effort to
operate good service between New York - Albany and Buffalo because
they re-aligned the service in 1968 and along with that, took a fair number
of trains off in the process. In return for no major resistance from the
state, the Central ran the remaining trains on a set schedule like every
train out of GCT left at 30 minutes past the hour and a train to Albany
operated every two hours from 8:30 AM to 10:30 PM with five of these
trains continuing on to Buffalo. It was not until long after the Amtrak
start-up that the state and Amtrak got involved and the improvements
in this vital service took place A lot of improvements took place with the
passenger cars and the seats were fixed up, the AC worked, the cars
were painted and cleaned up and mechanically received needed attention
too. For some time after this, the New York State service had the very
best cars that Penn Central owned in their consists.
One could pretty count on a good trip at least between New York and
Buffalo, west of Buffalo was a different story.
OH and every train even the ones that just ran between Albany and New
York had a snack bar on it.
Noel Weaver

Dieter
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Post by Dieter » Mon Nov 20, 2006 10:49 am

It's nice to hear some good in a sea of bad. Everybody's first train trip should be a special experience. That seat check is a souvenir for a lifetime.

We should differentiate between riding Penn Central and riding Amtrak on Penn Central rails. Amtrak was a great improvement equipment wise except for one factor. Some places the ride was so rough, we weren't sure if it was the Penn Central trackwork or a problem with the Amtrak suspension.

D./

Nacho66
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Post by Nacho66 » Mon Feb 19, 2007 10:25 pm

It's been some time now - how about some more recollections?
I know you're out there...

Dieter
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Post by Dieter » Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:42 pm

Adding a little fuel to the fire....... Imagine this is you, and it's 1969 or 1970 on a late afternoon in October.......

The waiting room was stifling hot. Some seedy looking people make you feel ill at east, one comes over and asks you what is in your bag. You reply; "Nothing." and move to the other side of the waiting room. After a little coaxing and physical banging, for fifteen cents, you purchase a ten ounce bottle of 7-Up from a machine that looked like it had been kicked around a football field and ritually set afire. Thankfully, now if there is no beverage service aboard, you have SOMETHING to drink for the trip.

The joy of your victory over damaged manmade mechanics is short-lived as another undesireable character approaches you and asks you for a dime. You oblige only to have him next demand that you give him a quarter. It is at this point that you decided to take your chances with the elements on the platform, in order to avoid possibly getting mugged. Besides, the smell from the toilets is making you nauseated. Why did they take the doors for BOTH the Mens and Ladies Rooms off the hinges??

It's windy and raining a cold steady rain as it only does from the remnants of a tropical storm in late October. You are now standing on the platform and you've been there for sometime, and you are getting colder by the minute. The platform has a roof, thankfully, but the wind is whipping around your pants, and your sneakers are getting wet....... Next time, you will be sure to put on your BOOTS.

Your fingers are cold, and you don't have gloves. Your mind wonders if it is going to snow later in the evening, hampering even further this unpleasant trip to your destination. You shove your hands deeper into your pockets for warmth, and you try not to think about your situation on this desolate platform. There are about ten other people waiting around you, scattered up and down the platform, but you might as well be alone.

You are facing down the track from the direction your train should be coming and you're squinting to figure if that light is a car at a distant crossing, or the first glimpse of the headlight of your train. All you want to do is see that train and get aboard. You lament that it's not as clean as it used to be, the toilet is probably broken again or even locked..... At least the passenger car will be dry, but what if there's no heat like the last two rides you had on here?

It's late. The train is always late. It never used to be late, but now it's chronically LATE. Service has gotten so bad, you actually entertain the thought of taking the bus with all the dirty hippies and junkies the next time you make the trip. There must be hope, for this is a new railroad, right? The mighty PENN CENTRAL, the answer to EVERYBODY's problems. What has happened that the train is so late? Perhaps you should have taken up Dad on his offer to fly you on Mohawk? Their planes DO crash a lot, it seems, but taking a chance on flying Mohawk instead of suffering another one of these miserable train rides begins to appeal to you more than the allure of traveling by rail. Boy, it sure isn't what it used to be.

You have tried to stop looking at your watch or any visible clock, but you can't help it. Forty five minutes has now melted to an hour and three minutes as you glance at the TDI clock above the door to the station. They put up a modern, shiny new clock in the station, how about a shiny new train with all the amenities??

What's happening? No news, nothing written on the chalk board in the waiting room. Could it be a breakdown? Blizzard up north? A wildcat strike, perhaps even a wreck???? You wonder about going back inside, but there is just something in you that you want to see the train coming so that you KNOW that this lousy wait is OVER.

The train is late. Maybe there aren't any announcements because the PA system doesn't work anymore? Was it vandalized? You see speakers mounted beneath the overhang of the station, yet they remain silent.

The Stationmaster inside doesn't know anything and has closed his window and is now ignoring you if you tap on the window to get his attention. He's sick of you and everyone else asking him what is going on and he clearly doesn't want to chit-chat.

You wish you could get some hot soup....... And still, that evasive headlight is nowhere to be seen.......

Where, oh WHERE is that Penn Central Train???
Video
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Penn Central
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Post by Penn Central » Wed May 23, 2007 5:36 pm

Nacho66 wrote:It's been some time now - how about some more recollections?
I know you're out there...
Schedules meant little during the Penn Central days. As a fireman on the West Shore, they would hold trains for deadhead crews going back to Grand Central. That stopped after Amtrak took over. Track was in terrible shape and there were many speed restrictions. Some engineers would speed to try to make up time, while others would not. As you have probably seen, some trains from Albany to GCT operated with a single coach.

In some places, service was better. On the New Haven Line, even though the top speed was 70 mph, there were no speed restrictions on the drawbridges at Cos Cob and Westport. The drawbridge at Bridgeport (PECK) was a different matter with a 30 mph restriction and a distinct kink in the rail on track 4.

With a GG-1, you had a lot of power to accelerate. In the early 70s, as the M2s were introduced on the New Haven, the power plant at Cos Cob struggled to keep up with demand. I remember many days when a P-2 restriction was in place and trains crawled. Once again, some engineers ignored this if they were in a hurry to get home.

Noel Weaver
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Location: Pompano Beach, Florida

Post by Noel Weaver » Fri May 25, 2007 12:50 am

I can tell plenty about what happened on the New Haven end of the
railroad after Penn Central took over.
We had speed restrictions soon after the takeover on all of the draw
bridges with 40 or 50 most common. Bridgeport was in the worst shape
and had 30 on it at various times although it was only 45 there anyway at
that time. Westport had a 50 on track 4 under the New Haven by a wire
bulletin for a long time before Penn Central and Pelham Bay was within a
slower area anyway.
Some of the draw bridges between New Haven and the RI state line also
had restrictions on them although for the most part they were in some-
what better shape.
We had a train out of New York, Penn Station at 9:30 AM that on week-
days ran with a GG-1 and one coach and ran through to Boston that way.
One change that Penn Central made that I agreed with was the transfer of
all of the New York - Boston trains to Penn Station. It was much better for
all trains out of New York to leave from the same station as now there was
no guess work as to what station you would leave from. One big reason
that this was done at the time it was done was to release FL-9's for the
Harlem Division commuter trains and this was easy as they had plenty of
GG-1's to run between New Haven and Penn Station. This change took
effect on September 21, 1970. The one exception to this move was the
Turbo Train which remained in Grand Central until February 1, 1971 when
it too was moved over to operate out of Penn Station. Incidentally until
March 1, 1971 the Turbo Train operation was not shown in the regular
New York - Boston passenger timetable, it had its own separate timetable.
Noel Weaver

Nasadowsk
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Post by Nasadowsk » Mon May 28, 2007 6:44 pm

<i>Perhaps you should have taken up Dad on his offer to fly you on Mohawk? Their planes DO crash a lot, it seems, but taking a chance on flying Mohawk instead of suffering another one of these miserable train rides begins to appeal to you more than the allure of traveling by rail.</i>

Heh. I have a Mohawk travel bag somewhere. "The specialist airline". Someone I know once saw it and commented 'Yeah, they were specialists at crashing!"

Actually, I've read their accident rate wasn't that that horrid (4 crashes). Most early jetliners were deathtraps by modern standards, and propjets and piston planes were just as bad.

But, yeah, everyone seems to think they crashed alot. Go figure.

LI Loco
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Post by LI Loco » Mon May 28, 2007 7:24 pm

My Dad used to frequently take Mohawk to Albany. One time he had a flight back to New York that took close to six hours. They ran low on fuel had go back to Hartford.

When he got home, I gave him a lecture on the merits of the Empire State Express.

My sole Mohawk experience was almost as memorable. I was booked on Mohawk to fly home from Syracuse University for Yom Kippur. My car battery died and I missed my morning flight.

I rebooked for the afternoon flight, but it had mechanical trouble and was cancelled. So, they put me on a flight to Newark where I caught a bus to Penn Station. I made it home in just enough time to wolf down some food before the start of the fast and to get to synagogue in time to hear the Kol Nidre prayer.

I'm sure more than a few upstate travelers were happy when Allegheny - another Mickey Mouse operation - bought out Mohawk.

LI Loco
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Post by LI Loco » Mon May 28, 2007 7:24 pm

My Dad used to frequently take Mohawk to Albany. One time he had a flight back to New York that took close to six hours. They ran low on fuel had go back to Hartford.

When he got home, I gave him a lecture on the merits of the Empire State Express.

My sole Mohawk experience was almost as memorable. I was booked on Mohawk to fly home from Syracuse University for Yom Kippur. My car battery died and I missed my morning flight.

I rebooked for the afternoon flight, but it had mechanical trouble and was cancelled. So, they put me on a flight to Newark where I caught a bus to Penn Station. I made it home in just enough time to wolf down some food before the start of the fast and to get to synagogue in time to hear the Kol Nidre prayer.

I'm sure more than a few upstate travelers were happy when Allegheny - another Mickey Mouse operation - bought out Mohawk.

Noel Weaver
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Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 9:33 pm
Location: Pompano Beach, Florida

etc

Post by Noel Weaver » Mon May 28, 2007 11:57 pm

I have memories of my one and only flight on Mohawk. It came in the
late 1960's when I was riding the IND subway from my home in Queens
to Manhattan to take the Laurentian from GCT to Montreal for a CNR
steam powered fantrip. You guessed it, that particular day the IND chose
to get royally screwed up and it took well over an hour and an half to get
from 179th Street to Roosevelt Avenue and the train by then was due out
in only a few minutes, there was no way that I could make it.
I got off at Jackson Heights station and on a thought, grabbed a cab at
that location to LaGuardia Airport, Mohawk terminal and upon arrival at
their ticket window, they had a flight to Albany just being called for first
boarding, the ticket agent rushed me a ticket and I rushed to the gate for
a very interesting flight to Albany.
Of course I had my cameral for the trip so I took it out of my bag, we flew
nice and low over an interesting route, passed over Cos Cob power plant,
Danbury Yard, Chatham and finally Rensselaer enroute to the Albany
Airport for a decent arrival. Upon landing, I got off quickly and got a taxi
to the downtown Albany station where I had some time to spare to catch
the same train that I missed in New York.
I still have the slides that I took from the window of this trip and they
came out pretty good considering that I am not a very good photographer
in the first place.
I doubt that something like this is at all possible tody.
Oh, I almost forgot, they served us a cup of orange juice enroute.
Noel Weaver

Dieter
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Post by Dieter » Fri Nov 02, 2007 10:23 am

DO YOU REMEMBER......

When they stopped maintaining the air conditioning?

Do you remember sitting in a passenger car on a foggy, rainy day in the autumn or spring, the air inside was dank because they didn't have the blowers on, but worse, you thought the roof was leaking?

What was happening was the moisture from wet clothing and what the body aspirates, was condensing on the ceiling, and DRIPPING DOWN on the passengers....... The only other place I ever saw that in transportation was on a school bus.

GROSS!!

D/
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CRRofNJ

Post by CRRofNJ » Mon Mar 24, 2008 9:44 pm

I often wondered what was worse, the trains or the stations. I remember the look of horror on my parents face any time I had them bring me to a train station for a journey on the Penn Central. What kind of impression it must have given any prospective passenger to have water pouring in down into the station while it was raining outside in Trenton. The kids outside of Union Station in DC always seemed to be skinny dipping in the fountain while inside we were always harassed for spare change. I don't recall much about the station in Harrisburg at the time but from what I do recall it wasn't anything to write home about. I was always so excited about riding the train that the dirt and crime inside didn't seem to phase me. I would certainly notice it at his point in my life.

Noel Weaver
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Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 9:33 pm
Location: Pompano Beach, Florida

Post by Noel Weaver » Tue Mar 25, 2008 12:34 am

CRRofNJ wrote:I often wondered what was worse, the trains or the stations. I remember the look of horror on my parents face any time I had them bring me to a train station for a journey on the Penn Central. What kind of impression it must have given any prospective passenger to have water pouring in down into the station while it was raining outside in Trenton. The kids outside of Union Station in DC always seemed to be skinny dipping in the fountain while inside we were always harassed for spare change. I don't recall much about the station in Harrisburg at the time but from what I do recall it wasn't anything to write home about. I was always so excited about riding the train that the dirt and crime inside didn't seem to phase me. I would certainly notice it at his point in my life.
In defense of the Penn Central and most of the other railroads in the
general area, YES the stations were run down and neglected but the
Penn Central paid a huge amount in property taxes on these facilities
while the states and locals were busy using their tax money to build more
roads, improve local airports and for other things that would benefit the
railroad's competitiors. As a result the railroad was broke although this is
only one of many reasons why this took place.
I also think that after the Penn and the Central merged, conditions with
the passenger trains were generally better on the former New York
Central than they were on the former Pennsylvania although the former
PRR had much more passenger service. Of course there were some
exceptions to this, the Florida trains were the best on the system and the
Broadway still had at least a little bit of class too.
Out of New York the commuter trains on the New York Central were for
the most part better than the ones on the Pennsylvania were too. The
Central had more AC cars and newer MU's as well. Al Perlman was a
very smart railroader and he realized that it would be futile to try to get
all of the commuter trains off in New York State. Under his leadship, the
Central spent some funds to fix up both the old heavyweight coaches and
some lightweight coaches that were no longer needed for longer distance
trains. The Central also speeded up the commuter trains with zone
schedules and other innovations of the time.
Noel Weaver

Dieter
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Post by Dieter » Thu May 01, 2008 3:01 pm

Noel, I can't argue with you from an operational standpoint. I was a kid when the merger went through, but from my perspective of back then, I have to disagree with you (forgive me!) that service improved on the New York Central territory.

Perhaps from an operational standpoint which you witnessed things improved. However, as far as service, cleanliness, courtesy (The hallmarks of desireable passenger service) and I might even toss in SAFETY, it appeared that those elements were tossed out the door under Penn Central.

I realize that SAFETY can open a can of worms, so here's a specific to gnaw on; doors and stairwells left OPEN between destinations with people walking through at speed, and even ICING up during storms. I saw that twice, and it was a miracle nobody fell off.

One element of travelling IC with PC that has yet to be touched upon is the WHY of the chronically late trains.

I saw equipment failures. I listened to seasoned travellers complain that passenger trains were being held up for freights. So, which was it, or a combination of both?

D/
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Noel Weaver
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Joined: Sat May 29, 2004 9:33 pm
Location: Pompano Beach, Florida

Post by Noel Weaver » Fri May 02, 2008 6:34 am

Dieter wrote:Noel, I can't argue with you from an operational standpoint. I was a kid when the merger went through, but from my perspective of back then, I have to disagree with you (forgive me!) that service improved on the New York Central territory.

Perhaps from an operational standpoint which you witnessed things improved. However, as far as service, cleanliness, courtesy (The hallmarks of desireable passenger service) and I might even toss in SAFETY, it appeared that those elements were tossed out the door under Penn Central.

I realize that SAFETY can open a can of worms, so here's a specific to gnaw on; doors and stairwells left OPEN between destinations with people walking through at speed, and even ICING up during storms. I saw that twice, and it was a miracle nobody fell off.

One element of travelling IC with PC that has yet to be touched upon is the WHY of the chronically late trains.

I saw equipment failures. I listened to seasoned travellers complain that passenger trains were being held up for freights. So, which was it, or a combination of both?

D/
I traveled a lot on the Empire Service trains and remember them well.
The coaches were renumbered to 3600 class and the snack bar cars to
3200 class. They had new seat covers, the heat, lights and AC worked
well in every case and the trains had food service. A good number of
these trains ran with two or three cars and if no more than three cars,
they had just an engine crew with a conductor. The conductor would
load or unload from just one door and the door and trap were not left
open between station stops.
Perlman stated that if he was allowed to make the requested changes to
the service in 1967/1968, the trains that operated would be good and on
that, he kept his word.
I do not recall anything unsafe about the operation of these trains.
Noel Weaver

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