• March 31, 1976: PC's final day 40 years ago - Thoughts...

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

Moderator: JJMDiMunno


40 years ago today - March 31, 1976 was the last day for the Penn Central Transportation Company.

As many remember PC - which existed for 8 years 2 months (February 1, 1968) went bankrupt on June 21, 1970.

I was in my second year of HS - son of a PC (former PRR) station employee (NYP) and was old enough
to at least understand what was going on with the troubles of the Penn Central.

I later learned about the relationship between the former PRR and NYC that extended up into top management:
The PRR's Stuart Saunders and the NYC's Al Pearlman did not like or trust one another - a bad sign early on.

Can credit be given to the Penn Central's bankruptcy trustees led by Jervis Langdon,Jr. for the effort to keep
the railroad together somehow operating up to and until Conrail would take over on April 1, 1976?

This must have been a monumental task trying to keep PC from folding up altogether especially after tremendous
setbacks such as the devastation from flooding following Tropical Storm Agnes in August 1972?

I will add these links concerning Penn Central:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penn_Centr ... on_Company" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://www.american-rails.com/penn-central.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu/ ... 6/w66b24mm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

  by rrbluesman
The end of Penn Central was an inevitable consequence of bad planning, poor merger judgement (both on the railroad and government ends), and outdated and failed regulations, laws, and rules. In my opinion, Penn Central should never have been allowed to come to pass by government agencies involved - but the government's involvement with rail mergers at the time was highly flawed everywhere, take for example the Rock Island. The red team versus green team attitude of the companies had been so long rooted it was no going to end with a merger and play nice now we're all one team. It was one issue after another.

In the wake of the PC's failure, I do give credit to their trustees for what they accomplished. By 1972 I think it was clear that reorganization would not work and the government would have to take action - what became ConRail was a nice solution to the immediate problem but perhaps not the best solution. ConRail was reluctant to absorb the Erie-Lackawanna and worked to dismantle large parts of the main lines of the other railroads integrated in, not that it was not necessary but seemingly preserving the PC system before any others.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Bluesman, I have wondered on occasion if the Eastern roads had followed their traditional lineages resulting in a road comprising C&O, B&O, NYC, and the other Van Swerigen roads and the other road of the Penn and it's Subs, such as the N&W and Wabash, could the story have had a different ending?

Note my avoidance of the New Haven; there was already recognition by the later 50's that if there were to be any passenger train service, it would have to be publicly funded.

Possibly others here will choose to "take this on"; discussion, anyone?
  by kilroy
I think what you are suggesting is what we have today. CSX got the NYC trackage (and reporting mark) and NS got the PRR trackage and reporting mark (except for the NEC).

The LV was under the PRR and went to NS. The Reading under the B&O/C&O to CSX.
  by Gilbert B Norman
I note your point, Mr. Kilroy - and it indeed has merit.

I was trying to "put the clock back" to 1960, and wondering if the roads that had "staunch" management cultures as the Pennsy imbued in its "children" got together. Would we have had "kumbyah" rather than a "Red Team Green Team" culture? Could there have been enough profit from N&W to shore up "the sinking Pennsy ship" and avoiding bankruptcy.

Even if the B&O top management had a "two (or more) martini Lunch" culture, they would have been either gotten in line with the Central's "lean and mean" culture, or would have been applying to the RRB and checking out.
  by ExCon90
I don't think any kind of favorable resolution could have occurred without the Staggers Act in 1980, and the only thing that made the sweeping deregulation of that Act possible was the catastrophic collapse of Penn Central, which finally got Congress's attention. If any surviving railroads, in the absence of a Staggers Act, had been required up to the present day to retain unproductive routes and wait through an entire growing season or model year for the Interstate Commerce Commission to make a decision on a particular freight rate (8 to 9 months was not uncommon), it wouldn't have mattered how the lines were divided up.

Addendum: I was typing the above while Mr. Norman posted his, which I have just now seen. That's a very good question, as to whether the red-team-green-team dysfunction could have been avoided. I lived through it and don't know. There were instances on both sides where some hardheaded idiot couldn't let go of old rivalries and others where red hats and green hats worked together just fine--I was fortunate enough to be in such a department. (As an example of the opposite, there was a station on the former PRR in Indiana from which cars were being regularly misrouted. An investigator went out from Philadelphia to find out why cars were not moving out on the local freight to Elkhart as required; the freight agent stated emphatically: "Cars from here go to Logansport!!!"--and that's what was happening.)
  by Backshophoss
About the only good thing that PC did was the creation of the Metro Region,combining the former NYC and NH lines into GCT
under 1 "roof" and putting the freight ops under the NE region "roof" making the Metro Region passenger only ops.
With $$$ from NYS under a "purchase of service" agreement at first,then thru the MTA after its creation,the Metro Region after
the Congress critters told CR to spin off the commuter ops,had the easier startup as MN.
CR had not completely set up the NJT and SEPTA as well as PC had done with the Metro Region.
  by Engineer Spike
Mr. Norman, you brought up some good points, as always. There are a few points that I would like to discuss. First, there was too much track. Back when the northeast was a true rust belt, it was fine. Places like Scranton could support D&H, CNJ, EL. Now there is just one railroad.

The PRR could have gobbled up Wabash, LV, and N&W, since it owned them already. What about Nickel Plate? That line would have had to agree to merge. One other factor was that it did nothing but encroach on NYC territory. Maybe it could make a NYC-Chicago route with LV, but how many routes do they need?

C&O was wealthy, and we know that they didn’t want anything to do with Central. Maybe they could have stayed independent longer, mainly as a coal road. With out C&O’s cash, could Central-B&O have made it, along with CNJ, and Reading, which would have tied them in the east?

Lastly, how about EL? I don’t see any partner for them. Maybe they could have gotten a St. Louis line, since the other combinations would have had multiples. Give them a few other scraps. These might have given a few new markets, to make window dressing for a competitive system. Maybe a D&H merger would have worked. Throw in a slimmed down B&M, so Central-B&O wouldn’t have a New England monopoly.
  by Gilbert B Norman
Mr. Spike, thank you very much for resurrecting this topic. Here are random thoughts coming to mind.

I can remember the Late "Frimbo", whom I had met face to face, referred to Conrail as "Con-game", and on the strength of what he observed before he passed away, he was on mark.

But a funny thing happened called "de-Reg" and Conrail gathered together a management team, helped greatly by "groundbreaking labor reform" (volks, don't you consider crew consist reduction from five men to two persons "groundbreaking"?), that was going to run the outfit as a business and not "Hotel Political Hack". That Conrail became the subject of a bidding war is testament to that. I hold that had Conrail stayed out of the "Big Four" formation, they could have remained a going concern. With passenger service publicly funded and hence "out of the way", Conrail was hardly as coal dependent as are the other two Eastern players. Truncating the most efficient NY/NE-Chicago (and losing the means to handle 24hr NY-CHI trains) would have never occurred.

No way would have the "Weary Erie" and the "Delay, Linger, and Wait" survived - merger notwithstanding. Anthracite coal was "done for"; how could a routing that not only meandered along whatever waterway God put there so a railroad could be built on the cheap through the East, then meandered through Ohio and Indiana for total of 997 miles (v. 960 NYC; 902 PRR) expect to be viable. Whatever maritime analogy you choose - rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, a sinking ship lending a hand to a life raft, whatever - applied to this outfit. Sure, they put lipstick on the pig - quickly "reliverying" their locomotives and passenger cars attractively (DL&W scheme), and running "classy" passenger trains. But nothing altered the fact they were "dead on arrival".

But finally, allow me to share a thought, and contradict my immediate, based upon a real fact the was proposed - namely Asian (Japanese) maritime interests acquiring MILW Lines West. Now Mr. Meyer (VerMontanan) has gone to great length debunking the shortest route to the Pacific theory, but had any such proposal come to pass, this would have been a road controlled by and operated for the convenience of the maritime industry. The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma could have become more dominant West Coast ports rather than the comparative backwaters with LA/LB they are. Carry such one step further; acquire the ERIE and now a Transcontinental Land Bridge is in place. Neo-PANAMAX would simply been a non-term and, while "the jury is still out", such may turn out to be the "Biggest Loser". A 96 hour Coast to Coast schedule, carefully coordinated between docking and sailing could have been feasible.

Again, random thoughts that will never come to pass.
  by XBNSFer
I've seen those mileage figures (for NYC to Chicago) elsewhere in these parts. Looked for that information randomly on the internet and never managed to find it, but of curiosity: What were the start and end terminals for those figures, and what route did they take for each railroad?

I assume NYC would start in the Bronx, from where its "Supervans" originated, and use the original "Water Level Route" mainline up the east bank of the Hudson, as compared with say, the more contemporary North Bergen up the old West Shore (River Line), clearly a comparatively inferior piece of railroad. PRR I presume would be from South Kearny? And would the PRR route go via Philly proper, or use the "Trenton Cutoff?" As for EL, presumably from Croxton, but via the old Erie Delaware Division or via the DL&W using the "cutoff" to get to Binghamton?

And perhaps the more telling (and I think I saw this in a magazine somewhere once), but what were the grade profiles? I suspect NYC would be best (they didn't call it the "Water Level Route" for nothing), followed by the PRR with the EL bringing up the rear, but it's also possible EL was better grade-wise, but worse curve-wise, than the PRR.

Oh, and just for how far behind 4th (and worse) place was, how about LV+N&W? B&O+RDG+CNJ?

  by Gilbert B Norman
XBNSFer wrote:I've seen those mileage figures (for NYC to Chicago) elsewhere in these parts.....And perhaps the more telling (and I think I saw this in a magazine somewhere once), but what were the grade profiles? I suspect NYC would be best (they didn't call it the "Water Level Route" for nothing), followed by the PRR with the EL bringing up the rear, but it's also possible EL was better grade-wise, but worse curve-wise, than the PRR.

Oh, and just for how far behind 4th (and worse) place was, how about LV+N&W? B&O+RDG+CNJ?
Mr. XBNSF, the mileage figures I noted immediately, were taken from Public Passenger Timetables, and we're meant simply to show the PRR was shortest and that Central, while longer, was certainly more efficient.

The ERIE was simply the "basket case" and could only survive with robust on-line industries needing railroad transportation - and those are "a bit thin" where they ran. My MILW-ERIE end to end combination was only a pipe-dream from this ex-MILW hand who was "gone before the end". Neo-PANAMAX was then only a concept, and anyone in transportation knows that the maritime companies do not sell speed - they sell "Mills per ton-mile", and saving ten or more days on Asia-Europe traffic that a Land-Bridge could offer means little. Need it yesterday? Well, that's what a 747 flown by a "who the h--- is THAT airline?" is for.

"Leaky-Nickel Plate", along with "Delay, Linger & and Plate", were known as "differential routes" existing largely to "keep the Big Boys in line". There were "differentials" where my road served. Timber and paper interests were insistent that Northern Wisconsin- X-Lake - East was maintained simply to "keep the MILW and CNW in line".
  by XBNSFer
Thanks for that. I do enjoy some of your nicknames for the old northeastern lines.

All things considered, however, you have to admit the "Erie Lack of Money" (EL, as known by its commuters used to riding coaches often described with quips like "you can see the dents where the arrowheads hit") fared pretty well against the leviathan Penn Central. They did manage to steal away the coveted UPS traffic in the Chicago-NYC (northern NJ) corridor from the railroad sporting BOTH of the two "best" routes for that business. A hundred mile difference on a near 1,000 mile corridor isn't a huge handicap for rail transport. Should be little more than an hour and a half difference on a well maintained route that supports 70mph maximum speeds.

And contemporary routings remove some of the classic route advantages. On the NYC side, instead of running the hot freights from the Bronx terminal (Oak Point) up the Hudson line, sporting 2-4 high speed main tracks, they instead would have to suffer the "River Line" up the opposite bank of the Hudson, built by and then acquired from rival PRR, an inferior single track route with few passing sidings and more curves and grades than the Hudson Line. On the PRR side, losing "Corridor" access with its four track "Broadway" grade-separated speedway, the trains instead must negotiate the somewhat shorter, but choked with long stretches of single track "sans sidings" and single track junction riddled patchwork Lehigh Valley-Reading routing to get from the northern NJ terminals to Harrisburg, PA, and then lose some of that mileage ground gained when diverted from the more direct PRR "Fort Wayne" line to Chicago to the low-capacity feeder via Alliance to join the ex-NYC near Cleveland, OH.

Add to these changes the fact that the EL had double stack clearances end to end from Croxton to Chicago without any "clearance projects" which would have provided it with a healthy head start on building up double stack business before its "betters" could join the party, and I think the EL would have been quite a viable northeast competitor given the necessary (for all) Staggers deregulation and work rules modernization. Tie them up with a New Haven shorn of commuter operations via Maybrook-Poughkeepsie bridge to take intermodal into New Haven (Cedar Hill) instead of draying everything from northern NJ, and they could have even given the favored NYC (B&A) some more serious competition for southern New England traffic.

The speed with which Conrail abandoned and ensured the ripping up of the ex-EL routes shows how much they feared someone with money to invest getting their hands on the "Weary Erie."