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

  by Dieter
These dispatches really bring back the memories....

How many of you remember having the distinct impression by 1969, that the Penn Central had NO INTENTION of being around for very long?

  by JJJeffries
Reading the previous posts about intercity varnish on PC is foreign to me as I rode the Penn Texas-Spirit Of St. Louis-Broadway Limited and rems of the old varnish from Harrisburg to Lock Haven and back and it wasn't all that bad.

The diner on the Penn Texas-Spirit Of St. Louis and the Broadway still had the fine food I remember on the PRR.

The trains were cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I still remember that delicious Sirloin Steak on the WB Penn Texas leaving Newark back in 1969.

  by R3 Rider
wdburt1 wrote:To Hell in a Day Coach. Wasn't that the Lynch book?
Peter Lyon wrote To Hell in a Day Coach.

Peter Lynch was the author of Penn Central: The Pioneer Merger Road 1968-1976. He also wrote a book about the New Haven.

  by Aa3rt
I'd just like to share a personal observation from 1970. Living in northwest Pennsylvania at that time, I used to do some railfanning in the southern tier of New York State. I remember going to Olean, NY during Easter break to view and photograph the remenant of the Buffalo/Harrisburg Day Express. By this time, the train had been reduced to operating north and south bound on alternating days.

On this particular day, a cold, rainy April morning, the southbound train came into Olean with an E-unit in PC black, a baggage car, coach and caboose, looking like something from a misguided model train display on a Christmas layout in a department store.

As the train stopped at the station in Olean I asked a trainman why the caboose was on the passenger train. He informed me that the heat in the coach was inoperative so for the comfort of the crew, the caboose had been added to the consist. While I don't recall if there any passengers in the coach, this to me exemplified the PC's attitude in providing poor service. The Buffalo/Harrisburg train ceased the next year with the advent of Amtrak.

  by AmtrakFan
I know the PC wanted to dump all Long Haul Services. Did the Flordia Trains they ran detoriate like that?

  by Noel Weaver
When the Penn Central tried to dump all of their long distance passenger
service west of Buffalo and Harrisburg in the mid 1970's, the Florida trains
were not part of this plan but they did not really want to handle them
north out of Washington.
There were hearings all over the system, I testified at one in New York
but by that time, Amtrak was getting closer and Penn Central did not get
permission to cut the trains at that time.
Noel Weaver

  by pdman
It wasn't much better at the corporate headquarters. I remember the reception area outside the president's office as well as inside his office both needing buckets to catch dripping rain water that came through the ceiling. From merger day and on for about two years company was hemoraging about $750,000/day. By bankruptcy it was about $1 million/day.

  by Dieter
If any of you had a corporate front row seat, how long did it take for people at the top from both railroads to realize they had made the biggest mistake of their lives? Any stories of executives flying around instead of taking their own railroad?

I had a neighbor who was a wheel at Budd who was dedicated to taking the train for his business trips. Every trip he made between Buffalo and New York on Penn Central was a horror story, and he said it was obvious that the mismanagement was intentionally in motion to kill passenger service. Funny thing was, it derailed the entire company in the process!


  by pdman
There was a lot of frustration in the management re the passenger trains. They weren't making money, yet the cost of going to the ICC to discontinue many of them was greater than the loss incurred by the train. So, this led to some games like the following:

* The Washington-Buffalo Day Express. In Harrisburg, passengers were required to get out of the train. The coach was taken out into the yard to sit. Later it was brought back and everyone was allowed to reload.

* Several trains were actually delisted from public timetables from time to time. This was a great tactice to lower the passenger count so the company could show the ICC that there was no demand. It was only railfans who would allert the ICC over this tactic.

* When I worked for another road at the time, its passenger department switched to a type of floor cleaner that smelled so obnoxious you couldn't breathe in the car. They kept it, though, to drive away the passenger count.

There were others, I'm sure. But, I knew many a good train crew who were constant grumblers. But the grumbling was more about what the company did to the passengers and passenger service that made them so. It's really tough when you work someplace where you contact the public but your management abuses them/it.

  by walt
AmtrakFan wrote:I know the PC wanted to dump all Long Haul Services. Did the Flordia Trains they ran detoriate like that?
The Florida trains were probably the best trains that PC ran---- because the only equipment PC supplied was the GG1's-- the consists ( passenger cars) belonged to the connecting railroads ( mostly Seaboard-Coast Line)

  by Dieter
That's right, Seaboard Coast Line ran the train to Florida, and chances are, PC was under the gun not to screw it up. The deal was probably similar to Southern's "Southern Crescent".

For anyone reading these entries who isn't old enough to remember, get yourself an SCL schedule at a railshow, you will find it interesting.

In PC days, the Seaboard Coast Line trains to Florida were first rate, and they stopped to pickup ONLY, not discharge passengers, between Pennsylvania Station in New York, and it's home rails, reached at Richmond Virginia.

Another point we have yet to cover here, is the marked difference in riding Penn Central EACH YEAR as it declined to it's death with the salvation of the creation of Amtrak. For you see, each year, it was like riding a different, horrible railroad. In 1969, it was a state of confusion without amenities. By 1971, there were dark cars with no lightbulbs, and missing floor tiles, like in the third world........ When I hear people complain about Amtrak, I laugh at them. They're really clueless as to how bad it could get.

Penn Central was like riding a railroad in a country which had lost a war, and been steadily stripped down to the bone by the conquoring army. It wasn't so much that things were being carried off, as they were breaking or even FALLING OFF, and not being maintained or replaced.


  by walt
To put it simply, the PC was a railroad that was always in decline. It had no "golden era" (THAT belonged to the PRR & NYC). It only lasted 18 months, before going into bankruptcy, and, obviously, was in bad shape from the day it was created.

  by jonnhrr
Except for one ride on the Reading, my pre-Amtrak expreience was on the Penn Central and while I agree the condition of the trains and cars were decrepit, it is an era that I still have fond memories of.

I remember particularly my first ride on the N/B Senator (?) from Philly 30th St. to Route 128 in a coach that lost all of its lights after Trenton. By the time we left New York I was about the only person in that darkened car and I stayed in it as I could observe the night time view much better that in the lit cars. This was my first ride on the NEC and there was a lot to see.

On later trips I had my first experiences in the dining car some good, some not so good such as the morning train out of Boston that had already ran out of everything except toast and coffee.

One exception to the dilapidated equipment was the Turbo Train. It was clean and fast, but suffered from periodic breakdowns to the extent that a mechanic from UA rode on each trip and would periodically dissappear into the bowels of the equipment to deal with soem problem or other.

There were a lot of interesting equipment (GG1's, E units, the old NH SL coaches), grand stations that no longer exist (Back Bay, Providence, Bridgeport). In general a great time to be traveling by train.


  by Dieter
I recall riding in cars which lost their lights too.

It was great for sleeping, and like jonnhrr mentioned, great for being able to see the nightscape. This was fun until you had to manouver down the aisle, tripping over unseen luggage at the sides. I used to carry a small flashlight for such occasions, as lighting failures had become so frequent. It was a big help in the bathroom! :(

I used to take a perverse pleasure when the lights went out, and the people who lived with their heads buried in newspapers would groan! :P


  by Penn Central
Before Amtrak, the Penn Central dispatchers would hold trains in Rennsalear for deadheading crews. After we departed, there were many speed restrictions that would cause more delays. When Amtrak discontinued the D&H Laurentian, there was a news crew from Channel 6 at the station. I was in my Thompson coat and hat and looked like a railroader, so they put the mike in front of me and started to ask questions. I didn't have many answers, so they moved on to some older employees (I was a 19 year-old fireman at the time).
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