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 Nacho66
Was just wondering if anyone had any recollections of what PC long-distance trains were like.
Were they still mostly as good as the Pennsy's?

  by walt
My only experience with a PC intercity train ( from DC to Phila) would suggest that the answer was no. That train had adjacent cars, one with no lights and the other with no heat. By the time the PC merger occurred, Pennsy's trains had deteriorated, with some possible exeptions, so it probably was not possible for PC's trains to measure up to the standard of intercity trains operated by PRR during its best days---- those days were long gone by the time the merger occurred.
  by eddiebear
It was bad and got worse.
The NYC side had already really lopped off a lot of service in the Fall of 1967 and established Empire Service, NY-Buffalo, with a bunch of refurbished cars. A few trains with amenities, sleepers and more than snack service for food, were still available. But the remnant of the NE States, #428, when running very late, dropped the sleeper at Springfield for preparation for return trip on #427, proceeded to Boston and left when equipment was serviced and ready. I saw it go west well over an hour late at times.
The PRR side was probably worse. Ever hear the story about the passengers on the Spirit of St. Louis who were so exasperated about the lack of working ac in any of the cars blocked the tracks at Columbus, Ohio or thereabouts and were not arrested. Someone was eventually summoned and got things workings. Wash. Union Station was pretty bad and so were some of the other stations.
On the New Haven, big service reductions took place 2/2/69, a month after NH's inclusion in the system. Springfield service was generally RDC-ized with a shuttle operation between Hartford & Springfield, sometimes a GP-9 and coach. The NH's silver cars were generally moved to New Haven or beyond and were put into commuter service. Same for FL-9s. PRR E-units generally operated New Haven-Boston. EP-5s were relegated to freight and then the boneyard. GG-1s did run through from New Haven to Washington.
Black diesels, redone letterboards on equipment, PC logo on stations, a general appearance of everything being rundown, broken, falling apart, dispirited employees. It was a bad time.
You can see the deterioration in the timetables. See what was operated on 4/28/68 - 1st full PC (excluding NH) issues versus 5/01/71-A Day.
  by wdburt1
Penn Central Passenger Trains? Ugh.

As a 16-year old, I rode two of their trains between Buffalo and Chicago in the fall of 1970--some sort of remnant of a name train westbound, and mail train 440 eastbound. Malfunctioning locomotives, slow orders everywhere, cars way too hot or cold, surly employees.

1 E7 and 1 E8 on a three-car train 440: We dawdled between Chicago and Cleveland, but added a third unit (for power) at Cleveland, after which we flew.

Still game, I persuaded a high school club of which I was a member to take the train for a field trip from Rochester to NYC. PC treated us to the full course of indignities, after which the parents intervened and ordered us to fly back. I remember steam coming up through holes in the floor in the coach bathroom (stainless steel ex NYC coach), flooded toilet, no running water, cars either too hot or too cold (again). Employees who were "disengaged" to put it kindly.

Half-asleep in the window seat on an ex-New Haven coach barreling up the NE Corridor somewhere around Trenton. I open my eyes to see a cockroach staring me in the face. Of course they rode first class too.

This wasn't true everywhere in America, but PC deliberately discouraged its passengers, and the employees generally played their part. Some say it was rational business decision. One could make that argument. Or not.

  by wdburt1
I forgot one thing:

Does anyone else remember the way these trains smelled and felt to the touch?

The smell--often quite pungent--was like a combination of old cigarette smoke and accumulated body oils. The fabrics all felt slightly greasy. Other surfaces were rarely clean to the touch.

We'll never know how many passengers tried the trains once and were driven away by these factors, even if only subconsciously.


  by Nacho66
That truly sounds horrible -yet fascinating all the same.
I'm 37 years-old and remember taking the Southern Crescent to Atlanta in 1978. That was a real train!
It was clean, efficient, and the staff were very friendly and proud of their jobs.
Conversely, I remember taking the Metroliner in 1973 with my mom to NYC.
The train was in PC markings and - though I was a young-un, I remember the ride being horrible! I can clearly remember being scared we were going to go off the rails.
However, I also remember the steward in the bar/cafe car being a very kind old guy with funky glasses. He wore a Penn Central (not Amtrak) name-tag and gave me cocktail swords to play with. Hey, it's what I remember...
I guess I should refine my question:

What were 1st-Class accomodations on long-distance trains like during PC? You know - NYC-
Chicago-St. Louis, etc. ...
Did the porter still come to your compartment when called, etc.?
Were the sheets clean?
Were there any interesting PC corporate knick-knacks (embroidery, mints, pens, etc.) ?
And, lastly - what kind of people still travelled this way then?
Thanks in advance.
  by eddiebear
The entire 1st class operation probably consisted on 10 Roomette, 6 Double Bedfroom and 6 Double Bedroom Lounge sleepers. Almost everything else had been weeded out, sold to Canada or Mexico, converted to coaches or junked.

  by Rockingham Racer
Not so. In 1969, I rode from South Bend, IN, to Croton-Harmon by Slumbercoach. It was awful. Noisy, and bumping over lousy roadbed in many spots. Long stretches of 10 MPH slow orders, too.
  by Noel Weaver
For the most part, the service and trains were "pretty shabby".
The sleepers were not too bad and the service in them was fairly decent
too. The trains themselves, terrible.
Probably the best trains were the former New York Central Empire Service
trains between New York - Albany - Buffalo. They generally terminated in
Buffalo at the old Central Terminal at that time. The New York Central
fixed up some coaches with new seating or at least new upholstry on them
and the AC and heat were quite good too. Probably the best trains other
than maybe the Metroliners.
I had a pass at that time and rode many of the trains in the western part
of the system and had no idea how bad some trains could be. I think this
was a carryover from the former PRR as many of their trains were pretty
bad even before the merger.
I know for a fact that in 1962, there was a big difference in the service and equipment between the New York Central and the Pennsylvania. I
rode to Chicago from the east on the New York Central and the train was
clean, well maintained and on time. I returned east on the Pennsylvania
and the train was dirty, falling apart and hours late into New York.
During the period, the former NYC generally had less through line service
than the former PRR but the trains were generally better on the former
It was a very interesting period in spite of the problems.
Noel Weaver
  by eddiebear
Forget the Slumbercoaches and the Sleepercoaches rebuilt from NYC sleepers in the early 1960s. They had close to double capacity of a 10-6 if fully occupied.

One positive thing that can be said about PC passenger service is that there were many more schedules in territory west of Buffalo - 2 routes and Harrisburg. That can also be called a negative too because there were more schedules subject to delay from slow orders, more passengers to affect with both the delays and poorly maintained equipment and many more dump stations.
  by fm
Somewhere, stuffed in a box someplace, I've still got one of the plastic Penn Central train crewmember's uniform nametags mentioned by "nacho66". It's available in trade for something from the New Haven that I haven't already got...


  by Dieter
Sad but fact, there's nothing to romanticize about Penn Central.

What was obvious to my parents generation was that the railroad wanted out of the passenger business, and went out of their way to prove it. They made EVERYONE regret having taken the train for any length of trip.

These recants of NO heat, NO AC, NO working toilets. It's all true. I have to say that I've seen better attempts at service and on-time performance on railroads in Communist countries than what I witnessed on Penn Central. No wonder, the crew might have been taken out and shot for exercising Penn Central standards.

I was 11 when the merger went through, and there was so much hope placed by the public in what was promised to be a "Great Thing". What I saw made me wonder if the Management had taken from the New Haven, regarding how to run a railroad into the ground. Like a cancer, peeling floor tile started on the New Haven, and spread to Penn Central, and even the Delaware and Hudson. If Amtrak pulled on the public TODAY what Penn Central did until Amtrak, you would see lawsuits beyond comprehension.

If you're too young to remember the "Penn Central Experience", perhaps you are old enough for this one. I would compare PC efficiency to the kind of abuse and nightmares people endured with Eastern Air Lines in it's death throes.

The best example of Penn Central "Quality" that held over through Amtrak was how Penn Central/Conrail/MTA ran the Harlem and Hudson lines, preceeding the 1983 inception of Metro North.

No food, but there was always someone eager to sell you a beverage and nuts to keep you thirsty for the ride. NO AC, NO HEAT in the seasons you needed it most. NO LIGHTS, NO AIR. Shot suspension. "NO-SHOWS" in the AM during cold weather, and after 8 PM departures from GCT. Water sloshing out of AC vents onto passengers in the ends of the cars. NO drinking water from the coolers. NO working plumbing, ice build-ups in the vestibules during winter storms with no effort made to clear them..... How many of you remember the "Penn Central Aquarium"? That was when there was water between the two panes of glass in the windows, which lazily sloshed back and forth, like that "Sea In A Tube" novelty.

One thing you guys have missed, or probably blocked if you remember, was the unusually high number of NASTY conductors who were mean to everything between small children to senior citizens. What conditions couldn't drive off to the "Friendly Skies" was finished off by a staff that truly could leave you with your hands shaking, for no good reason.

When I see people restoring locomotives and rolling stock to Penn Central, I scratch my head and wonder why for the expense they are bothering. When I see model railroad cars available in Penn Central, I snort and turn the page. Want to "prototypically" run a Penn Central Empire Region train in the "Hey-Day" of PC? Weather a NYC E-8 to the max with rust and grime, simulate peeling paint, put a "Worm" on the nose, add two PC lettered coaches or a coach and a combine and adversely weather them similarly. VOILA!

Speed of such a model? Make sure it doesn't go any faster than what could be described as a "Limp", and put weights to the right side of one coach, and the left of the other, to accurately simulate the kind of totally shot suspension I described.

Penn Central was so low, it made the Delaware & Hudson look like a top notch outfit. I think most of you might agree to say, it was so bad, it was probably even WORSE than we choose to remember!


  by Tadman
I don't remember any PC and hardly remember D&H, but all the pics I see show shiny PA's and rebuilt NYDOT coaches - was this just a front? As far as I hear from others, PC trains weren't even a consideration in northern Indiana - you drove. Amtrak can thank PC for that potential customer mentality, as my parents would never think to take a train anywhere other than the O'Hare rental car shuttle. Since college, I try to take trains if my business ends on friday I'll ride home via Amtrak, and the service, although crummy, isn't that much worse than American or Delta. Now if Amtrak could only serve people like Southwest or Airtran, they could pull plenty of disgruntled passengers off the old-school airlines.

  by Nacho66
Dieter's recollection was exactly what I was looking for.
The thing I find the most interesting is that Penn Central (I'm pretty sure) was the next to last 'new' railroad to offer passenger service ( I believe BN was the last).
I find the PC to be a subject both nostalgic and melancholy.
  by Noel Weaver
I certainally remember Penn Central, I worked for them off of the New
Haven and to Conrail after that.
Conditions were BAD and got worse as time went on.
I would suggest that if you want to read more about Penn Central that you
buy the book about the Penn Central written by Peter Lynch. You will be
able to read and see for yourself. You may also learn something, I did
even though I worked for them. I strongly recommend it.
Noel Weaver
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