• Was the NKP the perfect railroad?

  • Discussion related to the Norfolk & Western, up to 1982. Also includes discussion of the Virginian Railway (1959); Wabash; Nickel Plate; Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway; Akron, Canton & Youngstown Raiload (all 1964); and the Illinois Terminal (1981).
Discussion related to the Norfolk & Western, up to 1982. Also includes discussion of the Virginian Railway (1959); Wabash; Nickel Plate; Pittsburgh & West Virginia Railway; Akron, Canton & Youngstown Raiload (all 1964); and the Illinois Terminal (1981).
  by EDM5970
I think it was.

I'm amazed that this new Railroad.net has been up and running for two weeks, and that there are no posts on the NKP. So, I guess I'll start the ball rollng here.

The first railroad book I ever bought for for myself (as opposed to receiving things like "Trains Around the World" from an aunt for a birthday present, you all know that type book-), was John Rehor's NKP book. That was over thrity years ago. I was impressed then, but it wasn't until I bought a few more books at a train show two years ago (and many more books since) that the NKP bug really hit.

Pacifics, Hudsons and PA-1s on a reasonably modest sized passenger service. Mikes, Berkshires, Geeps and Alco road switchers on freights. The yards, passenger service, and then freight service dieselized in an almost textbook manner. Classic wooden cabooses that lasted eighty years. And the railroad made money, which is why N&W gobbled it up. Does it get any better than this?

I'm very surprised that no one so far has anything to say about the Nickel Plate. It was an outfit that seemed to have been operated with a lot of class; I'm sure I'm not the NKP's only fan here online.
  by nick plate
Having lived only 6 blocks from the Nickel Plate main, when I started railfanning, the Nickel Plate was my first rail interest. A large railroad, but small enough to get to know some of the employees . The Berkshires were still running and the passenger trains had the "Bluebirds . There were manned crossing towers and an Alco diesel switcher, which I could watch switch the yards for an hour or two at a time. My first rail excursion was the May 18,1958 trip to Cleveland, behind Hudson #175. Even the road-switchers were pretty classy, with the zebra-striped scheme. And, they even had a hot piggy-back train, known as the "saucer ,or flying saucer", as I recall. Near the end, there were run-through trains , with the Lehigh Valley, with the Lehigh units making for colorful pictures. A lot of variety on the old Nickel Plate, and a lot of pride amongst the employees.
  by lbagg91833
FALL-WINTER edition of RAILROAD HISTORY has an article re the transition from the ownership of NEW YORK CENTRAL into the VAN SWERINGEN brothers. GENEIS of the NICKEL PLATE RR......Always thought their HEADS-ON competition later in the '50s/'60s vs their PARENT was great......LARRY BAGGERLY
  by wdburt1
Pretty close!

I like comparing it to the Erie, which relentlessly advertised itself as faster, better, cheaper (in terms of saving money wherever the money could be saved) than its competitors. NKP put the lie to that.

The Achilles heel was that NKP depended on DL&W to reach the East Coast (Lackwanna--which was also a sharp operation in Western New York but still saddled with the entitlement mentality east of Scranton and a money-losing commuter operation) and a second-rate line to reach East St. Louis.

In spite of these obstacles, NKP showed how a railroad should be run.

Rehor's book discusses an early 1960s CB-12 schedule from Chicago to Buffalo in 12 hours 12 minutes. Who even tries to do that today?


  by CP169
I'll be willing to bet they never came close to the New York Central's 24 hr. Chicago-NY service.
  by coalmine
Re 24 hour service; was this frt. or passenger? I always had a great respect for the Plate especially since it ran right in the heart of NYC territory. Incidentally, I remember being in North East, PA a few yrs ago and talking to a NW crew which was topped there for awhile. I asked one of them where he got his start and he said "I'm a Nickel Plate man." Old habits are hard to break!

work safe
  by Matt Langworthy
NKP was a great railroad. I've really come to appreciate the work it did as a connection for DL&W and LV. NKP was founded on better financial principles (i.e. cash instead of loans or mortgages) so the line enjoyed the robust health that many of its neighbors never had. I also admire the good sense of the builders and financiers to build a route thru good manufacturing centers and cities. Much of it survives today, while big chunks of DL&W, Erie and LV are gone. NKP even had the good taste and public-relations sense to preserve a few steam engines- which was not done by Erie or LV. The more I read or see about NKP, the more I like it! :wink:

P.S. Was that NYC Chicago-New York time for passenger service? I've read elsewhere that NYC's freight service for Chicago-New York was 25 1/2 hours, as of 1965.
  by 2nd trick op
The "final" NKP was actually a combination of four main line roads:

The original Nickel Plate (New York, Chicago & St Louis) - Buffalo to Chicago
The Lake Erie and Western - Sandusky to Peoria
The Clover Leaf (Toledo, St. Louis and Western) - Toledo to St Louis

And later, the Wheeling and Lake Erie - Toledo to Wheeling with a connection to both Baltimore and Ohio and Western Maryland near Connellsville, Penna, via satellite Pittsburgh & West Virginia.

The Clover Leaf also had a partial interest in the Detroit and Toledo Shore Line.

Thus you had a great fit between a collection of lines with access to almost all the places that counted, with very few expensive and inefficient branches.

NKP also had foresight; it scraped together enough cash to add to its improving reputation and order the first of its famous Berkshires in the depths of the depression. And even its policy of staying with steam can be viewed in a positive light; like N&W, it concentrated on a single, efficient standard design of modern power, at a time when its trunk-line rivals experimented with a hodgepodge of diesels.

If NKP can be faulted on any measure, it might be dispatching and traffic control. Most of its trackage was single track, run by timetable and train order, and it gets a good deal of mention in ICC accident investigations of the 1920's, 30's and 40's. But it did install CTC on its eastenmost portion, controlled from a panel at Conneaut.

To summarize, this writer would rank NKP up there with Pennsy, Burlington, and Santa Fe as blessed wih extremely efficient and forward-thinking management.

  by Lew
The Nickel Plate also installed CTC between Chicago and Bellevue, with the exception of the double track between Fostoria and Bellevue and also on the Sandusky Division between DA Tower (Arcadia, OH) and Frankfort, IN, controlled by the dispatcher located in Lima (but the chief dispatcher was in Muncie).

  by ThePointyHairedBoss
I'll put in my two cents, from what I've read, it really lived up to it's name. The NYC&St.L was a true class act, and could have shelled out for years more had the N&W not come into play. I could only imagine what NKP SD40's would have looked like, rumbling down the line with TOFC and fast freight. Had the DL&W-NKP merger taken place, who knows, perhaps both the DL&W and NKP would be under the same flag as a leading class one. It would have rendered a far better merger than Erie-DL&W, and with NKP's managers the "Super DL&W" could have made PC really tremble with good service and good track. The real question is, are we ready for DL&W SD45-NKP SD40 lashups on our "What-If" layouts? :wink:


  by Randy Earle
I grew up 1/4 mile from the Nickel Plate main line, it was perfect!

  by rrfoose
I'm curious as to whether or not the NKP could have survived on its own, at least for a while longer. Had the NKP merged with the Wabash (sans N&W), they could have gained the Detroit-KC line and used the Wabash line into St. Louis, instead of the Clover Leaf with all of its restrictions. It certainly would have been a regional powerhouse, but it still could only have survived in that form for a few years.

Come Conrail in 76, they would have lost all friendly connections east of Buffalo. However, had a NKP/WAB system been around in the 70s, they most certainly would have gotten the EL to stay afloat. This would have been a great route for intermodel - bypassing Chicago and using the EL's wide clearances. But as much as I hate to say it, I still think that NS would have made a play for the "new" NKP system after losing the bid for CR in the 80s. CR and CSX had lines in the north, but they didn't, and would have needed the NKP to survive. Either that or the MP/UP would have gobbled them up too.

Hmm, I wish there were a logical way for the NKP to have survived into the 90s/early 21st century so that I could model NKP SD70M's...ahhhhh...

  by Randy Earle
It was the stockholders. They were looking to merge with the B&O and Erie Lackawanna befor the N&W came along.

  by rrfoose
Randy Earle wrote:It was the stockholders. They were looking to merge with the B&O and Erie Lackawanna befor the N&W came along.
By B&O do you mean just the B&O, or "Chessie" (B&O, C&O)? I thought their union was cemented by the 1960s.

  by Lew
The fact that the NKP didn't have a lot of mileage in New York State with its high property taxes and didn't have to deal with the commuter issues in the northeast probably helped save it. Had it merged with the DL&W instead of the Erie doing it, that might have dragged it down in relatively short order.