• What if Goverment Assistance happened earlier

  • 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

  by ascotell
It seems it was a reality that long distance passenger (and for the matter commuter trains) was a money loosing business. When the merger "buyout" happened why then did the goverment allow this to happend instead of taking over the long distance and commuter trains like they did less then 10 years later? Would this have saved PC and inturn save the EL? Thoughts?

  by Sir Ray
Well, Amtrak wasn't that much later - PC = 1968, Amtrak = 1971, and it took a lot of discussion for that. Government was basically just getting into commuter subsidizing in the 1960s (maybe late 1950s), so there was a decent (if insufficent) amount of subsidizing by 1968.
Also, the 'Great trainoff' was 1967, a year before PC.

  by walt
Nothing would have saved the PC. It was the wrong merger of the wrong railroads in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took Amtrak to save the intercity passenger trains ( which, in spite of its present troubles, it actually accomplished) and Conrail to save the freight service in that area. By 1968, the PRR was a shell of its former self, financially-- the NYC may have been in better shape, but the New Haven was a financial basket case. The PC was doomed before it was born.

  by Otto Vondrak
The only thing that would have made PC work was the reduction of labor and the closure and consolidation of duplicate facilities. The burden of passenger trains was only a small part of the issue... so to answer your question of what would have happened if government relief from passenger trains came earlier, the answer is "Not much difference."


  by uhaul
If Goverment Assistance happened earlier then Conrail would have been formed before 4/1/1976.

  by Otto Vondrak
That assumption is not entirely correct, Terry. The original bailout plan called for Penn Central to be rationalized and reorganized and the other northeastern bankrupts to be sold off to other solvent roads. The road from bankruptcy in 1970 to bailout in 1976 was a long, twisty road with a map that changed by the hour.

  by uhaul
Thanks for correcting my off-kilter history.

  by Otto Vondrak
Read "The Men Who Loved Trains," it will explain Everything.


  by atlpete
And if you want to get a feel for what PC was up against operationally day to day in it's short eight years, read Taylor's superb " A Sampling Of Penn Central." While not comprehensive regarding the whole road (only covers three divisions on the west end) it has a most unusual horizontal format discussing route rationaliztion, traffic patterns, customers etc. in plain language coupled with matching horizontal page size B&W photo. At some two hundred plus subject pages there are very few books on any road that equal it in detail. In short amazing and yes , one finishes it realizing the passenger issue was one of the least of the road's problems, in part due to the subject division locations (CHi-Cinn, St.L-Cleve etc) as opposed to the commuter and intercity heavy NorthEast. On the other hand , the PC had to retain a lot of otherwise superflous trackage merely to support the PRR/NYC remnant passenger and later Amtrak services. But again, not even close to the real issues financially killing it then daily.
Perhaps, most sadly, reading it makes one realize how many factories really have gone "adios" in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. :(

  by catfoodflambe
Same outcome. It's not possible to separate PC and the entire state of railroading in the Northeast after WWI - eventually, the same result (rationalization, consolidation, and deregulation) would have had to occur.

  by Dieter
Please NEVER saddle passenger trains as the reason for the failure of Penn Central. Passenger ops were a drop in the bucket.

The ailing infrastructure went neglected, money was hemmoraging from every sector, if you want to blame on single factor, blame the redundancy of parallel lines between Boston and Chicago and the issue that the railroad was literally competing with itself for traffic.


  by rrbluesman
If the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act and the Staggers Act has been passed in the late 1940s or early 1950s the lines of mega-mergers of the late 50s and the 60s might not have ever happened.

  by SlowFreight
Also worth reading "The Wreck of the Penn Central." Catfoodflambe touched on one of the biggest industry problems--regulation. Regulation killed initiative, which in general bred bad management.

Think about it. You can't rationalize your route structure cuz nobody will allow you to abandon anything. You can't quote competitive rates because the ICC won't allow you to introduce a new rate without leaving it up for review for 30 days before it becomes effective. I could go on...

Penn Central had more energy invested in its diversifications than it did in running the railroad. It also had this mistaken belief that building more yards would help it deliver customer's traffic. You didn't see an emphasis on fluidity and turnaround times on the property until almost 1980.

  by ascotell
After your answers and some research I do see that it was not the passanger service that sank the PC. Thanks for the responces

  by ThePointyHairedBoss
Otto Vondrak wrote:The only thing that would have made PC work was the reduction of labor and the closure and consolidation of duplicate facilities.

That failed really miserably! Just read Richard Saunders, Jr.'s Book "Merging Lines." They closed down facilities too quickly and they were soon left with a lack of capacity. Sometimes they would drag out whole strings of cars and park them on some desolate siding. Due to the fact that many of these movement were either not recorded or were lost in PC's confusion, they became the "Lost Trains." I read one "horror story" where 9 racks of Cadillac's were lost, and were found months later, derailed. :(