Posts Tagged ‘Penn Central’

One Day in 1968 at Painesville

March 19, 2018

It is the first month of Penn Central, but it looks like a New York Central world as westbound NYC 4032 passes through Painesville, Ohio, on the weekend of Feb. 24-25, 1968. Both views are from the same negative.

The photographs were made with a Mamiya C3 twin lens reflex camera that took a 2 and 1/4 inch square negative that made cropping like this easier. The camera was owned by his father.

Although Bob didn’t record the train number, it is probably No. 63, which was the only daylight westbound passenger train on the ex-NYC through Painesville and Cleveland.

It was scheduled into Painesville at 10:55 a.m. and Cleveland at 11:59 a.m.

No. 63 originated in New York, leaving Grand Central Terminal at 10:30 p.m. It carried a sleeper and slumbercoach between New York and Cleveland and added a diner-lounge at Buffalo, New York, that ran to Chicago. Of course No. 63 also had coaches.

After leaving New York, No. 63 split into two sections at Albany, with one section conveying cars to Montreal via the Delaware & Hudson where it operated as No. 9.

No. 63 would last until the coming of Amtrak on May 1, 1971.

Photographs by Robert Farkas


You Can Recreate Penn Central for $50

March 8, 2018

I went to a large railroadiana show on Sunday. Among the many interesting items for sale were a half dozen Penn Central diesel nose decals. Now that would be a modeling project. I thought showing this was appropriate for the 50th anniversary of Penn Central.

Photograph by Jack Norris

Survivors From Penn Central and PRR

February 20, 2018

I went railfanning in Trenton, New Jersey, recently and in keeping with the Penn Central birth/Pennsylvania Railroad demise theme, I would like to present some reminders of those railroads that are still in service today.

These include position light signals (now colorized) and former Metroliner cars serving as cab cars on Keystone Service (New York-Harrisburg) trains.

My New Jersey Transit trains clicked away the miles at a steady 105 mph between Trenton and New Brunswick under the heavy catenary of the former PRR mainline.

Photographs by Jack Norris

Some Penn Central Memories

February 6, 2018

At the beginning of the Penn Central era — around 1968/1969, former New York Central No. 8073 (a Baldwin road switcher) worked out of Canton Yard on the former Pennsylvania Railroad. Here she is with one of Canton’s steel mills for a background.

Photograph by Robert Farkas

50 Years Ago Today Came Penn Central

February 1, 2018

A fading Penn Central herald atop a Pennsylvania Railroad keystone adorns a covered hopper car on the Wheeling & Lake Erie in Monroeville, Ohio. Some former PC rolling stock is still in active service.

It was 50 years ago today that the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central System merged to form Penn Central Transportation Company.

We all know that the merger turned out badly. There were clashes between the cultures of the two one-time largest railroads in the nation, leading to the terms “red team” and “green team.”

Five decades later, some railfans are still fighting the red-green “civil war” even if in jest.

Both the Pennsy and the Central had been struggling financially for years and the result was an even larger railroad that continued to struggle.

Just over four years later, Penn Central sought bankruptcy protection. It was at the time the largest corporate failure in history but has since been eclipsed by the Enron bankruptcy of 2001. A little over eight years after it began, Penn Central the railroad was gone.

We also remember how the PC bankruptcy played a role in nudging Congress into creating the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a.k.a. as Amtrak; had a role to play in the creation of the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a.k.a. as Conrail; and helped set up passage of the Staggers Act of 1980, which was a major step in transforming how railroads in the United States are regulated by the federal and state governments.

I’m oversimplifying things here because the creation of Amtrak, Conrail and deregulation were complex processes that can’t be traced in any one single event.

But Penn Central played an out-sized role in all of those because of the sheer magnitude of its failure.

Much has been written about the woes of Penn Central, including three books and countless articles.

As I pondered the legacy of PC, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow Akron Railroad Club member at a train show a couple of years ago.

Noting that there is a Penn Central Historical Society, my fellow ARRC member wondered why anyone would be interested in celebrating a failed railroad.

In its day, Penn Central was known for bad tracks; frequent derailments, including trains that derailed while standing still; lost shipments; hostility toward passenger service and financial losses.

I don’t belong to the PC historical group, but I can explain why a “failed” railroad would have appeal to some.

Penn Central came about during a time when many people were coming of age and starting to learn about railroad operations in some detail.

Although the problems that Penn Central had have been magnified due to its bankruptcy, it was far from the only railroad in the late 1960s and early 1970s that was struggling. Indeed Conrail grew out of the ashes of several bankrupt railroads.

Arguably, Penn Central and all of it problems needed to happen for America’s railroads to make the transition from a highly regulated era to one of relative economic freedom.

Of course, that meant that dozens of flags had to fall and thousands of miles of track had to be pulled up. Thousands of people would lose their railroading careers.

The railroad network of the late 1960s was not economically sustainable. The manufacturing economy of the Midwest and Northeast was crumbling and railroads were suffering with it. There was too much railroad infrastructure for the business to be had.

This is not to say that the industry was without fault in bringing about its own struggles. But it’s a complex story involving a multitude of factors.

We can always speculate about how things might have been different had Penn Central been given the freedom from government regulation that Conrail enjoyed.

Some of the route rationalizations that Conrail was able to pull off had been objectives that Penn Central sought to achieve, but was thwarted by the regulatory structure at the time.

The political climate in which Penn Central was created was not conducive to implementing those grand plans.

As bad as Penn Central was, I find myself at times looking back at it with a certain nostalgic longing.

I would not want to see railroads operate today as Penn Central did, but time has a way of putting things into perspective. Penn Central was the last gasp of railroading as our parents’ and grandparents’ generations knew it when they came of age. My generation was able to taste only some of it.

Every generation has one or more things that it laments having lost from its youth whether it is steam locomotives, a favorite railroad or a rail line that you grew up with.

And so it was with Penn Central. It was once a major presence in my life and then like so many other things it was taken away. These losses tend to have greater effect on you during your young adult years. They also tend to stay with you in ways that later losses in life do not.

Some might say “good riddance” about the demise of Penn Central, but I find it a compelling story and one worth remembering and even celebrating.

Jack Norris Has a New Railfan Hangout

December 3, 2017


I just moved a few miles northeast of where I used to live and now live within 10 miles of four rail lines.

Three of the four lines are very active. I was in Dumont, New Jersey, along the old New York Central West Shore Line (former New York, West Shore & Buffalo), now the CSX River Line. This was NYC’s main freight line between the New York City area (Weehawken, New Jersey) and Selkirk (Albany) New York.

Many changes have taken place here at Milepost NY13 over the years. Until 1959, commuter trains and some Albany-bound trains (as well as trains of the New York, Ontario & Western until 1957) used this line.

The line here at MP 13 was four tracks wide. Dumont was the end of the four-track main and there was a commuter storage yard in town as well.

The main line continued as double track up to Selkirk. Penn Central did away with the four tracks and Conrail did away with the double track.

Where I am standing is the former Dumont Station site. A nice walkway/park lines the strip between the railroad and West Shore Avenue (I wonder where that name came from.)

There is a gazebo and several eating places across the street. CSX provides about 25 trains a day, although since the line is mostly single track the trains tend to come in sporadic bunches.

A concrete slab was most likely the base of a signal bridge. This will be a nice new spot for me to railfan.

When Varnish Was Common in Massillon

July 14, 2017

Penn Central was still running passenger trains through Massillon, Ohio, in the late 1960s. Here is the westbound mid-afternoon Fort Pitt with PC 4292 on the point racing through the super-elevated curve, which actually comes through the bridge over the Tuscarawas River.

I believe it was October 1969 and the red “P”/white “”C” had only been painted on a handful of E units, making this a rarer photo.

Today a Norfolk Southern office car special sometimes gives a similar scene, but it is hard to imagine even in the late 1960s passenger trains such as this were somewhat common on this line.

Article and Photograph by Robert Farkas

CSX Plans Major Changes for Indianapolis

June 15, 2017

CSX is planning major changes to its operations in Indianapolis, including closing Avon Yard and its dispatching center, and spending millions to rebuild smaller facilities.

The news was reported on by a poster who reprinted a memorandum from a railroad labor union officer who attended a meeting held in Indianapolis to be briefed on the changes.

The only date given for the changes was Oct. 31, when dispatching operations now based in Indianapolis will be moved to Jacksonville, Florida.

The CSX Indy dispatch office is a former Conrail facility that now oversees former Conrail territories that CSX acquired in 1999. It also dispatches all former B&O lines in Northeast Ohio operated by CSX.

Avon is a former New York Central hump classification yard that opened in June 1960.

Earlier this month CSX said it would close the locomotive shop there, but now it plans to farm out its other activities to the Hawthorne, Transfer and State Street yards. A new intermodal facility is to be constructed at a site to be named.

All of those facilities will be receive track upgrades and new buildings. The operating plan is to base scheduled jobs out of all yards on all three shifts.

Hawthorne will handle road trains while State and Transfer yards will handle the local and industry work.

As part of the restructuring, the local jobs will be assigned three-person  crews, which CSX management believes will be able to more efficiently handle switching.

Hawthorne, a former Pennsylvania Railroad yard, is a stub-end facility because the ex-PRR mainline on the east side of Indianapolis has been abandoned.

Avon crew pools will change at one of the three yards, although the operating plan is still being worked out.

This will include re-advertising all of the pool jobs to take into account adjustments in mileage and other operating changes.

One report is that some switching now done at Avon will be taken over by the Alton & Southern in the St. Louis region.

In years past, Avon built blocks for Penn Central and Conrail that were interchanged with western railroads in St. Louis and the St. Elmo, Illinois, gateway.

Locomotive fueling now done in Avon will be done throughout the Indianapolis terminal by fuel trucks. Car department repairs will be performed at Hawthorne.

The union memorandum said CSX wants to move quickly on the terminal changes, ideally within the next 45 days.

One impetus for closing Avon might be that the area around it has developed into a busy commercial-residential area and CSX might see an opportunity to sell land to developers.

Railroading as it Once Was: Black & White Image for a Black & White Railroad

February 15, 2017


Penn Central locomotives were not known for their flashy livery. They had a minimalist black and white appearance with the PC herald affixed to the nose and the flanks.

Yet many photographers would love to be able to go back in time to see Penn Central again, if for one day.

We can’t do that, but we do have multiple images from the Penn Central era to remind us of another time.

PC F7A No. 1865 leads a train through Akron over tracks that have received minimal maintenance in recent years. The unit was built in October 1952 for the New York Central.

Photograph by Roger Durfee

Penn Central’s Stock Certificates Were Elaborate, Colorful, But Today are Mere Collector’s Items

January 27, 2017




When Penn Central filed for bankruptcy protection in June 1970 it was not only the largest business failure in America to date, but it rendered stock in the beleaguered company all but worthless.

One footnote to the Penn Central story is that when the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads merged on Feb. 1, 1968, the company was officially known as the Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company, a name that didn’t last long and was shortened to Penn Central Transportation Company.

As seen above the stock certificates came in two colors, blue and brown. Shareholders also had the option of mixing the two shades.

Not unlike many stock certificates, Penn Central stock had an elaborate appearance, featuring a profile of the Roman god Mercury. He was the god of financial gain, commerce, messages/communication, travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves.

Given some of the financial shenanigans that PC management practiced during their trouble company’s life, perhaps the choice of Mercury was appropriate given their embrace of the latter two of Mercury’s traits.

Mercury appears amid scenes of a city skyline and various forms of transportation.

Because the PRR was the nominal survivor of the merger, it’s date of origin is listed toward the top on the right hand side.

From a legal perspective, the PRR had changed its name to Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company.

That didn’t last long. On May 8, 1968, the company name changed to Penn Central Transportation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Penn Central Company.

For awhile, PC paid dividends to stock holders in an effort to create the illusion of success.

In reality, the railroad ran up a deficit of $2.8 million in its first year and it only grew from there, reaching $83 million in 1969. On June 21, 1970, PC entered bankruptcy proceedings.

At the time, Penn Central was the nation’s sixth largest company.

We all know that many of the railroad operations of PC were turned over to Consolidated Rail Corporation on April 1, 1976. Some PC lines not picked up by Conrail were saved, but others simply never saw rail service again and were eventually abandoned.

Penn Central Company survived the bankruptcy. It had considerable real estate holdings and eventually evolved into a financial services and insurance company later known as American Financial Group.

Today, Penn Central stock is a collectors item. One website that deals in old stocks and bonds is offering PC stock certificates online for $6.95, marked down from $10.95. On eBay, PC stock certificates on Thursday ranged in asking price from $2.19 to $8.19.

The stock certificates shown above are from the collection of Jack Norris.