The Pennsylvania Railroad, The Standard Railroad Of The World
Entire libraries could be written on the Pennsylvania Railroad ranging
from its history to the different businesses it owned, far, far too much
to cover here which is a mere brief history of the railroad. The
Pennsy was an institution to the City of Philadelphia
and Pennsylvania. For over 100 years the keystone represented
the PRR as much as it did the state itself. For
history’s sake you cannot really speak of the Pennsy without also
mentioning the New York Central (and vice versa). It’s quite amazing
how similar both were outside of their operational practices. Both were
institutions, two of the largest railroads in the country, and the
class of the industry for decades.
Pennsy GG1 #4870 arrives at Washington, D.C. with a passenger train on June 3, 1940.
a perfect world both would have found other, more logical merger
partners and likely would still be competing today, thus completely
changing the landscape and
history of U.S. railroading as we now know it. However, we do not live
in a perfect world, of course, and despite all of their success both
wound up making horrendous decisions during their final years of
independence and died a horrible death as the Penn Central Corporation
in 1968 (aside from competing in virtually every market,
from a management and operations standpoint they were polar opposites,
which became painfully clear upon merger day when management teams began
The Pennsylvania Railroad had its beginnings in 1846, chartered by
the state to connect Philadelphia with Pittsburgh.
Completed eight years later and opened in 1854 the direct main line
followed the Juniata and Susquehanna Rivers through southern
Pennsylvania to reach Pittsburgh via Harrisburg and Altoona (Altoona
would later be the railroad’s most famous shop complex complete with
everything from car shops and machine shops to foundries). It’s
interesting to wonder how the eastern United States rail map would have
appeared had the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad chartered nearly 20 years
earlier and already well established been allowed to build into
Pennsylvania and connect Pittsburgh and Philadelphia itself.
In any event, all of that is now history and by the late 19th
century the Pennsy was rapidly expanding, reaching Chicago by 1869 via
the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago and by 1873 had entered New
York City. By the first part of the 20th century the PRR had reached cities such as St. Louis, Cincinnati,
Indianapolis, Louisville, and Columbus. By mid-century the Pennsy was a
true behemoth, almost literally serving every town, large and small,
north and just slightly south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a staggering
10,000-mile system (an enormous railroad for the eastern U.S. where markets and cities are much closer in proximity than in the west).
The westbound Manhattan Limited/Golden Triangle arrives at the Englewood Union Station in Chicago led by E8A #5766 on April 21, 1965.
It then comes as no surprise that a system that reached such large cities and markets,
with a fast and swift main line across southern Pennsylvania, would
allow the PRR to grow to become the largest and most dominate railroad
in the east. Throughout the first half of the 20th century both it and
the New York Central commanded an astounding amount of the freight and
passenger traffic moving from the Northeast to Midwest and were
literally the only true competitors in their respective markets. Third
in this trunk line race was the venerable B&O (a road that the
Pennsy held a controlling interest in for a brief time in the early 20th
century) but with only a minor presence in the Philadelphia, New York,
and Boston markets and a main line that was forced over the rugged
Alleghenies between Harpers Ferry and Parkersburg, West Virginia the
B&O was no match for the Pennsy and NYC in terms of
speed and freight/passenger traffic (although, interestingly, the
B&O outlived its competitors by 20 years!).
A pair of Pennsy SW9s, #8514 and #8521, head up a short freight through Hammond, Indiana on December 26, 1963.
The PRR is remembered for many things with two of the railroad’s most lasting achievements its grand monument to New York City, Pennsylvania Station and its legendary passenger train, The Broadway Limited. The The Broadway Limited was a plush train operating between New York and Chicago on a schedule of right around 16 hours; and whereas the NYC’s 20th Century Limited was bedecked in a more business-like atmosphere and tone (with grays, blacks, and whites used inside and out) the Limited was adorned in soft and relaxing tones along with an atmosphere that was very easy-going and laid back. The Pennsylvania also had the most extensive electric operations of any private carrier in the country, most of which is still operated today by Amtrak and regional commuter systems. Beginning in 1915 the railroad began to electrify portions of its eastern main lines where commuter and passenger operations were the heaviest and by the late 1930s electrification had reached south to Washington, D.C., west to Harrisburg, and north to New York City. In all, most of the PRR’s system east of Harrisburg was electrified by the late 1930s. It was during this time, 1935, that the Pennsylvania Railroad unveiled an all time classic, the legendary GG1 electric.
A PRR Class M1a 4-8-2 Mountain #6795 sits in Chicago on September 23, 1934.
Able to operate
bi-directionally, cruise along effortlessly with both freight and
passenger trains at over 100 mph, and a sleek design from renowned industrial designer,
Raymond Loewy (who also gave the locomotive its famous “cat whisker”
pinstripes), the Gs owned the rails along the eastern electrified lines
and were a common sight for nearly 50 years, outliving the Pennsy
herself into the early Conrail era. Despite the PRR’s enormous success, following World War II and the traffic downturn of the 1950s, the future was uncertain for the carrier.
Mounting losses and old-fashioned management practices were bringing
down the iconic railroad (so legendary was the PRR that
even as things continued to worsen, no one felt anything terrible would
befall the company) and by the 1950s things were getting desperate. It was
during this time that the Pennsy began exploring the
idea of merger with bitter and longtime rival, New York Central.
In the end and despite a long search for another partner by the New York
Central (a carrier that was now much stronger financially due to the
excellent oversight of president Alfred Pearlman), it was eventually
decided that a merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad was the only option
for the NYC. Surprisingly the ICC approved the merger that virtually
allowed for a monopoly in the Northeast and the ill-fated Penn Central
Corporation was born on February 1, 1968. On merger day chaos ensued and the new railroad literally
began to fall apart from the very beginning. With a merger that was not
only a terrible fit but also unplanned it comes as no surprise that the
railroad ended up in bankruptcy.
To make matters worse the PRR and NYC could not have
had more opposite corporate cultures.
The NYC’s management was more
laid back, open to new ideas, and the chain of command was “loose” (one
reason for its renewed success in the 1950s under Perlman); whereas the
PRR was extremely strict, new ideas were shunned and looked down on (the
railroad was still using practices that had been out-dated since the
19th century!), and orders came down through the chain of command.
Naturally, then, these two management teams did not get along and
pandemonium resulted across the entire system. The PC was losing over $1 million a day and trains were becoming
lost throughout the system, as dispatchers were not properly trained on
how to dispatch and track their trains. To make matters worse as the
red ink began to become an unstoppable flash flood maintenance was
deferred and derailments became the norm with large sections of main
line reduced to 10 mph slow orders.
After only two years since its creation, the destitute Penn Central
officially declared bankruptcy on June 21, 1970. The result of this was
a ripple effect throughout the entire Northeast, as other railroads,
which depended on the PC to ferry traffic, no longer had a means to move
their freight. It became so bad that the Penn Central was facing total
shutdown if financial assistance, any means of help at all, were not
located. Realizing the severity of the situation the federal government
stepped and setup the Consolidated Rail Corporation, which comprised the
skeletons of several bankrupt Northeastern carriers, and began
operations on April 1, 1976.
A PRR DS-4-4-660 Baldwin switcher, #7845, pulls a string of freight cars through the yard at Virginia Beach, Virginia on May 25, 1969.
5980-5999, 9080-9099, 9184-9196, 9288-9299
H24-66 (Train Master)
9448B-9454B (Evens), 9492B-9498B (Evens)
Erie Built (A)
Erie Built (B)
One of the PRR's Fairbanks-Morse H12-44 switchers, #8715, pulls a single caboose through the Wood Street Yard in Chicago on a sunny and clear March 31, 1964.
Steam Locomotive Roster
A1 Through A5s
B1 Through B28s (Various)
D1 Through D16sb (Various)
E1 Through E6s (Various)
F1 Through F3c (Various)
G1 Through G5s (Various)
H1 Through H28 (Various)
K2s Through K28s (Various)
Steam Turbine, #6200
Bennett Levin's restored pair of PRR E8As, #5711 and #5809, have been leading special excursion trains for many years now and are always popular with the public. Seen here is the Gateway Tripper crossing the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 7, 2007.
(A deep thanks to the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State
University for allowing Ron Nixon's historic collection of the
PRR to be featured here.)
One of the PRR's stunning Class T-1 4-4-4-4 duplex-drive steam locomotives is seen here with a passenger train passing under the signal tower at Englewood, Illinois on July 17, 1947. The Pennsy owned 51 of these units built between 1942 and 1945 (some from PRR's own Altoona shops and the rest were delivered from Baldwin) with the streamlining done by Raymond Loewy. Most were retired by 1952 and all had been scrapped by 1956.
With federal backing Conrail began to
slowly pull out of the red ink (it took many years, into the 1980s) and
by the late 1980s was a profitable railroad after thousands of miles of
access trackage was abandoned and/or upgraded. Today even Conrail is no longer with us being split up amongst CSX and
Norfolk Southern in 1999, with CSX Transportation taking much of the NYC
while NS got a good chunk of the Pennsy. Many parts of
the legendary PRR continue to serve an important role
in moving goods (and people) today (such as its main line to Chicago and
St. Louis along with the famous Horseshoe Curve).