Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Noel Weaver » Thu Jun 02, 2016 1:02 pm

This is not an easy question to answer really. There have been so many changes to NEC services over the past 40 plus years that it is somewhat hard to follow them. Yes NEC service is considerably better in many ways with Amtrak, trains are pleasanter to ride, cleaner, cooler in summer and warmer in winter, windows that are reasonably clean and can be seen through, seats that are not broken and recline, food that is at least reasonably safe and tasty if not great and more. On the minus the physical plant needs a huge amount of money to get it back in reasonably decent condition for safe and on time operation. Politics has reared its ugly head in more than one case involving the NEC and Amtrak in general as well. In Penn Central days I had a system pass good from the NEC to Chicago and St. Louis and virtually everywhere in between. The trains were fair at best and in some cases absolutely terrible to ride. I remember one trip west when we left New York very late in the evening for a ride to someplace west of Buffalo. The operation was not bad as far as Buffalo but at Buffalo after changing crews the conductor and trainman hearded everybody in the one decent and cool passenger coach out and in to a dirty oven for the rest of the ride west. If I had been an official with any power I would have raised hell but at that point I just moved with the rest of the folks. It was not a fun ride beyond Buffalo. I don't remember just where I got off that rattletrap but even though the ride was free, it really was not pleasant. Dirty cars, poor or no food enroute, broken windows and broken seats, hot cars or cold cars were all common in those days. Penn Central wanted out of the passenger business and made no secret of it. The only exceptions and they were not universal were the NEC which had some upgraded equipment and the New York State Empire Service between New York and Buffalo which for the most part had the best equipment anywhere on the railroad. One big plus with Penn Central was the huge pool of passenger cars that they still owned and had available for weekends and especially holiday periods. Most trains had enough cars to provide a seat for everybody who wanted to ride, maybe not very comfortable but at least a seat. More than one commuter coach went to Chicago or someplace and more than one P-70 went far west as well. Amtrak only took enough cars to provide basic services and when there was a crunch, they simply did not have the seats that they needed and this was not just in the NEC but system wide and they ran nowhere near the trains that Penn Central ran a year or two previous. Corridor and intercity services were often much more frequent than offered today but some of the trains were not a pleasant experience especially on the former PRR. On the New Haven side trains were less frequent but cleaner and generally in better shape. This is a tough call.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Philly Amtrak Fan » Thu Jun 02, 2016 1:39 pm

Obviously PC was in bad financial shape back in the 60's as was the entire passengers industry. I wonder if anyone was around during the PRR/NYC days and maybe travel conditions were better.

I'm never going to think government can run passenger train service better than private companies in theory but I get that the reality is at least now it's not economically feasible for many private companies to support feasible rail. I will always feel competition is better for the industry.

It is kind of unfortunate that there is no direct service between St. Louis and the East Coast like there was before although St. Louis was a much more populous city than it is now. Luckily St. Louis has plenty of service to Chicago as well as service to Kansas City and the Texas Eagle. There are plenty of cities with less service (some none at all) after PC was bought by Amtrak.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:23 pm

Mr. Philly, a point of two from your immediate needs clarification.

While you are quite correct that the City, as incorporated, of St. Louis has had a consistent population loss since 1950, the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) has "held its own" and has enjoyed some growth.

Having "been there done that", select NYC and PRR passenger trains, namely Century and Broadway, did have a high level of service until "the end" which occurred for both during December 1967, while the two roads were independent.

Finally your statement PC was bought by Amtrak is correct, but should note "the PC properties bought by Amtrak". Your statement as written implies that Amtrak acquired the entire railroad, which of course is incorrect.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:30 pm

There's no question that passenger service on both the PRR and NYC was very good up until about the mid-50's, although even then it was being subsidized with freight revenue. It was still an era in which most intercity business travel was by train, which meant that traffic managers of influential shippers frequently used the passenger services rendered by the same railroads over which they had the option of routing their freight and didn't hesitate to penalize a railroad whose dining service, for example, didn't meet their expectations. It was believed, I think rightly, that any diversion of freight revenue to support passenger service would be justified by freight business gained by pleasing the traffic manager--or lost by not giving satisfaction. During that period there were of course many more Class I railroads than today, and traffic managers had multiple choices of railroads they could use for their freight.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby ExCon90 » Thu Jun 02, 2016 2:46 pm

It's true that the Broadway and Century were the last to deteriorate--the Broadway was the Pennsy's "last hurrah" in 1967, with a pretty good advertising campaign and service that lived up to it. I've always felt that the first shadows began to fall when the New York-Washington service lost its hourly Washington expresses with hourly Philadelphia clockers in between--a 2-hour gap in departures from New York from 9.00 to 11.00 am! Then the parlor and dining cars started coming off, and it was all downhill after that--just about the same time as industrial traffic managers were shifting to air travel with its accompanying barbarous custom of catching flights at ungodly hours of the morning. I was working for a travel agency in Boston around that time and noted the change from the Owl to New York and the Merchants back to out-and-back flights the same day. I knew no good could come of that.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Thu Jun 02, 2016 4:09 pm

Mr. Ex-Con, I believe the last hurrah for overnight passenger service was the airline strike during July 1966. This resulted in a loss of some 60% of the available seat miles.

Observing consists during that period, I'd say that both the Broadway and the Capitol Limited added three to four additional Sleepers to their consists. I was unable to observe any Century consists during that strike period.

Reportedly the B&O put best foot forward, but to no avail. For as fast as the reservations came in when the planes stopped flying, as soon as they were flying again, the cancellations came in just as fast.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Philly Amtrak Fan » Fri Jun 03, 2016 7:20 am

I found a site with an old Penn Central schedule from 1968 but it only had former New York Central trains. It did however have Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central schedules from 1967 (pre merger).

http://www.thejoekorner.com/brochures/i ... panyc.html
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Station Aficionado » Fri Jun 03, 2016 8:18 am

I haven't seen that particular one before. It looks like they took the final NYC timetable and slapped on a PC cover. To my knowledge, PC never published a "system" timetable. I don't know if that was because of the size of their operations, or if it was another example of the "green team" vs. "red team" dysfunction in the company.

FWIW, if you're interested in collecting timetables, PC's are quite cheap, even in comparison to those of other roads from the same era. This could be a function of the volume of paper that PC produced, or maybe it's symbolic of the more general disdain for PC in parts of the railfan community. I actually find the PC paper quite interesting. There's a continuity between PC and Amtrak--Amtrak's older timetables (except the very early ones) are also quite cheap.
Last edited by Station Aficionado on Fri Jun 03, 2016 8:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Station Aficionado » Fri Jun 03, 2016 8:22 am

TomNelligan wrote:PC did advertise the Metroliners in newspaper ads when that service began. It was the one notable improvement in PC passenger service during the railroad's existence, although of course it was initiated by the Department of Transportation in PRR days. At the Boston end, the Turbotrains also got some ads when they started up; again, that was a DOT project. I'm not aware of any PC passenger advertising outside the Northeast Corridor, although living in the Boston area I might have missed something farther west.

Thanks. I suspected that they didn't advertise the non-NEC services. No reason to advertise a product you want to eliminate.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Fri Jun 03, 2016 9:05 am

Here's United Press reporting of the Century's last run:

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid= ... 2722&hl=en

Unfortunately, The Times has their staff reported story behind the paywall; I tried to crack it, but no luck (I'm awaiting a "takedown" from The Times computer police :-D :-D )

All told, there was a brief period from 12/3/67 to 2/1/68 that "The 61-27 Limited" operated under the NYC flag. Dec 2 was also when the PRR discontinued the Broadway Limited, however The General, operating about an hour before the Broadway, continued.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Morning Zephyr » Sat Jun 04, 2016 4:18 pm

My memory is that the Broadway Ltd was still very good in the mid-1960s, but deteriorated in the final years of the PRR and further under PC, and that Amtrak improved on it (temporarily) with the first refurbished cars (later dubbed "Heritage fleet") in 1973 or so, which included full lounge cars and the full diner. Amtrak actually took pride in the Broadway Ltd in those early years to an extent that none of the current east coast overnight trains match today.
On the ex-NYC shorter distance and taking a longer view, the Amfleet operating on the Empire Service today, even at its current age, is probably an improvement over the equipment that was running in that corridor on April 30, 1971.
Re the one remaining overnight train today that correlates to an all-PC routing: the Lake Shore Limited's lack of a real lounge, the downgrading of the diner, and the poor condition of the Viewliner sleepers make that train not a whole lot better than what PC would have offered in the late 1960s.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby bill613A » Sun Jun 05, 2016 11:11 am

For the record the all pullman BROADWAY LTD's last run was December 12, 1967.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby SouthernRailway » Sun Jun 05, 2016 1:52 pm

Philly Amtrak Fan wrote:I found a site with an old Penn Central schedule from 1968 but it only had former New York Central trains. It did however have Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central schedules from 1967 (pre merger).

http://www.thejoekorner.com/brochures/i ... panyc.html


Thanks, those timetables were most interesting. NY-Chicago trains without a dining car? Or some east-west trains without food at all? Horrid.
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Jun 05, 2016 2:09 pm

Stand corrected, Bill613:

(paywalled)

http://nytimes.com/timesmachine/1967/12/13/issue.html

This article was hardly the same coverage as The Times afforded the Century's final run ten days earlier.

I was kind of "diverted" at that time, as Uncle Sam was giving me a one year "all expenses paid tour of Southeast Asia".
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Re: Was the Penn Central better than Amtrak at all?

Postby lstone19 » Tue Jun 07, 2016 9:42 am

bill613A wrote:For the record the all pullman BROADWAY LTD's last run was December 12, 1967.

As I have heard it, the Broadway's train number was discontinued in the late '60s (perhaps the 12/12/67 date above) after which the Broadway Limited name was moved to a different train. The ICC regulated trains by their numbers, not names, which is how in some cases towards the end we ended up with a railroad having multiple fragments of the same train number with gaps (e.g. train 1 ran from A to B and also from C to D but not between B and C) or long layovers and equipment changes (e.g. train 2 ran A to B and also B to C but there was a six hour layover and a change of equipment at B). Names were strictly for marketing purposes; it was the number that officially defined the train.
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