I've recently done some reading about the trials and tribulations of the Penn Central. I've always had a soft-spot for the PC, even though (or probably because) it was ... a considerable number of years ... before my time. A merger of what were at that time, two great American institutions, even the name sounds great, especially when you say it with the strength and emphasis with which it was generally written. "PENN ... CENTRAL." Still think it should have been so much more than what it turned out to be. But it's clear from reading Joseph R Daugen and Peter Binzens book "The Wreck of the Penn Central", plus some online reading, that it never could have been. I know also that there was another book "No Way To Run A Railroad", containing an account from David C. Bevan, chronicling the events from his perspective. I plan to read that at some point, but I would be cognizant of the reality that Mr. Bevan was probably not an impartial witness. Certainly not if the Daughen/Binzen investigation is anything to go by.
But the reading that I have done, has only piqued my curiosity. There are still plenty of gaps in my knowledge, and perhaps others like me who may soon or in the future read this. So I am hoping someone can either answer, or direct me to where I might find answers to, some questions.
- By the time of their bankruptcy, PC was losing $1m a day, which was a staggering sum in 1970. Using gold as a rough metric to measure inflation, that would be like losing about $35m every single day, in todays money. By all accounts, the losses only increased, likely very steeply, because of the losses associated with the regulatory arrangments of the day and the increasing inefficiency of its under-capitalized, old and obsolete plant.
So where did they get the money to lose between June 21st 1970 and the passage of a temporary federal subsidy at the end of 1973? And whatever that source of money was, how could they not use it to rebuild bad track, which is surely a routine fuction of even the most pathetic railroads.
- Again with the financial questions, when the government created Amtrak, the conditions for relief for the private railroads meant they had to give Amtrak passenger coaches (I am sure PC was more than happy to be rid of them), locomotives (they'd have been less happy about that, I'd imagine, but there would also have been some locomotives, like the FL-9s, that would have been best suited to passenger service anyway), the right to acquire or become the operating leaser of any Penn Central tracks (they'd have liked that even less) and finally, cash. All or part of the job of capitalising Amtrak was to fall to the private RRs, requiring the writing of big checks.
Again, where did Penn Central get the cash to do this?
- The Red team Green team nonsense. Daughen and Binzens' book focused primarily on the executive suite intrigue, showing that PC was effectively a tricolor railroad, of 3 distinct groups that hated each others guts. The Pennsy red, the Central green (initially run from New York by Perlman!) and "Bevans Railroad," encompassing whatever the hell David Bevan was doing.
But I've got the sense that the Red team Green team nonsense was not limited to the executive suite, nor to the period of PCs solvent days. I read one comment on Facebook from a man who claims to be a witness to this, he alleged that he saw red-team green team infighting continuing well into the Conrail era! Not having been there, I have no reason to doubt the claim, but I wonder how.
How far down the PC organisation did the meshing of red and green result in the kind of paralysis the gripped Saunders, Perlman and Bevan. All the way to the bottom? Did it get to the point where you had "Green" janitors reporting to "Red" supervisors (or vice versa) and them hating each others guts too? Additionally, with the top 3 gone, and the Binzen/Daughen investigation having claimed that the bankruptcy trustees worked to gain the respect of reds and greens alike, could the rivarly have survived into the bankruptcy era, let alone "well into Conrail?"
- Initial efforts to make the railroad efficient:
We know that the PRR had basically given up on railroading, they were slow to embrace new thinking (things like piggyback service was a Central idea) and were keen to go conglomerate. The Central, chiefly Perlman, still thought the RR could make money and while the railroad was solvent, and before he was "kicked upstairs" demanded the financial controllers raise large amounts of money for improvements to the railroad. Bevan said "all Perlman wanted to do was build classification yards." But he only got to build one it seems, the 1974 video says that the yard they built in Columbus was "the only one we've built since the merger." Two questions arise:
1) Did Perlman get money to do anything much for the railroad? Money for track relaying, freight cars, repair shops etc?
2) In so far as he got money to rebuild fixed plant, did he spend it on the "Central" or were the PCs minimal improvement efforts during solvency spent throughout the PC system in some equitable fashion (need, profit potential etc).
- Milton J. Shapp versus Stuart Saunders.
On Page 67 of their book, Daughen and Binzen, claim that Stuart Saunders never publocally criticized Milton Shapp (Democrat Pennsylvania politician and opponent of the PC merger) but that his private opinion of the man was "unprintable." Being Irish I read that to mean that it was profane. The thing is, that Daughen/Binzen had little issue with profane language because a few pages later, they quoted - in full - Milton Shapp who was in turn paraphrasing Saunders' view of, quote "the f***ing railroad." Daughen and Binzen had no issue reprinting the f-word in full in that context, so what on Earth could Saunders have said about Shapp that rendered his view "unprintable?"
- A strike in 1973 ...
I only found out a few weeks ago, that there was a strike on the Penn Central in 1973. I was stunned when I read about it. Now, I know from having read these boards from time to time that organized labour has a lot of support here, so forgive me if I'm stepping on anyone's toes here, but what the heck, in the name of all that is holy, did anyone think they were going to accomplish by organising a strike on what was by that time, by all accounts the Pitiful Central. Drive it into the ground faster? Seriously, what was with that?