The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Discussion related to the operations and equipment of Consolidated Rail Corp. (Conrail) from 1976 to its present operations as Conrail Shared Assets. Official web site can be found here: CONRAIL.COM.

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gokeefe
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The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by gokeefe » Mon Aug 12, 2019 6:53 pm

I just finished Rush Loving's "The Men Who Loved Trains". In the book he describes a period in the early 80's when Conrail's tracks and physical plant had been restored to near "perfect" condition. It's a pretty astonishing turn around from the Penn Central days.

After that some management changes occurred and the track and plant conditions were normalized to a more routine (but still very good) level of maintenance.

I know that the slogan "Conrail Quality" came along several years later. That being said it strikes me as emblematic of this middle era in Conrail's history (circa 1981-1985). In many ways this was the "peak" of "Conrail Quality".

Does anyone have any stories from this period that are good examples of this history?
gokeefe

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Re: The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by QB 52.32 » Sun Aug 25, 2019 10:19 am

Conrail's "Conrail Quality" era was later than the 1981-1985 period, say around 1990 and moving forward, when physically they were in good shape, fully benefiting from deregulation and making money along with an industry that finally, in 1991, ended market share erosion begun decades before, but, recognizing the path forward to growth had to be focused on quality, tackling unmet market needs centered around reliability whether with transit time, equipment, loss & damage, or customer interface. They had beaten NS' ill-fated Reagan administration plan to take them over, become financially successful, now able to make strategic investments, and wanting to grow, but, also facing limitations with territory and structural challenges in the North-South marketplace with a relative short haul position vs. CSX or NS.

One good story from that era emblematic of Conrail Quality was the recognition that in order to meet the automobile industry's need to provide high-quality products to the marketplace and grow finished vehicle transportation market share they would have to improve handling of finished vehicles. This led to a finished vehicle train network that took autoracks out of general freight train service, hump yards and yard operations where the autoracks would be "kicked", into a separate network of dedicated trains and yards that flat switched to the couple (not exceeding 4 miles an hour). As an example of this dedicated network targeted to quality service, at Selkirk the "Top End" portion of the yard became the dedicated autorack train block swapping and switching yard serving the New England and New York markets.

gokeefe
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Re: The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by gokeefe » Sat Aug 31, 2019 8:49 am

Thanks for the post. Really helpful to understand how progress was made after the disaster of Penn Central. Auto racks mist have become a very lucrative market for them.

I'm curious if anyone has stories about examples on the main line track conditions or signal system fixes that were made. I've definitely gotten the impression over the years that Conrail was a big "fixer" if you will. Everything that was there was made to work and eventually obsolete equipment was replaced.
gokeefe

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Re: The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by QB 52.32 » Sat Aug 31, 2019 10:45 am

There were 2 periods of capital investment providing the "fixes". First, of course, came during the initial period right after the 1976 formation of Conrail and fully provided for by outside Federal investment. As an example, the ex-Boston and Albany, suffering many derailments and wrecks as well as slow-orders preceeding Conrail's formation, pretty quickly received an influx of welded rail and new ties to replace the worn out stick rail and rotting ties. The second round of capital investment came in that period informed by the turned financial tides created by deregulation, the initial investments and rationalization, and now self-generated. To further the example, spurned on by the end-of-useful-life block signal system and too much track for the traffic, sizable money was invested in the B&A to convert it to a single-tracked railroad with high-speed turnouts and a state-of-the-art cab signal system.

gokeefe
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Re: The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by gokeefe » Sat Aug 31, 2019 3:45 pm

Interesting that the cab signals on the B&A are from the "Conrail Quality" era. I had stumbled upon them while doing other research and wondered how long they had been there.

Did Conrail typically install the same signal systems everywhere? It's my impression that they usually just upgraded and expanded on legacy systems.
gokeefe

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Re: The Peak of "Conrail Quality"

Post by QB 52.32 » Sun Sep 01, 2019 9:32 am

I believe in the case of the B&A, Conrail installed new first-of-its-kind signal/traffic control technology featuring not only cab signals but also satellite communication to control points instead of via lineside or commercial wired communication, provided by USS and likely had for a decent price given its newness. My understanding is that Stan Crane, Conrail's president, made the ultimate decision to purchase the new technology. And, there were plenty of teething pains with this new technology, particularly with system outages created by thunderstorms. I don't believe this particular system was installed elsewhere on Conrail, but have to imagine it had a part to play in the evolution to modern railroad traffic control systems. Installing a new traffic control technology on the B&A fits into the long history of this railroad as a test bed for a variety of technologies over the years also including Conrail's investment in AC-traction motive power.

When you step back and look at the capital investments that brought "Conrail Quality" you start with those that stabilized the property, then those that improved efficiency and reliability, to those that were focused upon growth, each in general broad sequential phases as Conrail's fortunes and focus shifted.

As a follow-up to my last post, I failed to include labor's contribution to Conrail's financial improvement and ultimate strength in addition to deregulation, rationalization and the initial capital re-building of the railroad.

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