• Conrail Route Abandonment Regrets?

  • 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.
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.

Moderators: TAMR213, keeper1616

  by ExCon90
NotYou wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 9:40 pm Is there enough demand to justify another east / west freight line to NYC / North NJ? The Lehigh line could be double tracked if needed.
It's usually cheaper and more efficient to restore track on existing row with the best alignments, providing greater flexibility in overtaking and crew availability, etc.; e.g., better to add track along the Mohawk than in the Lehigh Gorge.
  by ExCon90
scratchyX1 wrote: Fri Oct 22, 2021 2:05 pm
photobug56 wrote: Thu Oct 21, 2021 9:25 pm Conrail. They knew at the time that people wanted to restore passenger rail. Nasty choice.
They ripped it up, knowing that amtrak was looking for using it.
Could have given it over, and be rid of the tax burden.
They ripped it up and sold it off, gaining some much-needed cash as well as shedding the tax burden. (Is there any record that Amtrak actually expressed interest in acquiring the route? Lots of people talked about restoring passenger service, but I never heard that Amtrak was interested in taking it on). People tend to overlook that Conrail was created as a freight railroad with no involvement in passenger service. The guiding principle at USRA was that Uncle Sam was not gonna buy anything from the estates of the bankrupt railroads that was not actively being used for freight service. The only reason the Cutoff made it into the FSP was that it was being so used at the time. When Conrail determined that the combination of Pocono grades and NY&GL grades and curves through the succession of Montclairs made it inferior to the Port Jervis route (Gulf Summit and New York State's full-crew law notwithstanding), it had no legal right, let alone obligation, to "land bank" it for hypothetical passenger use sometime in the future. New Jersey did buy the land back, with little result, as covered at length in relevant forums. Arguably there was merit in preserving the route, but the responsibility to do so was not Conrail's.

Actually, in retrospect it's a pity the Boonton Line was severed east of Mountain View; it would have made a fast route for Scranton trains to run nonstop from Dover to Hoboken or NYP without conflicting with numerous multistop locals on the Morris & Essex or the much less frequent locals via Boonton.
  by eolesen
Yeah, not buying that Conrail abandoned the Cutoff "knowing" Amtrak would want it. Being two quasi-government entities, it would have been an easy transfer of an asset from one set of books to the other's... Conrail could have even booked fair market vs. a write off valuation if there were really any interest.

But there apparently wasn't, aside from perhaps some wishful thinking by a few advocates.

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  by photobug56
I'm not a rail expert but like many other passenger rail fans I'd known for many years that many in the Scranton area wanted passenger service to NYC restored. Driving on I80, or riding on Martz just never cut it with many of us. Of course, pre Internet, it was a lot harder to discuss this, but it was never a secret. Somehow, I can't imagine that Conrail 'saved' a lot of money by carefully shredding the right of way ownership. The ONLY reason I ever heard for many years was they did it to prevent anyone else from running freight. From Wikipedia "Efforts to preserve the Cut-Off began shortly after Conrail ended service on it in 1979. An Amtrak inspection train ran on November 13 of that year, and counties in New Jersey and Pennsylvania made attempts to acquire the line. Nevertheless, Conrail removed the tracks on the Cut-Off in 1984".

Like I said, nasty of Conrail to do this knowing the efforts to restore passenger service.
  by ExCon90
"Efforts," or wishes? ("If wishes were horses ...")
I don't know of any workable plans put forward by anybody at that time -- or since -- to restore service on the Cutoff to any point west of the Delaware, and anything short of that would have put the idea beyond Amtrak's scope in any case. Anybody know of any action taken by Amtrak after the inspection trip?
  by photobug56
The rail authorities in NE PA do have plans and have worked hard on this. Amtrak got a grant from PA to study the route. There is a place for the station (along with buses) in Scranton, plus they know what other stops there would be. And I'm guessing that resort hotels are playing very close attention to this so they can plan ahead - NYC tourists and skiers, etc. are very important to them.
  by QB 52.32
XBNSFer wrote: Tue Oct 19, 2021 4:44 pmGiven similar government largesse to repair infrastructure and locomotives, similar labor reforms, and the ability to unload commuter operations, considerably more of the northeast's rail infrastructure might have been saved, and more of it likely built up to more expeditiously and reliably move today's rail traffic. Conrail's virtual monopoly on northeast rail traffic, and its zeal to defend it to the death, combined with the "cost cutting" mentality that was carried way too far, resulted in a "minimalist" system that can't provide service good enough to keep northeast highways from being jammed with tractor trailer traffic today.
This is Conrail's legacy. Too much rail infrastructure was destroyed, too little improvement and capacity expansion was done on routes that were critical, and northeast railroading is less than it should be today. Neither CSX nor Norfolk Southern has routes that are as direct or as fast as the NYC and PRR had more than half a century ago, and that's pretty sad.
As for specific routes, I'll say in general I still think there should never have been a monopolistic "Conrail" to begin with; the "Penn" and "Central" should have been separated, since the P-C merger was anti-competitive and never should have happened to begin with, and the ex-NYC and ex-PRR should have served as the "skeletons" to build two competitive northeast "systems" on, replacing bits lost to Amtrak or commuter rail with alternate lines from other roads being included in the "solution," but with infrastructure built up so that the major arteries were all high capacity, high clearance, and high speed lines to the extent possible.

Given the notion that competitive rail access in the northeast was the goal, certainly once "self sufficiency" was achieved, big "regrets" that stick out might include the downgrade/removal of the ex-PRR Crestline to Chicago main line as a through route, and the similar removal or downgrade of the ex-NYC and ex-PRR (alternating) Indianapolis to St. Louis routes. As for the "if Conrail still existed as an independent railroad" scenario, I doubt they regretted ripping up anything - to Conrail, less northeast rail infrastructure was protective of their monopoly.
If the concept and practice of a single-system Conrail lead to a diminished rail network in the Midwest and Northeast 22 years out, then beyond some general comments about tractor trailer traffic or expeditious and reliable movement, what market(s) are CSX and NS limited or unable to participate in as an exception within the Class 1 industry as a result?

Conrail's USRA creator resolved from a number of competing goals pursuit of an adequate and financially viable rail system under overarching pre-Staggers public policy that had not yet even resolved the nationalization vs. private debate, and with time pressure to act with prompt rationalization of the system given fears of growing troubles, concluded that a 2-system Conrail would end up costing more while still falling short of the singular goal of retaining and promoting competition. While they planned for competition from solvent carriers that never fully materialized, Conrail's market demand stunningly dropped by more than half 1976-81 while deregulation increased Conrail's competition from other rail carriers as well, ultimately providing credence to their conclusion.

Conrail's management acted just as any other well-managed for-profit Class 1, responding to the tremendous challenges of de-industrialization and economic downturns; increased rail and modal competition resulting from deregulation and truck length and weight liberalization; and, major supply chain changes not only with necessary route rationalization, but also investing ~$1 billion of private capital for infrastructure capacity expansion, including in the NY/NJ market, appropriate to market opportunities and capital constraints at the time. Results from capacity capital improvements combined with market-based management include the first railroad to reach 1 million annual intermodal units with almost half moving in premium service executed to near-perfect performance and development of an extensive auto and doublestack network as well as the biggest intermodal lane east of the Mississippi; growth in finished auto, metals, coal, and fertilizer market share; and, development of waste-by-rail as well as roadrailer and north/south intermodal services. On the other hand, results from rationalization included a 21% route mile reduction that only affected 2% of their revenue base 1981-86.

CSX and NS, through decision-making around negotiated purchase, split Conrail with both at minimum benefiting from an excellent intermodal, auto, waste and carload franchise still in place, executed and largely unchanged today, with the ability to address any route or infrastructure deficiencies as they saw fit at the time. Their initial behavior and the results a couple of decades out are the proof of the pudding that Conrail was a success, including their route and infrastructure decisions underpinning Northeastern and Midwestern freight rail transformation out of chaos, through very dark days, to a contemporary balanced 2-Class 1 system, as most in the shipper, political, labor, financial and rail industry communities have concluded.
  by s4ny
Conrail was a bridge from the past to the future. The success of Norfolk Southern and CSX proves this. Freight railroading in the northeast US is a profitable business. It took the death of Conrail's predecessors and the birth of Conrail to get the rules changed enabling this outcome. It could not have happened otherwise.

The lines that were removed were almost entirely unneeded. NJ could have saved the DL&W cutoff but let it go. Crestline to Chicago can be upgraded. The Erie tracks west of Hornell NY to Meadville PA are still in place and can be upgraded. The current freight route from Harrisburg to Newark is better than the Amtrak route. Port Jervis to Binghamton is there when needed.

I see a future where some of these lines become more important to NS and CSX.
  by photobug56
Wasn't Contrail both asked and ordered to not tear up the Cutoff but did so anyway?
  by ExCon90
Once abandonment had been approved by the ICC (still in existence at the time), I don't know who would have had authority to order that the track not be removed, a customary and expected procedure following an abandonment. The time to object was after Conrail applied to abandon, and the ICC was the proper forum; apparently the ICC found that abandonment was justified and so ruled. After that, a Federal court would have been the only recourse and to overturn the ruling would have needed to be shown better grounds than apparently were provided.
  by Scalziand
I'd add the Maybrook line and the Poughkeepsie Bridge. Sure it was Penn's poor maintenance that lead to the loss of the bridge, but Penn only ended up with it because Conrail sold it off. Because of the loss of the Maybrook, all freight into lower New England has to go through Albany and Mass, which killed all the east/west routes in CT aside from the shoreline route.

Ok, I have to admit that most of the east/west routes were gone before the bridge burned.
  by ExCon90
After the arranged marriage with the New Haven, Penn Central did a traffic study which showed that the most traffic that could reasonably be predicted would justify one train pair per day from Cedar Hill to Allentown and return; origins and destinations beyond those points were too dispersed for a through train going to any one of them. I think that by that time the bridge had reached the either-rehab-or-condemn stage, and given the contemporary and probable future state of the New England economy traffic was unlikely to increase sufficiently to repay the cost of rehabbing. A local group hired a consultant to do an independent study, which reached the same conclusion. Since PC was in bankruptcy at the time I think a project of that magnitude would have required the approval of the judge overseeing the bankruptcy, which I don't think would have been forthcoming.
  by nessman
Scalziand wrote: Thu Jan 06, 2022 1:57 pm I'd add the Maybrook line and the Poughkeepsie Bridge. Sure it was Penn's poor maintenance that lead to the loss of the bridge, but Penn only ended up with it because Conrail sold it off. Because of the loss of the Maybrook, all freight into lower New England has to go through Albany and Mass, which killed all the east/west routes in CT aside from the shoreline route.

Ok, I have to admit that most of the east/west routes were gone before the bridge burned.
The Poughkeepsie Bridge burned in 1974. Conrail didn't happen until 1976.