The Pennsylvania Railroad (reporting mark PRR) was an American Class I railroad which had it’s beginnings in 1846. Also referred to as the "Pennsy," the PRR’s main offices were in Philadelphia, PA. Through the years, it acquired, merged, assimilated, or owned part of at least 800 other rail lines and companies. By the end of 1925, it operated 10,515 miles of rail line; in the 1920s, it carried about three times the traffic (measured by ton-miles of freight) as other rail lines of similar length, such as the Union Pacific (UP) or Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF). The only real rival to the PRR was the New York Central (NYC), which hauled about three-fourths of the Pennsy's ton-miles. In 1950, the PRR operated 10,112 miles in 13 states. Although ranking fourth in total mileage, it ranked first in operating revenues. It also owned the greatest number of locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars. In it’s time, the PRR was the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, and had a budget larger than that of the U.S. government, with a workforce of about 250,000 people. The PRR still holds the record for the longest continuous dividend history, as it paid out annual dividends to shareholders for over 100 years in a row.
Pennsylvania Railroad's sleek GG1 Electric Locomotive Number 4877.
PRR then acquired interests in two major railroads, the Northern Central Railroad (NCRR) and the Cumberland Valley Railroad (CVRR). The latter opened in 1837 from Harrisburg to Chambersburg, and was extended by another company to Hagerstown, Maryland. The Baltimore & Susquehanna Railroad was incorporated in 1828, not long after the B&O got underway, to build north from Baltimore. Progress was slowed due of the reluctance of the state of Pennsylvania to charter a railroad that would bring commerce to Baltimore. The line reached Harrisburg in 1851 and Sunbury in 1858, and the railroad lines that formed the route were combined as the Northern Central Railway. A block of its stock held by John W. Garrett, president of the B&O, was purchased by J. Edgar Thomson, PRR's president, about 1860 and transferred to PRR ownership, with the PRR acquiring majority ownership of the Northern Central in 1900. In 1862 the PRR expanded into the northwestern part of the state and acquired an interest in the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad. The PRR assisted that railroad in completing its line from Sunbury to Erie, PA in 1864. The line to Erie was not all that successful, but from Sunbury to Driftwood it served as part of a freight route with easy grades. The rest of that route was the Allegheny Valley Railroad, which began as a feeder from Pittsburgh to the New York Central (NYC) and Erie railroads. The PRR gained control in 1868, and in 1874 opened a line with easy grades from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh through the valleys of the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers. In 1900, the PRR leased the Allegheny Valley Railroad. Thomson was at the helm of the PRR from 1852 until his passing in 1874. The PRR was the largest business enterprise in the world and was a world-class model for both managerial and technological innovation. Thomson's steady, technical, methodical, and non-ideological persona was an important influence on the PRR, which in the mid-1800s was on the cutting edge of rail development. Through Thomson, the PRR was the largest railroad in the world, with 6,000 miles of track, and was famous for steady financial dividends, high quality construction, constantly improving equipment, technological advances (such as replacing wood with coal), and innovation in management techniques for a large complex organization.
The PRR's first all-steel, fireproof passenger car was designed to be used in the New York Tunnel. Circa 1906.
In 1851 the PRR decided to assist the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P), which was open from Allegheny, PA, across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh to Salem, OH. Projected west from the end of the O&P at Crestline, OH was the Ohio & Indiana Railroad (O&I), which was constructing a route to Fort Wayne, with extensions to Burlington, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. In 1856 the O&P, O&I, and the Fort Wayne & Chicago were combined as the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Rail Road (PFtW&C). The PRR held an interest in the PFtW&C, but did not control it. In 1858 the PFtW&C leased the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad, a route from Cleveland through Alliance (where it crossed the PFtW&C) to the Ohio River near Wellsville, Ohio, and on to Rochester, Pennsylvania, where it met the PFtW&C again. George Gould tried to get control of the PFtW&C from the Erie in 1869, but the PFtW&C evaded him and was leased by the PRR. The lease also included the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad, a route from Richmond, Indiana, north through Fort Wayne and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1873 the PRR assembled a route into Toledo. The PRR extended the route to Detroit around 50 years later, mainly through trackage rights. In June of 1887, the Pennsylvania Limited began running between New York and Chicago. The vestibule, an enclosed platform at the end of each passenger car which allowed protected access to the entire train, was also introduced at this time. In 1902 the Pennsylvania Limited was replaced by the Pennsylvania Special and then was replaced in 1912 by the Broadway Limited, the most famous train ever operated by the PRR. This train ran from New York City to Chicago through Philadelphia.
LEFT: PRR Class C (Anthracite), later Class D4 4-4-0 American steam locomotive, ca. 1874. RIGHT: PRR Light-Duty Class G (later Class D5) Locomotive, ca. 1870.
The leases of 1869 suddenly gave the PRR more than 3,000 miles of line west of Pittsburgh. Instead of trying to manage it all from Philadelphia, the PRR started the Pennsylvania Company to hold and manage all of the lines west of Pittsburgh and the new company also operated the PFtW&C and its affiliates. The division of the PRR system into several more or less autonomous divisions was not altogether successful, partly because the pieces all came together in Pittsburgh, where the yards and terminals were under three agreements. The Pennsylvania Company ended in 1918 and transferred all of its leases to the PRR. The PRR could not ignore New York City, both as a city and port. All traffic from the west to New York was turned over to the Reading Railroad (RDG) at Harrisburg due to there being no through Philadelphia toNew York route. The PRR contracted with the Philadelphia & Trenton Railroad (which was built and opened in 1834), the Camden & Amboy Railroad (with lines from Camden to South Amboy and from Trenton to New Brunswick, New Jersey), and the Delaware & Raritan Canal Company in 1863. The PRR leased the properties of these companies and the United Canal & Railroad Companies of New Jersey, acquiring lines northeast to Jersey City, south to Cape May, and north along the Delaware River to Belvidere in 1871. In the 1880s the PRR had acquired the lines from Philadelphia east across New Jersey to the shore and built lines up the Schuylkill Valley into the RDG’s territory. In 1933, the New Jersey lines were consolidated with a parallel line owned by the Reading as the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines. The NYC, which had an advantage in passenger service to and from New York, had Grand Central Terminal on Manhattan Island, and all of the other railroads (except the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad [NH], which shared NYC's facilities) had to ferry passengers to Manhattan. The PRR wanted a rail terminal in Manhattan, and this was given added impetus in 1900 when it acquired the Long Island Rail Road. The PRR began construction (after studying proposals for bridges and tunnels) of Pennsylvania Station (Penn Station), between Seventh and Eighth avenues and 31st and 33rd streets; with two tunnels under the Hudson River and four tunnels under the East River; with a double-track line across the Jersey Meadows that connected to the main line east of Newark, all electrified, all in 1904. In 1910, the new station opened. The New York Connecting Railroad, including the Hell Gate Bridge, was opened in 1917, which created a route from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn for freight service and from Penn Station for passenger service to a junction with the NH in the Bronx.
PRR K4s Streamlined 4-6-2 Pacific Steam Locomotive Number 1120, circa 1944.
The Baltimore and Ohio had a monopoly on traffic to and from Washington, D.C., and with the protection of that monopoly in its charter, refused to make arrangements with the Northern Central Railway or the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (PW&B) for the through ticketing of passengers or the through billing of freight. The PRR purchased the charter of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad (B&P), a line which was to have run from Baltimore directly south to the Potomac River at Popes Creek, MD, but which had laid dormant since it was chartered in 1853. This charter allowed the B&P to build branch lines up to 20 miles in length only, and it was slightly less than that from Washington to Bowie, MD on the B&P. The resulting Baltimore-Washington route opened in 1872 and was only three miles longer than the B&O's. Congress then authorized the PRR to continue its route through Washington and across the Potomac River to connect with Virginia railroads. The PW&B was opened in 1838 between the cities that made-up its name. The PRR wasted no time connecting it to the B&P in Baltimore (there was no physical connection with it and the B&O), and in 1873 through service was inaugurated between Jersey City and Washington. The PRR and B&O both realized the strategic importance of the PW&B, which included lines down the Delmarva Peninsula. PRR acquired the line in 1881, and soon extended the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland & Virginia) lines to the south with the construction of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad to Cape Charles, Virginia, where they connected with a ferry to Norfolk, VA. The PRR began running the Congressional Limited Express, a New York to Washington passenger service via Philadelphia with limited stops in 1885. The service was expanded, and by the 1920s, the PRR was running hourly passenger train service between New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Beautiful, 18-car stainless steel streamliners were introduced in 1952 on the Morning Congressional and the Afternoon Congressional between New York and Washington. In 1902 the PW&B and the B&P were combined as the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington Railroad. PW&B and B&O joined to form the Washington Terminal Company and built a new Union Station in Washington, which opened in 1907. In 1917 the PRR leased the PW&B.
PRR Class K4s Pacific Streamlined Steam Locomotive #3768, circa 1939.
The PRR system was often described as "a man with his head in Philadelphia, his hands in New York and Washington, D.C., and his feet in Chicago and St. Louis", and by 1910 it had achieved full growth. Almost everywhere the PRR operated, it was the dominant railroad, the main exceptions being the NYC territory along Lake Ontario and the south shore of Lake Erie. The PRR also considered itself to be "The Standard Railroad of the World." The standardization was internal. Passenger trains were pulled by a fleet of 425 4-6-2 K4s-class Pacific locomotives, and the PRR had hundreds of P70-class coaches built to a single design. Freight was hauled by 579 L1s-class 2-8-2 Mikados (which used the same boiler as the K4s) and 598 I1s-class 2-10-0 Decapods; the railroad had thousands of X29-class 40-foot steel boxcars. Most of PRR's standardization was different from nearly every other railroad in North America: Belpaire boilers on steam locomotives; position-light signals that gave their indications with rows of amber lights at different angles; and the beautiful Tuscan red passenger cars instead of the plain, drab olive green.
LEFT: PRR Class E6 4-4-2 Steam Locomotive #1067, circa 1922. RIGHT: PRR 2-8-0 Consolidation Steam Locomotive
Around 1900, under the leadership of Alexander Cassatt, the PRR purchased substantial interests in the Norfolk & Western (N&W), the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O), B&O, and (through B&O) the Reading (RDG) railroads. Cassatt was steadfastly against the practice of rebating (returning a portion of the freight charge to favored shippers) and instead favored an industry-wide end to the practice. The strong railroads could resist pressure to grant rebates, but weaker ones could not, unless they were controlled by the stronger railroads. In 1906 PRR sold its B&O and C&O interests but increased its holdings in the N&W. In 1929, the Pennroad Corporation was formed as a holding company owned principally by PRR stockholders. Pennroad bought large interests in the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton; the Pittsburgh & West Virginia; the New Haven (NH), and the Boston & Maine (B&M) railroads. The PRR itself would have needed Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approval to by interests in other railroads; however, it was not necessary for the holding company. The largest single improvement made by the PRR in the 1920s and 1930s was the electrification of its lines from New York to Washington, D.C., and from Philadelphia to Harrisburg. The PRR had initially added electricity in 1910 via a direct current (DC) 650-volt third rail that powered their locomotives and the LIRR passenger cars. The center of the main improvement was the 1915 electrification between Philadelphia and Paoli, PA. This had been extended south to Wilmington in 1928 and began working north to Trenton. Then PRR made the decision to change the New York terminal third-rail electrification to high-voltage 11,000-volt 25-Hertz AC, which matched the Philadelphia electrification and connected the two; this was completed in 1933, and put the New York-Wilmington line under wires. At the same time, the railroad opened two new stations in Philadelphia; Suburban Station next to Broad Street Station and the "Chinese Wall" elevated tracks leading to it. Two years afterwards, electrification was extended to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia. Electrification was then extended west from Paoli to Harrisburg in 1938, with the idea of eventually continuing it to Pittsburgh Railroad. In 1934, a $77 million loan from the New Deal's Public Works Administration allowed the PRR to add wire to freight-only lines.
The class HH1s was a 2-8-8-2 Mallet type steam locomotive. Unlike most Pennsylvania steam locomotives, it had a wagon-top
boiler. It was built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in 1911. For 17 years, the single HH1s served as a helper
until 1928. It had the road number 3396 and was subsequently scrapped after it was taken out of service in 1928.
During World War II, the Pennsy's traffic doubled and passenger traffic quadrupled, most of it on the eastern portion of the system. The electrification was of great value in keeping the traffic moving. After the war, the PRR had the same thing happen as many other railroads, but the reaction seemed slower. The PRR was slower to dieselize and when it did, it purchased locomotives from every manufacturer. When freight and passenger traffic were abandoning the rails for the highways, the PRR found it had far more fixed plant than its traffic warranted or could support, and it was very slow in dismantling excess trackage or replacing double track with Centralized Traffic Control. The PRR was worse than practically any other railroad in having four to six tracks where only one or two would suffice. This was track that was no longer needed but was unfortunately still on the tax rolls. The PRR had heavy passenger business, with extensive commuter services centered on New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and lesser ones at Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Camden, NJ. Unlike nearly every one of its competitors, PRR had gone through the Great Depression without going bankrupt, and bankruptcy can have salutary effect on old debt. To its credit, the PRR had the longest history of dividend payment in U.S. business history. When the PRR and NYC announced merger plans in November 1957, they shocked the railroad industry. The PRR and NYC had long been bitter rivals, and tradition favored end-to-end mergers and not those of parallel railroads (West of the Allegheny Mountains, the two systems duplicated each other at almost every major point, and east of those cites, the two hardly touched). Initially, the reaction was utter surprise. "Who? Why?" Every merger proposal for years had tried to balance the NYC against the PRR and possibly create two, three, or four more-or-less equal systems in the east. Traditionally, the PRR had been allied with the N&W and the Wabash Railroad; the NYC with the B&O, Reading and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DLW). Any remaining railroads were swept up with the Erie Railroad and the Nickel Plate. Planning and justifying the merger took nearly ten years, during which time the eastern railroad scene changed dramatically, in large part due of the impending merger of the NYC and PRR. As a result, the Erie merged with the DLW to create the Erie Lackawanna Railway (EL) in 1960, the C&O acquired control of the B&O, and the N&W took in several railroads, including the Nickel Plate and the Wabash. In May of 1962, stockholders of the PRR and NYC approved the merger of the two railroads.The ICC approved the merger four years later, and in February of 1968, the Penn Central (PC) came into existence. Sadly, it was to fall apart faster than it was put together. The two railroads came into the merger in the black, but the Penn Central’s first year of operation yielded a deficit of $2.8 million (that would be $18,485,359 in today’s money). In 1969, the deficit was nearly $83 million ($519,616,152 in today’s money). Penn Central’s net income for 1970 was minus $325.8 million ($1,926,044,730 today). By this time, the railroad was forced to enter bankruptcy proceedings, and it was devastating, both to the railroad industry and to the nation's business community. The nation's 6th largest corporation had become the nation's largest bankruptcy ever (the Enron Corporation's 2001 bankruptcy passed this by a large amount).
LEFT: PRR #4780 Class P5a Electric Locomotive (modified), circa 1946. RIGHT: PRR Class R1 Electric Locomotive, circa 1934.
The PRR's corporate symbol was the keystone, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania's state symbol, with the letters PRR intertwined inside. When colored, it was bright red with a silver-grey inline and lettering. The PRR colors and paint schemes were standardized. Locomotives were painted in a shade of green so dark it seemed almost black. The official name for this color was DGLE (Dark Green Locomotive Enamel), and was often referred to as "Brunswick Green." The undercarriage of locomotives were always painted black and referred to as "True Black." Passenger cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad were painted Tuscan Red, a brick-colored shade of red. Some of the electric locomotives and most of the passenger-hauling diesel locomotives were also painted in Tuscan Red. Freight cars of the PRR had their own color, known as "Freight Car Color," which was an iron-oxide shade of red. The lettering and outlining was originally done in real gold leaf on passenger locomotives and cars. The lettering was done in a light shade of yellow called Buff Yellow after World War II. The PRR was also one of the first railroads to use position-light signals. The signals took the place of the old semaphore signals. Visibility in foggy conditions were one of the factors in developing this type of signal. A position-light signal used a large round target with an array of up to nine lights. Eight lights are in a circle near the edge of the target with another light in the center. The lights in position-light signals used amber-colored lenses, which could penetrate fog. With a position signal light, the position of the light display determined what the message meant. This design also allowed train personnel to recognize the signal even if one of the lights in a row was inoperative. Beginning in the late 1920s, the PRR installed Pulse code cab signaling where the higher speeds of passenger trains made cab signaling important. In this system signal, information is transmitted through the rails using track circuits and picked up by a sensor on the locomotive, and the signal is then displayed in the engineer's cab. The PRR extended the cab signals to its New York-Washington, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh-Indianapolis lines as well (the latter which was later downgraded by PC and ultimately abandoned by Conrail). PRR experimented with cab signals without wayside signals, an approach later expanded by Conrail and Norfolk Southern Railway. Cab signals were also adopted by several other U.S. railroads, especially on passenger lines. This technology, advanced for its time, is still in use by Amtrak.
During work on the Hudson River tunnels and New York's Penn Station, the type of electric locomotives to be used was a very important consideration. At that time only a hand full of electric locomotives existed. Several experimental locomotives were designed by PRR and Westinghouse engineers and testing was on the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad track. From these tests the DD1 class was developed. The DD1 locomotives were used in pairs (back to back). 33of these engines with Westinghouse equipment were built at PRR’s Altoona shops. They could reach speeds up to 85 miles per hour. Placed in service in 1910, they proved themselves to be very efficient locomotives. Steel suburban passenger cars capable of being electrified for MU operation were designed due to the need for this type of car in service to Penn Station through its associated tunnels. These cars were designated MP54. Designs for baggage and mail cars were additionally produced. Between 1910 and 1922, eight of these cars were given DC equipment to provide shuttle service from Penn Station to Manhattan Transfer. More extensive electrification plans required AC electrification, starting with 93 cars for the Paoli Line in 1915. With the expansion of the AC electrification, additional MP54 cars were electrified or bought new until a total of 481 cars was reached in 1951. Replacement with newer types of cars began in 1958 with the last MP54 cars retired in 1980. A single FF1 appeared in 1917 and ran experimentally for several years in preparation for electrification over the Allegheny Mountains that never was to happen. It’s six axles were powered by AC induction motors and driven by side-rods. The FF1 developed a starting tractive force of 140,000 pounds, which could rip the couplers right out of the fragile wooden freight cars that were in use at the time. An additional side-rod locomotive was designed between 1910 and 1922 : (the L5 class). Two DC engines were built for the New York electrified zone and a third, road number 3930, was AC-equipped and put in service at Philadelphia. 21 more L-5 locomotives were later built for the New York service. A six-wheeled switching engine was the next electric motive power designed, being classified as B1. Of the first 16 AC engines, two were used at Philadelphia and 14 on the Bay Ridge line, while 12 DC-equipped engines were assigned to Sunnyside Yard in New York City. The O1 class was a light passenger-type. Eight of these engines were built from June 1930 to December 1931. The P5 class was additionally introduced, with two being placed in service during July and August 1931. Following these came the P5A, a slightly heavier design capable of speeds of 80 miles per hour and with a tractive effort of 56,250 pounds. 89 of these locomotives were built in all. The first were placed in service in 1932 and had a box cab design. The next year, the last 28 under construction were redesigned to have a streamlined cab. Some of these engines underwent re-gearing for freight service. In 1933 two entirely new locomotives were in the planning stage: the R1 and the GG1 class. The R-1 had a rigid frame for its four driving axles, while the GG-1 had two frames which were articulated. These two prototypes, along with an O-1, a P5A and a K4s Pacific steam locomotive, all underwent exhaustive testing over a special section of test track near Claymont, Delaware. The experiments lasted for nearly two years and as a result, the GG1 type was chosen and the construction of 57 locomotives was authorized. The first GG1 was ready by April and by August 1935 all 57 were completed. The first GG1 locomotives were designated for passenger service, while most of the P5A types were for freight service. Some later-built GG1s were assigned to freight service as well. The total number of GG1s constructed was 139. They are rated at 4,620 horsepower at speeds of 100 mph. For most of its existence, PRR was conservative in its locomotive choices and pursued a path of standardization, both in locomotive types and their component parts. Almost alone among U.S. railroads, the PRR designed most of its steam locomotive classes itself and built them in Altoona. Steam locomotives remained part of the PRR fleet until 1957. The PRR's use of steam locomotives in the mid-20th century help contribute to its decline. Steam locomotives required more maintenance than diesel locomotives, were not cost efficient, and required more personnel to operate. The PRR was unable to update its roster during the World War II years; by the end of the war their roster was in rough shape. In addition, the PRR was burdened with unsuccessful experimental steam locomotives such as the Q1, S1, and T1 "Duplex Drive" locomotives, and the S2 turbine locomotive. The PRR did not acquire any 4-8-4 locomotives, unlike most of their competition. The PRR's competition managed this period better with their diesel locomotive rosters. The PRR voluntarily preserved a roundhouse-full of representative steam locomotives at Northumberland, Pennsylvania in 1957 and kept them there for several decades. These locomotives, with the exception of I1sa #4483 which is on display at Hamburg, New York, are now at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. In sharp contrast, NYC's Alfred E. Perlman deliberately scrapped all but two large steam locomotives, and these survived only by accident. By the mid-1940s, the Pennsy began to add diesel-electric locomotives to the fleet. From 1945 through 1949 it purchased 60 E7 locomotives from General Motors EMD (Electro-Motive Division). Sixty of these were "A" units, and the remaining 14 were cabless "B" units. Another locomotive added to the PRR fleet was the Baldwin DR-12-8-1500/2, commonly called the "Centipede." 24 of these multi-wheeled units were purchased. Sadly, these engines had reliability problems and soon became obsolete. Most were relegated to helper service. Then, in 1948, the PRR purchased twenty-seven Baldwin DR-6 locomotives. Originally intended for passenger service, these locomotives also proved to be unreliable, and some were reclassified as BF16z for freight service. From 1950 through 1952, the PRR purchased another 74 locomotives from EMD. These were E8s and were the successor to the E7 locomotive. All of these were "A" units. In 1956, the Pennsy retired all of its remaining steam fleet and opened bidding for a large order of diesel replacement locomotives. GM/EMD gave the PRR an exceptionally good deal on new, reliable GP9s, so the entire bid went to EMD. The Baldwin Locomotive Works was counting on the PRR (Baldwin's lifelong loyal customer) to help keep the struggling company in business by purchasing at least some Baldwin diesels. When this did not happen, the 126-year-old Baldwin company filed for bankruptcy.
After the bankruptcy of Penn Central, the profitable parts were transferred in 1976 to Conrail, which was itself broken up in 1999, with roughly equal parts going to Norfolk Southern Railway and to CSX Transportation. Norfolk Southern received most of the former PRR; Amtrak received the electrified segment east of Harrisburg.
More coming soon.
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