PRR system map, circa 1918
|Dates of operation||1846–1968|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)|
|Electrification||12.5kV 25Hz AC:
New York City-Washington, D.C./South Amboy;
North Jersey Coast Line
|Length||10,512 miles (16,917 kilometres)|
The PRR was the largest railroad by traffic and revenue in the U.S. for the first half of the twentieth century. Over the years, it acquired, merged with or owned part of at least 800 other rail lines and companies. At 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 railroads of comparable length, such as Union Pacific Railroad or Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The only rival was New York Central (NYC), which carried around three-quarters of PRR's ton-miles.
At one time, the PRR was the largest publicly traded corporation in the world, with a budget larger than that of the U.S. government and a workforce of about 250,000 people. The corporation still holds the record for the longest continuous dividend history: it paid out annual dividends to shareholders for more than 100 years in a row.
In 1968, PRR merged with rival NYC to form the Penn Central Transportation Company, which filed for bankruptcy within two years. The viable parts were transferred in 1976 to Conrail, which was itself broken up in 1999, with roughly equal parts going to the Norfolk Southern Railway and CSX Transportation. Norfolk Southern received most of the former PRR; Amtrak received the electrified segment east of Harrisburg.
The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was originally a line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Much of the railroad's subsequent expansion was accomplished by leasing or purchasing the following additional railroads:
Philadelphians were slow to recognize that the Erie Canal and the National Railway (and later the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) were funneling to New York and Baltimore commerce that might have come to Philadelphia. A canal was opened in 1827 between the Schuylkill and Susquehanna rivers, and another was proposed along the Susquehanna, Juniata, Conemaugh, and Allegheny (along with a four-mile tunnel under the summit of the Allegheny Mountains) to link Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That project was declared impractical, and in 1828 the Main Line of Public Works was chartered to build a railroad from Philadelphia to Columbia, another across the mountains, and canals from Columbia and from Pittsburgh to the base of the mountains.
By 1832 canals were open from Columbia to Hollidaysburg and from Pittsburgh to Johnstown; in 1834 a railroad was opened from Philadelphia to Columbia and a portage railroad was opened over the mountains. The latter, the Allegheny Portage Railroad, was a series of rope-operated inclined planes; canal boats were designed to be taken apart and hauled over the mountains.
The pace of the state's action increased when the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) requested a charter for a line to Pittsburgh. The B&O line was chartered, but so was the PRR, on April 13, 1846 — to build a railroad from Harrisburg to Philadelphia with a branch to Erie. B&O's charter would be valid only if the PRR were not constructed.
The line was surveyed by J. Edgar Thomson, who had built the Georgia Railroad. His operating experience led him to lay out not a line with a steady grade all the way to Harrisburg to the summit of the mountains, but rather a nearly water-level line from Harrisburg to Altoona, where a steeper grade (but still less than that of the B&O) began for a comparatively short assault on the mountains. This arrangement concentrated the problems of a mountain railroad in one area.
Construction began in 1847. In 1849 the PRR made an operating contract with the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mountjoy & Lancaster Railroad (HPMtJ&L), and by late 1852 rails ran from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, via a connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad between Hollidaysburg and Johnstown. The summit tunnel was opened in February 1854, bypassing the inclined planes and creating a continuous railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. More than half of the line had already been double-tracked.
The Main Line of Public Works was constructed with a much smaller loading gauge than the PRR, and although the PRR was operating the HPMtJ&L, the railroad's own management was responsible for maintenance — and not doing much of it. In 1857 PRR bought the Main Line and in 1861 leased the HPMtJ&L, putting the entire Philadelphia-Pittsburgh line under one management.
To protect its canal the state included a tax on railroad tonnage in PRR's charter. When PRR purchased the Main Line, canals and all, it mounted a long battle to have the tax repealed. The charter was amended only to the point that the funds were used to aid short lines that connected with the PRR. Most of those railroads eventually became part of the PRR.
PRR also acquired interests in two major railroads, the Cumberland Valley Railroad (CVRR) and the Northern Central Railroad. The CVRR was opened in 1837 from Harrisburg to Chambersburg, and it was extended by another company in 18412 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 not by construction difficulties but because of the reluctance of Pennsylvania to charter a railroad that would carry commerce to Baltimore. The line reached Harrisburg in 1851 and Sunbury in 1858. By then the railroad companies that formed the route had been consolidated as the Northern Central Railway. A block of its stock that had been 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. PRR acquired majority ownership of the Northern Central in 1900.
The PRR expanded into the northwestern portion of the state by acquiring an interest in the Philadelphia & Erie Railroad in 1862 and assisting that railroad to complete its line from Sunbury to the city of Erie in 1864. The line to Erie was not particularly successful, but from Sunbury to Driftwood it could serve as part of a freight route with easy grades. The remainder of that route was the Allegheny Valley Railroad, conceived as a feeder from Pittsburgh to the New York Central (NYC) and Erie railroads. The PRR obtained control in 1868, and in 1874 opened a route with easy grades from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh via the valleys of the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers. PRR leased the Allegheny Valley Railroad in 1900.
Thomson led the PRR from 1852 to his death in 1874, making it the largest business enterprise in the world and a world-class model for technological and managerial innovation. Thomson's sober, technical, methodical, and non-ideological personality had an important influence on the Pennsylvania Railroad, which in the mid-19th century was on the technical cutting edge of rail development, while nonetheless reflecting Thomson's personality in its conservatism and its steady growth while avoiding financial risks. Under his watch, PRR was the largest railroad in the world, with 6,000 miles (9,700 kilometres) 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.
By 1847 the directors of the PRR were looking west into Ohio. In 1851 they discussed assisting the Ohio & Pennsylvania Railroad (O&P) which by then was open from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, across the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh (and now a part of Pittsburgh), to Salem, Ohio. Projected west from the end of the O&P at Crestline, Ohio was the Ohio & Indiana Railroad (O&I), which was building a line to Fort Wayne, with extensions to Burlington, Iowa, and almost incidentally, Chicago. In 1856 the O&P, O&I, and the Fort Wayne & Chicago were consolidated as the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Rail Road (PFtW&C). The PRR held an interest in the PFtW&C, but not a controlling one. In 1858 the PFtW&C leased the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad, a line from Cleveland through Alliance (where it crossed the PFtW&C) to the Ohio River near Wellsville, Ohio, and then upstream to Rochester, Pennsylvania, where it again met the PFtW&C.
In 1869 George Gould tried to get control of the PFtW&C from the Erie, but the PFtW&C evaded him and was leased by the PRR. The lease included the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad, a line from Richmond, Indiana, north through Fort Wayne and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1873 the PRR assembled a route into Toledo; about 50 years later it extended the line to Detroit, mostly on trackage rights.
On June 15, 1887 the Pennsylvania Limited began running between New York and Chicago. This was also the introduction of the vestibule, an enclosed platform at the end of each passenger car, allowing protected access to the entire train. In 1902 the Pennsylvania Limited was replaced by the Pennsylvania Special which was replaced in 1912 by the Broadway Limited, the most famous train operated by the PRR. This train operated from New York City to Chicago via Philadelphia, with an additional Harrisburg-Washington, D.C. dubbed the Liberty Limited.
West of Pittsburgh lay a string of railroads — Pittsburgh & Steubenville Railroad, Steubenville & Indiana Railroad, Central Ohio Railroad, Columbus & Xenia Railroad and Little Miami Railroad — that formed a route through Columbus to Cincinnati. The Pittsburgh & Steubenville was the last to be opened because the state of Virginia, which held a large interest in the B&O, refused to permit a railroad be built across its narrow strip of territory (now the panhandle of West Virginia) between Pennsylvania and the Ohio River. The Pittsburgh & Steubenville was sold at foreclosure and a new company, the Panhandle Railway, took over in January 1868. In May of that year the PRR consolidated the Panhandle and the Steubenville & Indiana as the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati & St. Louis Railway, but the nickname "Panhandle" stuck with it and its successors.
West of Columbus, the Columbus, Chicago & Indiana Central Railway (CC&IC) had a line from Columbus to Indianapolis and another from Columbus through Logansport, Indiana to Chicago. The PRR leased the CC&IC in February 1869, snatching it from the clutches of archetypal robber baron Jay Gould.
Beyond Indianapolis lay the Terre Haute & Indianapolis and the St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute. Because of a lack of agreement among several roads about division of traffic, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute was constructed between 1868 and 1870 from East St. Louis to Terre Haute and leased by the Terre Haute & Indianapolis, which then made traffic agreements with the Panhandle and the CC&IC. (The St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute wound up in the NYC system.)
The Little Miami Railroad was incorporated in 1836; by 1846 it had a line from Cincinnati through Xenia to Springfield, Ohio, and it grew by purchasing and leasing lines to Columbus and Dayton. It was a desirable property as far as the PRR was concerned. To force the issue of a lease, the Panhandle got control of the Cincinnati & Zainesville, a secondary line that would give it access to Cincinnati. The Panhandle leased the Little Miami in 1869.
In 1890 the Panhandle and several other lines were consolidated as the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (PCC&StL), and in 1905 the Vandalia Railroad was incorporated to consolidate the lines west of Indianapolis. The PCC&StL, the Vandalia, and several others were consolidated in 1916 as the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad (railway changing to railroad, a common change among consolidations in the industry). At the beginning of 1921 the PCC&StL was leased to the PRR. Many lines serving the southern Illinois coal region were double-tracked. Several passenger routes for the PRR’s Blue Ribbon-named trains transvered these lines, including The St Louisan, Jeffersonian, and Spirit of St. Louis.
With the leases of 1869 the PRR suddenly had more than 3,000 miles (4,800 kilometres) of line west of Pittsburgh. Rather than try to manage it all from Philadelphia, the PRR organized the Pennsylvania Company to hold and manage the lines west of Pittsburgh. The new company also operated the PFtW&C and its affiliate railroads.
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 ceased to be an operating company in 1918 and transferred its leases to the PRR.
Even with the loyalty to Philadelphia engendered by having its roots and headquarters there, the PRR could not ignore New York City, both as a city and a port. Any traffic from the west to New York had to be turned over to the Reading Railroad (RDG) at Harrisburg because there was no through Philadelphia-New York route. In 1863 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 1871 it 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 the 1880s the PRR acquired the lines from Philadelphia east across New Jersey to the shore and constructed lines up the Schuylkill Valley into RDG territory. The New Jersey lines were combined with a parallel line owned by the RDG in 1933 as the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines.
The NYC had long had an advantage in passenger service to and from New York: It had a terminal, Grand Central, on Manhattan Island, and all the other railroads (except the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad [NH], which share NYC's facilities) had to ferry their passengers across to Manhattan. PRR's desire for a rail terminal in Manhattan was given added impetus by its acquisition of the Long Island Rail Road in 1900. After studying proposals for bridges and tunnels, PRR began construction in 1904 of Pennsylvania Station, between Seventh and Eighth avenues and 31st and 33rd streets; two tunnels under the Hudson River; four tunnels under the East River; and a double-track line across the Jersey Meadows to connect it to the main line east of Newark — all electrified. The new station opened in 1910.
In 1917 the New York Connecting Railroad, including the Hell Gate Bridge, was opened, creating a rail 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.
The B&O had a monopoly on traffic to and from Washington, D.C. — and protection of that monopoly in its charter. B&O refused to make arrangements with the Northern Central Railway or the Philadelphia, Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad (PW&B) for through ticketing of passengers and through billing of freight. The PRR bought the charter of the Baltimore & Potomac Railroad (B&P), a line which was to have run from Baltimore straight south to the Potomac River at Popes Creek, Maryland, but which had lain dormant since its chartering in 1853. The charter allowed the B&P to build branch lines no more than 20 miles (32 kilometres) long, and it was slightly less than that from Washington to Bowie, Maryland on the B&P. The resulting Baltimore-Washington route, opened in 1872, was only three miles longer than B&O's. Congress authorized the PRR to continue its line through Washington and across the Potomac River to connect with railroads in Virginia.
The PW&B was opened in 1838 between the cities of its name. The PRR was quick to connect it to the B&P in Baltimore (it had no physical connection with the B&O), and in 1873 through service was inaugurated between Jersey City and Washington. Both the PRR and B&O saw the strategic importance of the PW&B, which included lines down the Delmarva Peninsula; PRR got it in 1881. PRR soon extended the Delmarva lines southward by construction of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad to Cape Charles, Virginia, and where they connected with a ferry to Norfolk, Virginia.
In 1885, the PRR began operating the Congressional Limited Express a New York-Washington passenger service via Philadelphia with limited stops. The service expanded, and by the 1920s, the PRR was operating hourly passenger train service between New York, Philadelphia and Washington. In 1952, 18-car stainless steel streamliners were introduced on the Morning Congressional and Afternoon Congressional between New York and Washington.
In 1902 the PW&B and the B&P were consolidated as the Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington Railroad. PW&B and B&O teamed up to form the Washington Terminal Company, which constructed a new Union Station in Washington, opened in 1907. In 1917 the PW&B was leased to the PRR.
Around 1900, the PRR built several low-grade lines for freight to bypass areas of steep grade (slope). These included:
The Pennsylvania and Newark Railroad was incorporated in 1905 to build a low-grade line from Morrisville, Pennsylvania to Colonia, New Jersey. It was never completed, but work was done in the Trenton area, including bridge piers in the Delaware River. North of Colonia, the alignment was going to be separate, but instead two extra tracks were added to the existing line. Work was suspended in 1916. Another low-grade line across the mountains of Pennsylvania, avoiding completely the congestion of Pittsburgh, was discussed.
Other major additions to the PRR at the end of the 19th century were the following:
By 1910 the PRR had achieved full growth: It has been 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. The metaphor, which was unkind to Pittsburgh, requires for completeness a fishnet spread over the man with pins holding it down at Buffalo, Rochester, and Sodus Point, New York, Detroit and Mackinaw City, Michigan, Marietta, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, Ohio, Madison, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. The hand in New York holds a large fish — Long Island — and resting on the other shoulder is another, the Delmarva Peninsula. Almost everywhere the PRR went it was the dominant railroad, the principal exception being NYC territory along Lake Ontario and the south shore of Lake Erie.
The PRR was also, by its own declaration, "The Standard Railroad of the World." The standardization was internal. Passenger trains moved behind a fleet of 425 K4s-class Pacifics; the railroad had hundreds of P70-class coaches built to a single design. Freight was hauled by 579 L1s-class Mikados (which used the same boiler as the K4s) and 598 I1s-class Decapods; PRR had thousands of X29-class 40-foot steel boxcars. Much of PRR's standardization was different from nearly everything else in North America: Belpaire boilers on steam locomotives; position-light signals giving their indications with rows of amber lights at different angles; Tuscan red passenger cars instead of drab olive green.
At the turn of the century under the leadership of Alexander Cassatt, PRR purchased substantial interests in Norfolk & Western (N&W), Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O), B&O, and (through B&O) RDG railroads. Cassatt was vigorously opposed to the practice of rebating (returning a portion of the freight charge to favored shippers) and was in favor of an industry-wide end to the practice. Strong railroads would be able to resist pressure to grant rebates, but weaker ones would not — unless they were controlled by strong railroads. In 1906 PRR sold its B&O and C&O interests but increased its N&W holdings.
In 1929 the Pennroad Corporation was formed as a holding company owned principally by PRR stockholders. Pennroad purchased sizable interests in the Detroit, Toledo & Ironton; Pittsburgh & West Virginia; NH; and Boston & Maine railroads. The PRR would have needed Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) approval to purchase interests in other railroads; it was not necessary for the holding company.
The biggest single improvement accomplished 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. PRR had initially added electric in 1910 via a direct current (DC) 650-volt third rail that powered PRR locomotives and LIRR passenger cars.
The nucleus of the main improvement was the 1915 electrification between Philadelphia and Paoli, Pennsylvania. That was extended south to Wilmington in 1928 and began working north to Trenton. PRR decided to change the New York terminal third-rail electrification to high-voltage 11,000-volt 25-Hertz alternating current (AC) to match the Philadelphia electrification and connect the two; that was completed in 1933, putting 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 later the electrification was extended to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to Potomac Yard in Alexandria, Virginia. Electrification was extended west from Paoli to Harrisburg in 1938, with the thought of eventually continuing it to Pittsburgh. Other Philadelphia-region electrified lines:
During World War II PRR's traffic doubled and passenger traffic quadrupled, much of it on the eastern portion of the system. The electrification was of inestimable value in keeping the traffic moving. After the war PRR had the same experiences as many other railroads but seemed slower to react. PRR was slower to dieselize and when it did so it bought units from every manufacturer. As freight and passenger traffic left the rails for the highways, PRR found itself with far more fixed plant than the traffic warranted or could support, and it was slow to dismantle excess trackage or replace double track with Centralized Traffic Control. The company, in particular, was worse than practically anyone else in having four to six tracks where one or two would do — track that was no longer needed but which was still on the tax rolls. PRR was saddled with a heavy passenger business, and it had extensive commuter services centered on New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh — and lesser ones at Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and Camden, New Jersey. 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. The PRR had to its credit, though, the longest history of dividend payment in U.S. business history.
PRR and NYC shocked the railroad industry by announcing merger plans in November 1957. The two had long been bitter rivals, and tradition favored end-to-end mergers rather than those of parallel railroads; West of the Allegheny Mountains, the two systems duplicated each other at almost every major point; east of those cites, the two hardly touched. The initial reaction was utter surprise. "Who? Why?" Every merger proposal for decades had tried to balance the NYC against the PRR and 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, RDG and the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad (DLW). Any remaining players were swept up with the Erie Railroad and the Nickel Plate. In addition, tradition favored end-to-end mergers rather than those of parallel railroads. Planning and justifying the merger took nearly a decade, during which time the eastern railroad scene had changed dramatically, in large measure because of the impending merger of the NYC and PRR. 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. Stockholders of the PRR and NYC approved the merger of the two railroads on May 8, 1962. ICC approved the merger four years later, and on February 1, 1968, the Penn Central (PC) came into existence — and fell apart faster than it went together.
PRR and NYC came into the merger in the black, but PC's first year of operation yielded a deficit of $2.8 million ($18,485,359 today). In 1969 the deficit was nearly $83 million ($519,616,152 today). PC's net income for 1970 was a deficit of $325.8 million ($1,926,044,730 today). By then the railroad had entered bankruptcy proceedings — specifically on June 21, 1970. The PC bankruptcy was a cataclysmic event, both to the railroad industry and to the nation's business community. The nation's sixth largest corporation had become the nation's largest bankruptcy in history (the Enron Corporation's 2001 bankruptcy eclipsed this in large measure).
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.
As noted, 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), though often referred to as "Brunswick Green." The undercarriage of the locomotives were painted in black, referred to as "True Black." The passenger cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad were painted Tuscan Red, a brick-colored shade of red. Some electric locomotives and most passenger-hauling diesel locomotives were also painted in Tuscan Red. Freight cars of the PRR had their own color, known as "Freight Car Color," an iron-oxide shade of red. On passenger locomotives and cars the lettering and outlining was originally done in real gold leaf. After World War II the lettering was done in a light shade of yellow called Buff Yellow.
PRR was one of the first railroads to use position-light signals. The signals replaced semaphore signals. Visibility in foggy conditions was one of the factors for the development of 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 positioning of the light display determined the meaning of the message. The design also allowed train personnel to recognize the signal aspect even when one light in a row was inoperative.
Signal aspects were displayed as rows of three lit lights. The aspects corresponded with upper-quadrant semaphore signal positions: vertical for proceed, a 45° angle for approach, and horizontal for stop. A row of lights at a 45° angle leaning left of vertical (perpendicular to the approach aspect) was used for a restricting aspect. A "X" shape was a "take siding" aspect (message) and a full circle was a "lower pantograph" aspect in electrified territory. Additional aspects were conveyed with a second target head below the first, either a single light, a partial target, or a full target. Separate Manual Block signal aspects existed as well.
In later years the two outside lights in the horizontal "stop" row were often given red lenses, and the center lamp would be extinguished when the signal displayed a stop aspect. Apart from a test installation at Overbrook interlocking near Philadelphia, later reversed, installation of such "red-eye" lenses was limited to interlocking home signals north and west of Rockville (near Harrisburg).
Starting in the late 1920s the PRR installed Pulse code cab signaling where the higher speeds of passenger trains made cab signalling desirable. In this system signal, information is transmitted through the rails using track circuits and picked up by a sensor on the locomotive, where the signal is displayed in the engineer's cab. PRR ultimately extended cab signals on its New York-Washington, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh-Indianapolis lines (the latter which was later downgraded by PC and ultimately abandoned by Conrail). PRR also experimented with cab signals without wayside signals, an approach later expanded by Conrail (Conemaugh line) and Norfolk Southern Railway (Cleveland line). Cab signals were subsequently adopted by several other U.S. railroads, especially on passenger lines. This technology, advanced for its time, is still in use by Amtrak.
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.
Outside builders were used due to the sheer number of locomotives the PRR ordered. The number required exceeded the capacity that its own shops could produce. PRR used a commercial builder as a subcontractor, building exact replicas of an existing PRR design. This was unlike most railroads who gave only a broad specification, thereby leaving the majority of the decision making and design to the locomotive builder.
When it needed a commercial locomotive builder, the PRR favored Baldwin Locomotive Works. Baldwin was a major PRR customer, receiving its raw materials and shipping out its finished products on PRR lines. The two companies were headquartered in the same city, with PRR and Baldwin management, along with the engineers, knowing each other well. When the PRR and Baldwin shops were at capacity, orders went to the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio. Only as a last resort would the PRR use the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) based in Schenectady, New York. This may have been due to the fact that Alco was serviced by PRR's rival, NYC.
The PRR had a design style that it favored in its locomotives. One example is the square-shouldered Belpaire firebox. This British style firebox was a PRR trademark that was rarely used by other locomotive builders in the United States. Also, the PRR used track pans extensively to pick up water, for the locomotive, while on the move. Using this system meant that the tenders of their locomotives had a comparatively large proportion of coal (which could not be taken on board while running) compared to water capacity. Locomotives of the PRR had a clean look to them. Only necessary devices were used and they were mounted neatly on the locomotive. Smoke box fronts bore a round locomotive number board denoting a freight locomotive or a keystone number board denoting a passenger locomotive. Otherwise the smoke box was uncluttered except for a headlamp at the top and a steam-driven turbo-generator behind it. In later years the positions of the two were reversed, since the generator needs more maintenance than the lamp.
Each class of steam locomotive was assigned a class designation. Early on this was simply a letter, but when these ran short the scheme was changed so that each wheel arrangement had its own letter, and different types in the same arrangement had different numbers added to the letter. Subtypes were indicated by a lower-case letter; superheating was designated by an "s" until the mid-1920s, by which time all new locomotives were superheated. A K4sa class was a 4-6-2 "Pacific" type (K) of the fourth class of Pacifics designed by the PRR. It was superheated (s) and was of the first variant type (a) after the original (unlettered). Steam locomotives remained part of the PRR fleet until 1957.
The PRR's reliance on steam locomotives in the mid-20th century contributed to its decline. Steam locomotives require more maintenance than diesel locomotives, are less cost efficient, and require 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 saddled with unsuccessful experimental steam locomotives such as the Q1, S1, and T1 "Duplex Drive" locomotives, and the S2 turbine locomotive. Unlike most of their competition, the PRR did not acquire any 4-8-4 locomotives.
The PRR's competitors 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.
On December 18, 1987 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania designated PRR's K4s as the official State Steam Locomotive. The two surviving Locomotives are housed at Strasburg and Altoona.
When work on the Hudson River tunnels and New York's Penn Station was in progress, the type of electric locomotives to be used was an important consideration. At that time only a few electric locomotives existed. Several experimental locomotives were designed by railroad and Westinghouse engineers and tried on the West Jersey & Seashore Railroad track. From these tests the DD1 class was developed. The DD1s were used in pairs (back to back). Thirty-three of these engines having Westinghouse equipment were built at Altoona. They were capable of speeds up to 85 miles per hour (137 km/h). Placed in service in 1910, they proved to be very efficient.
Steel suburban passenger cars capable of being electrified for MU operation were designed due to the need for such cars in service to Penn Station through its associated tunnels and were designated MP54. Designs for corresponding cars accommodating baggage and mail were produced also. Eight of these cars were electrified with DC equipment to provide shuttle service from Penn Station to Manhattan Transfer between 1910 and 1922. 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 purchased new until a total of 481 cars was reached in 1951. Replacement with newer types of cars began in 1958 and the last MP54 cars were retired in 1980.
The single FF1 appeared in 1917 and ran experimentally for a number of years in preparation for electrification over the Allegheny Mountains that never came to fruition. Its AC induction motors and side-rod drive powered six axles. It developed a starting tractive force of 140,000 pounds, which was capable of ripping couplers out of the fragile wooden freight cars in use at the time.:123
In 1924 another side-rod locomotive was designed: (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. Later 21 more L-5 locomotives were 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 also introduced, with two of this class being placed in service during July and August 1931. Following these came the P5A, a slightly heavier design capable of traveling 80 miles per hour (130 km/h) and with a tractive force of 56,250 pounds. In all, 89 of these locomotives were built. The first had a box cab design and were placed in service in 1932. The following year, the last 28 under construction were redesigned to have a streamlined type of cab. Some of these engines underwent regearing for freight service.
In 1933 two entirely new locomotives were being planned: 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. Both of these prototypes, along with an O-1, a P5A and a K4s steam locomotive underwent exhaustive testing. Testing was conducted over a special section of test track near Claymont, Delaware and lasted for nearly two years. As a result of these experiments, the GG1 type was chosen and the construction of 57 locomotives was authorized. The first GG1 was finished in April and by August 1935 all 57 were completed. These first GG1 engines were designated for passenger service, while most of the P5A type were made available for freight service. Some of the later-built GG1s were assigned to freight service as well. The total number of GG1s built was 139. They are rated at 4,620 horsepower (3,450 kW) at speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h).
On August 26, 1999, The United States Postal Service issued commemorative 33-cent All Aboard! 20th Century American Trains stamps. These commemorative stamps featured five celebrated American passenger trains from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the five stamps features an image of a GG-1 locomotive pulling the "Congressional Limited Express." The official Pennsylvania State Electric Locomotive is the GG-1 #4859. It received this designation on December 18, 1987 and is currently on display in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In the mid-1940s, the PRR began to add diesel locomotives to their fleet. From 1945 through 1949 it purchased 74 E7 class locomotives from General Motors EMD (Electro-Motive Division). These units were given the classification EP20 by the PRR. Sixty of this number were designated "A" units, meaning that they had a cab for the train crew. The remaining 14 were designated "B" units; these were cabless booster units that were controlled by an "A" unit.
Another addition to the PRR diesel locomotive fleet was the Baldwin DR-12-8-1500/2, referred to as the "Centipede." Twenty-four of these units were purchased, and PRR classified them as BP60. These units had reliability problems and were soon obsolete. They were relegated to helper service.
In 1948 the PRR purchased twenty-seven DR-6 locomotives from Baldwin Locomotive Works. These units were given the PRR classification BP20. Originally for the passenger service fleet, these locomotive proved troublesome, and some were reclassified as BF16z freight locomotives.
From 1950-1952, the PRR purchased another group of 74 locomotives from EMD. These were EMD's E8 locomotives (successor to the E7). All of this group were "A" units. The PRR gave these units the classification EP22s. In 1956, the Pennsy retired the remaining steam fleet and opened bidding for a large order of diesel replacement locomotives. GM/EMD gave the PRR an exceptional deal on new, reliable GP9s, so the entire bid went to EMD. Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW) was counting on PRR (BLW's lifelong loyal customer) to keep the struggling company in business by purchasing at least some Baldwin diesels. When that did not happen, the 126-year-old company went bankrupt.
In 1849, PRR officials developed plans to construct a repair facility at Altoona. Construction was started in 1850, and soon a long building was completed that housed a machine shop, woodworking shop, blacksmith shop, locomotive repair shop and foundry. This facility was later torn down to make room for continuing expansion.
In time additional PRR repair facilities were located in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Mifflin, and the Altoona Works expanded in adjacent Juniata, Pennsylvania. Inventor Alexander Graham Bell sent two assistants to the Altoona shops in 1875 to study the feasibility of installing telephone lines. In May 1877, telephone lines were installed for various departments to communicate with one another.
Fort Wayne, Indiana, also held a key position for the railroad. By the turn of the 20th century, its repair shops and locomotive manufacturing facilities became known as the "Altoona of the West."
By 1945 the Altoona Works had grown to be one of the largest repair and construction facilities for locomotives and cars in the world. During World War II, PRR facilities (including the Altoona Shops) were on target lists of German saboteurs. They were caught before they could complete their missions.
In 1875 the Altoona Works started a testing department for PRR equipment. In following years, the Pennsylvania Railroad led the nation in the development of research and testing procedures of practical value for the railroad industry. Use of the testing facilities was discontinued in 1968 and many of the structures were demolished.
The PRR built several grand passenger stations, alone or with other railroads. These architectural marvels, whose city name was usually preceded by "Penn Station", were the hubs for the PRR's passenger service. Many are still in use today, served by Amtrak and regional passenger carriers.
Broad Street Station was the first of the great passenger stations built by the PRR. Opened in 1881, the station was expanded in the early 1890s by famed Philadelphia architect Frank Furness. For most of its existence it was with City Hall one of the crown jewels of Philadelphia's architecture, and until a 1923 fire had the largest train shed in the world (a 91 m span). It was the terminal for the PRR in Philadelphia, bringing trains into the center of the city. It was demolished in 1953 after the PRR moved to 30th Street Station.
Built 1898-1903 and renovated in 1954 and partially repurposed in 1988 it was originally called "Union Station" as the terminal for some Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiaries.
The main station of Baltimore, this Beaux-Arts building was built in 1911 from a design by architect Kenneth MacKenzie Murchison. It is served by Amtrak and MARC Train commuter service. Both approaches to the station are via tunnels, the B&P Tunnel to the south and the Union Tunnel to the north.
The PRR, along with the Milwaukee Road and the Burlington Route, built Chicago's Union Station, the only one of Chicago's old stations still used as an intercity train station. It was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White in the Beaux-Arts style.
Newark's Pennsylvania Station was designed by McKim, Mead and White. It opened in 1935, was completed in 1937 and was refurbished in 2007. Its style is a mixture of Art Deco and Neo-Classical. All Amtrak trains stop here, and the station serves three commuter lines, PATH rapid transit to Jersey City and Manhattan, and the Newark Light Rail.
The original Pennsylvania Station was designed by the noted architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White and was modeled on the Roman Baths of Caracalla; it was notable for its high vaulted ceilings. Infamously, it was demolished for redevelopment in the mid-1960s. The station opened in 1910 to provide access to Manhattan from New Jersey without having to use a ferry, and was served by PRR's own trains as well as those of PRR's subsidiary, the Long Island Rail Road. Its 1963 demolition did not include the platforms, the tracks, or even some of the staircases. The station continues as an underground operation (serving Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and LIRR) and is the busiest intercity railroad station in the United States.
30th Street Station displays its majestic—and traditional—architectural style with its enormous waiting room and its vestibules. The station, in spite of its architectural classicism, opened in 1933, when modern and Art Deco styles were more popular. Its construction was needed to accommodate increased intercity and suburban traffic. It replaced the 32nd Street Station (West Philadelphia). It is now the primary rail station in Philadelphia, serving long-distance and commuter trains.
Union Station, built jointly with the B&O, served as a hub for PRR passenger services in the nation's capital, with connections to the B&O, and Southern Railway. The station was designed by architect Daniel Burnham and opened in 1908. The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad provided a link to Richmond, Virginia, about 100 miles (160 km) to the south, where major north–south lines of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railroad provided service to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.
The controlling non-institutional shareholders of PRR were, during the early 1960s, Henry Stryker Taylor, who was a part of the Jacob Bunn business dynasty of Illinois, and Howard Butcher III, a principal in the Philadelphia brokerage house of Butcher & Sherrerd (later Butcher & Singer).
PRR S1 at 1939 New York World's Fair
PRR herald, Newark Penn Station
Amtrak and SEPTA commuter trains on electrified Main Line, Rosemont, Pennsylvania
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