New York Central Railroad
|New York Central Railroad|
NYC system map, circa 1918
|Dates of operation||1831–1968|
|Successor||Penn Central Transportation Company|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Electrification||700V (DC) third rail: Grand Central Terminal-Croton–Harmon
750V DC third rail: Grand Central Terminal-White Plains
|Length||11,172 miles (17,980 kilometres)|
|Headquarters||New York City, New York|
The New York Central Railroad (reporting mark NYC), also known as New York Central or The Central, was a railroad operating in the northeastern and midwestern United States. Headquartered in New York City, the New York Central was a large railroad, and it had several subsidiaries whose identity remained strong in local loyalties.
In broad geographic terms, the New York Central proper was everything east of Buffalo plus a line from Buffalo through Cleveland and Toledo to Chicago (the former Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway). NYC included the Ohio Central Lines (Toledo through Columbus to and beyond Charleston, West Virginia) and the Boston & Albany Railroad (neatly defined by its name). The Michigan Central Railroad was a Buffalo-Detroit-Chicago line and everything in Michigan north of that. NYC's Grand Central Terminal in New York City is one of its best known extant landmarks.
- 1 History
- 2 Bypasses
- 3 Trains
- 4 Historical maps
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The New York Central System, like many Eastern U.S. railroads, resulted from mergers, consolidations, and leases. Its principal predecessors were the following companies:
- New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (NYC&HR), the dominant railroad
- Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway (LS&MS)
- West Shore Railroad (WS)
- Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A)
- Ohio Central Lines
- Michigan Central Railroad (MC)
- Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Big Four)
The NYC System included several controlled railroads that did not accompany NYC into the 1968 Penn Central merger. The most important of these were:
- Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE): 80% owned by NYC — owned by CSX Transportation since 1993
- Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad (IHB): NYC 30%; MC 30%; Chicago & North Western 20%; Milwaukee Road 20% — independent
- Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo Railway: NYC 37%; MC 22%; Canada Southern Railway 14%; Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) 27% — owned by CP since 1977
New York Central
The Erie Canal, opened in 1825 between Albany and Buffalo, New York, followed the Hudson and Mohawk rivers between Albany and Schenectady. The 363-mile (584 km) water route included several locks and was extremely slow; in consequence, stagecoaches plied the direct route between the cities. In 1826 the Mohawk & Hudson Rail Road (M&H) was incorporated to replace the stages between Albany and Schenectady. The railroad opened in 1831; its first locomotive was named DeWitt Clinton after the governor of the state where the M&H was incorporated. Within months there was a proposal for a railroad all the way from Albany to Buffalo, but the subject was touchy — the state was still deeply in debt for construction of the Erie Canal.
One by one, railroads were incorporated, built, and opened westward from the end of the M&H; Utica & Schenectady, Syracuse & Utica, Auburn & Syracuse, Auburn & Rochester, Tonawanda (Rochester to Attica via Batavia), and Attica & Buffalo. By 1841 it was possible to travel between Albany and Buffalo by train in just 25 hours (lightning speed compared with the canal packets); by 1851 the same trip time had been reduced to a little over 12 hours.
In 1851 the state passed an act freeing the railroads from the need to pay tolls to the Erie Canal, with which they competed; that same year the Hudson River Railroad was opened from New York City to Rensselaer and the New York & Erie (later the Erie Railroad) was opened from Piermont, on the Hudson River, west to Dunkirk, New York, on Lake Erie.
The New York & Harlem Railroad (NY&H) was incorporated in 1831 to build a line in Manhattan from 23rd Street north to 129th Street between Third and Eighth Avenues (the railroad chose to follow Fourth Avenue). At first the railroad was primarily a horsecar system, but in 1840 the NY&H's charter was amended to allow it to build north toward Albany. In 1844 the rails reached White Plains and in January 1852 the NY&H made connection with the Western Railroad (later Boston & Albany) at Chatham, New York, creating a New York-Albany route.
The Hudson was a busy river, and the towns along it felt no need for a railroad — except during the winter when ice prevented navigation. Poughkeepsie interests organized the Hudson River Railroad in 1847. In the autumn of 1851 the railroad was opened from a terminal on Manhattan's West side all the way to Rensselaer. By then the railroad had leased the Troy & Greenbush, gaining access to a bridge over the Hudson at Troy. (A bridge at Albany was opened in 1866.)
By 1863 Cornelius Vanderbilt controlled the NY&H and had acquired a substantial interest in the Hudson River Railroad. In 1867 he obtained control of the New York Central (NYC), consolidating it with the Hudson River in 1869 to form the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (NYC&HR).
Vanderbilt wanted to build a magnificent terminal for the NYC&HR in New York City and chose as its site the corner of 42nd Street and Fourth Avenue on the NY&H, the southerly limit of steam locomotive operation in Manhattan. Construction of Grand Central Depot began in 1869 and took two years. The new depot was actually three separate stations serving the NYC&HR, the NY&H, and the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH). Trains of the Hudson River line reached the NY&H by means of a connecting track completed in 1871 along Spuyten Duyvil Creek and the Harlem River.
That was the first of three Grand Centrals. The present station, Grand Central Terminal (GCT), was opened in 1913, and defied all possible expectations. GCT has a total of 48 platform tracks on two subterranean levels; the project included depressing and decking over the tracks along Park Avenue and electrifying NYC's lines north to Harmon and White Plains. (NYC had two other stretches of electrified line: the Detroit River Tunnel, opened in 1910, and Cleveland Union Terminal, opened in 1930. Diesels put an end to both those electrifications in 1953.)
The Watertown & Rome Railroad (W&R) was chartered in 1832 to connect Watertown, New York, with the Syracuse & Utica, then only a proposal itself. The railroad opened in 1851, and in 1852 it was extended to Cape Vincent, New York, where it connected with a ferry to Kingston, Ontario. In 1861 the W&R consolidated with the Potsdam & Watertown to form the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad (RW&O). RW&O built a line to Oswego and bought lines to Syracuse and Buffalo. The Buffalo line ended up being a mistake — it bypassed Rochester, had almost no local business, and was not part of any through route. The RW&O came under Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad control briefly before a rehabilitation in the 1880s. New management extended the RW&O north to connect with a Grand Trunk Railway line to Montreal and added the Black River & Utica (Utica to Watertown and Ogdensburg) to the system. NYC leased the RW&O in 1893. Meanwhile, NYC had built its own line north from Herkimer: the St. Lawrence & Adirondack (later Mohawk & Malone) of William Seward Webb, son-in-law of William H. Vanderbilt. NYC merged the Mohawk & Malone in 1911 and the RW&O in 1913.
Lake Shore & Michigan Southern
The Michigan Southern was chartered by the state of Michigan in 1837 to build from the head of navigation on the River Raisin west of Monroe across the southern tier of Michigan to the shore of Lake Michigan at New Buffalo. Under the state auspices it got as far west as Hillsdale, Michigan. It was sold to private interests who combined it with the Erie & Kalamazoo Railroad (opened in 1837 from Toledo, Ohio, to Adrian, Michigan) and extended it west to meet the Northern Indiana Railroad, which was building east from La Porte, Indiana. The line was opened from Monroe to South Bend in 1851; by February 1852 it reached Chicago, where it teamed up with the Rock Island to build terminal facilities (Northern Indiana's successors shared a Chicago station — LaSalle Street — with Rock Island until 1968). The railroads were combined as the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana in 1855; by then a direct line between Elkhart and Toledo had been constructed.
The railroad situation along the south shore of Lake Erie was complicated by Ohio's insistence on a track gauge of 4 ft 10 in (1,473 mm), Pennsylvania's reluctance to let a railroad from another state cross its borders, and the desire of the city of Erie, Pennsylvania to have the change of gauge within its limits in the hope that passengers would spend money while changing trains there. The NYC controlled the Buffalo & State Line and the Erie & North East Railroads by 1853; they were combined as the Buffalo & Erie in 1867. The Cleveland, Painesville & Ashtabula Railroad (CP&A) was opened between Cleveland and Erie in 1852. In 1868 the CP&A took its familiar name, Lake Shore, as its official name, and a year later it absorbed the Cleveland & Toledo and joined with the Michigan Southern & Northern Indiana to form the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway (LS&MS). Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired control of the LS&MS during the business panic of 1873.
In 1914 the NYC&HR and LS&MS (plus several smaller railroads) were combined to form the New York Central Railroad — the second railroad of that name.
West Shore Railroad
In 1869 and 1870 several railroads were proposed and surveyed up the west bank of the Hudson River; in 1880 the New York, West Shore & Buffalo Railroad was formed to build a line from Jersey City to Albany and Buffalo, parallel to the NYC. William Vanderbilt suspected the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) was behind the project. The railroad opened to Albany and Syracuse in 1883 and reached Buffalo at the beginning of 1884. A rate war then ensued.
The West Shore (WS) entered bankruptcy, as did the construction company that built the line. WS cut its rates to beat those of the NYC, hoping the Central, with its far greater volume of business, would lose much more money than the WS. NYC, however, had resources to withstand a temporary loss.
In retaliation Vanderbilt decided to revive an old survey for a railroad across Pennsylvania. The surveyed route was considerably shorter than that of the PRR. He enlisted the support of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Meanwhile, PRR bought West Shore bonds. It took J. P. Morgan to work a compromise between the NYC and PRR. The Central would lease the WS, and the PRR would get the South Pennsylvania Railroad and its partially excavated tunnels. In 1885 the WS was reorganized as the West Shore Railroad, wholly owned by the NYC and leased to it. (The roadbed of the South Pennsylvania was later partially used for the Pennsylvania Turnpike.) The Weehawken-Albany portion of the WS proved to be a valuable freight route for NYC and more so for its successors Penn Central and Conrail; most of the WS west of Rotterdam Junction was abandoned by Conrail and subsequently converted for rail trail use as the Erie Canalway Trail. In 1952 NYC merged the WS.
Boston & Albany Railroad
The Boston & Worcester Railroad (B&W) was opened between the cities of its name in 1835. Its charter had a clause prohibiting the construction of a parallel railroad within 5 miles (8.0 kilometres) for 30 years. The Western Railroad was opened in 1840 from Worcester west to Springfield and in 1841 across the Berkshire range to Greenbush, New York, on the east bank of the Hudson opposite Albany. The two railroads shared some directors, but efforts at merging them were futile until 1863, when B&W's protection clause expired and the Western proposed building its own line from Worcester to Boston. The two roads were consolidated as the Boston & Albany Railroad (B&A) in 1867.
The B&A had several minor branch lines and a few major ones: Palmer to Winchendon, Massachusetts; Springfield to Athol, Massachusetts; Pittsfield to North Adams, Massachusetts; and Chatham to Hudson, New York — only short portions of them remain in service.
The B&A's principal connection was the NYC at Albany. The NYC leased the B&A in 1900. The reason for B&A's willingness to forsake independence was that NYC would acquire the parallel Fitchburg Railroad, which never happened. In 1961 NYC merged B&A.
B&A maintained much more of its own identity than did other NYC subsidiaries. It had its own officers, and until 1951 its locomotives and cars were lettered "Boston & Albany" rather than "New York Central Lines," largely to appeal to local sensitivities. B&A's steam power was basically NYC in appearance but with occasional distinctive features, such as square sand domes on the Hudsons and offset smokebox doors on Pacifics. The profile of the B&A, definitely not the water level route NYC was so proud of elsewhere, called for heavy power in the form of 2-6-6-2s and 2-8-4s (the latter named for the Berkshires over which the line ran). Nearer Boston, B&A operated an intense suburban service powered by 2-6-6Ts and 4-6-6Ts, the latter looking like condensed, solid-packed NYC Hudsons.
Ohio Central lines
The Ohio Central lines included the Toledo & Ohio Central Railway and three leased lines (merged in 1938), the Zanesville & Western Railway, the Kanawha & Michigan Railway, and the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad. They formed a route to Toledo southeast through Columbus across the Ohio River, and through Charleston to Swiss and Hitop, West Virginia. The line began as the Atlantic & Lake Erie, chartered in 1869. After a series of receiverships and a name change to Ohio Central the line managed to link Columbus with the Ohio River at Middleport in 1882. The railroad then pushed into the coalfields along the Kanawha River in West Virginia and extended itself northwest toward Toledo. It was renamed the Toledo & Ohio Central (T&OC) in 1885. The NYC acquired control of the T&OC by 1910 and began operating it as part of the NYC System. NYC leased the railroad in 1922 and merged it in 1952.
Michigan Central Railroad
The Michigan Central Railroad had its beginnings in the Detroit & St. Joseph Railroad, which was incorporated in 1832 to build a railroad across Michigan from Detroit to St. Joseph. Michigan attained statehood in 1837 and almost immediately chartered railroads to be constructed along three routes:
- the Northern, from Port Huron to the head of navigation on the Grand River;
- the Central, from Detroit to St. Joseph;
- the Southern, from the head of navigation on the River Raisin, west of Monroe, to New Buffalo.
The state purchased the Detroit & St. Joseph to use as the basis for the Central Railroad. About the time the railroad reached Kalamazoo (in 1846) it ran out of money. It was purchased from the state by Boston interests led by John W. Brooks and was reorganized as the Michigan Central Railroad (MC). Construction resumed in the direction of New Buffalo rather than St. Joseph, and in 1849 the line reached Michigan City, Indiana, about as far as its Michigan charter could take it.
To reach the Illinois border the MC used the charter of the New Albany & Salem (NA&S) (a predecessor of the Monon Railroad) in exchange for which it purchased a block of NA&S stock. The MC continued on Illinois Central rails to Chicago, reaching there in 1852.
The Great Western Railway opened in 1854 from Niagara Falls to Windsor, Ontario, opposite Detroit, and in March 1855 John Roebling's suspension bridge across the Niagara River was completed, creating with the NYC a continuous line of rails from Albany to Windsor. The Great Western (which had track gauge of 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm)) installed a third rail for standard gauge equipment between 1864 and 1866. Vanderbilt, who had started buying MC stock in 1869, tried to purchase the Great Western. He did not succeed and turned his attention instead to the Canada Southern Railway. It had been incorporated in 1868 as the Erie & Niagara Extension Railway to build a line along the north shore of Lake Erie and then across the Detroit River below the city of Detroit. He acquired the railroad in 1876; MC leased it in 1882. Conrail sold the Canada Southern to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific in 1985. NYC leased the MC in 1930.
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis Railway (Big Four)
The oldest predecessor of the Big Four (and a comparatively late addition to it) was the Mad River & Lake Erie. Ground was broken in 1835, and the line was opened from Sandusky to Dayton, Ohio, in 1851. It went through several renamings and became part of what later was the Peoria & Eastern before it was merged into the Big Four in 1890.
The Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati (CC&C) was chartered in 1836, broke ground in 1847, and opened in 1851 between Cleveland and Columbus. In 1852 it teamed up with the Little Miami and Columbus & Xenia railroads to form a Cleveland-Cincinnati route.
In 1848 the Indianapolis & Bellefontaine (I&B) and the Bellefontaine & Indiana (B&I) railroads were incorporated to build a line between Galion, Ohio, on the CC&C, and Indianapolis. The I&B and the B&I amalgamated and became known as "The B. Line." They were absorbed by the CC&C when it reorganized as the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis in 1868. The nickname of the new railroad was "The Bee Line." The Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis reached Cincinnati with its own rails in 1872; that same year it opened a line from Springfield to Columbus. By then the Vanderbilts owned a good portion of the railroad's stock.
The Terre Haute & Alton Railroad was organized in 1852; its backers were certain that with a railroad to Indiana the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois could easily outstrip St. Louis a few miles south. It soon combined with the Belleville & Illinoistown Railroad as the Terre Haute, Alton & St. Louis. The Indianapolis & St. Louis was organized to build between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Indiana. It leased the St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute, successor to the Terre Haute, Alton & St. Louis, and came under control of the CCC&I in 1882.
In the late 1840s and early 1850s several railroads were completed forming a route from Cincinnati through Indianapolis and Lafayette, Indiana to Kankakee, Illinois, connecting there with the IC north to Chicago. In 1880 these railroads were united as the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago — considered to be the first "Big Four." Heading the company was Melville E. Ingalls, and on its board was C. P. Huntington, whose Chesapeake & Ohio Railway formed a friendly connection at Cincinnati.
The Vanderbilts had invested in the first Big Four, and they were firmly in control of the new Big Four, the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis, which was formed in 1889 by the consolidation of the old Big Four (Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis & Chicago) and the Bee Line (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati & Indianapolis).
In the late 1880s Ingalls and the Vanderbilts gathered a group of railroads between Cairo and Danville, Illinois; added to them the St. Louis, Alton & Terre Haute; and then added them all to the Big Four. The line from Danville north to Indiana Harbor was a comparatively late addition to the system: It was built in 1906 and became part of the NYC rather than the Big Four.
The Peoria & Eastern was formed in 1890 from several small railroads. At one time its predecessor briefly included the former Mad River & Lake Erie and a line from Indianapolis east to Springfield, Ohio, before settling down to be simply a Peoria-Bloomington-Danville-Indianapolis route. In 1902 the Big Four bought the Cincinnati Northern, a line that had been proposed in 1852 and finally constructed in the 1880s from Franklin, Ohio, between Dayton and Cincinnati, to Jackson, Michigan. In 1920 the Big Four acquired the Evansville, Indianapolis & Terre Haute, a castoff from the Chicago & Eastern Illinois in southwestern Indiana. The NYC leased the Big Four in 1930.
The New York Central System was the final name change, which took place in the summer of 1935. (Between the 1914 merger and then, the NYCRR had operated as the New York Central Lines.) The NYCS was the largest of the eastern trunk systems from the standpoint of mileage and second only to the PRR in revenue. It served most of the industrial part of the country, and its freight tonnage was exceeded only by coal-carrying railroads. In addition it was a major passenger railroad — with perhaps two-thirds the number of passengers as the PRR, but NYC's average passenger traveled one-third again as far as PRR's.
The generally level topography of the NYC system had a character distinctively different than the mountainous terrain of the PRR. Most of its major routes, including New York-Chicago, followed rivers and had no significant grades other than West Albany Hill. This influenced both advertising and locomotive design, built around its flagship New York-Chicago "Water Level Route".
Steam locomotives were optimized for speed on the flat terrain, rather than slow mountain lugging. Famous locomotives of the system included the 4-6-4 Hudsons, particularly the 1937–38 J-3a's; 4-8-2 World War II–era L-3 and L-4 Mohawks; and the postwar S-class Niagaras: fast 4-8-4 locomotives.
NYC did not share as fully in the post–World War II economic expansion because of rising labor and material costs and an extensive improvement program, especially for passenger services. Despite having several modern steam locomotives, NYC's poor financial position caused it to convert to more economical diesel-electric power rapidly. All lines east of Cleveland were dieselized by August 7, 1953; Niagaras were retired by 1956. Steam operations ended in 1957. Problems resurfaced that had plagued the railroad industry before the war, such as over-regulation by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which severely regulated the rates charged by the railroad, along with continuing competition from automobiles. These problems were coupled with even more formidable forms of competition, such as airline service in the 1950s that began to deprive the NYC of its long-distance passenger trade. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 helped create a network of efficient roads for motor vehicle travel through the country, enticing more people to travel by car, as well as haul freight by truck. The 1959 opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway adversely affected NYC freight business. Container shipments could now be directly shipped to ports along the Great Lakes, eliminating the railroads' freight hauls between the east and the Midwest.
NYC also carried a substantial tax burden from governments that saw rail infrastructure as a source of property tax revenues — taxes that were not imposed upon interstate highways. The railroad was also saddled with a wartime–era tax of 15% on passenger fares, which remained until 1962.
In 1946 and 1947 the C&O purchased a block of NYC stock (6.4%), becoming the railroad's largest stockholder. Robert R. Young gained control of the NYC and became its chairman in 1954 as part of a maneuver to merge with the C&O. One of his first acts was to put Alfred E. Perlman in charge of the Central. While Young was considered a railroad visionary, he was appalled to find the NYC in worse shape than surmised. Young was forced to suspend dividend payments in January 1958; he committed suicide later that month.
Under Perlman NYC slimmed its physical plant, reducing long stretches of four-track line to two track under centralized traffic control, and developed an aggressive freight marketing department. He oversaw construction and/or modernization of many hump or classification yards, notably the $20-million Selkirk Yard which opened outside of Albany in 1966. Perlman also experimented with "jet trains", creating a Budd Rail Diesel Car (the M-497 Black Beetle) powered by two J47 jet engines stripped from a B-36 Peacemaker bomber as a solution to increasing car and airplane competition. The project did not leave the prototype stage. Perlman's efforts reduced operating deficits by $7.7 million, which nominally raised NYC stock to $1.29 per share, producing dividends of an amount not seen since the end of the war. By 1964 he was able to reduce the NYC long term debt by nearly $100 million, while reducing passenger deficits from $42 to $24.6 million.
At the same time NYC's passenger operations were de-emphasized; commuter lines around New York were particularly affected. Service was ended on the Putnam Division in Westchester and Putnam counties in 1959, and ferry service to Weehawken Terminal ended, impacting the WS. Ridding itself of most commuter service proved impossible due to heavy patronage around metro New York, which government mandated the railroad operate at a loss. On December 3, 1967, just before NYC and PRR merged, the Central reduced its passenger service to a skeleton, combining its New York-Chicago, New York-Detroit, New York-Toronto, and Boston-Chicago services into a single train and dropping all train names (including that of the 20th Century Limited, once considered the world's finest train) except for, curiously, that of the Chicago-Cincinnati James Whitcomb Riley.
The Central's archrival was the PRR. West of the Allegheny Mountains the two systems duplicated each other at almost every major point; east of those cites, the two hardly touched. Both railroads had physical plant not being utilized to capacity, but Perlman's aggressive consolidation left NYC in better shape. PRR was worse than practically any other railroad, 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. While Perlman had consolidated NYC operations successfully after WWII, PRR reacted at a more leisurely pace. PRR had far more fixed plant than the traffic warranted or could support, and was slow to dismantle excess trackage or replace double or quadruple track with CTC, something NYC had already accomplished. Both companies had intense passenger business; neither was earning much money. Differences aside, NYC and PRR announced merger talks in 1957.
The initial industry reaction was utter surprise. "Who? Why?" Every merger proposal for decades had tried to balance NYC against PRR and create two, three, or four more-or-less equal systems in the east. Traditionally, PRR had been allied with the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) and the Wabash Railroad; the NYC with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O), the Reading Railroad (RDG) and, occasionally, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W). Any remaining players were swept up with the Erie Railroad and the Nickel Plate. Tradition also favored end-to-end mergers rather than those of parallel railroads.
In addition to the problems of unification, the industrial states of the Northeast and Midwest were fast becoming known as the rust belt. As industries shut down and relocated, railroads found themselves with excess capacity.
Planning and justifying the merger took nearly a decade, during which time the eastern railroad scene had changed radically, in large measure because of the impending merger of NYC and PRR. The Erie merged with the DL&W to create the Erie Lackawanna Railway (EL) in 1960, C&O acquired control of B&O, and N&W took in the Virginian Railway, Wabash, Nickel Plate, Pittsburgh & West Virginia and Akron, Canton & Youngstown. 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.
At the insistence of the ICC and PRR president Stuart T. Saunders, PC had to take over both freight and passenger operations of the ailing NH as well, which occurred on December 31, 1968. PRR and NYC came into the merger in the black (NH was in the red), but PC's first year of operation yielded a deficit of $2.8 million ($18,989,091 today). In 1969 the deficit was nearly $83 million ($533,775,862 today). PC's net income for 1970 was a deficit of $325.8 million ($1,978,530,077 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).
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A number of bypasses and cutoffs were built around congested areas.
The Junction Railroad's Buffalo Belt Line opened in 1871, providing a bypass of Buffalo, New York to the northeast, as well as a loop route for passenger trains via downtown. The West Shore Railroad, acquired in 1885, provided a bypass around Rochester, New York. The Terminal Railway's Gardenville Cutoff, allowing through traffic to bypass Buffalo to the southeast, opened in 1898.
The Schenectady Detour consisted of two connections to the West Shore Railroad, allowing through trains to bypass the steep grades at Schenectady, New York. The full project opened in 1902. The Cleveland Short Line Railway built a bypass of Cleveland, Ohio, completed in 1912. In 1924, the Alfred H. Smith Memorial Bridge was constructed as part of the Hudson River Connecting Railroad's Castleton Cut-Off, a 27.5-mile-long freight bypass of the congested West Albany terminal area and West Albany Hill.
An unrelated realignment was made in the 1910s at Rome, when the Erie Canal was realigned and widened onto a new alignment south of downtown Rome. The NYC main line was shifted south out of downtown to the south bank of the new canal. A bridge was built southeast of downtown, roughly where the old main line crossed the path of the canal, to keep access to and from the southeast. West of downtown, the old main line was abandoned, but a brand new railroad line was built, running north from the NYC main line to the Central's former RW&O, allowing all NYC through traffic to bypass Rome.
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For two-thirds of the 20th century NYC operated several famous trains. Its 20th Century Limited, begun in 1902, ran from GCT in New York to LaSalle Street Station in Chicago and was its most famous train, known for its red carpet treatment and first class service. In the mid-1930s many railroad companies were introducing streamlined locomotives; until NYC introduced the Commodore Vanderbilt, all were diesel-electric. The Vanderbilt used the more common steam engine. The 20th Century Limited which followed the Water Level Route, could complete the 960-mile trip in 16 hours after its streamlining on June 15, 1938 (and did it in 15½ hours for a short period after World War II). Also famous was its Empire State Express through upstate New York to Buffalo and Cleveland, and Ohio State Limited from New York to Cincinnati. NYC also provided the Rexall Train of 1936, which toured 47 states to promote the Rexall chain of drug stores.
- 20th Century Limited: New York-Chicago (limited stops) via the Water Level Route 1902–1967
- Commodore Vanderbilt: New York–Chicago (a few more stops) via the Water Level Route
- Lake Shore Limited: New York–Chicago via Cleveland with branch service to Boston and St. Louis 1896–1956, 1971–Present (Reinstated and combined with New England States by Amtrak in 1971)
- Chicagoan: New York–Chicago
- Pacemaker: New York–Chicago all-coach train via Cleveland
- Wolverine: New York-Chicago via southern Ontario and Detroit
The Mercuries (1936-1959)
- Chicago Mercury: Chicago-Detroit
- Cincinnati Mercury: Cleveland-Cincinnati
- Cleveland Mercury: Detroit-Cleveland
- Detroit Mercury: Cleveland-Detroit
New York-St. Louis
- Southwestern Limited
- Empire State Express: New York-Buffalo and Cleveland via the Empire Corridor 1891–Present
- Ohio State Limited: New York-Cincinnati via Empire Corridor
- Xplorer: Cleveland-Cincinnati 1958–1960 (Special experimental lightweight train)
- Cleveland Limited: New York–Cleveland
- Detroiter: New York–Detroit
- James Whitcomb Riley: Chicago-Cincinnati
- Michigan: Chicago-Detroit
- Motor City Special: Chicago-Detroit
- Mohawk: New York to Chicago
- New England States: Boston-Chicago via the Water Level Route 1938–1971 (Retained by Penn Central and, for Amtrak, combined with reinstated Lake Shore Limited)
- Twilight Limited: Chicago-Detroit
Trains left GCT, Weehawken Terminal in Weehawken, New Jersey, South Station in Boston, Cincinnati Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Michigan Central Station in Detroit, St. Louis Union Station, and LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.
The NYC had a network of commuter lines in New York and Massachusetts. Westchester County, New York, had the railroad's Hudson, Harlem, and Putnam lines into GCT (Putnam Division trains required a change at High Bridge, New York), while New Jersey and Rockland County, New York were serviced by the West Shore Line between Weehawken and West Haverstraw, New York, on the west side of the Hudson River.
- 20th Century Limited
- Empire State Express
- Merchants Despatch
- David L. Gunn
- Kankakee Belt Route
- Ohio State Limited
- New York Central Railroad Museum
- New York Central Tugboat 13
- Drury, George H. (1994). The Historical Guide to North American Railroads: Histories, Figures, and Features of more than 160 Railroads Abandoned or Merged since 1930. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Kalmbach Publishing. pp. 206–217. ISBN 0-89024-072-8.
- "Brief History of the U.S. Passenger Rail Industry".
- TIME magazine, June 21, 1954 time.com
- "Streamline Steam Engine Attains High Speed", Popular Mechanics, February 1935
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to New York Central Railroad.|
- New York Central System Historical Society
- The Road of the Century (The Story of the New York Central), book by Alvin F. Harlow
- The Beginnings of the New York Central Railroad: The Consolidation
- New York Central in Western New York
- National New York Central Railroad Museum
- Stapleford Miniature Railway UK have a working 1/5th NYC Niagara class
- Railroad History Database
- Surface Transportation Board Decision FD-33388, which created New York Central Lines LLC
- PRR Chronology