Railroads & Locomotives Locomotives Penn Central locomotives remembered

Penn Central locomotives remembered

By Brian Schmidt | May 9, 2023

The Penn Central is our celebrated Fallen Flag for May 2023

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Penn Central locomotives were varied from Alco and Baldwin to EMD and General Electric. There were electrics, too, on the Northeast Corridor and branches between New Haven, Conn., and Alexandria, Va.

 

Nose of black-and-white diesel Penn Central locomotives crossing into street

The versatile, inexpensive GP38 (and its GP38-2 successor) was Penn Central’s signature diesel. None of the road’s three predecessors bought any, but PC amassed a fleet of nearly 500 between 1969 and 1973. Here, GP38 7895 crosses Dutoit Street in Dayton, Ohio, in August 1971. David P. Oroszi photo

Nose of black-and-white diesel Penn Central locomotives crossing into street
Three black-and-white diesel Penn Central locomotives on freight train along river

Former New York Central U25Bs 2540 and 2523 bracket PC-purchased GP40 3182 on a freight heading north along the Hudson River on the ex-NYC West Shore line at Peekskill, N.Y. The giant railroad appears prosperous enough on this sunny Sept. 30, 1974, but it’s more than four years into bankruptcy. J. W. Swanberg photo

Three black-and-white diesel Penn Central locomotives on freight train along river
Streamlined diesel Penn Central locomotives under building

Penn Central E8 No. 4042 pokes out from under the main Post Office as it departs Chicago Union Station on Feb. 14, 1974. J. David Ingles photo

Streamlined diesel Penn Central locomotives under building
Front of Penn Central locomotives approaching camera in snow

A Penn Central Buffalo-Harrisburg freight heads south at Holland, N.Y., in February 1970. This winter was hard on the already-shaky giant, but PC’s huge passenger losses were a year-round burden. Ken Kraemer photo

Front of Penn Central locomotives approaching camera in snow
Penn Central locomotives on a freight train, one has an orange-and-white logo

At Horseshoe Curve, Pa., in May 1969, Penn Central 3178 leads a westbound on Track 3. Lead unit is one of 155 PC-ordered GP40s (3105–3259), painted by EMD with an orange “C” in the logo. J. David Ingles photo

Penn Central locomotives on a freight train, one has an orange-and-white logo
Two Penn Central locomotives pushing on a freight train

Penn Central EMD SD7s Nos. 6998 and 6999 work upgrade — pushing — on the 5.89% grade out of the Ohio River valley at Madison, Ind. The two former Pennsylvania Railroad units were fitted with extra weight for service on this line, which was the steepest standard gauge adhesion railroad in North America.

Two Penn Central locomotives pushing on a freight train
Two Penn Central locomotives with freight train on shoreline

Snow is beginning to melt on a warm early spring day in 1974 as two 6-axle General Electric “U-boats” head south along Seneca Lake at Geneva, N.Y., on the former New York Central “Fall Brook” line. Ken Kraemer photo

Two Penn Central locomotives with freight train on shoreline
Two electric Penn Central locomotives with freight train under wires

Two E44 electric Penn Central locomotives handle a freight at Princeton Junction, N.J., on Feb. 28, 1976, just weeks before Conrail assumed operation of Penn Central. The motors are former Pennsylvania Railroad and would later serve for Conrail. Peter Scheckerman photo

Two electric Penn Central locomotives with freight train under wires
Recreated Penn Central diesel locomotive with blue-and-orange locomotive under power line

Penn Central’s distinctive “mating worms” herald graces the nose, sides, and rear flank of PC-painted Norfolk Southern SD70ACe No. 1073, photographed at Muncie, Ind., on June 25, 2012. The locomotive wears the famous Dark Green Locomotive Enamel, not black, of predecessor Pennsylvania Railroad. Norfolk Southern: Casey Thomason photo

Recreated Penn Central diesel locomotive with blue-and-orange locomotive under power line

 

PC inherited its diesel and electric locomotives from components New York Central; and New York, New Haven & Hartford; and Pennsylvania Railroad. Consequently, there was a mix of power based on each road’s preferred practices.

 

As the NYC began to dieselize, it did so with locomotives from all the builders, making it popular among railfans, and the railroad wasn’t completely dieselized until 1957. Many early locomotives went through multiple renumberings, especially switchers. Most locomotives were renumbered in 1966 in anticipation of the Penn Central merger.

 

The New Haven spent much of its diesel era in financial troubles, entering reorganization in the early 1960s. The railroad finished dieselizing in 1952, with Alco FAs and RS diesels on the main line. Notable are New Haven’s large fleet (60) of Alco DL-109 prewar passenger cabs, which it used for both passenger and freight trains, and its 60 dual-power FL9s, its last EMD diesels (1957 and 1960). For second-generation power, the NH stuck to Alco (C-425s) and GE (U25Bs). The Interstate Commerce Commissionordered Penn Central (formed in February 1968 by merger of New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad) to purchase the New Haven, which it did on Dec. 31, 1968.

 

Into the 1960s the Pennsylvania was the country’s largest railroad, with the biggest diesel roster — more than 3,000 locomotives. The railroad was late to dieselize, building and acquiring steam locomotives until the late 1940s (and keeping some steam in service through 1957). However, once the Pennsylvania began buying diesels it did so quickly and in large numbers. The railroad was known for sampling locomotives from all builders, creating a diverse mix of early diesel power. Instead of grouping locomotives by numbers by locomotive type and class, the Pennsy tended to number its locomotives in sequence as they were ordered—meaning locomotives of various types are intermixed. As with the NYC, the Pennsy started a widescale renumbering project in anticipation of the 1968 merger.

 

This all led to quite a mix of Penn Central locomotives.

One thought on “Penn Central locomotives remembered

  1. i watched PRR then PC as a kid living near the main line near Paoli just outside of Philly in the 60’s. quite a road show in those days with electrics GG1s and E44s and some diesels. they also ran on a different track adjacent to my elementary school which always distracted me from the classroom and got me in trouble. no air cond in those days, we had open windows so i’d jump out of my seat even if the teacher was talking to look outside. i was too young to understand what the railroads were going thru, i just liked to watch. lived in upstate NY near Binghamton. had LV, EL, BM up there along the southern tier. actually saw EL passenger trains before they disappeared. days gone by.

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