New York Central Railroad

New York Central Railroad
New York Central Railroad


System map
New York Central system as of 1918
Reporting mark NYC
Locale Northeast to Midwest
Dates of operation 1831–1968
Successor Penn Central
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) (standard gauge)
Headquarters New York City

The New York Central Railroad (reporting mark NYC), known simply as the New York Central in its publicity, was a railroad operating in the Northeastern United States. Headquartered in New York, the railroad served most of the Northeast, including extensive trackage in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Massachusetts, plus additional trackage in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The New York Central was known as the "Water Level Route", as its mainline to New York City followed the Hudson River, the Erie Canal, and the Lake Erie shoreline.

The railroad primarily connected greater New York and Boston in the east with Chicago and St.Louis in the midwest along with the intermediate cities of Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit. The NYC's Grand Central Terminal in New York City is one of its best known extant landmarks.

In 1968 the NYC merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, to form Penn Central (the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad joined in 1969). That company went bankrupt in 1970 and was taken over by the federal government and merged into Conrail in 1976. Conrail was broken up in 1998, and portions of its system was transferred to the newly formed New York Central Lines LLC, a subsidiary leased to and eventually absorbed by CSX and Norfolk Southern. Those companies' lines included the original New York Central main line, but outside that area it included lines that were never part of the New York Central system. CSX was able to take one of the most important main lines in the nation, which runs from New York City and Boston to Cleveland, Ohio, as part of the Water Level Route, while Norfolk Southern gained the Cleveland, Ohio to Chicago, Illinois portion of the line called the Chicago line.

The famous Water Level Route of the NYC, from New York City to upstate New York, was the first four-track long-distance railroad in the world.



Pre-New York Central: 1826–1853

The oldest part of the NYC was the first permanent railroad in the state of New York and one of the first railroads in the United States. The Mohawk and Hudson Railroad was chartered in 1826 to connect the Mohawk River at Schenectady to the Hudson River at Albany, providing a way for freight and especially passengers to avoid the extensive and time-consuming locks on the Erie Canal between Schenectady and Albany. The Mohawk and Hudson opened on September 24, 1831, and changed its name to the Albany and Schenectady Railroad on April 19, 1847.

The Utica and Schenectady Railroad was chartered April 29, 1833; as the railroad paralleled the Erie Canal it was prohibited from carrying freight. Revenue service began August 2, 1836, extending the line of the Albany and Schenectady Railroad west from Schenectady along the north side of the Mohawk River, opposite the Erie Canal, to Utica. On May 7, 1844 the railroad was authorized to carry freight with some restrictions, and on May 12, 1847 the ban was fully dropped, but the company still had to pay the equivalent in canal tolls to the state.

The Syracuse and Utica Railroad was chartered May 1, 1836, and similarly had to pay the state for any freight displaced from the canal. The full line opened July 3, 1839, extending the line further to Syracuse via Rome (and further to Auburn via the already-opened Auburn and Syracuse Railroad). This line was not direct, going out of its way to stay near the Erie Canal and serve Rome, and so the Syracuse and Utica Direct Railroad was chartered January 26, 1853. Nothing of that line was ever built, though the later West Shore Railroad, acquired by the NYC in 1885, served the same purpose.

The Auburn and Syracuse Railroad was chartered May 1, 1834, and opened mostly in 1838, the remaining 4 miles (6 km) opening on June 4, 1839. A month later, with the opening of the Syracuse and Utica Railroad, this formed a complete line from Albany west via Syracuse to Auburn, about halfway to Geneva. The Auburn and Rochester Railroad was chartered May 13, 1836, as a further extension via Geneva and Canandaigua to Rochester, opening on November 4, 1841. The two lines merged on August 1, 1850, to form the rather indirect Rochester and Syracuse Railroad (known later as the Auburn Road). To fix this, the Rochester and Syracuse Direct Railway was chartered and immediately merged into the Rochester and Syracuse Railroad on August 6, 1850. That line opened June 1, 1853, running much more directly between those two cities, roughly parallel to the Erie Canal.

To the west of Rochester, the Tonawanda Railroad was chartered April 24, 1832, to build from Rochester to Attica. The first section, from Rochester southwest to Batavia, opened May 5, 1837, and the rest of the line to Attica opened on January 8, 1843. The Attica and Buffalo Railroad was chartered in 1836 and opened on November 24, 1842, running from Buffalo east to Attica. When the Auburn and Rochester Railroad opened in 1841, there was no connection at Rochester to the Tonawanda Railroad, but with that exception there was now an all-rail line between Buffalo and Albany. On March 19, 1844, the Tonawanda Railroad was authorized to build the connection, and it opened later that year. The Albany and Schenectady Railroad bought all the baggage, mail and emigrant cars of the other railroads between Albany and Buffalo on February 17, 1848, and began operating through cars.

On December 7, 1850, the Tonawanda Railroad and Attica and Buffalo Railroad merged to form the Buffalo and Rochester Railroad. A new direct line opened from Buffalo east to Batavia on April 26, 1852, and the old line between Depew (east of Buffalo) and Attica was sold to the Buffalo and New York City Railroad on November 1. The line was added to the New York and Erie Railroad system and converted to the Erie's 6 foot (1829 mm) broad gauge.

The Schenectady and Troy Railroad was chartered in 1836 and opened in 1842, providing another route between the Hudson River and Schenectady, with its Hudson River terminal at Troy.

The Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad was chartered in 1834 to build from Lockport on the Erie Canal west to Niagara Falls; it opened in 1838. On December 14, 1850, it was reorganized as the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, and an extension east to Rochester opened on July 1, 1852.

The Buffalo and Lockport Railroad was chartered April 27, 1852, to build a branch of the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls from Lockport towards Buffalo. It opened in 1854, running from Lockport to Tonawanda, where it joined the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad, opened 1837, for the rest of the way to Buffalo.

In addition to the Syracuse and Utica Direct Railroad, another never-built company, the Mohawk Valley Railroad, was chartered January 21, 1851, and reorganized December 28, 1852, to build a railroad on the south side of the Mohawk River from Schenectady to Utica, next to the Erie Canal and opposite the Utica and Schenectady. The West Shore Railroad was later built on that location.

Map of the Water Level Routes of the New York Central Railroad (purple), West Shore Railroad (red) and Erie Canal (blue)

Albany industrialist and Mohawk Valley Railroad owner Erastus Corning got the above railroads together into one system, and on March 17, 1853 they agreed to merge. The merger was approved by the state legislature on April 2, and ten of the remaining companies merged to form the New York Central Railroad on May 17, 1853. The following companies were consolidated into this system, including the main line from Albany to Buffalo:

  1. Albany and Schenectady Railroad
  2. Utica and Schenectady Railroad
  3. Syracuse and Utica Railroad
  4. Rochester and Syracuse Railroad
  5. Buffalo and Rochester Railroad
    The Rochester and Syracuse Railroad also owned the old alignment via Auburn, Geneva and Canandaigua, known as the "Auburn Road". The Buffalo and Rochester included a branch from Batavia to Attica, part of the main line until 1852. Also included in the merger were three other railroads:
  6. Schenectady and Troy Railroad, a branch from Schenectady east to Troy
  7. Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, a major branch from Rochester west to Niagara Falls
  8. Buffalo and Lockport Railroad, a branch from the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls at Lockport south to Buffalo via trackage rights on the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad from Tonawanda
    As well as two that had not built any road, and never would:
  9. Mohawk Valley Railroad
  10. Syracuse and Utica Direct Railroad

Soon the Buffalo and State Line Railroad and Erie and North East Railroad converted to standard gauge from 6 foot (1829 mm) broad gauge and connected directly with the NYC in Buffalo, providing a through route to Erie, Pennsylvania.

Erastus Corning years: 1853–1867

The Rochester and Lake Ontario Railroad was organized in 1852 and opened in Fall 1853; it was leased to the Rochester, Lockport and Niagara Falls Railroad, which became part of the NYC, before opening. In 1855 it was merged into the NYC, providing a branch from Rochester north to Charlotte on Lake Ontario.

The Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad was also merged into the NYC in 1855. It had been chartered in 1834 and opened in 1837, providing a line between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. It was leased to the NYC in 1853.

Also in 1855 came the merger with the Lewiston Railroad, running from Niagara Falls north to Lewiston. It was chartered in 1836 and opened in 1837 without connections to other railroads. In 1854 a southern extension opened to the Buffalo and Niagara Falls Railroad and the line was leased to the NYC.

The Canandaigua and Niagara Falls Railroad was chartered in 1851. The first stage opened in 1853 from Canandaigua on the Auburn Road west to Batavia on the main line. A continuation west to North Tonawanda opened later that year, and in 1854 a section opened in Niagara Falls connecting it to the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. The NYC bought the company at bankruptcy in 1858 and reorganized it as the Niagara Bridge and Canandaigua Railroad, merging it into itself in 1890.

The Saratoga and Hudson River Railroad was chartered in 1864 and opened in 1866 as a branch of the NYC from Athens Junction, southeast of Schenectady, southeast and south to Athens on the west side of the Hudson River. On September 9, 1867, the company was merged into the NYC, but in 1867 the terminal at Athens burned down and the line was abandoned. In the 1880s the New York, West Shore and Buffalo Railway leased the line and incorporated it into their main line, taken over by the NYC in 1885 as the West Shore Railroad.

The Hudson River Railroad

See West Side Line for details on the section in Manhattan and Hudson Line for current Metro-North Railroad operations south of Poughkeepsie.
An 1866 drawing of the Hudson River Bridge (Albany) in Albany.

The Troy and Greenbush Railroad was chartered in 1845 and opened later that year, connecting Troy south to East Albany on the east side of the Hudson River. The Hudson River Railroad was chartered May 12, 1846, to extend this line south to New York City; the full line opened October 3, 1851. Prior to completion, on June 1, the Hudson River leased the Troy and Greenbush.

Cornelius Vanderbilt obtained control of the Hudson River Railroad in 1864, soon after he bought the parallel New York and Harlem Railroad.

Along the line of the Hudson River Railroad, the High Line was built in 1934 in New York City as an elevated bypass to the existing street running trackage on Eleventh Avenue, at the time called "Death Avenue" due to the large number of accidents involving trains. The elevated section has since been abandoned, and the tunnel to the north, built at the same time, is used only by Amtrak trains to New York Penn Station (all other trains use the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad to access the New York and Harlem Railroad). A surviving section of the High Line, in the Chelsea section of Manhattan, has recently opened as a successful linear park.

Vanderbilt years: 1867–1954

1876 map
ca. 1893 map
1900 map
1918 map
NYCRR Chronograph Pocketwatch (ca. 1910) – manufactured by the Gallet Watch Company for use by conductors and engineers of the New York Central Rail Road.

In 1867 Vanderbilt acquired control of the NYC, with the help of maneuverings related to the Hudson River Bridge in Albany. On November 1, 1869 he merged the NYC with his Hudson River Railroad into the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. This extended the system south from Albany along the east bank of the Hudson River to New York City, with the leased Troy and Greenbush Railroad running from Albany north to Troy.

Vanderbilt's other lines were operated as part of the NYC; these included the New York and Harlem Railroad, Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway, Canada Southern Railway and Michigan Central Railroad.

The Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad was chartered in 1869 and opened in 1871, providing a route on the north side of the Harlem River for trains along the Hudson River to head southeast to the New York and Harlem Railroad towards Grand Central Terminal or the freight facilities at Port Morris. From opening it was leased by the NYC.

The Geneva and Lyons Railroad was organized in 1877 and opened in 1878, leased by the NYC from opening. This was a north-south connection between Syracuse and Rochester, running from the main line at Lyons south to the Auburn Road at Geneva. It was merged into the NYC in 1890.

Harold S. Vanderbilt stock certificate

On July 1, 1900, the Boston and Albany Railroad was leased by the NYC, although it retained a separate identity. In 1914 the name was changed again, forming the modern New York Central Railroad.

The Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, also known as the Big Four, was formed on June 30, 1889 by the merger of the Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Indianapolis Railway, the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis and Chicago Railway and the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railway. The following year, the company gained control of the former Indiana Bloomington and Western Railway. By 1906, the Big Four was itself acquired by the New York Central Railroad.

The generally level topography of the NYC system had a character distinctively different than the mountainous terrain of its arch rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad. Most of its major routes, including New York to Chicago, followed rivers and had no significant grades other than West Albany Hill. This influenced a great deal about the line that was became known as the Water Level Route, from advertising to locomotive design.

Steam locomotives of the NYC were optimized for speed on that flat raceway of a main line, rather than slow mountain lugging. Famous locomotives of the system included the well-known 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 often considered the epitome of their breed by steam locomotive aficionados.

Despite having some of the most modern steam locomotives anywhere, NYC's difficult financial position caused it to convert to more economical diesel-electric power rapidly. All lines east of Cleveland, Ohio were dieselized as of August 7, 1953. Niagaras were all retired by 1956. The last steam was retired in 1957. But, the economics of northeastern railroading became so dire that not even this switch could change things for the better.


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 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 NYC's former Rome, Watertown and Ogdensburg Railroad, allowing all NYC through traffic to bypass Rome.


NYC Hudson locomotive built with iconic streamlining designed by Henry Dreyfuss, used to haul the 20th Century Limited starting in 1938. Photo courtesy SMU.

For two-thirds of the twentieth century, the New York Central was known to have some of the most famous trains in the United States. Its 20th Century Limited, begun in 1902, ran from Grand Central Terminal in New York to LaSalle Street Station Chicago and was its most famous train, known for its red carpet treatment and first class service. In the mid 1930s most railroad companies were introducing streamliner locomotives which by design reducing wind resistance and increased speed. And until the New York Central in the 1930s introduced the Commodore Vanderbilt all were diesel-electric locomotives. The Vanderbilt used the more common steam engine.[1] In 1935 the New York Central introduced a second stream engine streamliner based on its experience with the Vanderbilt, the Century, which followed the Water Level Route, could complete the 960.7-mile trip in just 16 hours after its June 15, 1938 streamlining (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.

List of Famous New York Central Trains:

New York to Chicago

  • 20th Century Limited: New York to 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- All Mercuries ran between 1936 and 1959

  • Chicago Mercury: Chicago-Detroit
  • Cincinnati Mercury: Cleveland-Cincinnati
  • Cleveland Mercury: Detroit-Cleveland
  • Detroit Mercury: Cleveland-Detroit

New York to St. Louis

  • Knickerbocker: New York–St. Louis
  • Southwestern Limited: New York–St. Louis

Other Trains

  • Empire State Express: New York-Buffalo and Cleveland via the Empire Corridor 1891–Present (Retained by Penn Central and Amtrak but renamed Empire Service by Amtrak, which operates from New York to Niagara Falls, NY)
  • 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
  • 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

All trains operated out of Grand Central Terminal in New York, Weehawken Terminal in Jersey City, 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 New York Central, like most other railroads, also operated a fairly extensive network of commuter lines throughout New York and Massachusetts. Residents of Westchester County, New York, were serviced by the railroad's Hudson, Harlem, and Putnam lines, into Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan (Putnam Division trains required a change at High Bridge, NY), while residents of New Jersey and Rockland County, New York were serviced by the West Shore Line between Jersey City and West Haverstraw, New York: located on the west side of the Hudson River.


The New York Central, as with most other U.S. railroads, began a precipitous decline once the Second World War ended. Problems that plagued the railroad industry since 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 resurfaced. These problems were coupled with even more formidable forms of competition, such as the rapid development of reliable propeller and jet airplane service in the 1950s which began to deprive the NYC of its long-distance passenger trade. The signing of the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 helped create a network of more convenient and efficient roadways for motor vehicle travel throughout the country, enticing many more people to travel by car, as well as haul freight by truck rather than by rail. Additionally, the 1959 opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway adversely affected the NYC freight business. Container shipments could now be directly shipped to ports along the Great Lakes, eliminating the railroads' once-lucrative freight hauls between the east and the Midwest.

At the same time, the NYC also carried a substantial tax burden. Federal, state, and local governments, far from providing needed support to passenger rail, viewed rail infrastructure as a ready source for property tax revenues: taxes that were not similarly imposed upon interstate highways. To make matters even worse, most railroads, including the NYC, were also saddled with a World War II–era excise tax of 15% on passenger rail travel, which remained until 1962: 17 years after the end of the war.[2] These factors contributed to the overall weakening of all railroads throughout the United States, leading the New York Central into a slow decline.

Robert R. Young 1954–1958

In June 1954, management of the New York Central System lost a proxy fight in 1954 to Robert Ralph Young and the Alleghany Corporation he led.[3]

Alleghany Corporation was a real estate and railroad empire built by the Van Sweringen brothers of Cleveland in the 1920's and had notably controlled the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) and the Nickel Plate Road. It eventually fell under the control of Young and financier Allan Price Kirby during the Great Depression.

R. R. Young was considered a railroad visionary, but found the failing New York Central in worse shape than he had imagined. Unable to keep his promises, Young was forced to suspend dividend payments in January, 1958. He committed suicide later that month.

Alfred E. Perlman 1958–1968

After his suicide, Young's role in NYC management was assumed by Alfred E. Perlman, who had been working with the NYC under Young since 1954. Despite the dismal financial condition of the railroad, Perlman was able to streamline many of the railroad's operations and save the company money. Starting in 1959, Perlman was able to reduce 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 at the same time reducing passenger deficits from $42 to $24.6 million.

Perlman also enacted several modernization projects throughout the railroad. Most notable was the pioneering use of Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) systems on many of the NYC lines, which reduced the famous four-track mainline to two tracks. Additionally, he oversaw the construction and/or modernization of many hump or classification yards: most notably, the $20-million Selkirk Yard which opened outside of Albany in 1966. Perlman also experimented with jet trains, creating a Budd RDC car (the M-497 Black Beetle) powered by two J47 jet engines stripped from a B-36 Peacemaker intercontinental bomber as a potential solution to increasing car and airplane competition. While a technical success, the project did not leave the prototype stage.

Nevertheless, Perlman's cuts resulted in the curtailing of many of the railroad's services. The commuter lines in around New York were particularly affected by this. Between 1958 and 1959, service was suspended on the NYC's Putnam Division in Westchester and Putnam counties. Additionally, the NYC abandoned its ferry service across the Hudson to Weehawken Terminal in Jersey City. This negatively impacted the railroad's West Shore Line, which ran along the west bank of the Hudson River from Jersey City to Albany, which saw long-distance service to Albany discontinued in 1958 and commuter service between Jersey City and West Haverstraw, New York terminated in 1959. However, ridding itself of the majority of its commuter service proved impossible due to the heavy patronage of these lines in and around metro New York, which the ICC mandated the railroad still operate, further draining the NYC's resources.

Many long-distance and regional-haul passenger trains were either discontinued or downgraded in service, with coach cars replacing Pullman, parlor, and sleeping cars on routes throughout Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. The Empire Corridor between Albany and Buffalo saw service greatly reduced with service beyond Buffalo to Niagara Falls discontinued completely in 1961. On December 3, 1967, most of the great long-distance trains were terminated, including the famed "Twentieth Century Limited". The railroad's extensive branch line service off the Empire Corridor in upstate New York was also gradually discontinued, the last being its Utica Branch between Utica and Lake Placid, in 1965. Many of the railroad's great train stations in Rochester, Schenectady, and Albany were either demolished or abandoned in an effort to raise money and save on operating costs. Despite the savings these cuts created, it was apparent that if the railroad was to become solvent again a more permanent solution was needed.

Merger with the Pennsylvania Railroad

One problem that many of the Northeastern railroads faced was the fact that the railroad market was saturated for the dwindling rail traffic that remained. The NYC had to compete with its two biggest rivals: the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), in addition to more moderate-size railroads such as the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad (DLW), the Erie Railroad, the Reading Company, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Mergers of these railroads seemed a promising way for these companies to streamline operations and reduce the competition. The DL&W and Erie railroads had showed some success when they began merging their operations in 1956, finally leading to the formation of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in 1960. Other mergers combined the Virginian Railway, Wabash Railroad, Nickel Plate Road and several others into the Norfolk and Western Railway (N&W) system, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O), Western Maryland Railroad (WM), and Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) combined with others to form the Chessie System. Heavy streamlining and reduction in passenger services led to the success of many of these mergers.

Following this trend, the NYC began to look for a potential railroad to merge with as early as the mid 1950s and had originally sought out mergers with the B&O and the NYC-controlled Nickel Plate Road. Unlike the aforementioned mergers, however, a NYC merger proved tricky due to the fact that the railroad still operated a fairly extensive amount of regional and commuter passenger services that were under mandates by the Interstate Commerce Commission to maintain.

It soon became apparent that the only other railroad with enough capital to allow for a potentially successful merger proved to be the NYC's chief rival, the PRR: itself a railroad that still had a large passenger trade. Merger talks between the two roads were discussed as early as 1955; however, this was delayed due to a number of factors: among them, interference by the Interstate Commerce Commission, objections from operating unions, concerns from competing railroads, and the inability of the two companies themselves to formulate a merger plan, thus delaying progress for over a decade. Two major points of contention centered around which railroad should have the majority controlling interest going into the merger. Perlman's cost-cutting during the '50s and '60s put the NYC in a more financially healthy situation than the PRR. Nevertheless, the ICC, with urging by PRR President Stuart Saunders, wanted the PRR to absorb the NYC. Another point centered around the ICC's wanting to force the bankrupt New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, better known as the New Haven, into the new system, which it did in 1969, something to which both companies objected. Eventually, both points would ultimately lead to the new Penn Central's demise.

In December, 1967, the New York Central published its last public timetable. The final timetable revealed a drastically truncated passenger schedule in anticipation of its merger with the PRR. Most deluxe long-distance passenger trains ended on December 3, 1967, including the famed 20th Century Limited. Only those trains which were to be continued after the merger with the PRR were retained, along with the railroad's commuter trains.

Penn Central 1968–1976

On February 1, 1968, the New York Central was absorbed by the Pennsylvania Railroad, forming the new Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company that was eventually renamed the Penn Central Transportation Company, with the NYC's Alfred Perlman as president. Penn Central was quickly saddled with debt when the ICC forced the money-losing New Haven into the railroad in 1969. In addition, unlike the Erie Lackawanna, the merger was handled in a haphazard manner with no formal merger plan implemented. The two companies' competing corporate cultures, union interest, and incompatible operating and computer systems sabotaged any hope for a success. Additionally in an effort to look profitable Perlman authorized the use of the railroad's reserve cash to pay dividends to company stockholders. Nevertheless, on June 21, 1970 Penn Central declared bankruptcy, the largest private bankruptcy in the United States to that time. Under bankruptcy protection many of Penn Central's outstanding debts owed to other railroads were frozen, while debts owed to Penn Central by the other roads were not. This sent a trickle effect throughout the already fragile railroad industry forcing many of the other Northeastern railroads into insolvency, among them the Erie Lackawanna, Boston and Maine, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, the Reading Company, and the Lehigh Valley.

Penn Central marked the last hope of privately funded passenger rail service in the United States. In response to the bankruptcy President Richard Nixon signed into law the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 which formed the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak, a nationalized government owned and subsidized railroad. On May 1, 1971 Amtrak assumed the responsibility of most regional and long distance intercity passenger trains in the United States. Amtrak would eventually assume ownership of the Northeast Corridor, a mostly electrified route between Boston and Washington, D.C. inherited primarily from the PRR and New Haven systems. Penn Central and the other railroads were still obligated to operate their commuter services for the next five years while in bankruptcy, eventually turning them over to the newly formed Conrail in 1976. There was some hope that Penn Central, and the other Northeastern railroads, could be restructured towards profitability once their burdensome passenger deficits were unloaded. However, this was not to be and the railroads never recovered from their respective bankruptcies.

Conrail and CSX 1976–present

Conrail, officially the Consolidated Rail Corporation, was created by the U.S. Government to salvage Penn Central, and the other bankrupt railroads freight business, beginning its operations on April 1, 1976. As mentioned, Conrail assumed control of Penn Central's commuter lines throughout the Lower Hudson Valley of New York, Connecticut, and in and around Boston. In 1983 these commuter services would be turned over to the state funded Metro North Railroad in New York and Connecticut, and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Massachusetts. Conrail would go on to achieve profitability by the 1990s and was sought by several other large railroads in a continuing trend of mergers eventually having its assets absorbed by CSX and Norfolk Southern.

Conrail, in an effort to streamline its operations, was forced to abandon miles of both NYC and PRR trackage. Nevertheless the majority of the NYC system is still intact and used by both CSX and Amtrak. Among the lines still used is the famed Water Level Route between New York and Chicago, as well as its former Boston & Albany line between these points, the Kankakee Belt Route through Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and the West Shore Line between Jersey City and the Albany suburb of Selkirk where the old NYC – now CSX – Selkirk Yard is among the busiest freight yards in the country.

On June 6, 1998, most of Conrail was split between Norfolk Southern and CSX. New York Central Lines LLC was formed as a subsidiary of Conrail, containing the lines to be operated by CSX; this included the old Water Level Route and many other lines of the New York Central, as well as various lines from other companies. It also assumed the NYC reporting mark. CSX eventually fully absorbed it, as part of a streamlining of Conrail operations.

See also


  1. ^ "Streamline Steam Engine Attains High Speed", Popular Mechanics, February 1935
  2. ^ "Brief History of the U.S. Passenger Rail Industry". 
  3. ^ TIME magazine, June 21, 1954

External links

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  • New York Central Railroad Company — ▪ American railway       one of the major American railroads that connected the East Coast with the interior. Founded in 1853, it was a consolidation of 10 small railroads that paralleled the Erie Canal between Albany and Buffalo; the earliest… …   Universalium

  • List of New York Central Railroad precursors — The New York Central Railroad (NYCRR) was formed on December 22, 1914, as a consolidation of the companies listed below. It later merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to form Penn Central.The NYCRR owned stock in the New York, Chicago and St.… …   Wikipedia

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