Category Archives: ny central railroad

50 Years Ago: Big Change in NY Central Train Service

Fifty years ago this weekend, the famous “name” trains of the New York Central — the 20th Century Limited, the Wolverine, the Empire State Express and others — made their last runs.

In their place were a couple of long-distance overnight trains covering the Central’ s routes between Chicago and New York, bearing numbers instead of names. They were supplemented by a series of short-haul trains upstate that together would be known as the “Empire Service.”

On Monday, railroad and local officials gathered at the Rensselaer rail station to mark the 50th anniversary of the Empire Service, which has grown to be one of the busiest corridors on the nationwide Amtrak system.

The idea of fast, frequent service on corridors of a couple hundred miles grew out of an experiment in 1966 in Ohio where the Central set a speed record of 183 mph with a diesel passenger car set, said Mike R. Weinman, then an operating management trainee with the New York Central.

Robert D. Timpany, then the railroad’s assistant vice president, operating administration, touted this as the future of rail passenger service, Weinman said, and convinced the state Public Service Commission to approve the plan.

“He practically had to pledge his firstborn to convince them,” Weinman recalled Friday.

Early on, “cars were beat up. The dining car was a snack bar, when it was open,” recalled Dick Barrett, a railroad historian who serves on the board of the New York Central System Historical Society.

But the service began to thrive as the railroad refurbished its aging passenger cars.

“It was a marketing campaign,” said Bruce Becker, who grew up in New York state riding the refreshed trains and is now vice president of operations for the National Association of Railroad Passengers. “They refurbished coaches specifically for Empire Service. They were able to speed up the schedule.”

The effort succeeded, for awhile.
Weinman says it even made an operating profit. But the service became “collateral damage” as the merger of the Central with the Pennsylvania Railroad tanked, and the combined entity soon filed for bankruptcy.

Albany’s Union Station also was facing closure as plans for the new Interstate 787 required removal of the tracks. The merged Penn Central replaced it with a small station in Rensselaer, which opened at 11 p.m. Dec. 29, 1968, said Ernie Mann, a Rensselaer resident and author of Railroads of Rensselaer.

Amtrak’s assumption of service on May 1, 1971, relieving the freight railroads of what had become a money-losing burden, also led to another round of long-distance train eliminations nationwide.
“Not many people gave Amtrak much of a shot,” said Mann. “For suffering under the budgets from Washington, I think Amtrak has done very well.”

Ridership, helped along by various oil embargoes in the 1970s, climbed, and by 1982 Amtrak had replaced the initial Rensselaer station with a larger one.

That station, too, fell to the wrecking ball as a new, much grander station opened in 2002.

And while many of the name trains were revived, many routes were altered.

You could no longer take the Wolverine to Annandale (actually, Rhinecliff), no matter what the Steely Dan song might say.
The train, which ran between New York and Chicago via Albany and Detroit, today, operates only as far east as Detroit.
But the 18 daily trains on that initial Empire Service schedule back on Dec. 3, 1967, have expanded to 26 weekday trains on the current schedule.

Nearly 1.16 million people rode Empire Service trains in fiscal year 2017, up 0.6 percent from the year before. And the 855,176 people who started or ended their trip at the Albany-Rensselaer station in fiscal 2016 made it the ninth busiest in Amtrak’s nationwide system.

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Mark Tomlonson’s Dates In New York Central History

Been a while, but a lot of great dates!

November 2, 1931 The New York Central pays its last dividend until after the Depression.

November 1, 1857 Because of a financial panic, the Michigan Central and Michigan Southern railroads agree to divide their passenger business between Lake Erie and Chicago 50/50 and their freight business 58/42 in favor of the Michigan Central. Both roads agree to give up their steamboats on Lake Erie used for a connection to Buffalo.

November 1, 1869 The New York Central Railroad (1853) and the Hudson River Railroad are consolidated to form the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company (NYC&HR) under the control of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The merger plan was kept secret from regular stockholders until the vote was taken.
An important agreement! Hudson River Railroad began in 1846

November 1, 1872 The New York Central & Hudson River, New York & Harlem and New Haven railroads sign an agreement for the joint use of the first Grand Central Station.

November 1, 1873 The Canada Southern Railway opens for through traffic.

November 1, 1875 Wagner sleeping cars replace Pullmans on the Michigan Central Railroad. Wagner inaugurates through cars between Boston and Chicago via both the MC and the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern routes. Because of this, the Erie drops its routing over the MC as does the Toledo, Wabash & Western.

November 1, 1956 The first transcontinental Trailer-On-Flat-Car rates go into effect.

November 1, 1957 U.S. Class I Railroads report they roster 27,108 diesel and 2,697 steam locomotives. An additional 721 steam locomotives are in storage.

November 1, 1957 New York Central President Alfred E. Perlman and Pennsylvania Railroad President J.M. Symes announce they are discussing a merger of their two railroads.

October 31, 1903 The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad votes to electrify between Croton-on-Hudson on the Hudson Division and North White Plains on the Harlem Division. The system used will be a 660-volt DC on an under-running third rail. Later this fall they will sign a contract with General Electric for the locomotives.

October 27, 1904 Informal tests are held at Schenectady of the new General Electric Locomotives bound for Grand Central Terminal.
See https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/electric-railroads/

October 27, 1956 The New York Central removes its Aerotrain from service.

October 27, 1957 The New York Central places its “Train X” set in commuter service between Chicago and Elkhart.

October 28, 1953 Train Telephone service begins on the “20th Century Limited” between Buffalo and Chicago.

October 28, 1956 After a 2-year study, the New York Central introduces its “Travel Tailored Schedule Plan”, an attempt to rationalize local and medium distance passenger service. The plan features short, fast trains with no head-end cars and few sleepers. Intermediate stops at smaller stations are curtailed.

October 29, 2004 Last scheduled run of 1962-vintage former New York Central ACMU cars on Metro-North.
Did not last as long as NY Subway’s R-42’s (built 1966, some still alive

October 20, 1920 The Association of American Railroads issues standards for stenciling reporting marks on the sides of freight cars.

October 21, 1950 The Monongahela Railroad ends passenger service.

October 21, 2010 The Arian & Blissfield [MI] finalizes the purchase of an ex-Michigan Central Branch between Lansing and Jackson. It will be operated by an A&B subsidiary “Jackson & Lansing Railroad Company”, reporting marks: JAIL.

October 12, 1934 Five Railroad Industry groups merge to form the Association of American Railroads (AAR).
The American Railway Association
The Association of Railway Executives
The Bureau of Railroad Economics
The Railway Accounting Officers Association
The Railway Treasury Officers Association

October 12, 1950 The New York Central places an order for 200 diesel locomotives from four builders. ALCO, Lima, Baldwin, ???

Judge rules tracks must stay

MALONE — A judge ruled Wednesday that the state’s plan to build a 34-mile rail trail was “arbitrary and capricious” and failed to follow numerous state laws.

“The 2016 UMP [unit management plan] is annulled and vacated, in its entirety, and in each and every part,” acting state Supreme Court Justice Judge Robert Main Jr. informed the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation and the state Adirondack Park Agency.

The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, which operates tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name, sued the state in April 2016. The lawsuit stemmed from a plan by the DEC and DOT, and approved by the APA, that would have removed 34 miles of train tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and replaced them with a multi-use trail. The plan also called for another multi-million-dollar state investment to rehabilitate 45 miles of railroad tracks from Tupper Lake to Big Moose, allowing passenger trains to operate between Tupper Lake and Utica.

The railroad in question runs 141 miles between Utica and Lake Placid, and the state owns the 119-mile majority between Remsen and Lake Placid. ASR, under lease from the state, has run tourist trains between Utica and the Old Forge area since the early 1990s, and from 2000 through 2016 also ran them also between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.

Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The NY Central Putnam Division Freight House At Lake Mahopac

Thank you to New York Central fan John Ruth for a great bit of Putnam Division history.

The Lake Mahopac Freight House, which was served by the Putnam Division and the Lake Mahopac Branch, has been repurposed as a Café. They’ve named it “The Freight House Café

The building has been relocated about 100 feet and possibly rotated. A kitchen structure was added to one side. The original roll-aside door is still in place between the main floor and the kitchen addition. (Modelers could enjoy studying this door and its hardware, which resembles barn door hardware.)

The interior is more-or-less intact. There are a few RR-related décor items and, very appropriately, an ice saw hanging on the wall. This commemorates that there was once a nearby RR-served Ice House to store and distribute the ice harvested on Lake Mahopac. (Knickerbocker Ice, IIRC.)

NYCRR fans should stop in for a look-see and a coffee. The proprietor recognizes the NYCS history of the building.

Old Station from Google

On the same trip, I observed that the Baldwin Place Freight House is still extant. These two structures appear to have been built from the same plan.

When was L.C.L. freight discontinued on the Putnam Division? That would have marked the last RR use of these freight houses, no?

May 29, 1958 – Last passenger service on the Putnam Division.

September 17, 1962 – Last freight run to Yorktown Heights.

1963 – Twenty-three miles of track between Eastview and Lake Mahopac is abandoned and removed.

1969 – Three miles of track between Lake Mahopac and Carmel is abandoned and removed.

March 14, 1970 – Last freight run to Carmel.

From “Putnam Division of the New York Central

and “Putnam Division Abandonments

Question of the day:

Who lived near the end of the long-gone Mahopac Falls Branch for many years.

Mark Tomlonson’s New York Central Dates In History

September 16, 1956 The New York Central replaces the male secretaries on the “20th Century Limited” with “Girls of the Century” – stewardesses patterned after those on airliners.

Girl Of The Century
The Century Girl, or, if you prefer…The Girl of the CenturyJoan Jennings Scalfani

Getting ready to reprise her role as a “Century Girl” for the 20th Century Limited express passenger train brought back these memories and more for Joan Jennings Scalfani.

“It was a fabulous job because I love to talk and I love to listen,” said Scalfani, 80, recalling her days in the early 1960s as a hostess aboard the historic line. “Those were happy days.”

One Century Girl was assigned to each trip.

See a YouTube presentation featuring Joan Jennings Scalfani in Grand Central Terminal

“The train was beautiful,” she said. “In the center lounge car there were love seats. … It was a very classy-looking interior. It wasn’t trainlike; it was like a living room,” Scalfani said.

It was the sort of car where Harry and Bess Truman might have stayed when she asked them during their breakfast whether they had rested well.

“The president said, ‘Won’t you join us?’ And I certainly couldn’t say no,” she said. “They were very pleasant and very down-to-earth.”

Last Steam Passenger Train In New York State

Saw the following in Mark Tomlonson’s list of important dates in New York Central history.

“September 11, 1952 The last New York Central steam-powered commuter train leaves White Plains for Dover (NY), marking the end of steam on all NYC Divisions feeding New York City. (Some sources say September 13.)”

Actually, Dover Plains, not Dover.

We already covered the last steam in New York State:
https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/last-steam-on-ny-central-lines-east/. But that was a milk train (empties) from Harmon to Utica.

Joan Jennings Scalfani: The Century Girl, or, if you prefer…The Girl of the Century

Frank Sinatra called her “doll” and mesmerized her with his blue eyes. President Harry Truman cheerfully asked her to join him and his wife, Bess, for breakfast. But Ernest Hemingway was uninterested in her greeting, and Lena Horne, though beautiful, seemed icy.

Getting ready to reprise her role as a “Century Girl” for the 20th Century Limited express passenger train brought back these memories and more for Joan Jennings Scalfani.

“It was a fabulous job because I love to talk and I love to listen,” said Scalfani, 80, recalling her days in the early 1960s as a hostess aboard the historic line. “Those were happy days.”

The Williamsville resident returned to New York City’s Grand Central Station recently as a featured guest for one of the events of the iconic hub’s centennial celebration. A collection of railway cars, including an observation car from the 20th Century Limited, was on display.

Scalfani beamed just thinking about her trip back in time. “This is the highlight of my life,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, the Scalfani sparkle that once charmed Sinatra, Truman and others was working on a young designer who flew in to fit her with a muslin form that would be used to re-create her old Christian Dior uniform in, as she remembers, a “rivermist” blue.

As Scalfani held still so the designer could pin together the pattern and remake her uniform in time for the celebration, the story of her serendipitous career spilled out.

Alex Hartman, working fast to finish the measurements so she could catch a plane back in a few hours, admired her subject’s age and grace.

“You’re my goal,” she said smiling. “You have such a great hourglass. So we’re going to try to keep it.”

Scalfani’s smile fit the glamorous black and white publicity photo from her time as a Century Girl in 1960 and ’61. Scalfani, then 27 and 28, was one of five young women with the public relations job of making sure passengers, famous or otherwise, were comfortable and attended to with services such as sending telegrams and baby-sitting.

The posh train, featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” was known for its passenger-welcoming gifts of small bottles of Chanel No. 5 perfume.

The line ran between New York and Chicago, and made special stops to let on celebrities out of view from the crowds, as it did when Sinatra made his way east to President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.

“They would kind of slink in,” Scalfani said.

She put her hands together and looked up, as if in prayer, when she recalled meeting Sinatra. She found herself staring at the singer and actor.

“When that door opened and I looked into those blue eyes, I just about fainted,” she said. “He was standing there with a smile on his face because he knew what was going on.”

She asked if he needed a postcard stamp. He smiled.

“Doll, if I want a postcard mailed, I’ll be sure and call you,” he told her.

Then she ran into him a second time when he took the train back to Chicago. “I thought, ‘Oh, no, not again!’ ” she said. “I got out of there so fast.”

“You shouldn’t have left,” a porter told her later. “He had nice things to say about you.”

The train would leave Grand Central Station at 6 p.m. and arrive in Chicago by 9 the next morning. It had about 26 cars with staterooms, smaller compartments, and dining and lounge cars.

One Century Girl was assigned to each trip.

“The train was beautiful,” she said. “In the center lounge car there were love seats. … It was a very classy-looking interior. It wasn’t trainlike; it was like a living room,” Scalfani said.

During the recent weekend, the collection of train cars at Grand Central Station included the “Hickory Creek.” It was the last car on the 20th Century Limited, with an observation lounge and wraparound windows.

It was the sort of car where Harry and Bess Truman might have stayed when she asked them during their breakfast whether they had rested well.

“The president said, ‘Won’t you join us?’ And I certainly couldn’t say no,” she said. “They were very pleasant and very down-to-earth.”

Silent-movie comedian Harold Lloyd asked her to join him for lunch. “You’ve been so kind to me,” he told her. “I’d love you to join me for lunch.”

“He really appreciated the fact that I spent so much time there at his doorway,” Scalfani said.

Decades later, she still regrets not accepting his offer.

As she remembers it, Hemingway was less talkative. The author “was more interested in having dinner,” she said. “I didn’t stay too long.”

Horne, traveling with her jazz pianist husband, Lennie Hayton, was lovely but even less interested. The singer and actress “looked like she wanted me to get out of there,” Scalfani said. “In person, she was even more gorgeous.”

In 1961, after 15 months on the job, the Century Girls were among the thousands laid off after a railroad strike. Scalfani, who grew up in Baltimore, eventually moved to Buffalo in a marriage that ended in divorce. She raised two daughters here. Her career in nonprofit management included almost a decade as director of Episcopal Charities.

During the weekend, for the first time since the 1990s, she traveled back to Grand Central Station and her Manhattan neighborhood.

She talked with people, autographed photos and read a story – “Two Little Trains” – to children. A videographer interviewed her, and she participated in a panel of railroad people to explain what train travel used be like.

Scalfani said she found train passengers to be in-depth people with a leisurely attitude. They had time to sit, look out the windows and think about the towns and countryside rolling by. And they talked.

“It’s like, ‘We’ll never see each other again, so I can bare my soul,’ ” Scalfani said. “They took the time, and it was just special.”

She looks forward to putting on the Century Girl suit that always made her feel stylish.

“It’s like being able to turn the clock back,” she said.

See a YouTube presentation featuring Joan Jennings Scalfani in Grand Central Terminal

Comments o Mark Tomlonson’s History of NY Central

July 21, 1958 The New York Central begins carrying mail between Chicago and Detroit in special “Flexi-Van” containers. The vans designated for mail are equipped with side doors. “Flexi-Van” service is expended to Boston and St. Louis.
Comment: Too little and too late.

July 22, 1920 William K. Vanderbilt dies. His son, Harold S. Vanderbilt inherits half of his father’s fortune and takes the family seat on the New York Central Board.
Comment: See the story on Robert Young taking over the NY Central from the Vanderbilts: https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/robert-r-young/

July 22, 1942 The United States begins compulsory civilian gasoline rationing due to World War II. The rationing will cause rail ridership, which has been in a steady decline since 1916, to markedly increase. This increase will cause many railroads to invest heavily in new passenger equipment after the war.
Comment: AGAIN, Too little and too late.

July 23, 1966 In a combination publicity stunt and test of how track functions under high speeds, a New York Central jet powered Rail Diesel Car hits 183.85 mph near Stryker, OH. Some of the data obtained from the test will be used in the design of the Metroliners.

July 20, 1906 The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad tests the first electric locomotives in New York City.
Comment: They were first tested just West of Schenectady in Scotia, NY

July 20, 1948 The Chicago Railroad Fair opens to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Chicago railroads.
Comment: See full story on rail fair:
https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/chicago-rail-fair/

July 17, 1938 The Wheeling & Lake Erie ends passenger service.

July 17, 1957 The New Haven and the New York Central test EMD’s FL-9 locomotive, capable of running from its own diesel prime movers or from a third rail.
Comment: New Haven liked them and bought; then they ended up on NY Central

July 17, 1957 The New York Central ends its “Travel Tailored Schedules”, returning to head-end equipment leading long, slow trains. Alfred J. Perlman has designed the new policy to drive away passengers and make train discontinuance easier.
Comment: Nobody likes “long, slow trains” especially express and mail shippers

July 15, 1979 The Kent-Barry-Eaton Connecting Railway starts operations between Grand Rapids and Vermontville on former Grand Valley/MC/NYC/PC/CR trackage. It is the first railroad in the U.S. operated by African-Americans.

July 12, 1903 The New York Central and the Rock Island open LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. The new station gives the New York Central an edge over rival Pennsylvania, still operating in an antiquated Union Station lacking in passenger amenities.
Comment: find out more on Chicago stations

July 7, 1853 The ten railroads linking Albany and Buffalo file papers with the Secretary of State of New York forming the New York Central. It becomes the largest railroad in the U.S. in terms of mileage, capitalization and net worth. (Some sources say May 17)
Comment: Read about Erastus Corning

A really tough QUIZ………How Did You Do???

We published a really tough RAILING QUIZ from 1950

https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/the-new-york-central-railroad-in-1950/

But many readers have trouble reading the answers, AS THEY ARE PRINTED UPSIDE-DOWN.

So will reprint them for you here.

QUESTION #1: What NYC Is Concerned With Grouting?
The Answer is B (MoW)

QUESTION #2: Where Are Flagers Used?
The Answer is A (On Tracks)

QUESTION #3: How Much Does The Central Pay Other Railroads Per Day?
The Answer Is C ($1.75)

QUESTION #4: When Was The First NYCentral Diesel-Electric Put I Service?
The Answer Is C (1924)

QUESTION #5: Under The Railroad Retirement Act, How Much Does The Railroad Pay?
The Answer IS D (6%)

QUESTION #6: What Does The Central Use A REFLECTORSCOPE For?
The ANSWER IS C (FINDING FLAWS IN AXLES)

QUESTION #7: What Ranks Highest IN AAR Opinion Poll?
The Answer Is A (Personal Attention)

QUESTION #8: How Many Credit Unions Are There In The NY Central System?
The Answer Is B (32)

QUESTION #9: How Much Of The World’s Work Is Done By Machines?
The Answer Is D (94%)

QUESTION #10: How Many RAILROAD YMCAs Are Located On The NY Central System?
The Answer Is A (22)

WOW! Croton-Harmon……What A Fascinating Railroad Center!

We just updated our WebSite “NY Central Shops At Harmon

1913 saw the completion of electrification of Grand Central Terminal and the lower stretches of the Hudson and Harlem Divisions. Harmon, which is 33 miles from Grand Central Terminal, became the transfer point where electric locomotives were exchanged for steam and later diesel on through New York Central passenger trains. It also became the starting point for electric commuter service into the city.

Harmon was a New York Central-created community and came into existence because it was a logical point to be the outer limit of the electric zone. There was plenty of room as this was a requirement for an interchange point. Not only was there room for sidings and yards, but also for repair facilities. The steam engines that pulled the Great Steel Fleet to Chicago rested here. As the small, but powerful, electrics pulled in from Grand Central Terminal, the steamers quickly hooked on and took off up the Hudson.

The shops handled all servicing, inspection and repairs for all electric locomotives and MU equipment. They also handled servicing, inspection and minor repairs on steam (later diesel) in the area.

There were no third rails inside the shops. Instead, there were long 600-volt cables on reels hung from the ceiling. These were called “bugs” and were clipped to a third rail shoe when power was needed.

Harmon was basically a commuter passenger station and never developed into a transfer point. Stays were short as it only took a minute or two to change power.

Yes! A fascinating place.