Monday, November 14, 2011

Pittsburgh to Harrisburg Rail Service - Historic Summary

1910....30 daily passenger trains.  Schedule time 6.0 hours.

1950....50 daily passenger trains.  Schedule time 5.0 hours.

2010.....2  daily passenger trains.  Schedule time 5.5 hours.

In 1910 the PRR passenger trains were equipped with wooden cars and pulled by steam locomotives. 1910 saw the implementation of steel railroad cars as the Hudson River tunnels had been completed into Manhattan with the opening of Penn Station. Initially only trains entering the Hudson River tunnels would have been of steel construction. 1910 was the transition year from wood to steel. The highway system was largely unpaved. Few households owned automobiles. A robust electric trolley, interurban street railway system blanketed the USA and Pennsylvania. That robust system began to decline coincidentally with the success of the Ford Model T with the Great Depression finishing the once comprehensive trolley and interurban services. In Pennsylvania in 1911 there were 43,282 registered motor vehicles in Pennsylvania. By 1917 there were 349,720 registered motor vehicles in Pennsylvania delivering regional, county wide transportation. The PRR schedule from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg could be accomplished in 6.0 hours.

The high point number for daily passenger trains was reached in the 1950's. As the highway system was then paved. The momentum for creating a highway system began in 1903 with the establishment of the Highway Department. When young Captain Dwight David Eisenhower in 1919 was part of a truck capability demonstration from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco the Lincoln Highway, Route 30, across Pennsylvania was paved.  That was one of the few places in the United State with cross country pavement. The impetus of the average family acquiring an automobile begun in the decade of 1910 created the demand for paved roads. This set the competitive stage for private automobiles to replace the trolley and interurban companies.

In 1950 the passenger trains were, of course, all composed of steel passenger cars. The transition of of locomotive power from steam to diesel power was complete. There were some local services on the PRR still being operated with steam after 1950 such as the Long Branch, New Jersey service on which the last steam passenger locomotive in use was retired in 1956. That locomotive is currently in the custody of the Railroaders Memorial Museum at Altoona. The generation of steam power introduced after 1910 largely in the 1920's enabled a schedule of 5.0 hours by the later 1930's from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. That schedule was lengthened during WWII due to the extraordinary demands made upon the railroad system.

The PRR passenger car fleet was essentially made up of equipment designed and built in the decade of 1910 and 1920 in 1950. From the late 1950's the PRR responded to highway competition by eliminating unprofitable passenger trains and saving operating costs by consolidating some trains. It would, for the most part, be that equipment from the 10's and 20's that the PRR would still be operating when the PRR became part of the Penn Central Railroad in 1968.  It was that fleet of equipment that was passed over to the Federal Amtrak system when it was created in 1971.

The current 2 trains a day now operated by Amtrak are on a 5.5 hour schedule. That service level is symbolic rather than presenting an alternative to the passenger car. It is certainly a pleasant ride in comparison to the ride experienced up until the late 70's. In the late 70's the line was relaid in welded
steel. The previous jointed rail line was noisy and had enough variations to create annoying vibrations. Equipment operated by Amtrak is far and away more comfortable than the famous all steel P70 passenger car design of 1910 ever was even with periodic refurbishment and updates. Together with welded rail current equipment is a pleasant experience.

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