History of Commuter Rail Service Divestiture by Conrail

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jis

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I posted this originally in response to a post elsewhere, but later came to the conclusion that rightfully it belongs here, so here goes...

Conrail did run several commuter trains from their beginning in 1976, until as late as 1983 in several area's, which either ended, or were picked up by other operator's....
Of course they did. The original Conrail Act did not change much about the residual Commuter Services that remained with Conrail as it was believed that they were fully compensated for them by the states, which turned out to be not so. The legislation that removed the requirement from Conrail to run Commuter service was the 1981 Budget Reconciliation Act. (PL 97-35) which in Section 1136 (45 USC 744a) said:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law or contract Conrail shall be relieved of any legal obligation to operate commuter service on January 1, 1983.
Following this Act, the SecDOT ordered Conrail to get rid of everything that the Act allowed them to get rid of, while also greasing the skids of where the things that were shed will go as provided by the Act.

In order to enable Commuter services to continue, the same Act created a subsidiary of Amtrak named the Amtrak Commuter Service to take over and operate all Commuter Services from Conrail on that date absent any other arrangements made for them by the respective states. As it turns out all states made other arrangements except Maryland. The Conrail Commuter service in Maryland transitioned to Amtrak Commuter Service on that designated date (see ref to WaPo article below). The Clockers and the Keystones had already been transferred to Amtrak from Penn Central in 1974 (See Keystone Service - Wikipedia).

Entities like SEPTA, NJT Metro North and MBTA took over the operation and property of the Commuter Services in their respective areas, including massive transfer of staff from Conrail to these entities. The 1981 Act has dozens of pages of specification about how this was to be carried out, how exceptions and disagreements were to be handled etc.

Most people think Conrail was created by one Act of Congress and that was it. The reality is that the provisions of that original Act were drastically modified by a few other Acts following it, culminating in the 1981 Act which created the final structure that could fully "socialize" the losses and create an entity that could "capitalize" the profits. That is what remained of Conrail from the original one, as created by the original Conrail creation Act, the so called 4R Act..

The period from 1970 to 1983 is fascinating for those interested in how Amtrak and Conrail were carved out of the failed railroads of the Northeast in a dozen distinct steps. It is a very tedious but interesting thread to follow.

We could probably start a new thread to dive in deeper into this area if there is sufficient interest.

Here is a WaPo article from that time of transition


For the curious, the full text of the 1981 Budget Reconciliation Act (PL 97-35) can be found at


About half way into the document (page 643) look for "Subtitle E Conrail". Within it "Part 2 - Transfer of Rail Service Responsibilities" contains most of the relevant sections.

And yes, I lived through it after 1977 when I arrived in this country and almost immediately got involved with passenger rail stuff.
 
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Seaboard92

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I would be very interested in anything about Conrail's Take Over.

I believe the commuter operation in Cleveland was actually an odd little train. I don't think it was intended to be a commuter train at all but it sort of morphed into one. I believe it started as the Cleveland Section of the Lake Cities but because it had it's own train number and didn't cross a state line the state of Ohio not the ICC prohibited it from being discontinued when the main train was taken off the timetable. Turning it into a little orphan of a service. Definitely a unique little operation. It ran with long haul inter-city coaches as well.
 

jis

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I would be very interested in anything about Conrail's Take Over.

I believe the commuter operation in Cleveland was actually an odd little train. I don't think it was intended to be a commuter train at all but it sort of morphed into one. I believe it started as the Cleveland Section of the Lake Cities but because it had it's own train number and didn't cross a state line the state of Ohio not the ICC prohibited it from being discontinued when the main train was taken off the timetable. Turning it into a little orphan of a service. Definitely a unique little operation. It ran with long haul inter-city coaches as well.
Indeed it was an odd little train, as was EL an odd little railroad in its journey to Conrail.

Here is the most coherent info I could find on it:


Look like Conrail did take it over from EL in 1976 after the odd and different path that EL took into Conrail, and then discontinued it without any objection from the same Ohio PUC that had objected when EL tried to discontinue it earlier. The discontinuance was in 1977 well before the big reshuffle of Commuter Services after the 1981 Act.
 
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Look like Conrail did take it over from EL in 1976 after the odd and different path that EL took into Conrail, and then discontinued it without any objection from the same Ohio PUC that had objected when EL tried to discontinue it earlier. The discontinuance was in 1977 well before the big reshuffle of Commuter Services after the 1981 Act.
Makes my point, right?:)
 

neroden

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The short name of the law transferring commuter service in the Northeast to the agencies is the "Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981".

This is best thought of as part of a sequence of laws all of which were driven by the Penn Central bankruptcy. The first was the Amtrak Act (Rail Passenger Service Act) back in 1970.
The two major laws related to the creation of Conrail are the 3R Act (Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973), which basically created a committee to make a plan, so didn't really have a direct effect until 1976, and the 4R Act (Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976) which implemented the plan, including moving the NEC to Amtrak. The last two are the Staggers Act (1980) which deregulated freight rates where there was competition, and the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 -- and arguably the final step was the Conrail Privatization Act of 1986, which I think was a big mistake.

Staggers deregulation is almost obsolete now that the Class Is are pretty much monopolies almost everywhere. Maybe we'll finally get nationalization.
 

jis

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Not really. This was an odd isolated case as was EL inclusion in Conrail. EL did not come to Conrail via Penn Central, so the PC rules did not apply. No legislation was needed to allow that change.
 
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Actually CR did not have to get rid of anything since the enabling legislation did it for them. Other than that, what you say is on the mark.
Conrail did run several commuter trains from their beginning in 1976, until as late as 1983 in several area's, which either ended, or were picked up by other operator's....
"Not really"? I think it does, but I'll let it go at that...:)
 

jis

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Conrail did run several commuter trains from their beginning in 1976, until as late as 1983 in several area's, which either ended, or were picked up by other operator'

"Not really"? I think it does, but I'll let it go at that...:)
I see what you were saying, which I misread before. I do agree with you.
 

jis

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The short name of the law transferring commuter service in the Northeast to the agencies is the "Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981".

This is best thought of as part of a sequence of laws all of which were driven by the Penn Central bankruptcy. The first was the Amtrak Act (Rail Passenger Service Act) back in 1970.
The two major laws related to the creation of Conrail are the 3R Act (Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1973), which basically created a committee to make a plan, so didn't really have a direct effect until 1976, and the 4R Act (Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976) which implemented the plan, including moving the NEC to Amtrak. The last two are the Staggers Act (1980) which deregulated freight rates where there was competition, and the Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981 -- and arguably the final step was the Conrail Privatization Act of 1986, which I think was a big mistake.

Staggers deregulation is almost obsolete now that the Class Is are pretty much monopolies almost everywhere. Maybe we'll finally get nationalization.
NERSA 1981 was apparently further amended by the Budget Reconciliation Act 1981 which refers to changes to NERSA, or possibly just folded into it. I had initially thought that NERSA was the thing that finalized the reorganization. It is still not clear to me if what was called NERSA was folded into the Budget Reconciliation Act as a convenience to vote on everything together in a single vote, or if it was passed first and then amended in the Budget Reconciliation Act. Maybe it was the former. But what became the relevant final PL affecting the reorganization was that 1981 Budget Reconciliation Act.
 
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neroden

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NERSA 1981 was apparently further amended by the Budget Reconciliation Act 1981 which refers to changes to NERSA, or possibly just folded into it. I had initially thought that NERSA was the thing that finalized the reorganization. It is still not clear to me if what was called NERSA was folded into the Budget Reconciliation Act as a convenience to vote on everything together in a single vote,
The former; this method of "passing legislation" is still happening today. It's actually done to avoid the filibuster in the Senate. PRIIA 2008 was folded into an omnibus budget bill too, remember. Massive numbers of laws have been tucked into "reconciliation" bills to avoid the filibuster.

There's actually an official legal system for "short names" of laws. This is partly so that individual components of these massive omnibus bills can be picked out individually; "short names" are assigned to individual, conceptually coherent parts.

or if it was passed first and then amended in the Budget Reconciliation Act. Maybe it was the former. But what became the relevant final PL affecting the reorganization was that 1981 Budget Reconciliation Act.
 

jis

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Well, since I could never quite figure that out I provided a link to the text of the relevant Act that finally became law. The content is more important than what it was called as I see it.
 

neroden

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Yes, you provided the correct text. Just to further explain how this sort of thing works, take a look at the first few words in Subtitle E of the law...

Subtitle E - Conrail
Sec. 1131. This subtitle may be cited as the "Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981".
That is actually part of the law. The assignment of the short name for the law to the subtitle is a law. That way, when later amendments are made by later laws, they don't have to say that they're amending "The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 Subtitle E", they can say that they're amending "The Northeast Rail Service Act of 1981". Which is what they do.
 
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Seaboard92

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Indeed it was an odd little train, as was EL an odd little railroad in its journey to Conrail.

Here is the most coherent info I could find on it:


Look like Conrail did take it over from EL in 1976 after the odd and different path that EL took into Conrail, and then discontinued it without any objection from the same Ohio PUC that had objected when EL tried to discontinue it earlier. The discontinuance was in 1977 well before the big reshuffle of Commuter Services after the 1981 Act.
It is funny that is a website from my first college professor at Presbyterian College. I remember he was a super big railfan.

I don't really think it was a normal commuter train as it also used inter-city cars. Erie Lackawanna was an interesting railroad to say the least.
 
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jis

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It is funny that is a website from my first college professor at Presbyterian College. I remember he was a super big railfan.

I don't really think it was a normal commuter train as it also used inter-city cars. Erie Lackawanna was an interesting railroad to say the least.
The stunts that they pulled upon the creation of PC were quite impressive. :)
 
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The stunts that they pulled upon the creation of PC was quite impressive. :)
One "stunt" that they didn't try for, and might have succeeded, as a condition of the PRR-NYC merger, was to try to get their last remaining Buffalo and Chicago trains into Penn Station, NY, like the Lehigh Valley did. Same for the Reading and CNJ. But that would have been counter to most roads of the period attempting to kill off their last trains.
 

Seaboard92

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One "stunt" that they didn't try for, and might have succeeded, as a condition of the PRR-NYC merger, was to try to get their last remaining Buffalo and Chicago trains into Penn Station, NY, like the Lehigh Valley did. Same for the Reading and CNJ. But that would have been counter to most roads of the period attempting to kill off their last trains.
I believe that was more convoluted because the west side line didn't connect in like the present West Side Connector. And given their financial issues that was not likely. Now sending it up from Mott Haven to New Rochelle could have worked but added a lot of time.
 
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I believe that was more convoluted because the west side line didn't connect in like the present West Side Connector. And given their financial issues that was not likely. Now sending it up from Mott Haven to New Rochelle could have worked but added a lot of time.
I was referring to getting E-L trains into New York the way the Midtown-Direct trains do, through the North River tunnels...
 

jis

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I was referring to getting E-L trains into New York the way the Midtown-Direct trains do, through the North River tunnels...
The Kearney Connection used by the Midtown Directs was built in the 1990s and put into service in 1996. E-L trains did not have the physical ability to get on the NEC before that without a convoluted backup move and that too was not quite workable back when PC was created.

Speaking of that, what Reading and Lehigh Valley train got to Penn Station NY when PC was created? I thought Lehigh Valley discontinued all passenger service in 1961, no? Actually even in the Aldene Plan (1967) CNJ and Reading trains never really made it to Penn Station NY until 2014, decades after NJT came into being and dual mode locomotives were invented. They terminated at Newark Penn Station.
 
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The Kearney Connection used by the Midtown Directs was built in the 1990s and put into service in 1996. E-L trains did not have the physical ability to get on the NEC before that without a convoluted backup move and that too was not quite workable back when PC was created.

Speaking of that, what Reading and Lehigh Valley train got to Penn Station NY when PC was created? I thought Lehigh Valley discontinued all passenger service in 1961, no? Actually even in the Aldene Plan (1967) CNJ and Reading trains never really made it to Penn Station NY until 2014, decades after NJT came into being and dual mode locomotives were invented. They terminated at Newark Penn Station.
All true. I was just thinking that E-L could have lobbied for the connection being built back then, as part of the merger conditions.
The LV had used NYP, until they discontinued service…
 

jis

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All true. I was just thinking that E-L could have lobbied for the connection being built back then, as part of the merger conditions.
The LV had used NYP, until they discontinued service…
Compared to the complexity involved to make it work, there was very little to be gained by getting a few more trains into Penn Station, compared to the cost of the project. But the biggest problem was that even if it was built it could not have been used because there was no off the shelf locomotive capable of using such a connection back then. E-L was 3kV DC, NEC was 11kV AC, and there was no engine off the shelf that could switch on the fly between the two. Yes with much effort one could have been jerry-rigged together I am sure. But the gains were minimal and no one in their right mind would have accepted that as a precondition back then.
 
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Compared to the complexity involved to make it work, there was very little to be gained by getting a few more trains into Penn Station, compared to the cost of the project. But the biggest problem was that even if it was built it could not have been used because there was no off the shelf locomotive capable of using such a connection back then. E-L was 3kV DC, NEC was 11kV AC, and there was no engine off the shelf that could switch on the fly between the two. Yes with much effort one could have been jerry-rigged together I am sure. But the gains were minimal and no one in their right mind would have accepted that as a precondition back then.
Good points.🙂
Not sure, but for the LV trains, I believe they just pulled them between Newark and New York with a GG-1…
 

jis

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Good points.🙂
Not sure, but for the LV trains, I believe they just pulled them between Newark and New York with a GG-1…
You are thinking of the USRA consolidation into Penn Station. At least two LV long distance trains did operate to NY Penn Station at that time, but those were gone by 1961, LV did manage to hang onto that access after 1920 for many decades. At least the name "Maple Leaf" for a train to Toronto lives on from Lehigh Valley!

There were no LV passenger trains when PC came into being. The last LV passenger train ran in 1961. PC was created in 1968. All the NJDOT funded trains were on CNJ and Reading. Not on LV.

In 1967 when Aldene Plan was instituted, the Jersey Central Communipaw Terminal which was the terminal used by CNJ and Reading trains closed and all the trains originally destined there were transferred to Newark Penn Station. None went to New York Penn Station. The last vestiges of ex-Reading service ended in 1982 when NJT discontinued it weekday only West Trenton to Newark Penn service. The ex-CNJ trains became the NJT Raritan Valley service which continued to terminate in Newark Penn until well after the induction of the ALP45DP dual mode engines, when NJT extended a limited number of RVL train to New York Penn Station.

The NY&LB/CNJ trains which also lost their CNJ terminal in the 1967 reorganization were through routed to Hoboken through Newark Penn Station. They got to Newark via Rahway like the NY&LB/PRR trains. The NY&LB/PRR trains already went to New York Penn Station with an engine change at South Amboy NJ.
 
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You are thinking of the USRA consolidation into Penn Station.
And not just LV....believe B&O trains (via RDG and CRRNJ) also briefly enjoyed coming into Penn Station, New York, until the PRR got its railroad back, and promptly "evicted" them...:)
 

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I believe and someone can correct me if I'm wrong but even after the Aldene Plan the Central Railway of New Jersey still ran a commuter service to Bayone, NJ. But even though I've read about it I can't find any reference in the Official Guide from 1970 about it and I think it lasted up until the mid to late 70s.
 
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