Pre-Amtrak Experience: The NEC 1960-1971

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MARC Rider

Conductor
Joined
Apr 5, 2011
Messages
1,658
OK, they didn't call it the NEC back then, it was the Pennsylvania Railroad (the Penn Central during the last years), service between Washington - Philadelphia -- New York. They ran trains roughly every 2 hours between Washington and New York, hourly trains ("Clockers") between Philadelphia and New York, and every other Washington - New York train continued on, via the H*ll Gate Bridge, to the New Haven Railroad and on to Boston. The New Haven also ran hourly trains out of Grand Central Station to Boston, but I never rode any of them.

I lived in the Philadelphia area at the time (in Bryn Mawr until 1967, then we moved to Center City). In addition to being a regular rider on the Paoli Local as a kid, our family used NEC trains at times to visit relatives in Baltimore, where I was born. Of course, if the whole family went down, we drove, using US 1 from Media when we lived in the suburbs; after we moved downtown, we crossed to Jersey and drove I-295 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, where we picked up I-95 for the rest of the trip. But if it was just one of us going, we would take the the train. I remember one trip, I must have been 8 or something, my parents took me to 30th St. Station and put me on a local train that stopped at all kinds of places where there are no stations today, like Elkton and Havre De Grace, and also Perryville, and Aberdeen, but most of the trains were expresses and stopped only at Wilmington. On another trip, I must have been about 10, they put me on a morning train to Philly from Baltimore, and had me ride to a friends house in Merion, where they picked me up later. Since this was all on the Pennsylvania Railroad, I was able to buy a through ticket for both my NEC ride and the connection on the Paoli Local. The train from Baltimore had a dining car, so I went in and bought breakfast. True, the travel time was longer than today (1:40 hours vs the 1:10 of today), but they took my order and served me pretty quickly.

The equipment you ride in depended a lot on the train. Most trains running the non-commuter serves were locomotive-pulled cars, but once, when I was in high school, I was taking a Clocker to New York, and, for some reason, they substituted a Silverliner trainset. The coaches were a mix of "old" heavyweight, "Tuscan red" cars with high back, non-reclining bench seats, ceiling fans, and no A/C and more modern "streamliner" type cars that had reclining seats. Some of these had been recently "refreshed" with fluorescent lighting and a crinkly nylon-based seat upholstery. They also seemed to have a reduced seat pitch and were designed for relatively short corridor runs. They also sometimes added long-distance coaches to the consist. I guess they were shedding a lot of long-distance service during that period and had lots of spare equipment on hand. These were great to find, because the seat pitch was incredibly roomy, and they had full-width men's and ladies "lounges" (bathroons) at each end of the car. Thus when people passed between the cars, outside noise was baffled by the indirect corridor, and the ride was a lot quieter. If you rode the "Keystone" you usually got to ride in a "tubular train," a PRR experiment from the 1950s that never really panned out. The cars were designed with a very low center of gravity, and you had to go down a few stairs to the main seating area hanging between the trucks. Clearly not ADA-compliant, but there was no ADA at the time. Finally, if you took one of the Boston trains, you could ride in New Haven coaches, which I thought were nicer than the PRR coaches, roomier, more comfortable seats. They had a smoking lounge at one end, sort of separated by partitions with art-deco style glass panels. Unfortunately, it was completely open to allow people to pass through the car, so some of the smoke drifted into the main passenger area. Oh yes, they had smoking cars, too. You could always find a seat there, if you could stand the tobacco reek, even if no one was actually smoking. The locomotives were all GG-1s. In fact, my first time ride on a diesel was when I rode an RDC to Atlantic City when I was 12. My first ride behind a real diesel locomotive' was on my Philmont trip at age 14. To me, the GG-1 was what a "choo-choo train" should be, and I couldn't relate to the pictures of steam locos and F units in the picture books. In some ways, riding the NEC in those days was a little like riding a museum of 20th century rail history.

The through trains were equipped with coaches, a "snack bar coach," parlor cars (sometimes with private rooms), and sometimes dining cars. The snack bar coach was just a few seats taken out at one end of the car with a small vending area that sold a limited selection of soft drinks (cokes for 35 cents when you could get them on the outside at 15 cents), pre-made sandwiches, snacks, and, I suppose, booze. (I was underage at the time and wasn't really paying attention.) Sometimes there was someone pushing a cart through the train selling an even more limited line of snacks. I'm not sure if parlor car passengers had meals served, I never splurged. Now that I look at the fares published in the old timetables, I'm sorry I didn't as the first class upcharge (both the first class ticket and the accommodation charge) was only about 50% over the regular coach fare. But back them, in our family, such a thing would be
considered a waste of money, and we would never think of doing that.

I splurged for a Metroliner ride to visit my grandfather in Baltimore in 1969, soon after the service started. It was definitely a different experience, with the "plane-like" interior (similar to that of today's Amfleets) and a slightly faster ride. I would occasionally joy-ride a Metroliner down to Wilmington, and the engineer would let me stand outside the cab and watch him drive, plus I could see the digital speedometer (I think it was a Nixie tube) reach 110 mph. Hey, we didn't have smartphones and GPS back then, you had to do what you could to get your thrills. It's pretty amazing they let some greasy teenage kid hang out by the cab. Things have sure changed.

As far as the quality of service, it seemed to my joy riding experiences in high school in the late 60s through 71 that it was pretty reliable. Of course, by then, the PRR and Penn Central had received some Federal $$$ for signal and track improvements related to the Metroliner roll-out. Earlier, my Mom would take trips to Baltimore to visit her family and would come home complaining about how the train just stopped for no reason in the middle of some cow pasture in Maryland. But I used to take joy rides after school between 30th St and Trenton or Wilmington and I don't remember any problems with the trains being so late that I had to bail to a SEPTA local or miss dinner. I really did enjoy the rides to Trenton,because the route paralleled I-95 in northeast Philly, and it was fun to be on the trains and zipping by the cars on the freeway. Even when the trains only went 90 mph, it was still faster than the freeway traffic.

In addition to the NEC, I started riding the Harrisburg trains a bit in my later years of high school. They had a PHL - PIT called the Juniata that left 30th St. at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I think it had reclining seat coaches and a snack bar coach. I'd ride it to Paoli and take the Paoli local back. Right before A-day, the Penn Central was running about 4 or 5 trains past Harrisburg on the Main Line, and with friends we took them once or twice from North Philadelphia. They also had pretty frequent SEPTA-supported service between Suburban Station and Harrisburg, but they were all Silverliners. I was riding them quite a bit in the mid 70s when I had an internship in Harrisburg, and my family was still living in Philly, but by that point, it was Amtrak service.
 

Bob Dylan

Conductor
Joined
May 31, 2009
Messages
19,007
OK, they didn't call it the NEC back then, it was the Pennsylvania Railroad (the Penn Central during the last years), service between Washington - Philadelphia -- New York. They ran trains roughly every 2 hours between Washington and New York, hourly trains ("Clockers") between Philadelphia and New York, and every other Washington - New York train continued on, via the H*ll Gate Bridge, to the New Haven Railroad and on to Boston. The New Haven also ran hourly trains out of Grand Central Station to Boston, but I never rode any of them.

I lived in the Philadelphia area at the time (in Bryn Mawr until 1967, then we moved to Center City). In addition to being a regular rider on the Paoli Local as a kid, our family used NEC trains at times to visit relatives in Baltimore, where I was born. Of course, if the whole family went down, we drove, using US 1 from Media when we lived in the suburbs; after we moved downtown, we crossed to Jersey and drove I-295 to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, where we picked up I-95 for the rest of the trip. But if it was just one of us going, we would take the the train. I remember one trip, I must have been 8 or something, my parents took me to 30th St. Station and put me on a local train that stopped at all kinds of places where there are no stations today, like Elkton and Havre De Grace, and also Perryville, and Aberdeen, but most of the trains were expresses and stopped only at Wilmington. On another trip, I must have been about 10, they put me on a morning train to Philly from Baltimore, and had me ride to a friends house in Merion, where they picked me up later. Since this was all on the Pennsylvania Railroad, I was able to buy a through ticket for both my NEC ride and the connection on the Paoli Local. The train from Baltimore had a dining car, so I went in and bought breakfast. True, the travel time was longer than today (1:40 hours vs the 1:10 of today), but they took my order and served me pretty quickly.

The equipment you ride in depended a lot on the train. Most trains running the non-commuter serves were locomotive-pulled cars, but once, when I was in high school, I was taking a Clocker to New York, and, for some reason, they substituted a Silverliner trainset. The coaches were a mix of "old" heavyweight, "Tuscan red" cars with high back, non-reclining bench seats, ceiling fans, and no A/C and more modern "streamliner" type cars that had reclining seats. Some of these had been recently "refreshed" with fluorescent lighting and a crinkly nylon-based seat upholstery. They also seemed to have a reduced seat pitch and were designed for relatively short corridor runs. They also sometimes added long-distance coaches to the consist. I guess they were shedding a lot of long-distance service during that period and had lots of spare equipment on hand. These were great to find, because the seat pitch was incredibly roomy, and they had full-width men's and ladies "lounges" (bathroons) at each end of the car. Thus when people passed between the cars, outside noise was baffled by the indirect corridor, and the ride was a lot quieter. If you rode the "Keystone" you usually got to ride in a "tubular train," a PRR experiment from the 1950s that never really panned out. The cars were designed with a very low center of gravity, and you had to go down a few stairs to the main seating area hanging between the trucks. Clearly not ADA-compliant, but there was no ADA at the time. Finally, if you took one of the Boston trains, you could ride in New Haven coaches, which I thought were nicer than the PRR coaches, roomier, more comfortable seats. They had a smoking lounge at one end, sort of separated by partitions with art-deco style glass panels. Unfortunately, it was completely open to allow people to pass through the car, so some of the smoke drifted into the main passenger area. Oh yes, they had smoking cars, too. You could always find a seat there, if you could stand the tobacco reek, even if no one was actually smoking. The locomotives were all GG-1s. In fact, my first time ride on a diesel was when I rode an RDC to Atlantic City when I was 12. My first ride behind a real diesel locomotive' was on my Philmont trip at age 14. To me, the GG-1 was what a "choo-choo train" should be, and I couldn't relate to the pictures of steam locos and F units in the picture books. In some ways, riding the NEC in those days was a little like riding a museum of 20th century rail history.

The through trains were equipped with coaches, a "snack bar coach," parlor cars (sometimes with private rooms), and sometimes dining cars. The snack bar coach was just a few seats taken out at one end of the car with a small vending area that sold a limited selection of soft drinks (cokes for 35 cents when you could get them on the outside at 15 cents), pre-made sandwiches, snacks, and, I suppose, booze. (I was underage at the time and wasn't really paying attention.) Sometimes there was someone pushing a cart through the train selling an even more limited line of snacks. I'm not sure if parlor car passengers had meals served, I never splurged. Now that I look at the fares published in the old timetables, I'm sorry I didn't as the first class upcharge (both the first class ticket and the accommodation charge) was only about 50% over the regular coach fare. But back them, in our family, such a thing would be
considered a waste of money, and we would never think of doing that.

I splurged for a Metroliner ride to visit my grandfather in Baltimore in 1969, soon after the service started. It was definitely a different experience, with the "plane-like" interior (similar to that of today's Amfleets) and a slightly faster ride. I would occasionally joy-ride a Metroliner down to Wilmington, and the engineer would let me stand outside the cab and watch him drive, plus I could see the digital speedometer (I think it was a Nixie tube) reach 110 mph. Hey, we didn't have smartphones and GPS back then, you had to do what you could to get your thrills. It's pretty amazing they let some greasy teenage kid hang out by the cab. Things have sure changed.

As far as the quality of service, it seemed to my joy riding experiences in high school in the late 60s through 71 that it was pretty reliable. Of course, by then, the PRR and Penn Central had received some Federal $$$ for signal and track improvements related to the Metroliner roll-out. Earlier, my Mom would take trips to Baltimore to visit her family and would come home complaining about how the train just stopped for no reason in the middle of some cow pasture in Maryland. But I used to take joy rides after school between 30th St and Trenton or Wilmington and I don't remember any problems with the trains being so late that I had to bail to a SEPTA local or miss dinner. I really did enjoy the rides to Trenton,because the route paralleled I-95 in northeast Philly, and it was fun to be on the trains and zipping by the cars on the freeway. Even when the trains only went 90 mph, it was still faster than the freeway traffic.

In addition to the NEC, I started riding the Harrisburg trains a bit in my later years of high school. They had a PHL - PIT called the Juniata that left 30th St. at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I think it had reclining seat coaches and a snack bar coach. I'd ride it to Paoli and take the Paoli local back. Right before A-day, the Penn Central was running about 4 or 5 trains past Harrisburg on the Main Line, and with friends we took them once or twice from North Philadelphia. They also had pretty frequent SEPTA-supported service between Suburban Station and Harrisburg, but they were all Silverliners. I was riding them quite a bit in the mid 70s when I had an internship in Harrisburg, and my family was still living in Philly, but by that point, it was Amtrak service.
Good memories Joe!! Metroliners are still my fave over Acelas, and GG-1s are King and PRR Red is still what Coaches should look like!
 

Palmetto

Conductor
Joined
May 12, 2014
Messages
1,918
Between '66 and '68, I rode the New Haven RR alot between Grand Central Terminal and Boston South Station, and in all accomodations except one: sleeping car on the Owl. Parlor car was my favorite way to go, on the Merchants Limited. Had a full dining car, too, along with its three parlor cars which offered swivel cloth seats, day roomettes, and day drawing rooms. In those days, a parlor car accomodation was only $2.67 above coach price.
 

cocojacoby

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
May 13, 2014
Messages
307
My favorite experience was riding from New York to Boston in the front dome of the UA Turbotrain sitting right behind the engineer. What a unique opportunity that was.
 

Palmland

OBS Chief
Joined
May 25, 2006
Messages
758
Growing up in Wilmington, DE i often rode with my mom on her trips to Philly. MARCrider described those days well. I also remember a string of P-70’s on baseball specials to No. Philly for Phillies games with lots of cigar smoke! In early college days I would take an evening train to Washington and change to an RF&P local. I thought the Keystones were rough riding but certainly different.

My parents didn’t care for the PRR and preferred the more friendly, if slower, B&O trains to Phila or NY- at least until that service ended in 1958. For long distance trips we used the B&O except for an occasional one on the PRR from Paoli Including my first overnight solo trip at age 12. The porter had strict instructions to look out for me. He did.
 
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