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Re: PC: PC Upper Harlem Line 1970s and PC Operations

As an example of Penn Central's bad passenger operations, there was the ex-New
York Central Upper Harlem Division passenger service, which, well into the
mid-1950s had a very descent amount of passenger and freight action,
especially for such a rural line.

By the time PC got the service, in 1968, the line was down to one trip in each
direction each weekday, and two each way on Saturday's, Sunday's and holidays,
give or take one of those trains per direction, per day, on the weekend runs.
The line used to extend 127 miles from Grand Central Terminal, to Chatham, NY,
where the line joined the old New York Central B&A route from Albany, NY to
Boston, MA.  It had, and still has suburban service as far as Dover Plains,
NY, at MP 76 from NY City.  North of Brewster, NY, at MP 53, where the
commuter runs end, the line becomes single track from double, and runs through
rural farm country.  PC used their fromer New Haven FL-9's on this line after
1969, and it was those dual mode units that kept the line going.

I never rode that part of the line north of Dover Plains, but from all the
engineers, conductors, and track gang crews that I;ve talked to that worked
that line in the PC and late NYC years, and from all the photos I've seen, I
can tell you it was in bad shape.  And this was a line that still had
passenger service, and it looked almost abandoned.    North of Millerton, NY
at MP 92, the speed limit had been dropped from 60 MPH to 35 in 1971, because
the track was so bad.  NYC had planned to cut the service down to this point
(Millerton) in 1963, when the track was apparently still somewhat descent, but
the local residents wouldn't accept it, and formed the Harlem Valley
Transportation Association to fight it, and won - the trains continued making
the whole NY - Chatham 127 mile trip.  

So when PC planned to cut the service, the HVTA fought again, and for a few
months, through their actions, while all other PC passenger lines had service
discontinued on "Amtrak-day", or had their routes taken over by Amtrak, the
Upper Harlem Line of Penn Central was the last PC operated "inter-city"
passenger route.  The service was miserably shabby, and on one occassion, the
southbound, to NY City morning train # 922 was traveling through Ghent, NY, a
few miles south of Chatham, when around 7:10 A.M., the trucks of the last few
coaches dropped to the ground - not because they derailed as in a true
derailment, but because the track was so bad, and the ties were so rotted out,
that the rails spread with the train over them, dropping the last cars onto
the ROW.

As the HVTA fought to keep the service going, PC had stopped maintaining the
line, and that's when things got that bad, and the speed limit reduced.  PC
won the fight, and on Monday, March 20, 1972, the last passenger train, PC
Upper Harlem # 922 left Chatham for NY City at 6:55 A.M.  The return evening
run was scheduled to go all the way to Chatham, but only ran as far as Dover
Plains - during the day PC got permission to drop the service, and 120 years
of passenger service to Chatham ended.  No regularly scheduled passenger runs
have gone beyond Dover Plains since.  The line was torn up from Chatham to
Millerton in 1980, and from Millerton to Wassaic (5 miles above Dover Plains)
in 1981, after our infamous Conrail abandoned the line in 1980.  

So ask the people up in those rural little communities with names like Copake
Falls, Hillsdale and Craryville what they think about Penn Central and
Conrail.  I'm sure you wouldn't see many happy faces at the sounds of either
of those two names.  PC wasn't a bad railroad like Conrail, it was just

For some photos of PC trains at Chatham with FL-9s, go to:


John W.

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