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Conrail Passenger Service

Conrail’s lone Chicago commuter train terminated at Valparaiso, Ind., and was known as the “Valpo Dummy.” An operation inherited from the Pennsylvania Railroad, Conrail transferred operation of this train to Amtrak in 1979. Mike Schafer photo

Conrail Passenger Service

PTJ 2016-1By Elbert L. Simon/Photos by Mike Schafer

The Consolidated Rail Corporation, also known as “ConRail” and later simply as “Conrail,” was formed in 1976 to deal with the continued operation of a number of Northeastern railroads that were experiencing financial difficulties.

Four of those insolvent railroads— Penn Central, Erie Lackawanna, Jersey Central and Reading—operated important yet unprofitable commuter services in several major Northeastern markets. Passenger trains were not considered part of Conrail’s primary mission, and it was expected that funding agencies would take on responsibility for those commuter services deemed worthy of continuing. Meanwhile, Conrail and the funding agencies would agree on amounts of subsidy, service levels, acquisition of equipment and other factors that would impact the quality of the service provided.

At the same time, Conrail could concentrate on rationalizing the network of freight-carrying lines it had inherited, determining which to save, which to improve, and which to shed. Moreover, great fleets of locomotives and freight cars, servicing facilities and shops, yards, and back offices had to be integrated. Mindful of the missteps experienced six years earlier in the Penn Central merger, it was a daunting task.

Conrail, of course, also was a player in the intercity passenger business as it hosted Amtrak trains on a number of routes, including those that would be important pathways for hauling the freight that was seen as Conrail’s primary mission.

An early task was to apportion cars and locomotives among the various commuter operations that were to continue. In many cases, agencies had purchased equipment for their services, and it would remain on those routes. This included, for example, M-1 and M-2 electric m.u. (multiple-unit) cars in New York City and Connecticut’s electric zone.


Conrail E8 No. 4022 leads a commuter train on the New York & Long Branch in October 1978. Mike Schafer photo

With Conrail’s debut came a fully developed corporate identity featuring a stylized wheel on a rail, in white on a blue background. However, since most commuter equipment was owned by agencies, in passenger operation this livery was limited to a few locomotives and Conrail’s own business-car fleet. (Blue paint on business cars was soon replaced by a somber dark green livery similar to that of the Southern Railway, from which Conrail’s then-president, L. Stanley Crane, had come.)

Let’s travel back to April 1976 and take a look at each of the Conrail passenger operations at the railroad’s start-up, then follow some of the major developments until Conrail ended its commuter-rail responsibilities at the beginning of 1983…

Read the rest of this article in the 2016-1 issue of Passenger Train Journal!

This article was posted on: February 10, 2016