Pennsy, Arrogance, and Bad Management

Richard Hendrickson

On Mar 22, 2007, at 5:48 AM, Tim O'Connor wrote:

The pre-eminence of the Pennsy, both its operating and mechanical
departments, peaked early in the 20th century and rapidly declined
thereafter owing to arrogance and bad management, with the
post-World-War-I squandering of capital on its ill-conceived
electrification project hastening its eventual demise.
Oh that's just silly. The SP had "ill-conceived elecrification"
projects, and built large new passenger terminals long after the
decline in passenger traffic was well under way. I agree the PRR
was arrogant, but so were most other railroads -- pride and tunnel
vision were widespread traits of railroad management.
Come now, Tim, statements aren't silly just because you don't happen to agree with them. Numerous RRs considered electrification, especially on mountainous districts with a lot of tunnels, and most of them ran the numbers and decided against it (though it apparently worked well enough for the GN and MILW in terrain whose difficulty the Pennsy's management couldn't even imagine). But only the PRR set out to electrify an entire (and very large) railroad, stuck with it until they had electrified about half of their main lines, and gave up only when the ruinous expense and doubtful benefits became too obvious to ignore. I have no argument with your statement that "pride and tunnel vision were widespread traits of railroad management," but PRR management carried those traits to extremes which were rendered especially obvious by the railroad's sheer size. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Back to freight cars. Consider the F30A flat cars as an example of PRR's perversity in freight car design. Granted, they were an engineering innovation in their use of one piece cast steel underframes, but the castings were excessively complicated, costy, and over-designed. Though adopted as an AAR "recommended practice" design (there being, at the time, no other 70 ton flats with cast steel underframes), no other RRs got them, with the single exception of 50 cars purchased by the LV in 1950. By contrast, when GSC developed much simpler and less costly castings for 70 ton flat cars, other RRs bought them by the hundreds. Though the Pennsy claimed to be leaders in engineering, their followers were almost non-existent; the mechanical officers of most other RRs considered the PRR people to be both arrogant and unrealistic and were more than happy to see them march off to the beat of their own drum while the rest of the industry went in other directions.

Richard Hendrickson

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