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Earle Baldwin

Conrail Volume 1: 1976-1982

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During the 1960's and 1970's, railroading in the Northeast United States had deteriorated into a financially unstable enterprise. In response to this dire situation, the Consolidated Rail System, more popularly referred to as Conrail (CR), was created by Congress on April 1, 1976. As its name implies, it was formed by the consolidation of seven major Northeastern railroads-Penn Central (PC), Lehigh Valley (LV), Central of New Jersey (CNJ), Reading (RDG), Erie Lackawanna (EL), Lehigh & Hudson River (L&HR) and Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL). Also included in the new system were a number of subsidiary terminal and shortline railroads although some of these, such as South Amboy, NJ based Raritan River Railroad, were not completely integrated in 1976.

 

At the time of its inception, Conrail owned trackage of approximately 16000 route miles and 80 different models of diesel and electric locomotives. The fledgling railroad operated freight and commuter passenger services in 16 states, Canada and the District of Columbia. The appointed task was daunting; however, over the years, CR transformed itself into a consistent supplier of quality transportation. The company became profitable and, in 1999, its properties were divided between CSX and Norfolk Southern although Conrail's identity continues today as Conrail Shared Assets, a terminal road created by CSX and NS for the purpose of operating shared trackage in the Northern and Southern New Jersey areas as well as Detroit, MI.

 

The epic story of Conrail is recounted well by a two volume set of books authored by Scott Hartley and published by Railpace Company. Volume 1 which covers the period of 1976-1982 is the subject of this review. The 111 page book features all color photography which is brilliantly reproduced. It is divided into chapters which present the origins and development of Conrail in a logical manner. The list of chapters is as follows:

 

1) History-events leading to the railroad's creation

2) Conrail-early coverage of operations including the first system

map

3) Erie Lackawanna-views of operations on the former EL just prior

to and following the merger

4) Lehigh Valley (this and each of the following roads is extended

the same treatment as EL in Chapter 3)

5) Reading

6) Central Railroad of New Jersey

7) Lehigh and HUdson River

8) Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines

9) Penn Central

 

Following the above chapters is Conrail's opening day locomotive roster.

 

Each chapter is enhanced by the inclusion of marvelous photographs. Superb images of many units in the full paint schemes of their previous owners are presented as well as those which retained their colors but received temporary Penn Central styled numbers and Conrail lettering while they awaited their turns in the paint shop. During its early days, CR was chronically short of motive power which caused it to lease locomotives from a number of sources and leased units belonging to Canadian National and Precision National can be spotted. The author has done an excellent job of presenting photos of some of Conrail's more unusual locomotives. Included are scenes of all three locomotives painted by Conrail to celebrate the 1976 Bicentennial: U34CH 1776, GG1 4800 and GP38 7776. We are treated to other rare engines such as one of the former New Haven EP5's in local freight service on the Amboy Secondary and ALCo T6 9846 in Elizabethport. These are just some of the treasures which await you between the hardcovers of this book. Not to be outdone, the photograph on the dust jacket is a magnificent view of hulking ALCo C636 6783 leading a freight on ex-CNJ trackage in Pennsylvania.

 

"Conrail Volume 1: 1976-1982" was published in 1990 with a list price of $39.95. It has been out of print for a number of years; however, I saw copies at several meets I attended this year so it is available. Along with its companion volume which covers the period of 1983-1990 , this material is the ultimate coverage of early Conrail. I recommend this book's acquisition and will review Volume 2 in the near future.

 

Best regards,

 

Earle

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