Pennsylvania Railroad

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Pennsylvania Railroad
Reporting marks PRR
Locale Chicago and St. Louis to New York City and Washington, DC
Dates of operation 1846 – 1968
Successor line Penn Central
Track gauge ft 8½  in (1435  mm) ( standard gauge)
Headquarters Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1893 map
1893 map

The Pennsylvania Railroad ( AAR reporting mark PRR) was an American railroad that was founded in 1846 and merged in 1968 into Penn Central Transportation. Commonly referred to as the Pennsy, the company was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The company's symbol was a keystone ( Pennsylvania's symbol) with the letters PRR intertwined inside it. When colored, it was bright red with silver-grey edges and lettering (although it also appears in metal leaf outline on a wooden background on station benches).

The PRR was the largest railroad by traffic and revenue in the US throughout its 20th century existence and for a long while was the largest publicly traded corporation in the world. The corporation still holds the record for the longest continual dividend history: it doled out annual payments to shareholders for more than 100 years in a row.

Like the Reading Railroad, the PRR served Atlantic City, New Jersey; one of the four railroad squares in the board game Monopoly is called Pennsylvania Railroad.

Standard Railroad of the World

The Pennsylvania Railroad, as the "standard railroad of the world", also strove for an air of permanence, decorating its railroad stations with symbols of itself such as the Pennsylvania Herald, shown above at Newark Penn Station.
The Pennsylvania Railroad, as the "standard railroad of the world", also strove for an air of permanence, decorating its railroad stations with symbols of itself such as the Pennsylvania Herald, shown above at Newark Penn Station.

For a long time the PRR called itself the Standard Railroad of the World, meaning that it was the standard to which all other railroads aspired, the "gold standard". (Yet when it came to the electrification, it followed some of the New Haven Railroad standards.) For a long time that was literally true; the railroad had an impressive lists of firsts, greatests, biggests, and longests. The PRR was the first railroad to rid itself of wooden-bodied passenger cars in favour of the much safer steel-bodied cars. It led the way in many safety and efficiency improvements over the years. This advantage lessened as the years progressed, and the PRR eventually abandoned the use of the phrase.

The Pennsylvania Railroad was standard in another way, too - it was an early proponent of standardization. While other railroads used whatever was at hand or available, the Pennsylvania tested and experimented with solutions until they could decide on one, and then made it standard across the whole company. Other railroads bought locomotives and railroad cars in small lots, taking whatever was available from manufacturers at the time. The PRR produced huge numbers of standardized designs. This gave the railroad a feel of uniformity and greatly reduced costs. The PRR was also an early adopter of standard liveries and colour schemes.


The eastern part of the PRR's main line was built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of the Main Line of Public Works, a railroad and canal corridor across the state. The system opened in 1834, consisting of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad from Philadelphia west to Columbia on the Susquehanna River, a canal from Columbia to Hollidaysburg, the Allegheny Portage Railroad from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown, and another canal from Johnstown to the terminus in Pittsburgh. The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad had one inclined plane at each end; the Allegheny Portage Railroad had ten.

The Pennsylvania Railroad Company was chartered by the Pennsylvania legislature on April 13, 1846. Construction began in 1847 and the first section opened from Harrisburg west to Lewistown on September 1, 1849 (including the original Rockville Bridge across the Susquehanna River). Further extensions opened to McVeytown on December 24, Mount Union on April 1, 1850, Huntingdon on June 10, and Duncansville (west of Hollidaysburg) on September 16, 1850, taking it to a connection with the Allegheny Portage Railroad on the east side of the Allegheny Ridge. On the other side of the ridge, the main line opened from Conemaugh (on the Portage Railroad east of Johnstown) west to Lockport on August 25, 1851. On December 10, 1851, sections opened from Lockport west to Beatty (west of Latrobe) and from Pittsburgh east to Brinton, with a temporary stagecoach transfer between via the Southern Turnpike and a short turnpike branch built to Beatty. Part of that gap was filled on July 15, 1852, from Brinton east to Radebaugh, and on November 29 the full line was completed, forming the first all-rail route between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Plane Number 1 of the Portage Railroad was bypassed on April 1, 1852. Other planes began to be bypassed by the New Portage Railroad, completed in 1856, but on February 15, 1854 the PRR's new line opened, leaving the old one on the east side of the ridge in Altoona and running west via the Horseshoe Curve and Gallitzin Tunnel, only using a short portion of the old Portage Railroad near South Fork and a longer adjacent section of New Portage Railroad. A reciprocal trackage rights agreement made March 18, 1854 allowed the PRR to use that section for free.

On March 21, 1849 the PRR contracted with Eagle Line, primarily a steamboat company, for through service over the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. The PRR obtained trackage rights over the Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad, opened in 1838, on April 21, providing a route from Harrisburg to the Philadelphia and Columbia at Dillerville, just west of Lancaster. On September 1 the first section of the PRR opened, with all arrangements in place for service from Philadelphia to Lewistown. On December 20, 1860 the PRR formally leased the line west of Dillerville, renamed the Harrisburg, Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad in 1855.

1855 map, including the planned Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad
1855 map, including the planned Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad

In 1853 the PRR surveyed the Lancaster, Lebanon and Pine Grove Railroad from Philadelphia west via Phoenixville to Salunga on the Portsmouth, Mount Joy and Lancaster Railroad. This was done in order to show the state that the PRR was willing to build its own alignment around the Philadelphia and Columbia. On July 31, 1857, the PRR bought the whole Main Line of Public Works. The Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was integrated into its system. Most of the New Portage Railroad, just completed the previous year at a cost of $2.14 million, was abandoned, while short sections became local branches. The canals were abandoned, and short sections were filled and covered by rails. In 1904 the New Portage Railroad east of the Gallitzin Tunnels (through the " Muleshoe Curve") was reopened as a freight bypass line.

Access to New York, Baltimore and Washington

1911 map of "Lines East" territory
1911 map of "Lines East" territory

In the early 1860s the PRR gained control of the Northern Central Railway, giving it access to Baltimore along the Susquehanna River (via connections at Columbia or Harrisburg).

On December 1, 1871 the PRR leased the United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Companies, which included the original Camden and Amboy Railroad from Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, to South Amboy, across Raritan Bay from New York City, as well as a newer line from Philadelphia to Jersey City, much closer to New York, via Trenton. Track connection in Philadelphia was made via the United Companies' Connecting Railway and the jointly-owned Junction Railroad.

The PRR's Baltimore and Potomac Rail Road opened on July 2, 1872 between Baltimore and Washington, but with a required transfer via horse car in Baltimore to the other lines heading north from the city. On June 29, 1873, the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel through Baltimore was completed, and the PRR initiated the misleadingly-named Pennsylvania Air Line service via the Northern Central Railway and Columbia. This service was 54.5 miles (87.5 km) longer than the old route via the Washington Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, but avoided a transfer in Baltimore. The Union Railroad opened on July 24, 1873, eliminating the transfer, and the PRR contracted with the Union Railroad and the PW&B. New York-Washington trains began using that route the next day, ending Pennsylvania Air Line service. The PRR acquired a majority of PW&B stock in the early 1880s, forcing the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to build the Baltimore and Philadelphia Railroad to keep its Philadelphia access.

Low-grade lines

Around 1900, the PRR built several low-grade lines for freight to bypass areas of steep grades. These included the following:

  • 1892 - Trenton Branch and Trenton Cut-Off Railroad from Glen Loch east to Morrisville (not only a low-grade line but a long-distance bypass of Philadelphia)
  • 1892 - Waverly and Passaic Railroad (finished by the New York Bay Railroad) from Waverly, New Jersey to Kearny
  • 1904 - reopening of the New Portage Railroad from the Gallitzin Tunnels east to New Portage Junction, then continuing north over the Hollidaysburg Branch to Altoona
  • 1906 - Philadelphia and Thorndale Branch from Thorndale east to Glen Loch (abandoned by Conrail in 1989)
  • 1906 - Atglen and Susquehanna Branch from Harrisburg via the Northern Central Railway south to Wago Junction, then east to Parkesburg (abandoned by Conrail in 1990)

The Pennsylvania and Newark Railroad was incorporated in 1905 to build a low-grade line from Morrisville, Pennsylvania to Colonia, New Jersey. It was never completed, but some work was done in the Trenton area, including bridge piers in the Delaware River. North of Colonia, the alignment was going to be separate, but instead two extra tracks were added to the existing line. Work was suspended in 1916.

Penn Central merger

On February 1, 1968, the PRR merged with arch-rival New York Central to form the Penn Central. The ICC required that ailing New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad be added in 1969. Penn Central declared bankruptcy in June 1970.


Penn Central rail lines were split between Amtrak ( Northeast Corridor and Keystone Corridor) and Conrail in the 1970s. After the breakup of Conrail in 1999, the portion which had formerly been PRR territory largely became part of the Norfolk Southern Railway.


  • 1915 PRR electrifies its Philadelphia-Chicago mainline between Central Philadelphia and Paoli.
  • 1916 PRR adopts new motto, "Standard Railroad of the World".
  • 1916 First I1s 2-10-0 "Decapod" locomotive completed.
  • 1916 A5s 0-4-0 and B6sb switching locomotives introduced.
  • 1918 PRR stock bottoms at $40¼ due largely to Federal railroad control, lowest since 1877.
  • 1918 Emergency freight routed through New York Penn Station and the Hudson tunnels at night by the USRA to relieve congestion.
  • 1918 N1s 2-10-2 locomotives introduced for Lines West.
  • 1918 PRR electrifies Chestnut Hill Commuter Line between Central Philadelphia and Chestnut Hill.
  • 1928- 1938 PRR electrified its New York-Washington Mainline, the Chicago-Philadelpia Mainline between Harrisburg and Paoli, several Philadelphia and New York area commuter lines, and major through-freight lines.
  • 1968- 02-01 Pennsylvania Railroad absorbs New York Central to form the Penn Central.
  • August 26, 1999: The United States Postal Service issues 33-cent All Aboard! 20th Century American Trains commemorative stamps featuring five celebrated American passenger trains from the 1930s and 1940s. One of the five stamps features an image of a GG-1 locomotive pulling the Congressional (A joint New Haven Railroad-PRR run-trough train) along Pennsy's route between New York and Washington, D.C., and whose slogan was "Every Mile Electrified!"

PRR equipment colors & painting

PRR colors and paint schemes were very standardised. Locomotives were painted in a shade of green so dark as to be almost black, called DGLE (Dark Green Locomotive Enamel) but often called Brunswick Green. Underparts were painted true black. Passenger cars were painted Tuscan red, a brick-red shade. Lettering and lining was originally real gold leaf on passenger locomotives and cars, but in the post World War II period became Buff, a light yellow shade of paint. Some electric locomotives and most passenger-hauling diesel locomotives were painted in Tuscan also. Freight cars were painted Freight Car Colour, an iron-oxide red.


Trackside, the PRR was virtually alone in its exclusive use of position-light signals.

Steam locomotives

1899 map of "Lines East" territory
1899 map of "Lines East" territory

For most of its existence, the PRR was conservative in its motive power choices and pursued a path of standardization, both in locomotive types and their component parts. Almost alone among American railroads, the Pennsylvania designed most of its steam locomotive classes itself and built a fair proportion of them in its own Altoona Works. In fact, the PRR is believed to have been the 4th-most prolific U.S. builder of steam locomotives, after the three largest commercial builders.

Outside builders were, of course, used - the sheer number of locomotives the PRR ordered was far greater than its own works could produce. Unlike most roads who left the majority of the decision-making and design to the locomotive builder, giving only a broad specification, the PRR generally used a commercial builder as a subcontractor, building exact replicas of an existing PRR design.

When it needed to use a commercial locomotive builder, the Pennsy favored Philadelphia's Baldwin Locomotive Works. Baldwin was a big PRR customer, for one thing — receiving its raw materials and shipping out its finished products on the PRR. Moreover, the two companies were headquartered in the same city, and PRR and Baldwin management and engineers knew each other well. When both the PRR and Baldwin shops were at capacity, orders generally went to the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio. Only at a last resort, it seems, would the PRR use Alco, the American Locomotive Company, based in Schenectady, New York - serviced by and favorite locomotive supplier to the Pennsy's arch-rival, the New York Central Railroad.

The PRR had a definite style that it favored in its locomotives. The square-shouldered Belpaire firebox was a PRR trademark that otherwise found little favour in the United States; almost every PRR locomotive had it. It traded more difficult construction for a greater heating surface and simpler firebox staying. The PRR used track pans extensively to pick up water on the move, so the tenders of their locomotives had a comparatively large proportion of coal (which could not be taken on board while running) compared to water capacity. The PRR was wary of gadgets and its locomotives were not generally festooned with devices; the PRR also favored a neat mounting of such devices when necessary, leaving the lines of the locomotive comparatively clean. Smokebox fronts bore a round locomotive numberboard (freight) or keystone numberboard (passenger) and were otherwise uncluttered except for a headlamp mounted at the top, with a steam-driven turbo-generator behind it. In later years the positions of the two were reversed, since the generator needs more maintenance than the lamp.

The PRR, until its final years, preferred a philosophy of smaller locomotives rather than buying the biggest.

Each class of steam locomotive was assigned a class designation. Early on, this was simply an alphabetical letter, but when these began to run out, the scheme was changed so that each wheel arrangement had its own letter, and different types of the same arrangement were defined by a subsequent number. Subtypes were in turn indicated by a lower-case letter; superheating was designated by a "s" until the mid 1920s, by which time all new locomotives were superheated. Thus, for example, a 'K4sa' class was a 4-6-2 "Pacific" type (K) and of the fourth class of Pacifics designed by the PRR. It was superheated (s) and was of the first variant type (a) after the original (unlettered). See PRR locomotive classification for details.

Major passenger stations

1879 map showing the main lines
1879 map showing the main lines

The PRR built several grand railroad passenger stations in major cities, either alone or in conjunction with other railroads. These architectural marvels served as the hubs for the PRR's extensive passenger service. Many of these stations are still in use today, served by Amtrak as well as regional passenger carriers. See also Pennsylvania Station, the name given to many of them.

Union Station, Washington, DC

Union Station served as a hub for PRR passenger services in the nation's capital, with connections to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Southern Railway. The Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad provided a link to Richmond, Virginia, about 100 miles to the south, where major north-south lines of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railroad provided service to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.

Penn Station, New York, NY

The original Pennsylvania Station was designed to be a replica of the Baths of Caracalla; it was notable for its enormous railshed and infamous demolition in the railroad's waning years. The station was built in 1910 to provide direct access to Manhattan from New Jersey without having to use a ferry, and was served by the PRR's own trains as well as those of the PRR's subsidiary the Long Island Rail Road. The demolition did not extend to the platforms, or the tracks, or even some of the staircases, however.

Penn Station, Newark, NJ

This Art Deco station was built in the 1930s as part of the Pennsy's Northeast Corridor infrastructure. It still stands, unlike the enormous trainshed of the New York station.

30th Street Station, Philadelphia, PA

In classical grandeur, the 30th Street Station displays its majestic - and traditional - architectural style with its enormous waiting room and its vestibules. The station, in spite of its apparent architectural classicism, was constructed in the early 1930s, when moderne and art deco styles were more popular.

Union Station, Chicago, IL

The Pennsylvania Railroad, along with the Milwaukee Road and the Burlington Route, built Chicago's Union Station, the only of Chicago's old stations to still exist as a train station (the rest of Chicago's operating passenger stations have been substantially remodelled). It was designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White in the Beaux-Arts style.

Company officers

Presidents of the Pennsylvania Railroad:

  • Samuel V. Merrick ( 1847– 1849)
  • William C. Patterson ( 1849– 1852)
  • J. Edgar Thomson ( 1852– 1874)
  • Thomas A. Scott ( 1874– 1880)
  • George B. Roberts ( 1880– 1896)
  • Frank Thomson ( 1897– 1899)
  • Alexander J. Cassatt ( 1899– 1906)
  • James McCrea ( 1907– 1912)
  • Samuel Rea ( 1913– 1925)
  • William W. Atterbury ( 1925– 1935)
  • Martin W. Clement ( 1935– 1948)
  • Walter S. Franklin ( 1948– 1954)
  • James M. Symes ( 1954– 1960)
  • Allen J. Greenough ( 1960– 1968)

Chief Executive Officers of the Pennsylvania Railroad:

  • James M. Symes ( 1960– 1963)
  • Stuart T. Saunders ( 1963– 1968)

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