Trust Me, This Will End Better than it Looks Now

Posted by George Hamlin
on Friday, March 1, 2019


When I took this photo on July 24, 1976, I was glad to get a shot of a locomotive that had been repainted into what we would come to know as Conrail’s “Dress Blue” paint scheme.  While Conrail had been around officially a little over three months, having commenced operations on April 1, 1976, I didn’t live close to main lines where Conrail was operating, and had only a modest amount of “spare” time to head over to places in New Jersey where such an item might be seen.

For all its newness, however, the visuals in the accompanying photo don’t suggest that things at Conrail have gotten off to a very auspicious start, however.  CR GP40 3249’s new paint scheme looks rather hastily applied (check out the road name on the nose, for example: will it still be readable in another six months?), and the “can-opener” logo is missing entirely.  Examination of the numberboard on the left looks like the “49” was changed after-the-fact, using what appears to be a non-standard font for these digits.


For that matter, given the abundance of foliage in the vicinity, it would understandable if the average viewer were confused as to whether the location is an industrial or agricultural facility. This is the former Pennsylvania/Penn Central engine facility at Meadows Yard in Kearny, New Jersey; based on these views, few would question the bucolic naming of the location at this point.

In all fairness, it wouldn’t be reasonable to have expected the “new” railroad to immediately rectify all that was dismal about its PC-predecessor; it’s clear that this will require a significant, and ongoing, effort.

Nonetheless, the repaint, whether quick and slapdash or not, does convey that something new and hopeful is being undertaken. It didn’t take most fans long to warm to the idea of the then-new blue versus the dismal, dark lack of hue applied to the Penn Central’s locomotive fleet, as can be seen behind the 3249.  (Of course, fans of the Erie Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley and Lehigh & Hudson River did suffer to a considerably greater degree when the paint schemes of their favorites were subsumed into Conrail.)

Admittedly, the dismal state of northeastern railroading during the run-up to Conrail didn’t offer much in the way of positive thinking as of 1976.  I recall seeing a crew member at the Erie Lackawanna’s Croxton Yard not long before Conrail’s birth wearing a tee shirt with the logos of the roads that were about to be become Conrail; the legend at the top read “Same Clowns, Different Circus”.

Indeed, Conrail got off to a relatively rocky start, which is often the case after a major merger of businesses, whether railroads or otherwise.  The chief benefits of Conrail, including relief from being financially responsible for commuter services, and the shedding of redundant trackage, were certainly going to be positive, but it would take some time before the positive effects became noticeable.

So, from the perspective of mid-1976, it would have been hard to imagine that Conrail would not only succeed, but would become the prize in an epic contest between two railroads for supremacy in the northeast, complete with a bidding war.  In the process, “Dress Blue”, generally applied with a lot more pride than evident here, would be deeply mourned when it passed into history, twenty-three years later. 

(Photos by George W. Hamlin)

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