Midway through the 1960s

Posted by George Hamlin
on Friday, February 14, 2020

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

The decade of the 1960s was bracketed, essentially, in U.S. railroading by a pair of “loss” events:  the demise of mainline steam at the outset of the time period, followed by the elimination, for all practical purposes, of the private, railroad-owned and operated passenger train in the first half of 1971.  To be sure, the ‘60s also were a time of political upheaval; a return to U.S. involvement in an overseas war; and significant cultural changes, one of the most prominent being the arrival of The Beatles, on the music front.

The transportation industry also was undergoing significant change, with both the arrival of the “jet age” in air transportation, as well as the growth of the nationwide Interstate Highway system.  Both of these developments impacted the railroad industry, neither favorably.  The speed of jet aircraft compared with their piston-engine predecessors siphoned off much sleeping car traffic, while the burgeoning Interstates allowed the motor truck industry to take a great deal of the freight traffic that provided the preponderance of their revenues away from the railroads.

Still, as of the pleasant Sunday afternoon in early September 1965 that is pictured here at the New York Central’s Croton-Harmon (the addition of the “Croton” name to what had been known previously as just “Harmon” was a 1960s innovation, for that matter) station 32.7 miles north of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, tradition appears to reign.

We are looking railroad-west geographically-north, from the southern end of the westbound passenger platform.  What passed for station facilities here were located along the roadway crossing over the tracks on the overhead bridge in the distance, with the eastbound platform barely visible beyond that; together, end-to-end, the two platforms covered the better part of a half mile in length, although they were not contiguous.

On the left are the extensive shop facilities dating back to the electrification project associated with the “new” Grand Central Terminal in the early 20th century.  Most of the rail equipment pictured in the photo is associated with commuter service, including the Budd RDCs that handled off-peak service to Peekskill and Poughkeepsie on the Central’s Hudson Division, as well as the “Pacemaker Green” electric MU cars at the far right.  North of the RDCs are where the T- and P-class electric locomotives used between New York City and this location on the long-haul trains, and a few weekday peak-hour commuter services, were stored between runs.

Things may be quiet now, but in a few hours the westbound “Twentieth Century Limited” will be pausing right here on track one, exchanging the electric (almost certainly a P-motor by this time) for multiple EMD E units that will take the train on to Chicago.  Of course, photographically, this would have obscured much of what is seen here, although it would have been fun to guess whether the “Hickory Creek” or “Sandy Creek” (or maybe even the "Wingate Brook") would have been the observation car carrying the rear markers of today’s train 25.

The changes being wrought by this decade will continue, of course, and won’t be positive.  In a little over two years, the “Century” will cease to exist, along with most of the NYC’s sleeping and dining car services.  Shortly after those events, the Central will merge with the Pennsylvania to create the Penn Central, which itself will barely make it into the 1970s as a going concern, if in fact it ever really merited that terminology. 

Tempus Fugit; time waits for no photographer.  Enjoy the (traditional) scene while you can.

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