Changing Travel Plans

Posted by George Hamlin
on Sunday, January 3, 2021

You’d probably be correct if you guessed that winter weather had something to do with the assorted delays displayed here at New York City’s Penn Station on Tuesday, January 2, 1968.  At one AM that day the temperature was 12 F; by ten PM it had “warmed” to 23 F, according to data on the Weather Underground website.  My year-end holiday break from college was just about over, and I was headed back to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley via Washington, DC, and thus was present to record the operating difficulties seen in the photo.

My original intent was to take the Pennsylvania’s Mid-Day Congressional connecting to the C&O’s George Washington. However I’d made plans to meet a friend coming down from upstate New York at Grand Central terminal, so that we could travel together for the balance of the trip.  Unfortunately, his NYC train (an early iteration of the Central’s December, 1967 launch of Empire Service, which had replaced all the remaining New York Central “name” trains, including the Twentieth Century Limited, within New York State) was late, and we didn’t get to Penn Station in time for PRR 121.

Accordingly, we now planned to take number 171, The Colonial, one of four trains operated jointly by the New Haven and Pennsy between Boston and Washington.  It was due into Washington Union Station at 4:40 PM; the George was due to depart at 4:35.  A modest delay of the latter’s departure might enable us to make the connection, but a glance at the “Arriving Trains” information display on Penn Station’s lower level indicated that this was very unlikely.

With the exception of PRR 126, The Legislator, all of the other prospective arrivals were encountering significant delays; up to four hours in the case of the Penn Texas, coming from the Midwest, as well as the northbound Senator from Washington, which included through cars from the eastbound George Washington.  Interestingly number 148, which forwarded the cars from the Southern Railway’s Southerner and the SCL/RF&P’s Silver Comet (and stopped only to discharge passengers north of DC, and thus, could operate ahead of schedule if necessary) while advertised to arrive ten minutes after the northbound Senator, would now arrive hours ahead of it. 

While it was fairly new technology at the time, the “Solari Board” that is pictured displaying the information shown here is now history.  These had become popular during the 1960s at airports, both in the U.S. and elsewhere.  At one point, there were a number of these devices in railroad stations in the Northeast Corridor also; the last one, at Philadelphia’s 30th Street station, was removed from service in 2019.  Note that there is no indication of train numbers in the information provided.

While I don’t recall how late 171 departed from Penn Station, we knew that there was little or no hope of connecting to C&O 1 in Washington; this was confirmed quickly following our arrival there.  As a result, we elected to go instead to Charlottesville on what turned out to be Southern’s second 47, the combined Southerner/Crescent.  By this date both of the Southern’s premier southbound trains were combined as far as Atlanta; northbound, they continued to operate independently.  My guess is that the section we traveled on was essentially the Southerner, but it’s possible the sections were arranged to minimize switching at Atlanta, and since we didn’t see first 47, that will have to remain unknown.

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

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