Strangers in a Strange Land, on Multiple Levels

Posted by George Hamlin
on Monday, February 1, 2021

As the private (railroad-operated) intercity passenger train was going through its death throes in the late 1960s, there were occasional beacons of hope.  One was the Great Northern’s adoption of a completely different passenger train livery, based on the striking “Big Sky blue” paint that the railroad adopted as its “facing the world” hue. 

While I thought that the classic green and orange paint scheme used on the GN’s passenger equipment previously had no need of replacement, both the fact that the railroad cared about its public image, and adopted something different that was visually striking and evoked “contemporary”, in a positive sense, was a refreshing development in those trying times. 

The railroad even rolled out a complete Empire Builder consist in the new colors for the occasion.  I never saw that visual delight, but did see quite a few of the cars that were repainted during my time in Chicago in 1970-71. 

Alas, all of this was destined to be short-lived, due to the Burlington Northern merger in 1970, of which the GN was a major component.  “Cascade Green” wasn’t unpleasant, but in my opinion, it didn’t have quite the panache of the BSB livery, which also had a nod to tradition in the form of the circular emblem containing “Rocky” the mountain goat next to the road name of the lower side of the cars.  Cascade green would have an even shorter existence on the sides of passenger cars, due to the advent of Amtrak about a year later, however. 

Another effect of Amtrak was that fewer of the national fleet of long-haul passenger cars were required, due to the discontinuance of many of the trains that were still operating on April 30, 1971.  As a result, many cars were not required for Amtrak’s initial fleet, and were available for sale. 

Commuter systems were expanding in the early 1970s, and also, in many cases, needed to replace elderly equipment that was far beyond its sell-by date.  Government finance had entered the commuter business, so that some of the former intercity coaches found their way into this type of service since funding was available for their purchase. 

Thus, we see here what was referred to as a “Bay Head Builder”, or, reflecting that some of the equipment acquired for service between New York City and points in the “Garden State” had already been repainted in Cascade Green, a “GinBin” train.

The northbound Jersey Central train seen here on the former Pennsylvania Railroad (now Penn Central) at Elizabeth, New Jersey on July 22,1973 is emblematic of additional changes from the traditional in addition to the blue coaches.  In 1967, via the “Aldene Plan”, the CNJ’s commuter services began terminating at Penn Station in Newark, rather than the Jersey Central’s historic riverfront terminal in Jersey City.  

Coincident with this change, CNJ trains to and from the New York & Long Branch, which was jointly owned and operated by the Jersey Central and the Pennsylvania, ceased to utilize the CNJ’s own line along the “Chemical Coast” north of Perth Amboy, and ran instead on the routing used by the PRR’s own trains between Perth Amboy and Rahway, where the branch from the North Jersey Coast Line joined the Philadelphia-New York main line via a grade-separated junction. 

In 1968, the CNJ’s beloved-by-railfans Fairbanks-Morse H24-66 “Trainmasters” were replaced by brand-new GP40Ps, as seen in the photo above, which incorporated steam generators in their long hoods.  Later this space was used for HEP (Head-End Power) to supply newer passenger equipment that relied on “hotel” electrical power for heating and cooling. 

In addition to the changes in equipment and routing already discussed, evidence of future change is seen to the south, in terms of initial grading to ease the curve creating a speed restriction at the Elmora interlocking just south of this location.  Further into the future, the North Jersey Coast Line will be electrified beyond South Amboy, obviating the need for GP40Ps, or any other kind of diesel locomotive in this vicinity. 

Looking at this scene, it’s possible to wonder whether the “Rocky” emblems on the sides of the coaches, particularly those on the west side, are thinking wistfully about their prior mountain homes, as they roll back and forth in the Garden State.

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy