Changes, Visible and Otherwise

Posted by George Hamlin
on Sunday, December 4, 2022

Since the late 1940s, the scene of EMD E units backing onto a westbound passenger train at Harmon, New York, as depicted here on July 13, 1974, was a familiar ritual.  Yes, this is now Penn Central, in terms of railroad ownership and operational responsibility, and the product on offer is that of Amtrak, but in practical terms, it still shows lots of its New York Central heritage.

Beginning with the opening of the present Grand Central Terminal in 1913, NYC passenger trains that were not electric multiple units were hauled out from GCT to Harmon by electric ‘motors’, which were then exchanged for steam, and later, diesel locomotives for the balance of their journeys geographically north and timetable west, because the Central’s third-rail electrification ended a mile or so north, at Croton North Station.

Thus, what we’re seeing here results from the fact that P-2b electric 4625 has pulled north off Amtrak Empire Service train 71, which will end up in Buffalo, New York after a full daytime of travel, and cleared the way for E8s 262 and 258 to couple up to the former NYC baggage car that heads up 71’s consist.  Interestingly, the 4625 has had quite a career to this point, but that won’t be lasting much longer.

Built in 1929 for the Cleveland Union Terminal electrification, this “P-motor” was sent east to the New York City commuter zone in the mid-1950s, after dieselization obviated the need for their use in the Ohio city.  This involved, among other things, their conversion to third-rail electrical pickup, as opposed to the pantographs used to access the overhead catenary system in Cleveland. 

Since the P-motors were more powerful than the earlier NYC electrics used in the New York City “Electric Zone”, they often were assigned to the heavier long-distance passenger trains once they took up residence in the Empire State, which allowed many of the older, smaller T-motors to be retired, particularly as the number of intercity passenger trains declined in the 1960s.A look into the distance and immediately to the left indicates that there have been other changes in recent times at this location, which the Central took to calling “Croton-Harmon” in the early 1960s.  The classic New York Central signal bridge, with its “small targets”, is still in place, along with the narrow steel roadway bridge over the many tracks in the vicinity which provided vehicular access to the yard and shop facilities here, as well as nearby Croton Point Park.

Occupying the tracks seen beyond the bridge are quite a number of the then relatively-new Budd M-1 multiple-unit commuter cars, as well as some of what came to be called the “ACMUs” of New York Central post-World War II heritage.  To the left of track one, which train 71 occupies, there has been a considerable change in track two, to its left.

Instead of running parallel to track one, it has now been shifted to accommodate the passenger platform that I’m standing on.  In effect, the “working” portion of the station has been shifted to the south, and instead of separate platforms for east and westbound trains, as was the case previously, going forward, both directions will utilize a common set of platforms, behind where I’m standing now.

Other changes are in store, also.  By year’s end, the P-motors will be gone, with former New Haven FL9s taking over.  And in a few more years, a more radical change in motive power will take over most Amtrak service in this area, but that’s a story for another time.

Photo by George W. Hamlin

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