Pre-Retirement Gig

Posted by George Hamlin
on Saturday, December 16, 2023

To begin with the obvious, this is Penn Central lightweight coach 2151 in the consist of PC train 1229, a commuter run into New York City’s Grand Central Terminal seen during its stop at Mamaroneck, New York on April 20, 1973.  By then, it was a veteran of more than thirty years of service, having been built as New York Central 2663 by American Car & Foundry as part of an order delivered between November 1941 and January 1942.

This group was part of a larger overall order for 95 smooth-sided, lightweight, streamlined coaches with 56 reclining seats that were built for the NYC in the immediate pre-World War Two years; Pullman-Standard and the Pressed Steel Car Company also participated in producing them, along with ACF.  While they would eventually wear the postwar two-tone gray with white stripes paint scheme, the 2600s arrived in dark “Pacemaker” green paint with yellow stripes. 

Since they were the NYC’s newest and best general-service coaches at the time, it’s likely that more than a few of them ran in the consist of the newly-established all-coach “Pacemaker” overnighter on the New York-Chicago route.

Post-World War II, the 2600s were joined by 60 stainless steel 56-seat Budd coaches, along with 153 64-seat stainless steel-clad coaches built by Pullman-Standard.  Eventually, both the pre-and post-war cars were utilized as a combined group, with the earlier cars now in the gray paint scheme as alluded to above.

Two trends that beset the U.S. rail passenger industry as the 1950s progressed into the 1960s were the decline in demand for intercity passenger service, as well as the need for replacement of what had become relatively ancient coaches that had been migrated into commuter service in the northeast, many of which had been built in the 1920s.  Thus, a logical solution in some cases was to convert surplus “mainline” equipment into cars better suited for commuter service.

Accordingly, in 1966, the New York Central converted a number of lightweight coaches to 108 seat commuter cars.  This included both cars built by Budd, including coaches from the 1941 streamlined Empire State Express, as well as postwar Pullman-Standard cars in the 3000/3100 series.

Following the Central’s merger with the Pennsylvania in 1968, Twelve former 2600 prewar coaches were converted to the same commuter seating capacity in 1969 and 1970, including the former 2663 which became Penn Central’s 2151, as we have seen here.  In addition, the PC also acquired streamlined coaches from the Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Erie-Lackawanna, Frisco, Louisville and Nashville, Rock Island and Santa Fe that were converted into commuter cars, as well.

None of these conversions would have long careers hauling “Nine to Five” office workers to and from their jobs, however.  On the way were large orders of new M-1 (former NYC) and M-2 (former New Haven) MU (Multiple Unit) self-propelled electric cars.  And while train 1229 had arrived behind a pair of former New Haven FL9s, the 5057 and 5049, locomotive-hauled commuter trains on this trackage were soon to become all but extinct.

The combination of EMD “bulldog nose” cab units, followed by what visually were streamlined cars could have caused a casual observer to conclude that commuters had been provided with modern, comfortable equipment, but a look inside (not to mention the PC’s “Pea Green” passenger car paint) would have dispelled that notion quickly.

In reality, a better description of the end-of-life usage for these once first-line coaches can be found in the final two lines of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem, “The Hollow Men”:

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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