Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
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Source: July 1993 Volume 31 Number 3, Pages 103–106

"Change Engines at Paoli"

Hob Borgson

Page 103

For years the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited was considered one of the world's premier trains. Each morning a memorandum was placed on the desk of the railroad's president, announcing the exact time of its arrival that day in New York and in Chicago.

In April 1935, Paoli became a regular stop on its daily schedule.

In fact, Paoli at that time became a scheduled stop for all the Pennsylvania Railroad's through-trains to and from the west, the "crack" trains that were emblematic of the comfort and luxury of long distance rail travel. Not only did these trains stop at Paoli; they waited there for five to ten minutes while crews replaced the electric engine with a steam locomotive on the westbound trains, and the steam locomotives similarly gave way to electric ones on trains headed for New York.

Before that, this change in motive power had taken place at Manhattan Transfer, between Newark and New York just west of the Hudson River tunnels. While the line between Paoli and Philadelphia had been electrified since 1915, until the 1930s electrification of the railroad had been limited to suburban traffic and traffic in the classification yards on Long Island; New York's Pennsylvania Station and the tunnels leading into it; the commuter service around Philadelphia, including the Paoli Local; and the West Jersey and Seashore lines between Camden and Atlantic City. Elsewhere, steam locomotives were used on the trains.

Page 104

The change to Paoli as the point of this transfer was the result of the extension of the electrification to include the railroad's tracks between New York and Washington and a connection with the previously electrified line between Philadelphia and Paoli.

A plan to extend the electrification not only to the lines between New York and Washington, but also as far west as Harrisburg, had been proposed in 1928. A sharp decline in business and revenues which started before the end of the following year, however, caused a delay in the implementation of the project. The work was accordingly limited to the lines between Philadelphia and Wilmington, and between North Philadelphia and Trenton until early 1932, when a loan was obtained from the newly-formed Reconstruction Finance Corporation and it was possible to resume the work in full force. The cost of the project was estimated, it was reported in the Daily Local News on January 28, 1932, at $50 million, and it was anticipated that it would provide jobs for 10,000 persons for about 18 months at a time when unemployment was still high during the Depression years.

By January 1933 electrification between Manhattan Transfer and Trenton was completed, and in February of 1935 electric passenger train service was inaugurated on the entire length of the line between New York and Washington.

With the trains between these two cities now drawn by electric engines, shortly afterwards the electric P-5 engines, and recently developed new giant electric GG-1 engines, were similarly used on the east-west through passenger trains between New York and Paoli. These trains included not only the Broadway Limited, the Spirit of St. Louis, and the Red Arrow, but also the General, the Manhattan Limited, the Cincinnati Limited, the St. Louisan, the Trail Blazer, and the Pennsylvania Limited. Each one now stopped at Paoli, where crews would uncouple the electric engine from the westbound trains, switch it into the yards, and replace it with the K-4 Pacific-type steam locomotive for the balance of the trip, and vice versa for the trains going east. The yards in Paoli were also equipped to service the locomotives when they were not in use.

The changeover to electrification, along with other changes in equipment, also made possible a reduction in the running times for these through trains. The scheduled time for the trip on the Broadway Limited, for example, was shortened to 17 hours on April 28, 1935, a reduction of three- quarters of an hour from that of the schedule previously issued, and on September 29th of that year the running time was further reduced to 16 1/2 hours.

In January 1937, work to extend the electrification on to Harrisburg was authorized. The project proceeded without any great difficulties, and a year later, in January of 1938, the main line between Paoli and Harrisburg was ready for electric trains for both passenger and freight service. (The four-year project, involving some 1,405 miles of tracks, actually cost $126 million.)

Page 105

The Broadway Limited, behind a GG-1 electric engine

In the annual report of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company for 1938 it was observed, "Electrification has greatly improved and speeded up service in this most important traffic territory, and has accomplished for the east and west transportation of through passengers and freight improvements and economies of operation comparable to those previously realized from the electrified operation of both branches of service between New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington ..."

The further extension of electrification, and the introduction of new lighter-weight cars, also again made possible further reductions in the running time of the through passenger trains, with the running time for the Broadway reduced another half-hour, to 16 hours flat, on the time-tables issued on June 15, 1938.

With the extension of the electrification to Harrisburg it was, of course, no longer necessary to change the engines on the through trains at Paoli, as the electric locomotives were now used for the full distance between New York and Harrisburg. To reduce the running time even further, consideration was given to the elimination of Paoli as a scheduled stop, especially for the premier Broadway Limited. During the three years that it had been a scheduled stop to change engines, however, the convenience of the Paoli stop for passengers from the Main Line area had become too well established. (As early as in January 1933, when it was first announced that Paoli had been selected as the change-over stop, it had been reported in the Coatesville Record that the "selection of Paoli for the transfer of engines will give improved service to and from the west for all the suburban main line towns by using the local to connect with the through trains at Paoli". It was a prediction that was well founded.)

And so Paoli remained a regular stop on the schedules of the through trains for as long as they continued to run, although for most of them it was only to receive westbound passengers and discharge passengers on the eastbound trains. Actually, for a brief period of time an attempt was made to relegate Paoli to flag stop status for the Broadway Limited. It

was a short-lived change, however: one night, when the signal apparently had not been set properly, the train went barreling through without stopping. On the platform, waiting to board the Broadway, were several top executives from DuPont. Instead, they boarded the Cincinnati Limited, which followed the Broadway into Paoli by about fifteen minutes -- and the Broadway was held in Harrisburg for their arrival. Paoli once again became a regular scheduled stop to receive and discharge passengers on all the through trains!

But the golden era of luxury long-distance rail travel had already begun to fade. A number of reasons for this have been suggested: that it was, in part, the effect of outmoded labor rules; that it stemmed from over-regulation by the government; that it was a result of the growth of the federal interstate highway program; that it could not meet the competition from the developing commercial air industry. Whatever the cause, one by one the through passenger trains disappeared from the timetables. (In fact, the Pennsylvania Railroad itself disappeared on February 1, 1968 when it was merged with the New York Central into the Penn Central; and on May 1, 1971 the Penn Central, in turn, became a part of the National Rail Passenger Corporation, or Amtrak.)

Today only two of these through trains are left: the Broadway Limited, between New York and Chicago, with a running time now of two minutes more than 19 1/2 hours; and the Pennsylvania Limited, between New York and Pittsburgh, subsidized in part by the Pennsylvania State Department of Transportation and, as noted on the timetable, "subject to discontinuance" if the state withdraws its financial support.

They are the sole reminders of the time when the "crack" through trains of the Pennsylvania Railroad all stopped to "change engines at Paoli".



Alexander, E. P., The Pennsylvania Railroad: A Pictorial History. New York, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc. 1947

Burgess, George and Kennedy, Miles C, Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Philadelphia, The Pennsylvania Railroad Company. 1949

Clipping files in the Chester County Historical Society

Conversations with Norman Reynolds, former ticket agent at Paoli; Carl Landeck, railroad historian

Timetables of the Pennsylvania Railroad, National Rail Passenger Corp. [Amtrak]


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