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Penn Central Railroad


In 1957, the business world was surprised with the announcement of plans to merge the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central System, traditional rivals. The merger between these two giants raised much opposition and took more than a decade for the Interstate Commerce Commission to approve. On February 1, 1968, the Pennsylvania New York Central Transportation Company was created, commonly called the Penn Central. Its history was a short one. Whereas both predecessor railroads had been solvent, in 1970 the new corporation entered bankruptcy. From its ruins, Congress created Conrail through the Reorganization Act of 1973.

In West Virginia, the Penn Central absorbed the rail lines of both predecessor railroads. This included a few miles of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Pittsburgh-St. Louis main line, which crossed the Northern Panhandle south of Weirton with a connection to Wheeling.

Most of Penn Central’s trackage in West Virginia came from the New York Central side of the merger. The main line ran from Point Pleasant through Nitro to Charleston. From Charleston it continued east to the big rail yard at Dickinson, near today’s Riverside High School. This line continued to Gauley Bridge, then onward to Rainelle and points beyond. Another line ran from Charleston into northeastern Kanawha County. Designed to tap local coal mines, this branch was originally part of the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad. Through a long and complicated history the branch from Gauley Bridge to Rainelle and beyond had been owned jointly by the New York Central and the Chesapeake & Ohio. As a result of the creation of the Penn Central these lines east of Dickinson were operated by the Chessie System.

The collapse of the Penn Central was the greatest business failure in the history of the United States to 1970. However, the railroad was never a major factor in West Virginia’s economic history, as compared to the Baltimore & Ohio & Ohio and Chesapeake & Ohio (now CSX), the Norfolk & Western (Norfolk Southern), the Western Maryland (also CSX), or the Virginian Railway.

Written by Robert L. Frey