To the editor:
The financial rescue of the American automobile industry has been big news lately. I am old enough to remember a similar “crisis” back in the 1960s with America’s railroads. Slavish adherence to old ways and old ideas had the industry in shambles.
Two giant icons of the industry, the New York Central Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad, merged Feb. 1, 1968, to form the Penn Central Railroad. It lasted until June 21, 1970, when they declared bankruptcy — at the time, the largest in U.S. history. Many other Eastern railroads were in similar circumstances.
In April 1976, the U.S. Congress combined the wreck of the Penn Central with six other bankrupt or nearly bankrupt lines into the Consolidated Railroad Corp. (Conrail), a government-run corporation. There were many dubious “experts” on this action.
But then something absolutely unheard of happened. Some of the most talented minds in the railroad industry were brought in and huge changes were made. Conrail began to show a profit! This created a real problem: what to do with a government project that actually made money?
Well, more experienced people got together and Conrail was split up, doled out to two functional private railroads, CSX and Norfolk Southern, and today these old lines of the NYC and PRR are profitable and operating well. Does it help when the government steps in and takes over? Common attitudes scoff, but with the model of the Consolidated Railroad Corp., there is evidence that it can be done right, and profitably
Fred Whitehead Jr.,