High-Speed Service Ushers in a New Era on Philadelphia & Western (1931)

From nycsubway.org

Electric Railway Journal · Vol. 75, No. 13, December, 1931; pp. 676-680


P.&.W.'s new high-speed cars. A train on the Norristown division-- America's first streamlined high-speed suburban equipment.

High-Speed Service Ushers in a New Era on Philadelphia & Western. Design of New Cars with Radical Improvements was a Major Factor in the Extensive Rehabilitation Program.

With the dedication of its new Norristown terminal on Nov. 14 and commencement of high-speed service with its new cars the following day, the Philadelphia & Western Railway ushered in a new era in its existence. It follows a program of physical and service betterments that has been going forward for the past two years. Besides the construction of the terminal and cars, the new management, under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Conway, Jr., has made many improvements to the plant, and has completely revamped the fare structure. The dedication and inspection of the new facilities were attended by more than 10,000 residents of the territory served and many sightseers rode the new cars the following day.

The new Norristown terminal is an attractive building of reinforced concrete and steel construction, modernistic in design. The Main Street facade is of sandstone, while the Swede Street exterior is of sandstone and brick. Immediately adjacent to the terminal is the elevated structure by which the trains enter Norristown, to which access is had by an elevated platform constructed as a part of the building.

The large windows on the Main Street side of the waiting room, as well as the third floor of the terminal, are set in a polished aluminum framework which is in large measure responsible for the attractiveness of the building. The first, or street, floor is given up to the Terminal Grille and other concessions. The equipment installed is of the latest design, and the treatment of the interior is artistic. On this floor are a soda fountain. cigar stand, candy counter and news stand, luncheon booths, telephone booths, individual parcel checking facilities, an order desk for a cleaning and dyeing establishment, and a modern barber shop.

Waiting Room Like A Club Lounge

The entire second floor is devoted to the waiting room, ticket offices and restrooms. It is reached by an easy, attractive stairway, and by the latest type self-leveling automatic elevator. The waiting room is distinctive. Instead of the conventional hard wooden benches, it is furnished with easy chairs and divans, attractively grouped as in a club lounge. This furniture is covered with green and taupe leather. The waiting room is wainscoted, and the wall surface above is given a special mottled buff plaster finish. The lighting fixtures are modernistic and are unusually attractive.

For the convenience of Norristown patrons north of Main Street, a practically level elevated footwalk was constructed from grade at Penn Street to the waiting room. It permits patrons to cross Main Street without encountering the hazards incident to crossing at grade, and obviates the necessity for step climbing.

The third floor will be utilized for company offices. While not elaborate, the new offices are attractive and well lighted, and will afford much better working conditions than have been available.

Philadelphia & Western's new cars are designed for operation either as single units or in trains. To understand the problems involved in the design of this equipment, it is necessary to know something of the conditions of service under which these cars are operated.

At the eastern, or city, end of the Philadelphia & Western is the 69th Street Terminal used jointly with the Philadelphia & West Chester Traction Company and the Market Street Elevated-Subway line of the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company. At this point Philadelphia & Western passengers transfer to the elevated-subway line.

The lines of the Philadelphia & Western extend from the 69th Street terminal 11 miles to Strafford. serving suburban communities along the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad; and to Norristown, in the Schuylkill Valley (14 miles), served also by the electric suburban service of the Pennsylvania and by the steam suburban service of the Reading. The Philadelphia & Western is a third-rail, double-track, stone-ballasted railroad on private right-of-way, protected throughout by a modern block-signal system. All highway crossings are by overhead bridges or underpasses. Stations are located at convenient intervals. All have elevated platforms, obviating the necessity for car steps, and expediting the loading and unloading of trains.

Necessity For High Speeds

When the present management assumed control of the property in the summer of 1930, the electrification of the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line and Schuylkill Valley divisions had resulted in a reduction in the running time of that company's commuter trains to practically all communities in the territory. Between Philadelphia and Norristown the reduction was as much as thirteen minutes. In consequence, seven more minutes were consumed in traveling between these centers on Philadelphia & Western than on the Pennsylvania. With the running time fixed on the subway-elevated from 69th Street to the center of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia & Western was forced to speed up its own service to the maximum extent possible. Hence, the Conway interests, in the fall of 1930, addressed themselves to the problem of designing a new type of car.

The new management had pioneered with unusually high-speed operation on the Cincinnati & Lake Erie Railroad, also controlled by it. Readers of the JOURNAL are familiar with the operating and physical characteristics of the equipment of that railroad, placed in service in the summer of 1930, and described in ELECTRIC RAILWAY JOURNAL for October, 1930 (Vol. 74, page 614).

As a starting point, one of the Cincinnati & Lake Erie interurban cars was shipped to Philadelphia. In tests made with it many lessons were learned concerning improvements in truck design, and, in collaboration with the J. G. Brill Company, a type of low-level truck was evolved which satisfactorily met the operating requirements on the Philadelphia & Western.

The next step in the design was an elaborate investigation, conducted in the wind tunnel of the University of Michigan under the direction of Prof. Felix W. Pawlowski, to determine the proportionate amount of power needed to overcome air resistance with the conventional railroad coach, at speeds ranging from 10 to 90 m.p.h., and, especially, to determine the type or design, within practical limitations, which would permit of the attainment of the desired maximum speed with the lowest power consumption. The extent to which the various elements of the car, such as roof ventilators, etc., contributed to air resistance and consequent power consumption was given careful study.

Models of various proposed types of car were constructed to scale, each embodying some important difference in design, and so built that various apparatus could be removed. Other changes were made from time to time by the use of wax and putty. All told, 30 types of models were used in the tests. These experiments demonstrated that approximately 70 per cent of the energy consumed by the conventional interurban car, at speeds of 70 m.p.h. or more, was required to overcome air resistance, and that a streamlined car, weighing approximately 52,000 lb., could be constructed which would save 40 per cent or more of the energy required by the conventional type of suburban car, operating at speeds in excess of 60 m.p.h.

So far as is known, the Philadelphia & Western is the first American railroad to apply the lessons of the wind tunnel in the actual design and construction of high-speed railroad equipment. Many outstanding features of design and construction are embodied in the new cars. The bodies are fabricated almost entirely of aluminum. Steel is used in the body bolsters and roof carlines ; the window sash, storm sash, hand rails and most of the hardware are of stainless steel. The headlinings and interior finish are aluminum. All glass in the vestibules and bulkhead windows is shatterproof.

A striking feature of design is the use of a polished aluminum belt rail and skirt which, in conjunction with the streamlining of the car and the brilliant Tuscan red lacquer finish of the car body, creates the illusion of a last-flying arrow when the car is running at high speed.

The car doors are of the two-fold type. To make them airtight and watertight at high speeds involved unusual construction problems, including the evolution of an automatic air-locking mechanism. Special weather-stripping in the windows prevents the entrance of water at high speeds.

The absence of external ventilators is a notable feature. Air is drawn in through louvers situated near the doors, distributed through ducts along truss planks. and passed over the electric heaters into the car. The car heaters are divided into two circuits permitting of a variation in the amount of heat with the outside temperature. The heating system is so designed that the electric heaters are cut off while the motors are using energy. By this means, a substantial reduction in the maximum power demand was accomplished. A series of tests conducted by the management last winter demonstrated that even on a railroad of this character, such a heating system is entirely practicable.

Air is exhausted through longitudinal grilles in the headlining into ducts and thence carried to the rear when the car is in motion and to both ends when it is standing still. This positive ventilation is induced by two electric fans, both of which operate when the car is stationary, while the rear fan runs only when it is moving. In connection with the ventilating system, a new type of ceiling and headlining has been evolved. giving the interior of the car a most pleasing appearance.

In order to reduce to the minimum the time required at terminal stations for train reversal, the cars are wired so that by turning a one-directional switch the marker lights, car platform lights, doorway illuminating lights. door operating control circuit, the fare register actuating mechanism and the headlights are reversed. The cars are equipped with automatic car, air and electric self-centering couplers. Because of the severe braking with high speed and frequent stops, clasp brakes are used.

Full safety features for one-man operation are part of the equipment. In single units the cars are one-man operated; in trains of two or more cars an operator is carried on each car behind the leader, and collects fares and controls the operation of the doors on his car.

The co-ordination of research work performed by various agencies and preparation of detailed plans were under the direction of W. L. Butler, vice-chairman of Philadelphia & Western Railway, who in large measure was responsible for the development of the Cincinnati & Lake Erie high-speed car.

The weights of the various elements of the car are as follows:

  • Metal underframe and superstructure; 5,905 lb.
  • Couplers; 1,120 lb.
  • Seats; 3,140 lb.
  • Other materials and equipment required to complete car body, such as floor, roof, sash, doors and their mechanism, curtains, ventilating system, heaters, glass, paint, hand brakes, headlights, lighting apparatus, Sanders, storage battery, etc; 11,465 lb.
  • Total car body, less following equipment; 21,630 lb.
  • Trucks (Brill 89-E-2); 16,390 lb.
  • Motors (Four GE-706A, lOOhp.); 10,380 lb.
  • Control and other electrical equipment (G.E. PC 12); 2,100 lb.
  • Air brakes (Westinshouse Traction Brake, MD-33 brake valve. DH-20 compressor); l,900 1b.
  • Total weight; 52,400 lb.

On Sunday, Nov. 15. new schedules were put into effect, greatly reducing the running time between all points. The time of express trains between the 69th Street terminal and Norristown was cut from 24 minutes to 17 minutes, a reduction of 29 per cent, while the time of other trains between these points was reduced from 28 to 20 minutes. The maintenance of limited train schedules of 49-1/2 m.p.h., making a total of three stops on a one-way trip of 14 miles, establishes new standards of electric railroad operation. Operating tests have shown, however, that although this equipment is not yet run in, the schedule can be made without difficulty, with the trains coasting on the average 51.8 per cent of the total elapsed time on the northbound trip and 71.8 per cent-of the time when operating southbound. Nothing more clearly or effectively demonstrates the great advantages of streamlining or the heavy price heretofore paid in high-speed operation by the failure to appreciate the large part which this factor has played in the operating costs of such service.

Careful studies were made to determine whether, from an economic viewpoint, it was preferable to scrap not only the older wooden cars but also some ten all-steel cars purchased in 1928 and 1929. It was decided that while these cars wece not suitable for operation on the Norristown division, it was not only advisable but desirable to modernize them for use on the Strafford division, paralleling the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. A comparison of the pictures reproduced of the exteriors of these cars before and after modernization shows how greatly their appearance has been improved. Among the changes made were the shifting of braking and electric control apparatus from the right to the left sides of the platforms, permitting easier access by patrons, especially with one-man operation; installation of new safety protective mechanism; lowering of car floors approximately 8 in. through the reconstruction of trucks and changes in bolsters; changes in motor construction increasing their rating from 60 to 100 hp, each, and increasing the maximum speed on level track from 44 to 70 m.p.h., as well as the rate of acceleration. The reconstruction of trucks, effecting a lower center of gravity, tremendously improved the riding qualities. Seats were widened, and knee room increased; the smoking compartment in each car was abolished; parcel racks were removed and other changes increased the comfort and convenience of the cars.

Service on the Strafford division was also speeded up on Sunday, Nov. 15, the running time of express trains being reduced from 24 to 19 minutes, while the running time of locals was reduced from 28 to 23 minutes.

Track Improvements

In preparation for the higher speeds, an extensive program of track betterments was inaugurated last spring. The outside rail on all curves was elevated; wherever necessary, ties were replaced with treated ties; new ballast was installed where required; a number of block signals were moved to meet the requirements of faster operation; all station platforms were lowered to accommodate the low-level cars; new running rails were installed on the Norristown bridge, and other like changes were made. This program, now completed, assures not only smooth and comfortable track but also safety of the track structure.

A trip over the property is sufficient to convince any one that the Philadelphia & Western is in the forefront of American high-speed suburban railroads. The equipment now used in regular service is either brand-new or of the modernized type described. Schedule speeds are among the fastest now prevailing in America. The management is confident that these service improvements will result in a substantial increase in the traffic and revenues. The Philadelphia & Western traveler can now make as good, and in some instances much better, time to and from Philadelphia than on most of the trains operated by the competitive steam railroads.

As a city terminus, the Market Street Elevated-Subway line furnishes unusual advantages. There is a subway station in every large department store in Philadelphia, and most of the large office buildings, as well as the Broad Street subway, can now be reached by the Broad Street underground concourse. This is particularly advantageous in inclement weather. These two rapid transit systems afford access to practically every section of Philadelphia, and provide an incomparable network of high-speed urban transportation for the Philadelphia & Western's patrons.

For a number of years the traffic and revenues of the road had progressively dwindled. In the twelve months ending July 31, 1930, immediately prior to the advent of the new management, the total number of revenue passengers carried was 21-1/2 per cent less than in the corresponding period ending in July, 1926.

A comprehensive traffic and economic survey made by the management in 1930 led to the conclusion that the progressive horizontal percentage increases in rates of fare made at various times in the decade ending in 1927 had driven away much traffic; that many of the restrictions on the use of multiple-trip tickets were irksome to patrons and contrary to the best interests of the company; that a thoroughgoing revision of the entire rate structure was necessary, and that new and different types of tickets should be instituted and aggressively merchandised in order to attract new business and regain lost business. In addition, with one-man operation it seemed desirable to eliminate the use of pennies, since approximately 47 per cent of the total revenue passengers were paying cash fares.

Radical Changes Made In The Fare Structure

The outstanding changes in the tariffs, made effective on Nov. 16, 1930, or exactly one year prior to the inauguration of faster service with the new equipment, may be summarized as follows:

1. Minimum cash fares between any two points on the property are 10 cents, as contrasted with a previous minimum of 7 cents. On the other hand, passengers can ride for 10 cents distances theretofore costing from 12 to 16 cents.

2. The graduation of cash fares in accordance with mileage was abandoned. Both cash and ticket rates between 69th Street and nearby stations were considerably increased. On the other hand, such rates between 69th Street and more remote stations were substantially decreased, some as much as 37-1/2 per cent.

3. Half-fare tickets for children were re-established.

4. In place of the ten-trip tickets theretofore sold, the sale of six-trip strip tickets, each coupon being good for use by bearer, was begun, the cost per trip in most cases being considerably less than the ten-trip ticket rate.

Fifty-trip tickets were abolished and twenty-trip tickets substituted, the cost per trip in general being substantially reduced. In addition, the privileges were greatly liberalized. Whereas the 50-trip ticket could be used only by the purchaser, the twenty-trip ticket could be used by any number of people traveling together.

On 60-trip monthly commutation tickets a rate of 8-1/2 cents per ride was substituted for the graduated rate prevailing between 69th Street and most stations on the property, the purpose being to remove the fare barrier against the expansion of suburban development and thus aid in building up the outlying sections.

Round-trip excursion tickets good for use within two days, between Norristown and Philadelphia, were placed on sale at an attractive rate much below that formerly prevailing. This step was not only deemed desirable from the standpoint of promoting traffic, but was also necessary in order to meet a similar rate (but without the two-day feature) instituted by the Reading some months before the Conway interests assumed control of Philadelphia & Western. The volume of traffic riding on this ticket has shown a steady and substantial increase from month to month. The portion of the total traffic purchasing one-day or two-day round-trip excursion tickets riding on Philadelphia X Western is shown in the accompanying graph.

It was recognized that these changes in rates would initially result in a substantial reduction in revenue. While this was a grave step to take in a period of industrial depression, the management recognized that the reattraction of lost traffic and the development of new business was a task covering a period of years. It was believed desirable to undertake this without delay, offsetting the resultant loss in revenues by the introduction of operating economies.

Conferences With Local Editors And Civic Organizations To Discuss Policies

Prior to the announcement of impending changes in the fare structure. President Conway, at a dinner conference with the editors of the local newspapers, frankly and fully outlined the economic problems which the property faced; the nature of and reasons for the fare revisions contemplated, and the correlation of these revisions with the ambitious plans for service betterments. Out of this conference and subsequent contacts have grown up very friendly relations between the newspapers and the company, resulting in intelligent treatment of news with respect to current developments on the railway.

Concurrently with the announcement of fare changes, the company, through paid advertising and through its house organ, P&W News (regularly distributed on its cars and to an extensive mailing list), told why changes were necessary, and what the Philadelphia & Western planned to do. The company makes extensive and regular use of newspaper advertising in merchandising its service. A representative group of officials of the many civic organizations in the communities served were taken on a special trip over the property in the Cincinnati & Lake Erie interurban car, and at that time an explanation was made by the management of the steps which were being taken to evolve, if possible, an even better car for the local requirements.

In consequence of this policy, the extensive readjustment in the rate structure was made without any serious public friction. The relations between the company and its patrons have steadily increased in cordiality.

Interesting Steps In Creating New Classes Of Traffic

Subsequent to the general revision in fares, a number of interesting innovations have been made, and have proved successful. Among these are:

1. During the summer of 1931 a joint ticket was sold by Philadelphia & Western in conjunction with the Wilson Line, operating fast excursion steamers on the Delaware River, affording a pleasant all-day or evening sail on the river at a very attractive rate of fare. A substantial amount of business of this character was developed, particularly in Norristown.

2. A station was established, used only for this purpose, near the Stadium of Villanova College. With the co-operation of the athletic association and the authorities of that institution, the use of the Philadelphia & Western in traveling to and from the Villanova games has been popularized.

3. In July last the sale of unlimited-use weekly commutation tickets was begun between Norristown and 69th Street simultaneously with the inauguration of a like ticket by the Pennsylvania Railroad. Shortly thereafter, the Reading Railroad put on sale a similar ticket. This ticket has proved very popular with Philadelphia & Western patrons, and has led to a substantial increase in commuter travel out of Norristown.

4. In the fall of 1931, Philadelphia & Western, in collaboration with the Tower Theater, at 69th Street, inaugurated a special joint ticket, placed on sale at Villanova College, entitling its students to a round trip between Villanova and 69th Street and admission to the Tower Theater. The cost of this ticket is no greater than the admission charged at the nearest neighborhood movie. A substantial amount of traffic has resulted. While the rate is comparatively low, it represents new business, filling seats which

otherwise would be empty.


These views bring out clearly some of the striking changes made in modernizing steel cars purchased in 1928-1929.


Main Street Facade of the New Norristown Terminal. The elevated footwalk, leading to the second (or waiting room) floor of the terminal, is shown at the extreme right.


Per cent of total traffic out of Norristown on special one-day and two-day excursions that was handled by Philadelphia & Western, Dec. 2, 1930, to Oct. 27, 1931.


Trend of trips sold, in per cent of January, 1929, of tickets between 69th Street and stations between Wayne-St. Davids and Strafford, January, 1929, to October, 1931.


Electric Railway Journal, McGraw Hill Company, Digitized by Microsoft, Americana Collection, archive.org.

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