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RyPN Editorials January 23, 2001
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To be ERIE or Not to be ERIE, That is the Question!

Former CR No. 4020 after restoration to PRR No. 5809, in the Fall of 2000, R. Plamer photo.

The acquisition of Conrail E-8 4020 from NorfolkSouthern last summer by private interests sparked a lively mini-debate on thepages of RyPN Interchange. I believe the most commonly expressed opinionwas a deeply felt conviction that the "conventional" preservation communitywas being bypassed and outbid by those who had the resources to acquire thelocomotive for their own undisclosed purposes. At the same time, the railroadwas sneered at for allegedly snubbing its nose at the broad range of historicalsocieties and railroad museums that coveted the locomotive.

CR No. 4021 on August 11, 1998, Jim Heber photo. CR No. 4022 on October 4, 1997, Jeff Lubchansky photo.

Several weeks ago CSX disposed of its former ConrailExecutive E units; 4021 and 4022. The 4021 started life as PRR 5711 while the4022 came into this world as ERIE 833. There was no negative response to thesale of 4021 and the anticipated restoration of it to PRR 5711, but the sale ofthe 4022 brought to the surface some of the same feelings that were voiced afterthe NS auction of 4020. There was some expressed dissatisfaction that CSX didnot see fit to donate the engine to a museum site. There was a great deal ofconjecture about how the 4022 would be restored once it fell into private hands.There were those who advocated restoration of the locomotive back to itsappearance as ERIE 833. Others argued for the restoration to bring thelocomotive back to its appearance as a Erie-Lackawanna locomotive. Some evensuggested letting it remain, as it appeared when it achieved its greatestrenown, as Conrail 4022.

CR No. 4022 in May of 1979, from the collection of Albert Phleep. Erie No. 833 on a passenger train in September of 1959, from the Railfan.Net ABPR Archive.

As the person who purchased all three engines, let meshare with you my thoughts on the matter and encourage you to enter into thedialogue in which we all are stakeholders. I offer the following:

  1. Both NS and CSX have been very responsible corporate citizens withrespect to the railroad preservation community and in the towns and cities thatthey serve. CSX has been an active contributor of equipment to the museum inBaltimore and NS has seen fit to do the same in Roanoke. Both corporations haveopened their facilities to the railfan public on numerous occasions. These openhouses have benefited not only local communities, but also railroad-relatedmuseums and organizations in those communities. The corporations are bothpublicly owned, for profit entities. They both have had trouble digesting thepurchase of Conrail and the assimilation of the acquisition into theiroperations. The depressed price of their stock is the best testimony to theirneed to raise cash by the prudent management of their assets.

  2. The sale of the NS engine not only brought the NS the proceeds of thesale, but we also purchased all of the spare parts and had all new wheelspressed onto the axles which was additional income for their shop accounts. Fromthe NS perspective it was the "highest and best" use of an under-utilized asset.

  3. The locomotives themselves are not museum pieces. They are, pardon theexpression, "Thoroughbreds." They are, with the possible exceptionof the UP executive E's, the most suitable, best-maintained, and state of theart passenger units. They are not ready for the glue factory, nor are they readyto be put out to pasture.

  4. The Conrail staff at Altoona lavished personal attention on theseengines. They were the beneficiary of a management team that understood thevalue of the "office car special" and that the image of the OCS was enhancedwith an E unit on the point.

  5. Two of the locomotives had full HEP. All three had all of the componentsneeded to operate on any of the existing train control systems in the country.In other words, they were perfect candidates to power excursions with cars thathad the facilities to utilize HEP. One of the problems that those in the"excursion world" faced was AMTRAK's claim that they were critically shortof power and could not commit to some excursions because of the lack of motive power.

  6. These engines were not "hammered" in daily commuter service and havenot languished exposed to the elements in some back lot. These engines were not"hanger queens." they are the "pick of the litter." If any E-8s weresuitable for continued operation in other than a short line or museum situationit would be those that were owned and used by Conrail.

It was for all the reasons stated above that we wereattracted to these locomotives. We had the facilities to house them. We had thefacilities to maintain them. We had the expertise to restore them, and we hadthe experience in planning and operating successful private car excursions. Inour opinion, these were the only E's that were suitable for the intended use.(The fact that two were ex-PRR was just the icing on the cake.)

All of the above listed factors made theselocomotives prime candidates for many years of additional service. The time willcome (hopefully, not too soon) for them to retire to a static setting in amuseum. But, while there is still good life in them, why should they not run, andrun well? There is plenty of time to debate their ultimate disposal and whatmuseum or what society should be the beneficiary of the final disposition. Butuntil that time comes, I believe new opportunities should be explored for theoperation of these artifacts from the "golden age."

The 4020 has returned as PRR 5809 and 4021 willemerge as PRR 5711. At least two units are need for excursion service, not onlyfrom the point of reliability, but also to run around the train when there is no"Y" and direction has to be reversed. The two matched PRR units will make ahandsome pair leading excursion trains and other passenger specials. That leavesus with the third unit, ERIE 833. It is not our intention to make thatunit into an organ donor. As compared to 4020 and 4021, the 4022 (833) has themost complete original body with the original louvers, and battens, as well asthe steam generator. It does have full HEP pass-through, so it could be the thirdunit in a three-unit lash-up.

What appearance should the 4022 assume; ERIE? EL?Conrail? PRR? Juniata?

Who decides? What is the real goal? If the engine isgoing to run and run as part of a set does it really matter for now? Does itreally matter as long as in the end the engine goes to a good home in the rightpaint scheme? What is the right home and what is the proper paint scheme? Doesit matter that the URHS has two E's, each painted ERIE?

Does the person who pays for the paint pick thecolor? Some of the same questions arose with the 4020 (PRR5809). Brunswick orTuscan? Five Stripe or Single Stripe? Rustoleumwith Keystones only? Penn Central? The answer was rather simple. The person whomanaged the project made the choice. It was one of the intangible benefits ofhard work, passion and dedication. It also helped with the motivation (as if theproject itself wasn't driven by adrenaline). One of my sons, Eric, made thechoice as it was his sweat, determination and commitment that gave all of uswhat has been termed one of this country's best restoration efforts.

What are the responsibilities of private ownership?What are the perks of private ownership? Some would claim that the "goldenrule" applies, for not only has the acquisition cost been borne by the currentownership, but they solely assume the responsibility of upkeep, restoration,insurance, compliance, etc.,etc.,etc. No ISTEA money and no state grants.

But yet, as any of us are only the temporal custodianof artifacts such as these locomotives, the questions are open to all of us. Wewould solicit your comments and discussion. No sour grapes, just your honestopinion within the context of private property rights, the public good, and whatour individual and collective responsibility require. I think the discussionmight be almost as exciting as seeing the units blasting up the "hill" andblowing for the "Brickyard crossing."

RyPN wishes toextend thanks to Mr. Levin for sharing his opinions with us, and for offering the opportunity to voice feedback. Comments on the subjects raised aboveare welcome in the RyPN Interchange.

We wish to also extend thanks to ConrailOffice Car And Locomotive Photo Archive for allowing use of all but one ofthe photos above.

The Erie No. 833 photo was found on the RailFan.Net ABPR Photo Archive, from the collection of Gary Morris, photo by Tom Gildersleeve.

See the Philadelphia Chapter PennsylvaniaRailroad Technical & Historical Society website for an excellent photoessay of the recent restoration of PRR No. 5809.