Photo of the week for 11/16/2009

Pennsylvania Railroad Yards, c1935

Pennsylvania Railroad Yards, c1935

This view of the Pennsylvania Railroad yards in Harrisburg was captured by aerial photographer Samuel Kuhnert. The Pennsylvania Railroad was chartered in 1846 to build a railroad line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. 100 years later it had a payroll of a half billion dollars and employed 156,000 people, down from its peak employment of 279,000 people in 1920. The roundhouses pictured here are located north of the State Capitol between 7th Street and Cameron Street.

A railroad system as large as the Pennsy depended greatly on improving efficiency to increase profits. By 1939, each freight train carried an average of 1,164 net tons, a 30% increase in 15 years. Increasing efficiency was especially important as PRR freight decreased from more than 48 million ton-miles in 1926 to 34 million in 1939, and passenger-miles dropped from 4.6 million to 3.1 million in the same time period. During World War II, however, this trend sharply reversed with freight traffic more than doubling and passenger traffic quadrupling between 1939 and 1944.

During the Depression, even with improved efficiencies profits suffered greatly. In 1929, the system had record earnings of over 100 million dollars, an amount that would fall 85% by 1932 and not be seen again until 1942. The record year for revenues was 1944 when they topped one billion.

The safety of railroads was markedly improved by the second World War. In the 1930's, although an average of 26 PRR employees died and 264 were injured each year, this was down from 203 deaths and 3,735 injuries in 1920. PRR Passengers faired far better, with 15 deaths and 169 injuries in 1920 and 2 deaths and 80 injuries per year on average in the 1930's. Photo ID: .

Statistics from Centennial History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, 1846-1946 by George H. Burgess and Miles C. Kennedy of Coverdale & Colpitts, 1949. Photo ID: C06363.

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