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The Wreck of the Penn Central 2nd Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1893122086
ISBN-10: 1893122085
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

It took ten years of laborious planning and extensive negotiations to create the mammoth Penn Central Railroad, the largest railroad in United States history. When the leviathan was finally born of a merger between the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads on February 1, 1968, the event was hailed as a great day for railroading. But the baby giant survived only 867 days. The crash of the Penn Central set a new record, this time for the largest bankruptcy the United States had yet seen.

From the Inside Flap

...The Wreck of the Penn Central, which The New York Times called "a great book" offering the reader "a ringside seat" to this economic debacle, provides a close-up view of the events that brought the Big Train to bankruptcy court -- over-regulation, subsidized competition, big labor featherbedding, greed, corporate back stabbing, stunning incompetence, and yes, even a little sex.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 380 pages
  • Publisher: Beard Books; 2nd edition (February 19, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1893122085
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893122086
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #769,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Jensen on July 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
Simply put, a fantastic historical business book outlining the history of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads, the bohemoth merger, and ultimate demise. Each chapter was crafted in a way to allow the reader to easily grasp the brick wall that the Penn Central was headed towards. The author presents a myriad of facts/figures, allowing the reader to draw his/her own conclusion.
If you enjoy learning about potential pitfalls which could threaten your business, there is little that the PC railroad did not face following its merger. I typically like to learn the mistakes of others and there are plenty of lessons to be had in this book (corporate communications, governance, high finance, strategy and the so on).
BTW -- after reading the book my conclusion is that the company lacked leadership, a strong strategy, a competitive product, and was handcuffed by needless government agencies and regulations. Further, if there was true leadership coming from the railroad, and if the government was at all interested in "leveling the playing field" in comparison to the airline and trucking industry subsidies, this country would still have an extensive and viable freight railroad system. Just my two cents.
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By A Customer on December 2, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Penn Central was the failed attempt at combining the storied Pennsylvania Railroad and the historic New York Central Railroad -- both major lines in the Northeast United States -- during a period of time in which all railroads were suffering under strict and burdensome government regulation and the obligation to carry passenger traffic. The wreck of the Penn Central led to Conrail, Amtrak, and, in many ways, the railroad industry we have today. This book is an insightful, on the ground view of the creation and destruction of the company. Very readable for railroad historian, business historian, or simply by one who enjoys a good read.
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Format: Paperback
The The Wreck of the Penn Central by Joseph R. Daughen and Peter Binzen provides an interesting look at that railroad monolith created back on February 1st 1968. The book starts out with a brief history of the respective companies. The PRR and the NYC are compared and contrast while the reader begins to understand how their respective ideologies developed. This becomes important later when you witness some of the well-known corporate culture clashes that developed in the railroad at all levels.

Eventually the book transitions in the actual merger and some of the reasons it failed. The Penn Central's problems were many and varied. They ranged to everything from railroad operation problems (the non-compatible computer systems are a famous example), to high labor costs, to factors beyond the railroad's control (the ICC, the state of the industry, ect).

While the first few chapters kept me on the edge of me seat reading, the book drags a bit in the middle. Too much time is spent describing every point of the Penn Central's "Diversification Program" and every investment or perceived conflict of interest within the management is emphasized. There comes a point when you realize there is no way this railroad will stay in business and that it will all fail spectacularly. The book overemphasizes just how bad things were and for a while you have to trudge through it in order to see the fireworks at the end.

When the house of cards finally collapses however, it does so with great interest. Even though history tells you all you need to know about the end, there is a while when it seems as if the government would step in with a bailout to save the day and you almost think they will pull it off.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, this book has become the near-default volume on the PC disaster, probably because it has the sensationalist ring of muckraking journalism (which is what it is). It has the virtues and the faults of immediacy, first published only seven months after the bankruptcy, long before even a fraction of the facts came out. If you read this, plan to also read "No Way To Run A Railroad" by Stephen Salisbury, a far more scholarly book that is unfortunately very hard to find outside of libraries. Believe me, it's worth the effort to find a copy if you really want to understand what happened with PC. An excellent review by railroad historian Richard Saunders is available here: [...]
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
great business-ended look at what happened to PC. This book helped me understand a lot of the dynamics happening at corporate headquarters, as well as the motivations, backgrounds, and social circles of the executives who would oversee the crashing and burning of PC as a railroad. I consider this supplemental (but required!) reading for anyone reading other PC books. There's a lot explained in this book that many other books simply brush aside as "Bevan bought XY" instead of "Bevan bought XY because he was in such and such an investment club, which also affected F, G, and H decisions". Be advised that there is little actual "railroading" within the confines of this book, but I still found it very fascinating. There was a lot of scandalous activity that happened between Bevan, Saunders, and Pearlman covered by this book that no other book I've read to date does a good job of covering. I will be hanging onto this one for some time!
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