Alfred Perlman

Alfred E. Perlman speaks about future of railroads. From Victor Solow’s film “The Big Train”, 1950.

In June of 1954 Alfred E. Perlman was appointed president of the New York Central (NYC.) His first task was to evaluate operations and his conclusions were contrary to those who had preceded him.

Perlman felt that the New York Central was not getting enough use out of its new diesel electric locomotives, that the yards needed to be completely rebuilt, and that the organization of the railroad itself was problematic. The New York Central was also sending old locomotives to be scrapped rather than be repaired because shops had been closed earlier as a cost saving initiative.

In one of his earlier actions in 1954, Perlman reduced orders of new diesel-electric locomotives as he felt that the NYC could get more mileage out of old locomotives. However, he based this on the way another railroad, of a different style, was running. Their trains were long and made long hauls, whereas the NYC had shorter trains and made shorter runs. When he realized his mistake, it was too late to rectify the situation, and NYC cars waited in the yards for engines to pull them.

In 1954, Perlman and the NYC were approached with the idea of a piggyback service. When the service proved successful in 1956, Perlman scrambled to implement the idea within the NYC. In 1958, Perlman combined the Commodore Vanderbilt and the Century into one train cutting losses from $38 million in 1955 to $16 million in the 1960s.

After the owner of the NYC committed suicide, a much talked about partnership between the Pennsylvania Railroad and the NYC began taking shape. Symes represented the Pennsylvania, and Perlman represented the NYC. From the beginning, Symes and Perlman did not get along. Together the men worked to continue the economizing of their combined railroads. They sold numerous depots to private interests and began operating their own sleeping cars. In 1968, the two railroads officially merged as the Penn Central Railroad, and the New York Central was no more.

In 1969, despite continued economic problems facing the railroads, Perlman requested $25 million from Symes to refurbish trains. Symes denied him this funding and Perlman threatened to quit, which Symes humbly asked him to do so. Perlman however, remained with the Penn Central. Continuing economic problems eventually became too much for the station and on June 1st, 1970, the Penn Central declared bankruptcy.

Inducted 2006