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Winter 2000 | Volume 15 |  Issue 3

A Dangerous Stunt?

At the risk of reigniting the “redgreen” wars brought on by the merger of the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads in 1968, I feel compelled to offer comment on “Postfix: Jet Train,” by Ed Pershey, in your Fall 1999 issue. I was at the time the Pennsylvania Railroad’s coordinator of the Northeast Corridor Demonstration Project, a government-railroadsupplier partnership that ultimately brought the Metroliner and Turbotrain to service in 1969.

In 1966 our project had just gotten under way with road tests of four cars. Our testing eventually achieved the contractually required speed of 155 mph, as we struggled with all manner of difficulties, but the New York Central jet train’s achievement of the record speed of 183-plus mph rocked the Pennsylvania Railroad at the highest levels, coming as a complete surprise to a “red team” that had assumed that the merger agreement between the two companies was a fait accompli and that planning was being conducted in an open and straightforward manner. I have been told on good authority that the reaction to the news was electric, as outrage consumed the Pennsylvania’s chairman and merger architect Stuart T. Saunders and his staff.

There is no doubt that a North American rail-speed record was set, but whatever else was learned from the experience is most obscure. The flight of the M-497 seems to have been no more than a stunt to take the edge off the Pennsylvania’s prominent role in the Northeast Corridor project—and probably a dangerous stunt. I was later reliably told by a colleague, who was personally involved with the preparation of the vehicle and also claimed to have been aboard for the run, that the M-497 was actually airborne at times when passing over grade crossings at high speed. If indeed disaster was so nearly averted, it was a high risk to take for a mere publicity stunt.

Whatever the case, the M-497’s run served to agitate the New York Central’s future merger partner and perhaps presaged an atmosphere that would ultimately help to bring down all the railroads of the Northeast. The jet train was a diversion, and the current state of high-speed rail in the United States, sorry though it may be, owes nothing to its risky one-time flash of speed on level tangent track through Midwestern cornfields one day in 1966.

Robert B. Watson
Devon, Pa.

Extreme Measures

“A Shock to the System” (by Jack Kelly, Fall 1999) was of particular interest to some of us in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, who remember when in 1957 a team of local physicians brought back to life a 49-year-old city maintenance worker who had suffered sudden cardiac arrest. When he collapsed, a coworker shoved him into a vehicle and rushed him to the hospital. Within minutes a physician had opened his chest while another ripped the fixture off the end of an extension cord to expose the wires. As the nurse plugged the cord into a wall socket, doctors used it to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. It was a desperate effort, supposedly against all odds, but the physicians had recently attended a seminar on the use of electrical shock. The patient lived another 35 years. This was the first time a person who had suffered cardiac arrest outside a hospital situation was resuscitated by use of electrical shock.

Rosemarie Vezina Braatz
St. Croix Falls Historical Society
St. Croix Falls, Wis.

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