The Transitional Era (1940-1970)

Remembered as an extension of the golden era, this period was arguably the most difficult one in railroad history. The route redundancy from the previous century coupled with lingering effects of the Great Depression forced many carriers into bankruptcy by the end of the 1930s. The traffic surge incident to World War II offered a temporary reprieve for struggling carriers. The upturn in both freight and passenger traffic volume during WWII was in reality profitless prosperity for many railroads since deferred maintenance of the 1930s and the heavy traffic volume of the war years left many railroads greatly compromised by 1945. Railroads also mistakenly believed that a new era of luxury long-distance passenger travel would commence after the conflict ended and accordingly over invested in elaborate new passenger car fleets. Instead, railroads would face increasing competition from both the interstate highway network and commercial air travel in the years that followed. Passenger revenue dropped, and much of the local freight business was lost to motor freight companies. That caused lines to close, and many once strong railroad companies to declare bankruptcy. Despite these hardships however, this was a fascinating era. The new revolutionary passenger trains, the likes of which had never been seen before are considered by many as the epitome of passenger service. New diesel locomotives were fast replacing steam, but the duplicity in motive power that existed between 1945 and 1958 was exciting and colorful.

The party was clearly over by 1952 when railroads acknowledged that long-distance passenger travel was in sharp decline. Changes in demographics and the manufacturing sector further reduced railroad traffic. By the end of the 1950s many mainline carries faced bankruptcy and the New York Ontario & Western and Rutland were totally abandoned. Railroad managers and the investment community looked toward mergers as salvation. The N&W was active early and acquired the Virginian, Nickel Plate and Wabash in rapid order followed by the affiliation of the C&O and B&O. Sadly the PRR takeover of the NYC produced largest and most ill-conceived merger of the era. The bankruptcy of Penn Central in June of 1970 sent shock waves through the merger movement that lasted nearly ten years. Nationalization of passenger services was one immediate result of the Penn Central failure and Amtrak made its debut on May 1, 1971.

The Transitional Era is by far the most heavily replicated era in the modeling world. The simple reason being that it offers a little of everything. Steam and diesel worked side by side, many traditional practices were still being used, and many elements of modern railroading were still developing. Being heavily modeled, there is no shortage of equipment available for this era, and anyone modeling it will find themselves in good company!

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