On April 1, the Conrail Historical Society will open its $150,000 museum and archive center in a retired 86-foot hi-cube auto-parts boxcar in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. This is the culmination of several years of collaboration between the Conrail Historical Society, Shippensburg University, the Cumberland Valley Rail Trail, Cumberland Area Economic Development Corp., and the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau.
The museum is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Conrail, which was formed on April 1, 1976 from the remnants of bankrupt eastern and midwestern railroads, including Penn Central, Reading, Erie Lackawanna, Jersey Central, and Lehigh Valley. Over the course of twenty-five years, Conrail grew to become a leader in the industry before being bought and divided by Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation in 1999.
The museum will be a “please touch” approach to museum exhibits, with a locomotive control-stand simulator that Conrail used at its training center at Essington, Pa., near Philadelphia, known as “Choo Choo U”. Panels will tell the story of the demise of PC and the other roads, the renewal that created the modern Conrail, and the split. Artifacts include an ex-Erie Railroad semaphore signal built by Union Switch & Signal Co., and an interlocking tower model board from Virginia Avenue Tower in Washington, D.C.
The museum will also include a large-format scanner and a flatbed scanner to digitize the group’s collections. Among the holding are thousands of dispatchers’ sheets and hundreds of thousands of slides and negatives. Eventually, CRHS intends to make all of these records available to researchers, both for in-person visits and on-line.
The museum is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Conrail and the employees who dedicated so much to turn a collection of bankrupt railroads into a leader in the industry. It is a classic rags-to-riches fairytale and a reminder of the hard work and dedication of the Conrail employees who made it possible. The museum is sure to be a popular destination for rail fans and history buffs alike.