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Railroads come together in Newtown garden track

In 1968, the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads merged to form the Penn Central Transportation Company, at the time, the sixth largest corporation in the nation.

However, the mega-railroad’s brief existence has rarely been looked upon favorably by railroad historians or former employees.

Commercial litigation lawyer and Newtown Borough resident Bob Szwajkos was part of the latter group, a senior attorney for the trustees of the Penn Central Railroad, as it came to be known. Later, he became the first person appointed as clerk (court administrator) for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“It (the merger) was a disaster,” says Szwajkos.

“The two companies joined like this,” he says, interlocking his fingers.
“A spoke to B but never to C. B talked to C but never to A.”

Every day in Szwajkos’ back yard, the Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads come together on the Newtown Garden Railroad, a G-gauge outdoor display model that the lawyer composed more than 15 years ago complete with shrubs, flowers, a pond with running water and railroad lights.

Szwajkos put the platform up in 2003 but had to perform some major repairs in the off-season after the winter weather eroded part of what was supporting the back rail line.

Swajkos reinforced the back line with rock this time around.
“It’s a lot stronger now,” he says.

The real Penn Central Railroad didn’t fare nearly as well.

The Pennsylvania and New York Central railroads came into the 1968 merger in the black, but Penn Central’s first year of operation yielded a deficit of $2.8 million ($20.2 million in today’s dollars). By the next year, the company’s deficit was nearly $83 million ($567 million today). Penn Central’s net income for 1970 was a deficit of $325.8 million ($2.1 billion today). By then, the railroad had entered bankruptcy proceedings, at the time, the largest bankruptcy of an American company.

In Szwajkos’ back yard, art doesn’t imitate life, however.

The Newtown lawyer operates the Pennsylvania and New York Central rail cars on separate tracks, using the logos the railroad companies displayed before the creation of the Penn Central.

The reinforced rail line was reason enough for Szwajkos to host a grand reopening of his outdoor display, held Friday, June 28.

Newtown Mayor Charles “Corky” Swartz reopened the platform officially when he cut the ribbon under scattered rain that did nothing to dampen the spirit of the occasion.

- Drury, George H. (1994). “The Historical Guide to North American Railroads.”
- The Penn Central Railroad.@stevesherman222 on Twitter.