PRR/PC/NJDOT/NJ Transit Arrow I "Comarrow" Cars

A page dedicated to the 1968 NJDOT Jersey Arrow (PRR MP85E6) cars, a small fleet of 35 electric MUs converted into push-pull in the late 1980s.

Why are the "Comarrows" historically significant?

-First ever new State-owned equipment purchased by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

-Among the first new rail equipment purchased with Federal funds (and first such in New Jersey).

-One of few stainless cars built by the St. Louis Car Company in the late 1960s and early 1970s (others being SEPTA's Silverliner III, and NYCTs R38, R40, R40M, R42 and R44).

-These cars served as electric MU cars and push-pull coaches from 1968 to the present day on the Penn Central, NJDOT, NJ Transit, AMT-Montreal and Caltrans (Amtrak San Joaquin line).

-The fastest cars built by the St. Louis Car Company: designed, tested and operated at over 100 mph on the Northeast Corridor between New York and Trenton.

Comarrow History

During the 1960s, passenger rail service in New Jersey began receiving financial aid. Publicly funded improvements and subsidies would come to the passenger routes of the PRR (Northeast Corridor), CNJ, Reading and Erie Lackawanna. The Transportation Act of 1966 established the New Jersey Department of Transportation and created a subsidiary agency, the Commuter Operating Agency to fund and operate passenger rail service.

In 1966 the NJDOT (then known as the New Jersey State Highway Department and in the process of being reorganized into the New Jersey Department of Transportation) ordered 35 PRR "MP85" type MU cars from St. Louis Car for high speed service between New York and Trenton with UMTA (U.S. Mass Transit Act, 1964) funds.

The design was based on the SEPTA/PSIC (Passenger Service Improvement Corporation) Silverliner III units then under order from St. Louis Car and pending delivery in 1967. Each car was 85 feet long with end side doors, plus a high level center door for use on high platforms at Newark Penn Station and New York Penn Station. The center vestibule divided each car into "Smoking" and "Non-Smoking" sections. Seating was 3-2 with a capacity of 118, with walnut-trimmed interior paneling.

Know as Jersey Arrows or officially as PRR MP85E6 class (numbered 100-134), the Arrows differed from the Silverliner III cars with the latter lacking a center door with vestibule and delivered with left-hand ("British" style) cabs. The Silverliners had large windows, with the Arrows having small oval panes. General Electric (air-cooled ignitron) propulsion systems and electrical equipment were featured on the SEPTA/PSIC cars, as was on the 1963 Budd Silverliner IIs. The Arrows were Westinghouse equipment (SCR control). While the Jersey Arrows were intended for high speed service on the Northeast Corridor (over 100 mph), the Silverliners were mainly used for local and regional service, geared to a normal top speed of 85 mph. The Westinghouse motors and gear drives produced 700 HP (4 units at 175 HP each) per car, with 0-80 mph in 70 seconds.

The Silverliner IIIs and Arrows were the only St. Louis cars built almost entirely of stainless steel. All structural and body members (except end sills and bolsters) were stainless. The stainless sheetmetal that made up the sides, ends and roof were load-carrying as part of a integral (monocoque) structure with the stainless center sill (floorpan). This eliminated the need for conventional steel framing. Fiberglass bonnets were used on the upper car ends (with the car number placed on the bonnet).

The first two Jersey Arrow/MP85E6 units (100 and 101) were delivered in August 1968, followed by a demo "trial" run on September 11 for officials and the press.

Revenue passenger service for the new Jersey Arrows began October 30, 1968.

The Arrow cars, in their early years were prone to electrical problems, including grounding and fires. The MP54 fleet continued in Penn Central service alongside the Arrows. In the early 1970s, a second fleet of 70 cars was ordered for Penn Central service by the NJDOT. The Arrow IIs were built by GE's Erie shops (carbodies by Avco and Canadian Vickers) and delivered in 1974. This began the retirement of the prewar MP54s.

With a large fleet of 230 Arrow IIIs (most ordered for the Hoboken Division) coming in 1977 and 1978, the Arrow I fleet began being mothballed in the mid 1970s. 19 Arrow Is were overhauled for compatibility with the newer GE Arrow cars and renumbered into the 500-series, with a later renumbering into the 1200 series (1200-1233) to match the GE Arrow units planned.

By 1980, the 33 Arrow I units (minus wrecked/scrapped 105 and 107) were stored on NJDOT property. In 1986 NJ Transit executed a contract with Morrison Knudsen to convert 30 Arrow I cars into push-pull units at the Hornell (NY) shops. Three cars were salvaged for parts and not rebuilt.

The first Comet I-B (or Comarrow) unit was completed at Hornell in August 1987. In late 1987, the first few cars were now on the Raritan Valley Line (mixed with 1982-83 Comet IIs and F40s). The conversion program was completed in late 1988.

As rebuilt, the "Comarrows" came in two forms: cab (5155-5169) and trailer coach (5220-5234). All now had fixed 3-2 seating (also used on the Comet I rebuilds by Bombardier and the new Comet IIBs delivered in 1988). The center doors were plugged and riveted over, with the center vestibule removed. Cab cars received space for wheelchairs and bicycles on the B (non cab) end. Seating capacity for cab cars was 115, 121 for trailer coaches.

Found on the Newark Division, including the Raritan Valley and Coast Lines, the Comarrows were generally mixed with Comet II and IIB equipment. With the rebuilding of the Comet II fleet with Comet IV/Comet V compatibility, the Comet I-Bs were gradually placed into solid sets on the Newark Division by 2003.

By 2005-2006, the 30 Comet I-B cars were assigned to the Hoboken Division, mixed with ex-Erie Lackawanna Comet Is in diesel service on the Main/Bergen, Pascack Valley and Boonton Lines. The delivery of Multilevels from 2006 and into 2007 allowed the displacement of newer Comet Vs onto the Hoboken diesel lines, allowing for the gradual removal of Comet I and I-B cars from service.

The last Comet I-Bs in revenue passenger service were 5227 on train 1152 and 5232 and 5163 on train 1612, July 11, 2008 (in mixed trains with Comet I equipment). The Comet I-B cabs and trailers remained in operable condition and idle through late 2008, with the remaining high-door Comet Is in service through late 2008/early 2009.

Some Comet I-Bs would be leased to AMT in Montreal between 2008 and 2010. These cars were returned at the end of their lease.

In 2008, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) purchased 14 Comarrow cars at $75,000 each for use on the San Joaquin line between Oakland and Bakersfield. These cars would be overhauled into intercity coaches (with a seating capacity of 64) by Amtrak's Beech Grove (Indiana) shops at a cost of $20 million. The Comarrows left for Beech Grove (via Sunnyside and Chicago) on the tail end of the Lake Shore Limited (49) in February 2011.

Upgrades included rebuilt trucks, overhauled HVAC systems, new flooring, carpet, curtains, glass glazing and Amfleet-type seating. ADA seating areas and new restrooms were installed. Luggage racks, bike racks and waste/recycling bins were installed at the ends of cars. On the cab cars, the cabs were removed and the end windows riveted over.

The first rebuilt Caltrans Comet I-B, 5008 (ex-5165) was completed at Beech Grove in March 2013. The Comarrows then traveled west to Oakland one at a time on the Zephyr (via Chicago). The first train of rebuilt Comarrows (operating with a Horizon dinette) on the San Joaquin line began operating in September 2013. All 14 cars were completed by April 2014. The Comarrows currently run on trains 702, 703, 714 and 715 between Oakland/Sacramento and Bakersfield.

NJDOT Arrow I/PRR MP85E6/Comarrow Coach Specs

Weight115,000 lb (original configuration)/98,900 lb (Caltrans coach)
Seating capacity118 (original configuration)/115 (NJT cab car)/121 (NJT coach)/64 (Caltrans coach)
ConstructionStainless steel, all welded with integral (load carrying) exterior car shell and center sill
TrucksSt. Louis-GSI Series 70
Motors, propulsion and control Westinghouse SCR, "Tracpak" motors and gear units, 700 HP/car
Braking systemWABCO
HVACVapor Corp.

Feature story on new Jersey Arrow cars, Penn Central Post magazine, December 1968

Railway Age, 1968

"Comets lead to more San Joaquins", Bob Johnston, TRAINS Magazine, September 2016.

Arrow I "Comarrow" Roster

Original unit - PRR MP85E6 (1968)NJDOT renumber (late 1970s)NJT renumber (push-pull)CaltransNotes
100n/a [1200]5220n/a
101501 [1201]51555001Caltrans name "The Comet", overhaul 12/2013
102502 [1202]5156n/a
103503 [1203]5157n/a
104504 [1204]51585002Caltrans name "The Meteor", overhaul 2/2014
105n/an/an/aScrapped (1975 wreck)
106n/a [1206]5221n/a
107n/an/an/aScrapped (fire)
108508 [1208]5160n/aNow SPAX 610
109509 [1209]5234n/a
110510 [1210]51615004Caltrans name "The Owl", overhaul 4/2014
111n/a [1211]5222n/a
112n/a [1212]5223n/a
113n/a [1213]52245013Caltrans name "The Citrus Belt Limited", overhaul 5/2013
114n/a [1214]5225n/a
115n/a [1215]5226n/a
116516 [1216]51625005Caltrans name "The Senator", overhaul 12/2013
117517 [1217]51635006Caltrans name "The El Dorado", overhaul 11/2013
118n/a [1218]5227n/a
119519 [1219]n/an/aSalvaged car, not rebuilt
120520 [1220]51645007Caltrans name "The Del Monte", overhaul 7/2013
121521 [1221]n/an/aSalvaged car, not rebuilt
122522 [1222]51655008Caltrans name "The Redwood", overhaul 3/2013
123523 [1223]n/an/aSalvaged car, not rebuilt
124n/a [1224]5228n/a
125525 [1225]51665009Caltrans name "The Valley Flyer", overhaul 10/2013
126n/a [1226]5229n/a
127n/a [1227]52305014Caltrans name "The Spirit of California", overhaul 8/2013
128528 [1228]51675010Caltrans name "The Golden Gate", overhaul 1/2014
129529 [1229]51685011Caltrans name "The San Diegan", overhaul 9/2013
130530 [1230]51695012Caltrans name "The Feather River Express", overhaul 10/2013
131n/a [1231]5231n/a
132n/a [1232]5232n/a
133n/a [1233]5233n/a
134507* [1207]51595003Caltrans name "The Lark", overhaul 3/2014

*134 was renumbered 507 to replace the original 107, scrapped due to fire.

Cars renumbered in 500 series overhauled with MU compatibility with Arrow II and III.

1200-series renumbers (in brackets) were planned in late 1970s, but not carried out.