Pioneer III (railcar)

The Budd Company Pioneer III electric multiple unit (m.u.) coach was designed in the 1950s as a high-speed self-contained coach that could be used for long-distance commuter or short-distance intercity travel, mainly in the Northeast U.S. where most of the Class I passenger railroads were electrified. Only eight were built and were purchased by the Pennsylvania Railroad for its electrified Harrisburg-Philadelphia service.


Measuring roughly 85 feet in length and 10 feet in width, the Pioneer III coach resembled the stainless steel coaches used by the Pennsylvania Railroad for its premier New York City-Washington, D.C. and New York City-Chicago services. Seating on the Pioneer III were in two rows of 25 with a control cab located on each end. Like all m.u. coaches, the Pioneer III was capable of running as a single-car train, or with up to eight cars total, depending on the number of passengers it was to carry. The Pioneer III car had an advertised speed of 100 m.p.h., but in actual operations, ran at speeds of around 80-85 m.p.h. Power was collected with a diamond-shaped pantograph and knuckle-shaped (tightlock) couplers, identical to those found on the PRR long-distance trains, allowed the Pioneer III coaches to be transported to shop facilities in Paoli, or Philadelphia for maintenance. The original numbers were 151-158. When the GE Silverliner IV cars began arriving in 1974, the Pioneers were renumbered 241-248 so they would not conflict with car numbers of the Reading MU cars which was being operated by SEPTA as a combined fleet with PC MU cars.

The Pioneer III Today

Although the Pioneer III design was advanced for its time, operating headaches and a ready stream of available GG-1 locomotive-hauled coaches spelled a premature end to the Pioneer III coaches. In the 1960s, as a need to bolster commuter rail service in the Philadelphia area, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) contracted with the Budd Company to build a more advanced version of the Pioneer III design. Using the Pioneer III as a model, the new "Silverliner," as the stainless steel m.u. coaches were called, differed greatly from the Pioneers. They all had fabricated trucks with air springs and disc brakes, more powerful traction motors, two rows of ceiling lights, improved air conditioning, to name few changes. The use of the coupler a "spear" coupler in place of the "knuckle" design, and a sleeker T-shaped (faviley) pantograph in place of the diamond-shaped pantograph.

After taking delivery of the 70 "Silverliner" cars, going to both the PRR and the Reading Company, SEPTA and the PRR (later Penn Central and Conrail) took the Pioneer III cars off intercity operations and used them instead on Philadelphia area commuter service. In 1967, when SEPTA and the PRR took delivery of a "Silverliner" m.u. car order from the St. Louis Car Company, the first "Silverliner" delivery became the "Silverliner II" cars and the 1967 order, the "Silverliner III." Although still officially called the Pioneer III, these cars were retroactively given the "Silverliner I" designation.

After the 1974-75 delivery of the "Silverliner IV" cars from GE, and the takeover of commuter rail operations from Conrail, SEPTA, having a sufficient amount of Silverliner II, III, and IV cars, finally retired the Pioneer III/Silverliner I cars in the late 1980s. Until 2000, the cars were kept at in storage, along with ex-Reading m.u. cars near Wayne Junction. Although there were plans to convert the cars into locomotive-hauled coaches, SEPTA finally decided to scrap all but one coach due to the expense it would have to put into the cars, the presence of PCBs in the transformers, and that they would not be ADA compliant. The scrapped cars were sent to the FRA test site in Colorado for crash testing, while the lone remaining Pioneer III/Silverliner I car, which has 1980s SEPTA liverly, is on display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg along with an ex-Reading electric m.u. coach, an observation car from the Reading Crusader, and a Budd-built Metroliner m.u. coach, the latter which can trace its lineage to the Pioneer III.

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