Budd Silverliner Electric Multiple-Units

Introduced in the mid-sixties, the Budd Silverliner electric multiple-units faithfully served the greater Philadelphia area for 49 years, before being retired in 2012, upon the arrival of the new Silverliner V.

The 1960s proved a turbulent time for the nation’s railroads, and the once mighty Pennsylvania Railroad and Reading Company were no exception. The two railroads were competitors in providing commuter services to the Philadelphia area, however, were utilizing worn out railcars, dating back to the early twentieth century. The Pennsylvania utilized their venerable MP54 EMU’s while the Reading sported their “Blueliners”. However, due to the ailing financial conditions plaguing both railroads, they lacked the funds to purchase new equipment.

To assist the struggling railroads, both state and local governments offered to take responsibility for a portion of the cost of the purchase of new equipment. Thus, the “Passenger Service Improvement Corporation” (PSIC) was born, in which the new equipment would be purchased by the government, and the PRR and Reading would operate the commuter services independently.

Roger Puta

Much debate ensued on which type of equipment would be feasible on the various Philadelphia area commuter lines. The railroads, along with the PSIC, looked towards the then recently developed, “Pioneer III” coach developed by the Philadelphia based Budd Company, which was introduced as a single prototype in 1958. However, the prototype car saw little interest, leading Budd to redesign the car as an electric multiple-unit (EMU), in which six were produced. These six cars, along with a production order placed by the PRR in 1963, totaling 38 were built, furthermore, seventeen cars were ordered and produced for the Reading.

Upon delivery, their stainless steel carbody earned them the name “Silverliner”. In fact, the cars had such a profound impact on both the customer base and the railroads that they served, the name continued for three subsequent series of cars. The cars were an immediate hit with daily commuters, as they included amenities such as air conditioning, improved capacity, silent operation, air-cushion suspension, and quick acceleration. The new Silverliners were twelve feet longer in length then their predecessor PRR MP54 cars, offering an additional capacity of 54 persons.

Each set of cars was given a class designation by their respective railroads, as the PRR designated their cars MP85B, and MP85C, while the Reading designated their cars as REB-13. Due to the eminent success of the Silverliners, a second set was delivered in 1967. Upon this delivery, the original six Pioneer III cars were designated Silverliner I, the first production run Silverliner II, and the latest delivery, Silverliner III.

Roger Puta

Although the fleet only saw service in, and around the Philadelphia area, the PRR originally planned to utilize them on more long distance intercity services to places such as New York and Harrisburg, thus, certain cars were equipped with bathroom facilities. However, these plans never came to fruition, as it was soon decided that the cars were best suited for local commuter operations.

Due to the various financial challenges experienced by railroads in the sixties, the PRR and the New York Central merged to create the Penn Central, which would file for the country’s largest ever bankruptcy up to that point. The ailing Penn Central operated the ex-PRR cars, showing their ownership through the Penn Central “worm” replacing the Pennsy Keystone.

Penn Central would operate the cars until 1976, when Conrail was formed to consolidate most of the railroads in the Northeastern United States. Although operated by Conrail, they wore the livery of the newly formed Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). The PRR and Reading cars would soon share their stomping ground, with the opening of the Center City Commuter Connection in 1984, linking the PRR and Reading commuter systems.

With over twenty years of service under their belt, the Silverliner cars were rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen in 1989, i which they were given upgraded propulsion systems, and received modifications on both transformers and HVAC systems. The cars continued to soldier on, however, as a decade passed, the cars were beginning to show their age. Furthermore, SEPTA had been implementing high-level platforms at many of their stations, however, the manual door operation of the Silverliners proved troublesome, and lacked compliance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Roger Puta

With these known issues, SEPTA began seeking replacements for its venerable Silverliner I/II/III cars, however, they were drastically delayed until 2010, due to factory construction and other matters. The new cars, dubbed Silverliner V, were constructed by Hyundai-Rotem, and began delivery in late 2010. By 2012, all the Budd Silverliners were replaced, with the last Silverliner IIs, #9010 and #235, completing their final journey to Suburban station on a Cynwyd line train.


The Budd Silverliners were state-of-the-art machines. They included a new high speed truck, which would become the standard on many subsequent emu’s and passenger cars such as the Amfleet and Comet commuter cars. Additionally, the cars had an advanced AC/DC rectifier propulsion system, which allowed for quick acceleration and smooth operation.

The original six Pioneer III emu’s were delivered in numbers 100-105, even numbers were equipped with fabricated trucks and disc brakes, and odd numbers were equipped with cast steel truck frames and tread brakes. Subsequent Silverliner orders were also equipped with disc brakes, however, the PRR converted theirs to tread brakes in 1968, while the Reading cars survived with disc brakes until their rebuild in the late eighties.

Roger Puta

Interestingly, the original six Pioneer III cars (Silverliner I), were not compatible with the rest of the Silverliner fleet, thus, the six could only be run together, and not MU’d with Silverliner II and III. Additionally, the Silverliner I was distinguishable from the subsequent orders, as it utilized the “diamond” pantograph, where the rest of the fleet utilizes the Faiveley single-arm pantograph.

Although the cars were paid for by the state and federal government, each railroad had the option to customize their respective orders. Thus, the PRR units were delivered equipped with a bar pilot, while the Reading equipment was delivered with a small plow in front of the truck. Further configurations concerned the interior elements, such as luggage racks above the seats, etc.

Number Built59
Passenger CapacityBathroom: 124

w/o bathroom: 127

Length85 ft
Width9 ft 11 in
Max Speed100 mph
Weight101,400 lbs
Horsepower550 hp
Electrical Current25 Hz AC
Collection MethodPantograph


PRR201-219 (MP85B)

250-269 (MP85C)


Reading9001-9017 (REB-13)



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