John handing out vests and hard hats during HBLR tour that he organized. Sandy Campbell photo (2006)

John E. Pappas


by Alexander Ivanoff

John Emanuel Pappas, ERA first vice president and associate editor of Headlights magazine, died on the morning of Monday, July 29, 2019 at the age of 75. He had been battling cancer for almost a year.

John was a late comer to the Electric Railroaders Association, having joined in 2000. He quickly rose to the position of first vice president, a title he held for 10 years until his death. As associate editor of Headlights, his prolific content contributions┬ásince 2006 continued growing until he wrote and mostly photographed full issues himself. He collaborated with Sandy Campbell on the multi-year “Rails to Rubber to Rail” series, followed by the single-feature issues on ERA’s Japan, Poland and Germany tours, and culminating with the 2018 issue focusing on the return of PCC Streetcars to El Paso.

John had been a railfan from an early age, having grown up in Los Angeles during the twilight years of the Pacific Electric interurban and LA Railway. It was that love of trains and electric traction, especially trolley buses, that helped set him on his career path of transit management. After a stint in the U.S. Army in Germany, John returned to the West Coast, working in San Francisco for transit consulting firms.

If you were to ask John what his greatest accomplishment was, he would proudly boast that he was instrumental in setting up the bus systems in the cities of Iowa City, Iowa and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Four decades after leaving, Transit Director Brian Litchfield recognized John for his role in setting up the network in Chapel Hill.

John then went to work in Ohio. During a brief stint at the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, John worked on the rehabilitation of the two remaining Illinois Terminal PCCs that were used during a reconstruction project on the Shaker Heights Line (one of these cars is now preserved at the Connecticut Trolley Museum). At the close of the 1970s, John moved to Texas where he worked for Houston METRO for almost two decades before returning to Ohio where he worked for several years as head of operations for the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority.

It was his role as senior director of schedules for the New York City Transit Authority that took John to New York City. After leaving NYC Transit, John served as an independent consultant for numerous transit systems across the United States, including Sacramento, San Francisco, Houston and various other agencies. John also consulted for New Jersey Transit on the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail project. John made no secret of his ability to help any transit system with its scheduling woes.

Despite being from Los Angeles, John considered himself a citizen of the world. He was a prolific traveler, having visited all 50 states, parts of Asia and most of Europe. John’s wealth of information proved valuable on numerous ERA publications and could at a moment’s notice recall the most trivial of information about a given system.

Unfortunately, John’s failing health curtailed many travels he wanted to undertake, including the 2019 ERA Annual Convention to the Southwest. However, he managed to find the strength in July to travel to Pittsburgh on a private rail car charter with his close friend ERA Treasurer Michael Glikin.

John was a man of deep faith, attending services at the Brooklyn Tabernacle almost every Sunday. He is survived by his son Tim, daughters Nancy and Beth, nine grandchildren and a lifetime of wonderful memories.

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