Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Robert S. Korach, 95, PATCO executive and national transit expert

Mr. Korach started out checking bags at Cleveland Union Terminal, so he could follow what trains were arriving and departing. He worked as a manager in various transit systems before being recruited in 1967 to create PATCO.

Robert S. Korach
Robert S. KorachRead moreCourtesy of the Korach Family (custom credit)

Robert Stone Korach, 95, of Cherry Hill, the former head of operations for the PATCO Lindenwold High-Speed Line and a nationally known expert on public transportation, died Thursday, April 18, of complications from a stroke at Samaritan Hospice in Voorhees.

A longtime friend, J. William Vigrass, a transportation economist, said Mr. Korach excelled at generating operating plans for public transit systems.

“He was a master of scheduling, how to get the most out of the equipment and manpower to provide excellent service at a reasonable cost,” Vigrass said.

Mr. Korach could do advanced calculations and form plans in his head that few others could follow. “He was really something special,” Vigrass said.

Mr. Korach was recruited in 1967 to become the first employee and head of operations for the PATCO Lindenwold High-Speed Line. He recruited Vigrass to handle fares and set up stations.

At the time, the PATCO line was under construction. It was the first of the post-World War II “modern” rapid rail transit systems, and under Mr. Korach’s leadership, it became the national model for effective and efficient rapid rail transit, his family said.

Virtually all the new rapid transit systems sent their senior supervisors to PATCO to learn Mr. Korach’s management techniques. After a short period of retirement from PATCO in 1983, he returned to work as the assistant general manager of operations for the Southern California Rapid Transit District.

He stopped working full time in 1988 and became a consultant for new rail projects across the country. The highlight of his career was being inducted in 1995 into the American Public Transit Association’s Hall of Fame for his contributions to the industry.

Born in Cleveland, Mr. Korach spent the first half of his life in the Midwest. Right out of high school, he took a job checking the suitcases of rail passengers at Cleveland Union Terminal.

“The pleasure and reward of this position was my ability to constantly monitor the big blackboard that announced the comings and goings of the [trains],” he said in an undated autobiography.

He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1940, interrupting his studies to join the Army during World War II. He served with the military police and in a Transportation Corps Officers Candidate Training School in New Orleans before being honorably discharged in 1945. He joined the Army Reserves in 1945, retiring in 1965 with the rank of major.

After the war, he returned to the University of Wisconsin and graduated in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. While there, he took jobs such as baggage handler for the Milwaukee Railroad in Madison and part-time operations manager for the university’s intramural bus system.

Mr. Korach’s first career job was in the Cleveland Transit System, where he rose to superintendent of schedules. In 1962, he was hired by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. He combined the Pacific electric rail routes with the Los Angeles railway system.

In 1965, he became the manager of operations planning for the MBTA in Boston before moving to head of operations for PATCO.

An avid historian, Mr. Korach was often asked to write, edit, and critique scholarly articles on early electric railways. He also collaborated on books about electric transit systems in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Mr. Korach was a mentor to many young men and women who worked in public transit. He made lasting friendships across generations and traveled extensively into his 90s.

He helped to raise funds for the Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was a member of Jewish War Veterans Post No. 126 of Cherry Hill.

Mr. Korach’s marriage to Jeanne Korach ended in 1965 with a divorce. She died in 2010.

He is survived by a son, Kenneth; a daughter, Marcia Slattery; and four grandsons.

A visitation starting at 9:15 a.m. Monday, April 22, will be followed by a 10 a.m. funeral at Platt Memorial Chapels, 2001 Haddonfield-Berlin Rd., Cherry Hill. Interment will be Tuesday, April 23, at Mayfield Cemetery in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Memorial donations may be made to the Temple Emanuel Starlight Foundation, 1101 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill, N.J. 08003.