America's railroad greatest growth expecially passenger travel was in the first 60 years of 20th Century. Grand Central Terminal, Kansas City Union Station, Chicago's many terminals and others combined great architectuire with smooth rail operations. Steam power evolved into diesel power. Pullman Company was excellence. Santa Fe, New York Central, Pennsylvania, Southern Pacific just a few famous and less famous railroads. This article explores some of that history.
The Ghost Train
The new Pullman train between New York and Boston in 1891 quickly became known to railroaders as The Ghost Train because of the creamy white exteriors of its all Pullman car consist. With lettering and other decorative features in gold, the train offered a marked contrast with every other passenger train.
The northbound train left New York at 3 PM, traveled over the New York and New Haven and New York and New England lines, with a scheduled arrival in Boston at 9 PM. An identical southbound train set left Boston at 3 PM and arrived in New York at 9 PM. Speed was not important at that time for these overnight trains. With all stops they averaged only 38 miles and hour over the 227 mile route. What made these trains popular was the comfort and service provided on board combined with the constant regularity of arriving at stations on time.
Each train's consist included a combination car, passenger coaches and drawing room cars. The combination car included a baggage compartment and a smoking room provided with upholstered willow chairs, lush carpeting and white shades and draperies on the windows. The drawing room cars were outfitted with 20 revolving chairs and 6 reclining chairs. Car lighting was provided by gas fixtures and each car carried its gas supply in nine foot long cylinder tanks under the car. During night time, and especially during periods of mist or fog, the brightly lit interiors and the white exteriors made the trains appear especially ghostly. Built especially for this service, each Pullman car cost about $8,500 at the time.
Travel In Style - Travel Pullman
The Pullman Company's Upper Berths, Lower Berths and Drawing Rooms set the standard for comfortable, safe travel up until the late 1950s.
Once, thousands of people went to bed every night between crisp white sheets and under the woolen Pullman blankets in railroad Sleeping Cars tavelling all over the country. Many of the sleeping cars were operated by the Pullman Company. It was an era where service and comfort mattered. Every passengers' shoes aboard Pullman sleeping cars were shined overnight while their owners slept. The Pullman Company's policy of personal courtesy and considerate attention to the passengers was carried out efficiently by the thousands of Pullman Porters. And aboard the trains, fine dining and congenial lounges were also standard fare. In most recent years, travel has become faster -- although probably not finer.
By the mid-1950s, the Pullman Company had become a part of railroad history but many of their sleeping cars, the on-board traditions, standards and service survived but were operated by the railroads. Newer railroad cars were of the lightweight streamlined sleeping cars also included the Sleepercoaches such as this car on the New York Central Railroad provided the most economical sleeping car roomettes and bedrooms with private facilities.
The Daily Race
The tracks of two of America's largest eastern railroads were parallel to each other for only part of the 18 miles between Englewood ,Illinois and Gary, Indiana. It took only minutes for the New York Central Railroad's 20th Century Limited and the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited to travel those few miles but it was a daily example that of that era demonstrating corporate technical and operational competition to attract the public travelers.
Both were first class all-Pullman car trains that operated daily in both directions between New York City and Chicago. The trains departed from Chicago for New York at the same mid-afternoon time with the 20th Century Limited from Chicago's LaSalle Street Station and the Broadway Limited from Chicago's Union Station. Over the years, the daily race was the opportunity to witness the evolutions of the latest steam locomotive and then diesel locomotive technologies combined with industrial era artistic designs. At Engelwood, the two railroad's mainlines converged and the daily race was a subject for photographers and artists for decades.
Rocky Mountain Railroading
The railroads opened the nation. As difficult and dangerous as it was to build across and through the mountains, for those that could travel the routes it provided spectacular scenery. Many miles of the mountain railroads were built to narrow gauge standards. This 1929 photo of the Royal Gorge Route shows a Denver, Rio Grande & Western RR passenger train that had traveled hundred of miles through gorges and over mountains, stopping at the Hanging Bridge. At this point, the Royal Gorge is a half mile deep yet only forty feet wide at the bottom, a quarter mile wide at the top.
The Olympian shown climbing the Rocky Mountains on the mainline of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway.
Climbing Mount Washington
The Cog Railway travelling up to the 6,288 ft. high peak of Mount Washington, New Hampshire USA is a most enjoyable rail journey. The railway's rack and pinion locomotives first went into operation in 1869 on the approximately three mile line that has an average grade of 25 percent with a maximum grade of 37.4 percent at points. The original construction that made it the world's first mountain climbing cog railway set the stage for innovation and inventiveness that has ensured continuous operation since it was first built. The railways management noted that the conversion to several biodiesel locomotives and with "solar-powered track switches to the advanced Parker IQAN on-board computer package [ensures] The Cog continues to be a leader in cutting edge technology."
Troy, New York - Once A Railroad Crossroad
Throughout the country, as the number of larger and smaller railroads incresed competing for the freight and passenger markets the web of railroad tracks expanded. Large cities were well served. Most towns and small cities especially in more rural areas were served by a single railroad Midsize cities became an interchange points for several railroads.
In the northeast, Albany, New York was one example.In the 1800s it became an important river port due to Hudson River and Erie Canal traffic. The railroads then made it their hubs. The architecturally renowned Delaware & Hudson Railroad headquarters and passenger station adjacent to the New York Centra Railroadl's imposing station became important points of commerce. The New York Central Railroad's Albany Station was the first stop for their prime westbound and last stop for the eastbound passenger trains to New York City such as the 20th Century Limited. Across the Hudson River from Albany is Troy, NY which had the generally lesser known but operationally and the architecturally significant Troy Union Station shown soon after opening in the early 1900s. The City of Troy benefited from its topogrpahic location including the Hudson River and its share of river traffic including both passenger steamers to New York City. The Rutland Railroad, Delaware & Hudson Railway and New York Central Railroad provided direct service to Vermont, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, New York City and Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Soon after opening in 1900, the Troy Union Station's role as a railroad hub quickly developed. New York Central's locomotive 5450 raised a cloud of steam and smoke near Troy's Union Station. Photo taken late 1940s.
In the northeast, Albany, New York was one example.In the 1800s it became an important river port due to Hudson River and Erie Canal traffic. The railroads then made it their hubs. The architecturally renowned Delaware & Hudson Railroad headquarters and passenger station adjacent to the New York Centra Railroadl's imposing station became important points of commerce. The New York Central Railroad's Albany Station was the first stop for their prime westbound and last stop for the eastbound passenger trains to New York City such as the 20th Century Limited.
Across the Hudson River from Albany is Troy, NY which had the generally lesser known but operationally and the architecturally significant Troy Union Station shown soon after opening in the early 1900s. The City of Troy benefited from its topogrpahic location including the Hudson River and its share of river traffic including both passenger steamers to New York City. The Rutland Railroad, Delaware & Hudson Railway and New York Central Railroad provided direct service to Vermont, Maine, Boston, Massachusetts, New York City and Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Soon after opening in 1900, the Troy Union Station's role as a railroad hub quickly developed.
New York Central's locomotive 5450
raised a cloud of steam and smoke
near Troy's Union Station.
Photo taken late 1940s.
Troy, New York State, USA
A southbound New York Central passenger train out of Troy Union Station and a northbound New York Central Railroad passenger local train met near Troy's heavy industry area that included steel mills and petroleum storage tank farms in the late 1940s or early 1950s. All Troy, NY steam locomotive photos by Gene Baxter.>
(Left) After its arrival from Montreal over the Delaware & Hudson Railroad mainline along Lake Champlain and into Troy, the Laurentian's passenger train consist was transferred to the New York Central Railroad. Headed by NYC locomotive 5415, the Laurentian again rolled southbound for Croton-Harmon, NY where the steam locomotive was replaced by an electric engine for the Laurentian's final leg of the trip to the New York Central Railroad's Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
The Lackawanna's Phoebe Snow
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad's premier passenger train Phoebe Snow travelled daily between Hoboken, New Jersey and Buffalo, New York with connections to Chicago. The view shown is the Phoebe Snow passing through the Delaware Water Gap with New Jersey on the eastern side of the Delaware River and Pennsylvania on the western side.
Revisiting Amtrak's Early Years
Amtrak's The National Limited ran between New York City via Pittsburgh to St. Louis and then onto Kansas City. At Kansas City, one of the Amtrak sleeping cars was uncoupled and held in the station for several hours and then attached to the westbound consist of the Super Chief enroute to Los Anfgeles, California. No need to change cars for a cross country trip. The photo taken in December, 1971 shows the crew of the ex-Penn Central dining car relax after serving the last of the diners before arrival in St. Louis.
Many of Amtrak's on-board crews were veterans of the Pullman Company and other first class rail service providers. They still wanted to provide traditional old style 1st class service as they had done for years. But the reality was that at Amtrak's inception it was generally forced to depend on an infrastructure of worn out rolling stock, rundown stations in many regions and insufficient investment capital to make the necessary improvements as quickly as needed.
Once one of the finest classic rail stations in the nation, St. Louis' Union Station had fallen on hard times by December, 1971 when cars of Amtrak's National Limited occupied adjacent tracks amid mud from water coming through the deteriorated train shed roof and years of general grime.
The equipment and facilities taken over from the western railroads was significantly better than those from eastern railroads. The Union Pacific Railroad's distinctive yellow coaches and sleepers became a common sight on eastern trains such as The Broadway Limited. Stainless steel passenger cars were easier to mix throughout Amtrak's system since their exteriors blended together easily.
The Santa Fe Railroad's locomotives with their distinctive traditonal War Bonnet design and colors still powered Amtrak's eastbound and westbound Super Chief / El Capitan trains in the early 1970s shown here meeting high in the New Mexico mountains near Raton Pass.
This long Amtrak train consisted of 18 passenger cars and baggage cars that were the combination of the El Capitan's forward coach section including lounge and dining cars coupled to the rear first class Super Chief's section ot sleeping cars, dome lounge car and the dining car.
The Private Railroad Cars
1980 Winter Olympic Special Train
In the years before Amtrak was formed, individual railroads with passenger service would at times operate private, non-scheduled, passenger trains for special groups and special occasions. As the railroads exited the passenger business, the operation of those private trains declined or disappeared. That market void for special operation private trains was slightly filled as a small number of independent private individuals purchased and modernized former railroad passenger cars and made them available for tours.
Amtrak also recognized a market potential for group travel private trains that, due to equipment shortages, they could not always provide. Amtrak also established a program based on a fee per mile to accommodate individual private cars at the rear of their scheduled passenger trains when possible.
The 1980 Irving Trust Winter Olympic Special Private Train
In 1979, as the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid approaced, a major bank, The Irving Trust Company, in New York City began to explore the winter time safest and most comfortable way to transport their guests between New York City and Lake Placid. Their solution was a private train. This is that story:
The goal of the 1980 Winter Olympic Special Train was the operation of five round trips between New York City and Plattsburgh, New York to transport the New York City based bank's important guests from around the world to the Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games. The private1980 Winter Olympic Special Train's operation allowed each of the five groups to spend three days at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Northbound, the guests boarded the private train in Grand Central Terminal, New York City at 5:00 PM. They enjoyed cocktails and dinner in the train's diner enroute along the scenic Hudson River. Guests retired to their compartments and slept as the private train travelled north over the Delaware & Hudson mainline to Plattsburgh, New York. After breakfast in the diner, they boarded the motor coach for the trip to Lake Placid. For the 1980 Winter Olympic Special Train's southbound trip, guests from Lake Placid boarded the train for a late morning daytime run departing from Plattsburgh enroute to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
Among the operating challenges for the special five private car train included they were pulled over different sections of the route using either Amtrak locomotives and crews or Delaware & Hudson Railway locomotives and crews. The operating crews also included Conrail personel for the Conrail tracks between Schnectady, NY and Albany-Rensealeer, NY. Another challenge was due to the open platform business car at the rear, the train had to be turned at Grand Central and at Plattsburgh. Grand Central was no problem because of the track loops installed when the terminal was built. Plattsburgh was a bigger challenge. The layover time available between passenger groups to service the cars and turn the train was only four hours. Fortunately, an older Delaware & Hudson yard worker who knew every rail siding in the area suggested a little used Y tracked siding. Challenge resolved.
The Special's consist was made up of five private cars: a diner / entertainment car, two sleepers for passengers and crew, the Virginia Beach sleeper lounge with 6 double-bedrooms for passengers, and an open platform business car on the rear with bedroom accommodations for the bank's two host couples. The train's passengers boarded at 5 PM enjoying cocktails and dinner as the vestabule doors slammed shut and the special rolled north out of Grand Central Terminal at 7:00 PM for the overnight run northward. The returning southbound run was mostly in daylight and evening that provided the oustanding vistas along the Hudson River such as West Point.
Photo taken south of Plattsburgh trip on the Delaware & Hudson Railway's mainline hugging the western shore of Lake Champlain, New York with the Virginia Beach as the fourth car behind the Delaware & Hudson's diesel locomotives 5001 and 5002.
Few things in railroading are easy especially operating passenger cars and passenger trains on time in the dead of winter. So at the conclusion of the five round trips of the Olympic's special train, Irving Trust Company's Chairman of the Board wrote to Richard O. Aichele, who organized, negotiated with the railroads and supervised the operation of the special train, that: "We learned to have some idea of the impossible complications and frustrations of trying to put the train together and of keeping it running smoothly, so we weren't fooled by the apparent ease with which virtually everything went so precisely during the actual trips, but it certainly overwhelmed our guests - and us. . . It not only became a reality but it was a keystone in what turned out to be an unforgetable event in the lives of all of us and our guests as well. For your essential part in it, Dick, our deep thanks again for superb performance."