A Star in Erie Railroad History

New passenger train inaugurals have historically commanded attention of the public. Any new travel option and adventure of discovery touches the heart of our desire to be in motion accompanied by the hope for a memorable journey. All of that came to life on June 2, 1929 when the Erie Railroad introduced its primary, namesake train The Erie Limited. The train was an overdue ramp-up of passenger service along the Erie route, especially the Southern Tier region of New York. In the golden glow of that seemingly endless era of prosperity, that region was home to many large corporations that justifiably felt they deserved better accommodations beyond the ordinary coaches and Pullman cars that constituted the backbone of the railroad’s passenger trains. The Erie spoke directly to that in the promotional brochure that announced that new train: “The great cities, key points in their importance and civic prowess in the great family of communities served by The Erie Railroad, will now have new and improved sleeping-car accommodations on this fine train.”

To the Erie, the 25-hour, New York to Chicago schedule was an achievement, but in truth it was a distant 3rd to the feature trains of the NYC and PRR since both offered 20-hour flyers and those would be cut to 18 hours within a decade. The train did offer lower fares compared to its two giant competitors and, more importantly, the Limited lived up to the promotional releases since the coaches were of the newest design, with individual seating and the Pullman cars featured solid walls between the sections and lighter, more airy interiors compared to the cars they replaced. Erie also added new dining cars to its fleet and improved the menu options and food quality. Both coach and Pullman passengers had their own lounge car space, the latter in the handsome 10-compartment observation cars that displayed dual tail signs on their rear-platform, brass railings, one proclaiming the name of the train, the other the Erie logo.

Luck and timing mean everything and sadly The Erie Limited had neither. Black Friday occurred that October and after the resulting Great Depression, rail passenger traffic began its prolonged downward trend.  The train soldiered on but the normal Limited included a hefty consist of mail and express cars, followed by several coaches, a dining car and one or two Pullman sleeping cars. It was clear by 1945 that the Erie did not have the passenger market to warrant purchasing new cars nor checkbook for the expansive build-up of postwar, lightweight streamlined equipment. Postwar modernism on the Erie was confined to ten new sleeping cars, 20 renovated coaches and a handful of modernized dining cars. Still, Erie trains remained clean, comfortable and dependable but remained a curious mix of old and new. Renaming the train The Erie-Lackawanna Limited, after the ill-fated merger with the Lackawanna in October of 1960, added little prestige to its checkered legacy and it was soon withdrawn. Images from the 1929 promotion, including an early departure of the train at taken near Jersey City are featured.

The legend of The Erie Limited celebrates a colorful aspect of our rail heritage, demonstrates perseverance on the part of its determined carrier and offers some examples of how to build and incorporate typical steam-era trains on your railroad system. Our inventory offers a wide selection of locomotives and cars, covering the period from the 1920s to age of Amtrak that will allow you to accomplish that task easily, cost-effectively and with great satisfaction.

Frank Wrabel