Air Conditioning Saves Passenger Travel

Rail romantics fondly recall the aura of the traditional passenger train, fielded by private railroads and indeed, the once-named “Grand Conveyance” left an indelible mark on the history of transportation. Most of those recollections center on the luxury trains and lavish Pullman cars that were once so much of our Nation and culture. They were memorable for a number of valid reasons but in truth, the masses were mostly carried in cramped, crowded day coaches that constituted the bulk of railroad passenger service. Still for the greater part of that grand history, coach and Pullman car passengers faced another selectively forgotten discomfort.

From the inception of railroad passenger service in the 1830s through the early 1930s, steam locomotives sullied passenger and crew with a constant shower of dirt and cinders. Road grime and dust also added to that problem. Various styles of window and transom screens were partially successful with lessening some of that but still dirt and dust prevailed. Then too the pounding heat during summer months made train travel less appealing. Technology for mechanically cooling off advanced in the 1920s and by 1927, early air-conditioning systems were designed for railroad passenger cars. Still the railroads had valid concerns about the high cost of new technology and the added weight factors. Then too, when accurate cost accounting was applied, most passenger strains were marginally profitable or at best, breakeven propositions. Pullman Company was also reluctant to take that first step due to cost and fear of not wanting to nettle the railroads. Both sectors initially passed on air-conditioning.

The Great Depression and erosion of passenger traffic to autos, busses and eventually the airlines sounded a wakeup call to the railroads. Something had to be done to challenge the passenger flight and one early effort was air-conditioning. Passenger-conscious Baltimore & Ohio was first to field an air-conditioned dining car in daily service in 1930 and then in May 1931 the B&O Columbian, a coach and parlor car run between Washington and New York, became the “First Air-Conditioned Train in Railroad History”. B&O’s latter-day merger partner, the Chesapeake & Ohio, followed in April of 1932 with the first Pullman-car air-condition train, The George Washington.

Gradually giants New York Central and the Pennsylvania Railroad tepidly embraced air-conditioning between 1933 and 1940. PRR carried more passengers than any other railroad and its conservative management chafed at the cost of traditional air-conditioning systems.  Instead, PRR supplemented those units with home grown “air-cooled” systems that depended on huge boxes for ice suspended beneath the coach, duct work to the passenger compartment where fans merely blew cold air on passengers. Western railroads followed the AC trend as well. The gradual conversion to diesel-electric locomotives further enhanced passenger comfort. By the 1940s, full air-conditioning was the “standard” for passenger trains and thankfully, that continues today for all classes of railroad passenger trains both long distance and urban transit operations.

The model railroader does not have to worry about the complexity or cost of adding air-conditioning but that feature in our homes and apartments contributes to the climate-controlled enjoyment of our hobby. So please review the models that we offer. If you elect to add to your passenger train service, we guarantee that our current selection has something that will enhance your model railroad journey to that region. Steam, diesel and all classes of passenger rolling stock, all made viable with our Rewards Program and for a this week only, take 10% off all rolling stock with promo code ACSPRING

FAW, MBK, Inc.