Celebrating Speed on the Rails

Speed, despite the varying differences that defines, the word is used constantly in our culture. We are bombarded with the word to the point we subconsciously believe anything less is substandard or totally inferior. But the ability to move faster took root well before 1900 on the railroads.

During the Early Years of railroading (1827-1860) simply moving goods at all was a challenge. Gradually greater efficiency came about with advances in locomotives, cars, engineering standards, established operating procedures and communication after 1847 with the arrival of the telegraph.  Those developments made transporting goods and passengers’ greater distances reliably and safely.

By the 1890s railroads quickly recognized that the emerging business travelers and affluent passenger sector needed to bridge greater distances much faster.  In the age well-before the telephone, teleconferencing and zoom meetings, the bulk of regional and national business was conducted by making a personal appearance. The ability to offer passengers faster options became paramount.

Many railroads strived to deliver advances in speed but traditional railroad history points to the record-breaking run of New York Central & Hudson River Railroad #999.  The NYC&HR (later New York Central Lines – NYC) tested the market and the application of sustained high-speed de-luxe passenger service with, The “Empire State Express” between New York and Buffalo.  NYC built a series of 4-4-0 locomotives that were equipped with exceptional large driving wheels but to notch that up, the #999 was built with a larger set of 86” drive wheels. On May 9, 1893 the #999 was the first US steam locomotive to reach 112.5 MPH between Batavia and Buffalo, New York. That speed was not however maintained in daily service but the success of #999 captivated the minds of the public, railroad executives and locomotive designers.

High speed steam technology and application on a daily basis was established in August of 1897 by locomotive #1027 of Atlantic City Railroad. That locomotive and it mate #1028 regularly achieved sustained speeds exceeding 69.3 MPH hauling express passenger trains between Philadelphia (Camden NJ) and Atlantic City. The next record of note occurred on June 12, 1905 when Pennsylvania Railroad locomotive #7002 reached the speed of 127.5 MPH at Elida, OH powering the Broadway Limited. From that point the effort to offer the fastest service never slowed.

Other notable records that followed included the reference by the famous Dawn to Dust Run of the Burlington Route Zephyr in on May 26, 1934 and the 134.5 record set by a Milwaukee Road 4-6-4 locomotive shortly afterward. By the late 1930s high speed corridors included New York to Washington DC (PRR and B&O) and Chicago to the Twin Cities (Milwaukee Road, Chicago & North Western and Burlington). Sustained high speed in long distance service advanced when both the NYC and PRR reduced the formerly 20-hour schedule between New York and Chicago to 18 hours and later 16 hours. Diesel-Electric locomotives and passenger cars equipped with roller bearings enabled western railroads to dramatically increase speeds of their posh fleet of Transcontinental trains in that same era. Interestingly, railroads were more casual about broad applications of high-speed technology in freight train service with speed largely confined to express train service and perishables well into the 1950s.

US interest and investment in high-speed passengers service figuratively went into the siding between 1945 and 1965 but the congestion problems on the highways and airways in the east ignited interest in replicating the high-speed trains of Europe and Japan. Funded by the US Government and sponsored by PRR (later Penn Central) the popular Metroliner service was finally inaugurated in February of 1969 between New York and Washington DC.  Since that time other high -speed corridors have been considered and as first steps, new investment has been made to develop other corridors.

So celebrate speed on the rails by enjoying that record, possibly taking a high-speed train trip or by way of some recommended products listed below! The 50th Anniversary of Amtrak this month also provides added interest in that subject. One things for sure, our award-winning rewards program will help you accomplish your journey quickly and efficiently!

Bachmann N Scale The Broadway Limited Set, Pennsylvania Railroad


Kato N Scale Chicago Burlington and Quincy EMD E5A and Silver Streak Zephyr 6-Unit Set

Bachmann HO Scale Acela Products

International Passenger Trains

FAW MB Klein, Inc