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“Super Flyers” of America

The Fastest and Most Luxurious Trains in the World


Streamlined Diesel-electric locomotive used on the “City of Los Angeles”, one of the latest American flyers

THE NEW AND THE OLD, a striking comparison. On the left is a streamlined Diesel-electric locomotive used on the “City of Los Angeles”, one of the latest American flyers. Alongside it is the veteran No. 22, wood-burning steam engine of the early days of the Union Pacific. This was the type in use in the days when Indians were still sufficiently numerous to take to the warpath, and attacks on trains were frequent.

THE fastest and most luxurious trains in the world are found in the United States of America, where the railroad received its most enthusiastic welcome. In America, the railway-helped to build the nation, and welding the eastern states with those of the west.

As a result, it is venerated as one of the sturdiest of pioneers, and there is a genuine deference in the genera! attitude towards it. It can never be regarded as a child that grew slowly to manhood, altering the general scheme of existence as the years went by, for it arrived as a healthy youngster nursed to comparative maturity in Great Britain, and more than capable of doing a man-sized job.

Before it came, the only land link for people between New York and San Francisco was the covered wagon, with its trail of hardship and danger, and even death. Then the railroad arrived and unfolded itself with surprising speed across the prairies of the far west, and the blood and smoke that heralded its approach are mainly responsible for the romance and drama that have grown up around it.

Even today, romance can be seen in the names given to some of the most modern Diesel-electric flyers, such as the “El Capitan” and the “Super Chief”, one Spanish and the other a direct descendant from Indian days. Yet these trains were not even in existence before 1935.

It is not surprising, therefore, that a country which admittedly owes so much to the railroad should have built within its borders nearly a third of all the railways in the world. If all the running lines, branch lines and sidings were laid end to end, it would take a train travelling at a mile a minute roughly nine months to complete the journey, or conversely, there would be sufficient track to make a hundred and twenty-four parallel lines from New York to San Francisco, in place of the one winding route that originally linked the two cities together. And all this in spite of the fact that America has only one-sixteenth of the world’s surface area, and considerably less than a sixteenth of its population.

Many hundreds of independent railways make up the American network. There is a tendency, however, for some of the larger and more famous systems to group other connecting lines under their control as subsidiaries. The New York Central System affords a good example, combining no fewer than six different railways, with altogether more than eleven thousand miles of line.

Grand Central Terminal

Its hub is the Grand Central Terminal in New York, one of the most palatial railway stations ever built, with more than fifty million people passing through it every year. Its entrance hall (or main-line concourse) alone is a vast vaulted structure over a hundred and twenty feet high, the same in width and more than twice this in length, filled always with a moving crowd.

Grand Central Terminal in New York

PALATIAL RAILWAY STATION: Grand Central Terminal in New York. More than fifty million people pass through it every year. The main concourse, shown here, is over a hundred and twenty feet in height and width, and more than twice this in length.

Sunlight streams through three immense south windows during the day; concealed fluorescent lighting makes day out of night. Shops are grouped round the hall, and a cinema, an art gallery and a restaurant open off it. Altogether, that part of the station structure seen above ground is over seven hundred feet long and nearly four hundred feet wide, yet this is only a small fraction of the whole, for the greater part is underground.

Here there is an enormous cavern blasted out of solid rock and roofed in with, concrete and steel. This is the part in which the tracks are laid and in which the trains are constantly moving. At twenty feet below the surface there are forty-one tracks for long-distance trains, and twenty-four feet below that is the suburban station with another thirty-nine tracks, making eighty tracks in all on the two levels. And because this is a terminus, at the entry end of the tracks on both levels there are loop tunnels so that the trains, after running into the arrival platforms, can be worked round to the departure platforms without fouling the tracks and holding up the flow of traffic.

Trains enter the Grand Central Terminal by way of a long four-track tunnel under the famous Park Avenue. Under Fifty-Seventh Street the lines begin to fan out, with a down-gradient on the west side to the suburban platforms and an upgrade on the east side leading from it.

Three boxes, with modern electric signalling, control the movement of trains. Tower A, in which there are always five signalmen at work, controls all train movements into and out of the forty-one mainline platforms; Tower B controls all trains using the suburban tracks, while the third box controls the running round the loops.

The electric signalling of the four tracks through the entrance tunnel is reversible, and enables traffic to be regulated ingeniously during the rush hours. In the morning, only one of these tracks is kept for outgoing trains and the other three are used for trains coming in, whereas in the evening, roughly between five and six o’clock, the process is reversed. Then three tracks are used for outgoing trains and only one is reserved for trains arriving.

Beyond the end of the tunnel, there are acres and acres of carriage sidings at Mott Haven, and one-fifth of the train movements through the tunnel are of empty trains being worked between the station and the yards, where they are serviced. Everything is electric, and even the long-distance trains are electrically worked for thirty-three miles out of New York to Harmon, on the Hudson River. The building of the Grand Central Terminal cost the equivalent of thirty million pounds.

INTERIOR OF CLUB CAR on the City of Los Angeles streamline train

INTERIOR OF CLUB CAR on the “City of Los Angeles”, popular streamliner running between Chicago and Los Angeles. The passenger has a sense of luxury and comfort here equivalent to that to be found in any first-class hotel, in spite of the fact that he may be speeding through a western desert at a speed of over eighty miles an hour.

Another giant station in New York is the Pennsylvania Terminal, similarly below ground level, though in this case it was necessary to tunnel under the broad Hudson River to bring the trains into the city from the New Jersey side of the water. Pennsylvania Terminal, however, is not really a terminus, as the lines continue on to Sunnyside, a suburb of Brooklyn on Long Island, and are used by the Long Island suburban trains. The Pennsylvania Terminal is also used by long-distance trains coming from Boston and continuing to Washington and Philadelphia, and these trains cross the river by the massive Hell Gate Bridge, a four-track steel arch with a thousand-foot span.

These great stations in New York are typical of main-line stations in many American cities, and in some of them, such as Washington, Cincinnati and St. Louis, the various railways serving the city have combined to build one vast Union Terminal, which is used by all their trains. St. Louis has a station of this kind, with forty-two tracks to accommodate the trains of more than a dozen different railroads.

American stations rarely provide any comfort on the actual platforms, which are often no more than covered footways at ground level alongside the track. All the comfort is provided in the palatial station buildings, and passengers generally remain in the building until the time comes to join the train. This is a practice that has grown out of climatic conditions, for in a North American winter it would often be far too cold to wait on any exposed platform, no matter what precautions were taken.

It is not stations alone, however, that have grown in America to a size and magnificence far outstripping anything on European railway systems. The locomotives have developed far beyond European standards, and have changed almost out of recognition from the chugging old-timers with their balloon chimneys and grill cowcatchers. Some of the latter, curiously enough, had names that were definitely un-American, and showed quite distinctly their country of origin, such as “Old Ironsides” and “John Bull”.


TYPICAL AMERICAN STATION. Most American stations have low-level platforms, although high-level platforms are also occasionally seen. The steps beneath the coach door are folding, so that they offer no obstruction while the train is in motion, and when they are pulled up the underside forms part of the lower curve of the coach.

The fact that they left more room round their tracks in the beginning has made it possible for the Americans to develop the size of their locomotives. The rail gauge is the same as over most of Europe, namely the standard of 4 ft 8½ inches, but they can build as high as sixteen feet above rail level and to a width of ten feet without fouling bridges or lineside structures.

This makes a surprising difference. As an example, the big streamlined Hudson steam locomotives that work the famous “Twentieth Century Limited” from New York to Chicago weigh as much as a hundred and sixty-one tons. With their tenders, which are of the twelve-wheeled variety now almost standard in America, they turn the scale at three hundred and ten tons.

This is fully loaded, with the tender carrying twenty-eight tons of coal and fourteen thousand gallons of water. The working pressure of the Hudsons is two hundred and seventy-five pounds, and they have the 4-6-4 wheel arrangement. Their cylinders are twenty-two and a half inches in diameter with a twenty-nine inch stroke. These alone account for four feet of the permissible width. The Hudsons take over at Harmon, at the end of the electrified section thirty-three miles out of New York, and then run on unchanged for the full nine hundred and twenty-five miles to Chicago.

For over a hundred miles of the journey, from Elkhart to Toledo, they average as much as seventy-two miles an hour, and this is pulling a train weighing sometimes nearly nine hundred tons. For all that, they are not by any means a record in size for the United States.

On many of the main lines with heavy grades, the favourite wheel arrangement for fast passenger and freight work is 4-8-4, that is, eight coupled driving wheels with a leading bogie, and a bogie at the rear end to carry the fire-box. The handsome streamliners used by the Southern Pacific Railway on their “Daylight” expresses between San Francisco and Los Angeles are an example, with three-hundred-pounds boiler pressure and cylinders of twenty-five-and-a-half-inch diameter and thirty-two-inch stroke. Each engine turns the scale at two hundred and twelve tons, and engine and tender together weigh over four hundred tons.

Needless to say, manual firing of such engines would be completely beyond the power of any human fireman. On most of these larger types, therefore, automatic firing is installed, and this, by means of a worm-type conveyor, brings the coal from the tender and deposits it in the fire-box. The fireman is able to control the speed of firing with the same exactitude as he could with a shovel on a smaller engine.

The consumption of fuel by such giants is so heavy that on many main lines there are coal stages for the replenishment of tenders. These are erected across the main track, and under these the locomotive stops in the course of its run to fill up.

Water, as usual, is a simpler proposition, being scooped up at speed from troughs, or “track-pans” as they are known in America, in the same way as in Great Britain and other countries, save that in America the speed at which the locomotive can travel while taking on water has been greatly increased. Formerly, about forty-five miles an hour was the limit, but on the New York Central line this has now been raised to seventy-five miles an hour.

It has been made possible simply by redesigning the scoops so that they reach their maximum efficiency at the higher speed. At this speed, it has been found possible to take in as much as seven thousand gallons at a single gulp, from a track-pan a third of a mile in length. Some difficulty was experienced at first, owing to the sudden terrific rush of water up the delivery pipe, for in some cases the overflow from the tank top broke windows, not only in the train behind, but in trains on the next track. The difficulty was overcome by arranging overflow vents, which carry any surplus water downwards.

The absolute maximum in size for a locomotive is reached in the so-called articulated types, which are of such a length that, in order to get round the normal curves, they are built in two sections and hinged in the middle. In these the greater headroom in America gives scope for a different design from that used in the British-built Beyer-Garratt articulated locomotives. Because there is three feet more headroom above the rails, American articulated locomotives have the boiler mounted entirely above the two sections of chassis, instead of on a girder frame slung between them, so that they are very little different in appearance from a locomotive on a rigid frame.

MALLET-TYPE ARTICULATED LOCOMOTIVE of the Norfolk and Western Railway

MALLET-TYPE ARTICULATED LOCOMOTIVE of the Norfolk and Western Railway, used for hauling the long and heavy coal trains, which may weigh from five thousand to as much as ten thousand tons. The leading chassis is arranged to pivot, to enable the immense length of the locomotive to adjust itself to the curves in the track.

The record is held by the colossal “Big Boy” class of the Union Pacific Railroad, used to haul heavy freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains, between Ogden, in Utah, and Green River, Wyoming.

They have the 4-8-8-4 wheel arrangement, or a four-wheeled bogie in front, followed by two groups of eight coupled driving wheels, and then a trailing four-wheeled bogie under the cab. Their full length, without tender, is seventy-two feet six inches.

The rear driving wheels and bogie are fixed, integrally with the main frames of the engine, while the front bogie and driving wheels are pivoted under the smoke-box end of the engine. This means that all eight front driving wheels and bogie make a sideways sliding movement under the boiler on rounding a curve, while the boiler partly overhangs the track. The boiler itself is tapered, from just under eight feet in diameter at the front to nearly nine feet at the rear, and supplies steam at three hundred pounds pressure to four cylinders, two on the front chassis and two on the rear one. Each cylinder has a twenty-three-and-a-half-inch bore and thirty-two-inch stroke.

The tenders for these monsters are built with fourteen wheels, and carry twenty-five tons of coal and twenty-five thousand gallons of water. These alone, when filled, weigh nearly two hundred tons. Engine and tender together weigh five hundred and thirty-four tons, or more than three times as much as a British Pacific engine and tender. On test, they have developed as much as seven thousand horse -power.

Many of these massive engines have been built for oil-firing, particularly those used on the main lines near the Californian oilfields, and in one type at least, the 4-8-8-2 of the Southern Pacific, the design of the locomotive has been reversed completely. That is to say, the driving cab is in front and the chimney is at the rear.

Such an engine does not run backwards. Its tender, carrying oil fuel, is at the rear behind the chimney, and the oil is pumped right forward to the fire-box, which is just behind the driver and fireman. This is possible with liquid fuel, of course, and one of the advantages is that the driver and fireman are ahead of the fumes from the chimney when passing through tunnels. The chief advantage, however, is the obvious one that they have an excellent view of the track ahead.

The tasks such mammoth locomotives are set to perform are in proportion to their size. Apart from the passenger trains, which on the chief main lines may often be more than a thousand tons in weight, freight trains are made up exclusively of high-capacity bogie wagons on eight wheels, and a hundred or more of these on one train is quite a normal load. In other words, a normal freight train in America weighs upwards of five thousand tons.

They travel at high speeds, too, as much as sixty miles an hour, an astonishing sight if one is not accustomed to it. On suitable routes in the States, however, a freight train of a hundred wagons whirling up the dust at this speed is no uncommon spectacle. All wagons are fitted with the same continuous brake as passenger vehicles, one of the chief reasons why such speeds are possible with safety.

A more fascinating sight is the fully streamlined train, in which America excels. All the cars have vivid external colouring, schemed from head to tail of the train in a way that varies with each company, and their, brilliance as they streak through the countryside is striking. In addition, they are furnished luxuriously with all kinds of novel interior arrangements, so that a journey becomes a pleasure in itself.

Streamlining in America

American streamlining started in 1934, and is one of the most amazingly rapid developments in railway history. The railways were suffering severely at that time from competition from both road and air transport, which, coupled with the world depression, roughly halved their passenger traffic. It was obviously necessary to do something to recover at least a part of the lost ground, and when the Germans showed the possibilities of high-speed streamlined travel with the “Flying Hamburger”, the Americans followed suit in a way that rapidly eclipsed German streamlining methods. Since then, they have gone further than any other country with this form of travel, and the response of the public has been overwhelming.

THE CAPITOL LIMITED, drawn by a Diesel-electric locomotive

THE “CAPITOL LIMITED”, drawn by a Diesel-electric locomotive of three thousand six hundred horse-power. The photograph was taken in the Potomac River Valley as the Capitol Limited was on its way from New York to Chicago. All the principal Baltimore and Ohio Railroad express trains are now hauled by Diesel-electric power.

The attraction does not lie only in speed, although on suitable stretches of line speeds of a hundred miles an hour are quite common, even with quite lengthy trains. The chief attraction is the pleasure of travelling in such trains, with their surprising variety of cars, including buffet cars as well as dining cars, and the solarium lounges or observation cars at the rear.

The extraordinary success of these streamlined flyers can be shown in a very simple illustration. One of the first to come into service was a train called the “Four Hundred”, which ran between Chicago and the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a distance of just over four hundred miles. Previously, the journey had taken nine and a half hours, and most passengers had made it by sleeping-car train. The new “Four Hundred” did the trip in six and a half hours, with a steam locomotive, slightly modified for the purpose, and six cars of conventional design.

Next, over a different line, but still between the same cities, came the Burlington “Zephyr”, a three-car train with Diesel-electric propulsion, and following this, over yet a third route, came the maroon-and-orange “Hiawatha”, a train of six cars pulled by the first fully streamlined steam locomotive in America.

Before very long, the “Four Hundred” and the “Hiawatha” had been doubled in service, with morning and afternoon streamliners, and the accommodation of the trains had been greatly increased, with the “Four Hundred” being replaced by a brand-new luxury train with Diesel-electric propulsion. Ten years later, the “Four Hundred” had grown to an eleven-car train, the Burlington “Zephyrs” were each nine-car trains, and the “Hiawatha” had expanded to a fifteen-car formation morning and evening. That is to say, instead of the total of fifteen cars which began the service, fifty-nine cars were now needed in each direction to carry the traffic, which amounted to between three and four thousand passengers daily over a distance greater than from London to Glasgow.

Most impressive of the American flyers are the luxury services operating between Chicago and the great cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland. Various companies run them over different routes, and their names are world famous. The “Super Chief” and “El Capitan” riun twice weekly in each direction over a route of roughly twenty-three hundred miles, and over routes of similar length the City of Los Angeles and City of San Francisco run every fifth day. The “City of Portland” runs once every ten days.

All these services have a uniform schedule of just under forty hours. They start in the evening, and the passenger, spending two nights and the intervening day on board, arrives at his destination first thing in the morning. Roughly half the journey is through the Rocky Mountains, with mile after mile of heavy grades and severe curves, and very high speeds are necessary when the trains reach the open plains to keep up the average of just under sixty miles an hour for the whole journey. Runs booked at seventy and eighty miles an hour on flatter routes are common, even with trains of thirteen cars.

Among the fastest of the American flyers are the two night streamliners between Chicago and Denver, capital of Colorado, in the foothills of the Rockies. These are the “Denver Zephyr” and “City of Denver”, and they cover, roughly, a thousand and forty miles in sixteen hours, which entails an

overall average speed of sixty-six miles an hour, all stops included. Four trains are required to maintain the service, and each one reels off at this speed more than thirty-one thousand miles a month.

The advantage of Diesel power lies in the fact that on the longest journeys the locomotives can be worked right through without change. Crews are changed at divisional points, but the locomotive carries on. The bigger trains are headed by power plants of formidable dimensions, consisting of three seventy-foot power cars weighing well over four hundred tons and developing as much as six thousand horse-power. The lighter loads, such as those of the “Super Chief” and “El Capitan”, can be handled by two power cars of only four thousand horse-power.

This is another advantage of Diesel-electric propulsion. The number of power cars employed can be proportioned to the trainload, grades and speeds, and whether two, four or six thousand horse-power are needed, the single, twin or triple power units can all be controlled electrically from the one driving cab in front.

As a final example of the possibilities of Diesel power, the “Denver Zephyr”, consisting of six cars and a locomotive of four thousand horse-power, has made an experimental non-stop run for over a thousand miles between Chicago and Denver, completing the journey in just over twelve hours, or at an average speed of eighty-three miles an hour. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to make a non-stop run of this length, and at such a speed, with steam.

Traffic Control

Not all the long American routes are double-track. Because of the loads and speeds of their trains and the frequency of the services, single track over considerable distances is often sufficient to carry the traffic on American railways, but the signalling engineers have had to develop the most elaborate methods to get the best use out of busy single tracks.

The most modern and extensive development is that known as centralized traffic control, and a controlled section may be anything in length from a few miles up to more than a hundred miles. Somewhere along its length is situated the control cabin, which consists of an office containing an illuminated diagram of the whole length of track under control, and from this is operated the complete signalling installation of the section. All is done by means of electrical circuits, and in some cases even the switches giving access to the passing loops are operated from the same box.

THE “SOUTHERN BELLE” runs between Kansas City and New Orleans, and links the geographical centre of the United States with the Gulf of Mexico in a run of 870 miles.

Track circuits show on the diagrams where trains are standing or in motion, and in this way the crossing of trains at the loops is arranged with the least possible loss of time. On some routes, this has reduced the times of journeys by almost a half, which makes it possible to pass nearly twice as much traffic over the line as before.

Other main lines, however, are so busy that a single track is not sufficient to carry the traffic, and here the lines are doubled, or even quadrupled. On the New York Central System, between New York and Chicago, there are no fewer than four hundred and seventy miles of continuous four-track route, save for one short break of double-track two miles in length.

Great precautions have been taken to promote the safety of the modern flyers. The favourite signalling method is automatic block signalling, usually with electric colour-light signals, working in conjunction with continuous inductive cab signalling on the engines. Continuous light signals are exhibited in the cab all the while the engine is running, and the driver has before him a constant picture of the state of the line ahead. In this respect, American signalling is well ahead of the signalling on European railways.

At the same time, however, on many of the country and branch lines, no signalling at all is in use. This sounds extraordinary, but America is well known as a land of extremes. On such lines, the movement of the trains is controlled entirely by the timetable, which gives the driver the authority to proceed. That is, he starts when it is time to do so, and any variation in the schedule from what the time-table lays down must be covered by a written order handed to him by the train despatcher at the station concerned.

The despatchers are in contact with one another by telegraph, and the importance of their written instructions, as, for example ordering one train to pass another at a different loop on a single line, needs no emphasis.

One serious handicap on American lines is the level crossing. The States are full of them. All lines originally were laid so that they crossed, not only highways but other railroads, at grade, or on the same level, and it is now costing tens of thousands of dollars in and around cities to build bridges or viaducts. The schemes are known as grade separation schemes, and streets and roads, as well as other lines, are being carried under or over the main lines for the first time. Obviously, with train speeds increasing as they are, the unprotected level crossing is a source either of great danger or tiresome delay.

It is because the great majority, of the thousands of level crossings through the States are unprotected, that is, have no gates or signalmen, that American locomotives are required by law to be provided with a cowcatcher and a searchlight.

The cowcatcher, so-called, is also needed because many of the tracks are unfenced, and is a kind of apron in front of the engine just above the track level. In the old days, this was one of the most distinctive features of American locomotives, but today, on the streamlined units, it has grown into a curved steel fender of almost futuristic design. Its purpose is to clear obstructions off the track; literally, to catch cattle that may have strayed on to the line.

THE ROCKY MOUNTAIN ROCKET, a new American streamliner

THE “ROCKY MOUNTAIN ROCKET”, new American streamliner with Diesel-electric power for fast passenger traffic. This train runs daily between Chicago and both Denver and Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is in the United States that the Diesel-electric locomotive for fast passenger trains has reached its greatest development.

The searchlight acts as a warning to all road users at night, and can be seen for miles as the express roars along the track. To make assurance doubly sure, many of the Diesel streamliners carry two headlights, one a fixed beam which throws a light along the track ahead, and the other a rotating light, known as the Mars headlight, which throws a tremendous oscillating beam high into the sky, so that the express can be seen at night by the glow above it long before it is anywhere in view from ground level. Apart from this, the only visual warning at the crossings are prominent signs inviting the unwary to “Stop, Look, Listen”.

It is also compulsory to fit every locomotive with a bell and a hooter. The bell is for tolling when slow movement is taking place at stations, along streets, in yards and elsewhere, and the hooter must be sounded when travelling at speed on approaching a level crossing. Two short blasts and one long one, make up the recognized signal.

Main-Street Track

In pioneering days, it was not uncommon when the railway reached a town, to carry the track along the main street to the station, or depot, as though it were a tramway, and some of these street routes still persist, even in large cities. Until 1936, for example, such famous trains as the “Twentieth Century Limited” and the “Empire State Express” passed for a mile and a quarter up Washington Street in Syracuse, a main shopping centre in a city of two hundred thousand inhabitants in New York State. This has now been altered by building a new high-level line through the outskirts of the city to a new station, but it took six years’ work and cost the equivalent of six million pounds.

The larger a city grows, the more difficult and costly it is to build a new track. The railway suffers great loss of time in such locations, as speed must be reduced to fifteen miles an hour for the safety of road users. Level crossings of railway over railway are equally liable to cause delay.

There are also elaborate safety precautions, apart from signalling, on the trains themselves. Every axle-box throughout each high-speed train is provided with a thermo-couple installed in the journal, which causes a red light to glow in the driver’s cab if the journal runs hot. Another light also glows on the affected coach as an indication of the seat of the trouble. Safety derailment flanges likewise form a part of every coach bogie, and keep the bogies from slewing round in the event of a derailment, so holding the cars more securely in line.

On long descending gradients through the mountains, water sprays are applied automatically to each wheel to prevent its overheating as the result of long brake application. An electric control governs the pressure of the brakes in relation to speed, and so helps to prevent skidding. Also, for the same purpose, there is an automatic sanding device which comes into operation ahead of each wheel in the event of an emergency application of the brakes.

THE CABOOSE approximates to the guard’s brake

THE CABOOSE has no actual counterpart in Britain, though it approximates to the guard’s brake. It houses the travelling office headquarters and sleeping accommodation of the freight train crew and, for this reason, is much larger than its British relation. The raised “birdcage” on the roof is provided in order to give the train-crew a good look -out along the length of the train.

On the Diesel-electric locomotives themselves, if any one of the Diesel engines should overheat, an alarm bell rings in the cab immediately. Another control would automatically stop the engines if the lubricating system were to fail, and a governor is provided to keep the speed of the locomotive within the prescribed limit over those sections of line where a speed restriction operates.

As regards electrification, all the noted expresses running from New York to Chicago and New Orleans on the Pennsylvania route are worked for a hundred and ninety miles by electrical power, that is, between New York and Harrisburg. This is part of the great Pennsylvania electrification scheme, which already covers over seven hundred and forty route-miles of line, and a total of more than two thousand three hundred miles of single track.

The most important section electrified is that which connects New York with Washington, the administrative capital, by way of Philadelphia and Baltimore. For its length of two hundred and twenty-five miles, this is easily the busiest main line in the world. Also, in the average speed of its trains, it is the fastest, for no fewer than sixty expresses use it daily. Between them, they maintain an all-round average of fifty-seven miles an hour, including stops, for the whole distance.

Over this route, also, pass the famous streamliners that link New York with the beautiful Florida coast resorts, such as the “Silver Meteor” and the “Tamiami Champion”. Other famous trains using the line are the “Southerner” for New Orleans, and the “Congressional” and “Senator” for Washington. These latter run at even hourly intervals, and usually take just under four hours for the journey.

Such journeys are undertaken almost casually by the American. In a country where thousands of miles separate the principal cities, mileage has less meaning. All journeys are a question of proportion, and it is the longest journey possible in a country that sets the standard by which all the others are judged.

Comparative Distances

As an example, the longest journey for practical purposes in Great Britain is roughly one of four hundred miles, and a trip of a hundred miles, therefore, becomes a full quarter of the whole, and is subconsciously regarded as such. Applying the same attitude in a country where the longest trip is, say, two thousand miles, it would be necessary to travel five hundred to produce the same effect on the mind.

It is not possible, however, to make so long a through journey in the United States as in Canada. In Canada one can stay in the same train right across the continent, from Montreal to Vancouver. In the States, the great middle-west city of Chicago acts as a kind of barrier to all through travel, and no coaches or sleeping cars whatever are worked through from the lines east of it to those leading west from the city. All passengers from the east to San Francisco and Los Angeles, or any other Pacific coast port, must, therefore, change trains in Chicago, and very often change stations as well.

Nevertheless, the distances covered e the same train are considerable, and much greater use is made of sleeping accommodation than in Great Britain. The sleeping cars are built by the well-known Pullman Company at their works just outside Chicago, the builders, also, of most of the luxury vehicles used in the daytime.

At one time the Pullman cars were not only built by the Pullman Company, but were owned and run by them as well. The company paid a rental to the railways for permission to run the cars in their trains, and made its profit by the supplementary fares charged for the use of the accommodation. Over seven thousand such cars were maintained in a far-spreading car pool, and in one year alone Pullman cars ran altogether over a thousand million miles.

That was all altered in 1914, however, when a law known as the Sherman Anti-Trust Law was passed, under which the Pullman Company was compelled to separate its building business from the operating side of its activities. It chose to continue in the car-building business, so now the cars are operated by a separate company.

The first American sleeping accommodation was in cars which could be changed at will from day cars to sleepers, and quite a number of them are the same today. As night draws near, on a long journey, the porter in charge of the car prepares it for night use. Seats are drawn out to form the lower berths, and the sides of the car are let down to form the upper berths. On these the bedding is placed, and curtains are then drawn along both sides of the centre aisle to give some measure of privacy. The beds are wide and comfortable, and the only disadvantage in such an arrangement is the acrobatic performance necessary to dress and undress inside the berth, behind the shelter of the curtains. Large toilet rooms are available at each end of the cars.

A Pullman car section turned into sleeping quarters for the night

VERY COMFORTABLE, a Pullman car section turned into sleeping quarters for the night. The curtains in front can be drawn right across the berth, giving a measure of privacy. Compartments such as this form armchair seats during the day — two double seats facing each other — and are arranged on each side of a central gangway.

At the rear of this older type of sleeping car is a compartment known as the drawing room, a completely enclosed room with two or three beds, which can be engaged at a slightly higher cost than one of the sections. At one time, this was the most luxurious form of sleeping accommodation available, but a great many more varieties of sleeping berths are in use today.

There are, for example, the roomettes, which are small rooms dovetailed into one another along both sides of a central corridor. In the daytime the roomette is occupied as a sort of lounge, and there is no sign of a bed. The passenger is free to remain as long as he pleases on one of the comfortable lounge seats.

At night, however, when he wishes to sleep, the bed, folded up against the wall, slides down at a touch all ready for use. More capacious than these are the single bedrooms and double bedrooms which are to be had on most of the night expresses, and on some even a complete suite can be obtained, including a private shower-bath. Such accommodation costs the equivalent of British first-class fare with the Pullman supplement in addition, though actually the cost per mile works out at a lower figure in the United States.

For day use, there are equally luxurious parlour or lounge cars of many different kinds, including the popular observation cars which bring up the rear of most American express trains. These are a development from the early open-end cars, which had a platform on which passengers used to take a somewhat draughty seat in fine weather. Modern observation cars have the rear ends completely enclosed in a semicircular bow window of glass, which on some lines has earned them the name of solarium lounges. Occasional tables and armchairs, and the most modern furnishings, colourings and lighting effects, give them quite an exceptional beauty.

The dining cars are also magnificently decorated, many of them conveying all the illusion of a restaurant, especially at night. Part of the car may be windowless, and along the enamelled and decorated walls are seats and concealed lighting. At the ends there may be the more usual transverse tables.

Novelty appeal is the keynote of all these interior coach schemes. Nor is the passenger limited to a set meal, but has a choice of as wide a variety of courses as in a regular restaurant. Further, few long distance trains have a dining car only; on many there are buffets and light refreshment cars, and on some trains more than one.

American third-class passengers travel in what are invariably called coaches, to distinguish them from the Pullmans and first-class lounge vehicles. In the modern coach there are reclining chairs for each passenger, and each chair can be tilted to any angle its occupant desires. The chairs thus provide comfortable accommodation both by day and by night. On some important main lines it has become the practice to make up trains entirely of these reclining-chair streamlined coaches with a dining car, and often a buffet-lounge and observation car as well, and to run them at almost, if not quite, the same speeds as the first-class Pullman streamliners.

The third-class passenger is as well catered for as the first-class, and most of the famous first-class flyers have their counterparts in third-class coach streamliners. Between New York and Chicago, for example, on the New York Central System, the first-class Twentieth Century Limited is run very closely by the all-coach Pacemaker, which takes only an hour longer on the journey. Similarly, on the Pennsylvania line, the first-class “Broadway Limited” has its counterpart in the third-class “Trail Blazer”, while the equally famous all-Pullman “Super Chief”, running between Chicago and Los Angeles, is matched by the all-coach “El Capitan”.

THE EMPIRE BUILDER. This express is worked by the Burlington and Great Northern Railway

THE “EMPIRE BUILDER”. This express, which is worked by the Burlington and Great Northern Railway between Chicago and Seattle, is here photographed being hauled by a Great Northern 4-8-4 steam locomotive over a typical stretch on line in the Rockies.

Taking tickets for these long journeys is generally a complicated business, because it includes the reservation of sleeping accommodation or a numbered seat in a chair car. The time-tables, or folders as they are called, show how each train is made up, and any accommodation available can be booked in accordance with the plan.

Nearly all long-distance trains carry a valet, a barber and a stewardess, and for the entertainment of the passengers there are radio sets, current magazines and a library. Some even carry professional entertainers, while on business trains there is usually a stenographer.

The lavishness of the service frequently results in an additional service charge being made, which is not surprising. To take one extreme example, the staff riding with the !Twentieth Century Limited”, on its long run from New York to Chicago, is never less than forty-four, and consists of the chief Pullman conductor, a Pullman porter or attendant for each sleeping car, the train secretary, barber, lady’s-maid and dining-car and refreshment-car staffs. The latter staffs consist of two chief stewards, two chefs, six cooks and fourteen waiters, and, in addition, there is an attendant for each of the bars in the two lounges. The operating side requires a conductor, a baggage-man and two brakemen.

The complete train of sixteen cars is made up as follows: first comes the baggage and mail car, and this is followed by a buffet-lounge; then comes a group of five single-room sleeping cars; the two dining cars follow this, in the centre of the train; following these is another group of five sleepers, and finally a second buffet-lounge and the observation car.

One of the most distinctive features of the working of such long-distance trains is that the cars always run in the same order. On reaching the end of the journey, the whole train is turned round a triangle for the return journey, so that the same order is maintained.

All express trains are now completely air-conditioned, a great boon both in summer and winter, and are still becoming more and more luxurious. At one time, it seemed almost as though the road and the air would take the bulk of passenger traffic, but the railway gives a comfort that can be found in neither of the other services.

ELEVATED RAILWAY CROSSING, photographed from a Chicago skyscraperWhat a contrast against the old days when the pioneer track unfolded itself across the western prairies! Then the mere fact that one could be reasonably sure of reaching one’s destination in safety was a tremendous step forward. The modern flyers are like moving hotels, providing all the conveniences of a first-class hotel in any large city, and a journey in them, far from being a pilgrimage of wearying monotony, is an experience worth having for the mere pleasure of the trip.

Road and air undoubtedly have a part to play in future transport over long distances, each in the manner best suited to its own sphere, but in a vast country like America, not only the heavy freight traffic, but also the great bulk of the passenger traffic, will long be carried by that most characteristic of American institutions — the railroad.

ELEVATED RAILWAY CROSSING, photographed from a Chicago skyscraper. The “elevated” still runs in Chicago, with all its accompanying noise and nuisance, and this crossing over Lake and Wells Streets is reputed to be the busiest on any elevated railway in the world. Two hundred and twenty-four trains pass over it in one hour during the rush period, and as each train consists usually of six cars, there is a constant rattle and roar in the streets below.

You can read more on “Giant American Locomotives”, “North American Railroads”, “Speed Trains of North America” and “Union Pacific Streamlined Express” on this website.