The Twentieth Century Limited
by Jim Herron
When I was young, I was lucky enough to travel
to Chicago and back with my father on the New York Central
crack passenger train called the "20th Century Limited."
It took the all-water route, flat with beautiful scenery,
taking under 20 hours to reach Chicago from New York City.
The trip took place in the early part of the 1950's and
I still remember it vividly. There were beautiful upholstered
cars, a dining car, pullman sleepers and big gray diesels
pulling the train out of Grand Central Station in New York.
Going through the Hellgates and seeing all the hustle and
bustle of passengers, the trainman and conductors walking
to the train on a red carpet was the thrill of a lifetime
for a little boy who loved trains.
The history of the 20th Century Limited
goes back to the late 1890's when the New
York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads
tried to best each other on the New York-Chicago
run. The Pennsylvania Railroad train was
called the "Broadway Limited" -
running across Pennsylvania through the
Alleghenies, Horseshoe Curve, Altoona, Pittsburgh
and on to Chicago. The two trains met in
the last fifteen miles of track and raced
into Union Station (if they were on time!).
Each claimed the best service, on-time records,
price and luxury.
The competition between the Century and
Broadway Limiteds became the most celebrated
rivalry in the history of American railroading.
They kept pace with each others in matters
of service, speed and luxury. Competition
between the two was keen, but not cut throat.
Both considered their crack trains a source
of pride, prestige and publicity.
Over the years, both the speed and amenities
of the 20th Century were constantly improved.
The first Century consisted of three sleepers,
a diner and a library-buffet car. Later
versions included cars with drawing rooms.
The train became so popular that it was
run in several sections, with the wooden
cars being replaced by all steel between
1910 and 1912. By the mid-'20's the train
was being called a "national institution."
In the 1920's the Atlantics were replaced
by the Hudsons which hauled the 20th Century
until they were replaced by diesels in the
1950's. In 1938 the Dreyfuss Streamlined
Hudson hauled the Century.
The 20th Century Limited was a great service
and the inspiration for songs, plays, movies
and radio shows. Unfortunately, due to automobiles,
highways and airplanes, the service slowly
went down hill after World War II. In 1957
day coaches were added to the 20th Century
Limited, forever tarnishing the famous train's
glamorous image. It ran until 1967 when
it was finally terminated.