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Railroad historian Herbert Harwood said, in his seminal history of the service, "First conceived in late Victorian times to promote a new railroad line ... it was indeed one of the most memorable images in the transportation business, an inspired blend of majesty and mystique ... Royal Blue Line ... Royal Blue Trains ... the Royal Blue all meant different things at different times. But essentially they all symbolized one thing: the B&O's regal route." Between the 1890s and World War I, the B&O's six daily Royal Blue trains providing service between New York and Washington were noted for their luxury, elegant appearance, and speed. The car interiors were paneled in mahogany, had fully enclosed vestibules (instead of open platforms, still widely in use at the time on U.S. railroads), then-modern heating and lighting, and leaded glass windows. The car exteriors were painted a deep "Royal Saxony blue" color with gold leaf trim. The B&O's use of electrification instead of steam power in a Baltimore tunnel on the Royal Blue Line, beginning in 1895, marked the first use of electric locomotives by an American railroad and presaged the dawn of practical alternatives to steam power in the 20th century. Spurred by intense competition from the formidable Pennsylvania Railroad, the dominant railroad in the lucrative New York–Washington market since the 1880s, the Royal Blue in its mid-1930s reincarnation was noted for a number of technological innovations, including streamlining and the first non-articulated diesel locomotive on a passenger train in the U.S., a harbinger of the steam locomotive's eventual demise.
Postcard depiction of the Royal Blue, circa 1910.
A Royal Blue Slide Show.
Photos Courtesy James G. Howes via Wikimedia Commons
The Royal Blue
The Royal Blue was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O)'s flagship passenger train between New York City and Washington, D.C., in the United States, beginning in 1890. The Baltimore-based B&O also used the name between 1890 and 1917 for its improved passenger service between New York and Washington launched in the 1890s, collectively dubbed the Royal Blue Line. Using variants such as the Royal Limited and Royal Special for individual Royal Blue trains, the B&O operated the service in partnership with the Reading Railroad and the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Principal intermediate cities served were Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore.
Later, as Europe reeled from the carnage of World War I and connotations of European royalty fell into disfavor, the B&O discreetly omitted the sobriquet Royal Blue Line from its New York passenger service and the Royal Blue disappeared from B&O timetables. Beginning in 1917, former Royal Blue Line trains were renamed: the Royal Limited (inaugurated on May 15, 1898), for example, became the National Limited, continuing west from Washington to St. Louis via Cincinnati. During the Depression, the B&O hearkened back to the halcyon pre-World War I era when it launched a re-christened Royal Blue train between New York and Washington in 1935. The B&O finally discontinued passenger service north of Baltimore on April 26, 1958, and the Royal Blue faded into history.
The streamlined Royal Blue poses at Thomas Viaduct in 1937.
Railroad historian Herbert Harwood said, in his seminal history of the service, "First conceived in late Victorian times to promote a new railroad line ... it was indeed one of the most memorable images in the transportation business, an inspired blend of majesty and mystique ... Royal Blue Line ... Royal Blue Trains ... the Royal Blue all meant different things at different times. But essentially they all symbolized one thing: the B&O's regal route." Between the 1890s and World War I, the B&O's six daily Royal Blue trains providing service between New York and Washington were noted for their luxury, elegant appearance, and speed. The car interiors were paneled in mahogany, had fully enclosed vestibules (instead of open platforms, still widely in use at the time on U.S. railroads), then-modern heating and lighting, and leaded glass windows. The car exteriors were painted a deep "Royal Saxony blue" color with gold leaf trim.
The B&O's use of electrification instead of steam power in a Baltimore tunnel on the Royal Blue Line, beginning in 1895, marked the first use of electric locomotives by an American railroad and presaged the dawn of practical alternatives to steam power in the 20th century. Spurred by intense competition from the formidable Pennsylvania Railroad, the dominant railroad in the lucrative New York–Washington market since the 1880s, the Royal Blue in its mid-1930s reincarnation was noted for a number of technological innovations, including streamlining and the first non-articulated diesel locomotive on a passenger train in the U.S., a harbinger of the steam locomotive's eventual demise.
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad coach #445, built in 1890 by the Pullman Palace Car Company for the Royal Blue. Now at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S. Photo © by J. G. Howes. James G. Howes [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
The B&O then built a new line from Baltimore to connect to the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad in Philadelphia, completed in 1886. The B&O's passenger trains then used the Reading's tracks northward from Philadelphia to Bound Brook, New Jersey, where the Jersey Central's rails were used to reach the Communipaw Terminal in Jersey City connecting to ferry for a twelve-minute crossing of the Hudson River to Manhattan. The new route presented problems in Baltimore, because a ferry boat was necessary to cross the harbor between Locust Point and Canton to connect with the B&O's Washington Branch. The solution was the Baltimore Belt Line, which included a 1.4-mile long tunnel under Howard Street in downtown Baltimore. Work began on the tunnel in 1891 and was completed on May 1, 1895, when the first train traversed the tunnel. To avoid smoke problems from steam engines working upgrade in the long tunnel under the middle of Baltimore, the B&O pioneered the first mainline electrification of a U.S. railroad, installing an overhead third rail system in the tunnel and its approaches. An electric locomotive first pulled a Royal Blue train through the Howard Street tunnel on June 27, 1895.
The project also included the construction of B&O's second passenger terminal in Baltimore, Mount Royal Station, at the north end of the Howard Street tunnel in the fashionable Bolton Hill neighborhood. Designed by Baltimore architect E. Francis Baldwin in a blend of modified Romanesque and Renaissance styling, the station was built of Maryland granite trimmed with Indiana limestone, with a red tile roof and landmark 150-foot clocktower. The station's interior featured marble mosaic flooring, a fireplace, and rocking chairs. It opened the following year on September 1, 1896. "It was considered," said the Baltimore Sun, "the most splendid station in the country built and used by only one railroad." That evaluation was shared by railroad historian Lucius Beebe, who proclaimed Mount Royal "one of the celebrated railroad stations of the world, ranking in renown with Euston Station, London, scene of so many of Sherlock Holmes' departures, the Gare du Nord in Paris, and the feudal fortress of the Pennsylvania (Railroad) at Broad Street, Philadelphia".
Even before the Baltimore Belt Line project was finished, the B&O launched its Royal Blue service on July 31, 1890. Powered by 4-6-0 steam locomotives having exceptionally large 78-inch diameter driving wheels for speed, the Royal Blue trains occasionally reached 90 mph. After the Baltimore Belt Line project was completed, travel time between New York and Washington was reduced to five hours, compared to nine hours in the late 1860s.
The trains were noted for their elegance and luxury. The parlor cars' ceilings and upholstery were covered in royal blue, and the dining cars Queen and Waldorf, paneled in mahogany, featured elaborate cuisine such as terrapin and canvasback prepared by French-trained chefs. A Railway Age magazine article of the time reporting on the Royal Blue called it "the climax in railway car building".
As a result of the U.S. entry into World War I and resulting congestion on the nation's railroads, the wartime U.S. Railroad Administration (USRA) ordered the Pennsylvania Railroad to permit B&O passenger trains to use its Hudson River tunnels and Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan, beginning April 28, 1918, eliminating the B&O's need for the ferry connection from Jersey City. Following the end of World War I, the Pennsylvania Railroad continued to allow B&O passenger trains to use Pennsylvania Station for another eight years. On September 1, 1926, the Pennsylvania Railroad terminated its contract with the B&O, and the latter's trains reverted to the use of the Jersey Central's Jersey City terminal. Passengers were then transferred to buses that met the train right on the platform. These buses were ferried across the Hudson River into Manhattan and Brooklyn, where they proceeded to various "stations" around the city on four different routes, including the Vanderbilt Hotel, Wanamaker's, Columbus Circle, and Rockefeller Center. B&O's busiest Royal Blue bus terminal at 42nd street in Manhattan opened on December 17, 1928. Connected to Grand Central Terminal by an underground concourse, it was trimmed in marble and furnished with Art Deco lighting fixtures and leather sofas. This arrangement would continue until the eventual demise of the Royal Blue in 1958.
The B&O was not entirely satisfied with the ride quality of the lightweight Royal Blue train, however, and replaced it on April 25, 1937, with streamlined, refurbished heavyweight equipment, painted light gray and royal blue with gold striping, designed by Otto Kuhler. The B&O conveyed the displaced trainset to the Alton Railroad, where it ran as the Abraham Lincoln for decades. The train was pulled by the first streamlined diesel locomotive, B&O No. 51, the 3,600 h.p. EMC EA/EB model built by Electro Motive Company. Praised for its beauty and handsome profile, this first streamlined production model diesel "dazzled the press and public", said one magazine writer of the groundbreaking locomotive's introduction. Kuhler also streamlined one of B&O's 4-6-2 "Pacific" steam locomotives for use on the Royal Blue. Its bullet-shaped shroud became an iconic image for the Royal Blue and was modeled for years by American Flyer. Time magazine, in reporting on the precarious financial condition of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and other Depression-ravaged rail lines in 1937, referred to the B&O's "swashbuckling" Royal Blue streamliner launched that year as having "symbolized the new era in railroading ..."
President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt was a frequent passenger on the B&O's Royal Blue Line during his time in office (1933–1945), when he traveled between Washington and his family home in Hyde Park, New York. A special presidential train from Washington used the regular B&O–Reading–Jersey Central route to Jersey City, continuing on the New York Central Railroad's West Shore Line along the Hudson River to Highland, New York (opposite Poughkeepsie), where the President was met by automobile.
Along with most other rail passenger services in the U.S. during World War II, the Royal Blue enjoyed a surge in passenger traffic between 1942 and 1945 as volume doubled to 1.2 million passengers annually on B&O's eight daily New York–Washington trains. Following the end of the war, however, passenger volumes soon dropped below prewar levels and the B&O discontinued one of its daily New York–Washington trains. In addition to its flagship Royal Blue, six other B&O passenger trains continued to serve New York until April 1958: the Metropolitan Special, Capitol Limited, National Limited, Diplomat, Marylander, and Shenandoah.
1950s and the end
The New York Times, in a front page article accompanied by a photograph of train engineer Michael Goodnight bidding farewell to a 7-year old passenger, said "It was a sad and simple story yesterday as the nation's oldest railroad discontinued its crack Royal Blue and its five other passenger trains ... end sixty-eight years of continuous through service, operated in a gentlemanly fashion ... a kind of antebellum, gracious way of life ... and the reputation for very special service."
Mount Royal Station continued as the eastern terminus of B&O's passenger service until June 30, 1961, when it closed permanently as a rail passenger facility. It was one of thirteen Baltimore buildings selected in 1959 for the Historic American Buildings Survey. The building and train shed were subsequently acquired by the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1964 and are preserved as examples of late 19th century industrial architecture.
Schedule and equipment
In the 1890s–1910s period, the Royal Limited operated in both directions simultaneously, with 3 p.m. departures in New York and Washington, arriving at its destination five hours later, at 8 p.m. By the 1930s, travel time between Jersey City and Washington was reduced to four hours. From 1935 to the end of service in 1958, the Royal Blue made a daily round trip, departing New York in the morning and returning from Washington in the evening. According to the Official Guide of February, 1956, the Royal Blue operated on the following schedule as train No. 27:
New York (Rockefeller Center) - 8:30 am
New York (Grand Central Terminal) - 8:45 am
Brooklyn, NY - 8:45 am
Jersey City, NJ - 9:30 am
Elizabeth, NJ - 9:46 am
Plainfield, NJ - 9:59 am
Wayne Junction, PA - 10:54 am
Philadelphia, PA - 11:10 am
Wilmington, DE - 11:35 am
Baltimore, MD (Mt. Royal Station) - 12:38 pm
Baltimore, MD (Camden Station) - 12:45 pm
Washington, D.C. (Union Station) - 1:30 pm
Eastbound, the train departed Washington at 3:45 p.m. as train No. 28, arriving at Jersey City 7:40 p.m.Between 1937 and 1958, the Royal Blue was equipped with air-conditioned coaches, parlor cars with private drawing rooms, a lounge car for coach passengers, a full dining car serving complete meals, and a flat-end observation car with a "cafe-lounge" bringing up the rear of the train. Beginning in mid-August 1947, on board telephone service was provided, making the B&O (along with the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central Railroad) one of the first three railroads in the U.S. to offer telephone service on its trains, using a forerunner of cell phone technology.
The B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland has selected equipment, diner china and silverware, and other artifacts from various Royal Blue trains on display.
Text: wikipedia.org. Images: Public Domain; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (unless otherwise specified) and 17 U.S. Code § 107 fair use. References: Lewis, Robert G. The Handbook of American Railroads. New York: Simmons-Boardman Publishing Corporation, 1951, 2nd Edition 1956. Site Map Contact webmaster HERE.
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