The Baltimore & Ohio’s premier New York-Chicago passenger train, the Capitol Limited, was born as much out of necessity as anything else. Ever the underdog in the New York-Chicago market behind the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads, the B&O knew that it needed to keep pace with its two stronger competitors in the passenger business and introduce a train that would compete with both the 20th Century Limited and Broadway Limited. While the PRR and NYC had inaugurated their trains in 1902 (the PRR’s train was not called the Broadway Limited until 1912, however) the B&O did not enter the market until 1923, when that year, on May 12, it introduced the Capitol Limited (sometimes affectionately referred to as the Cap).
Much of the reason for the Baltimore & Ohio’s underdog status in the premier Northeast-Midwest market was its much longer route. Not only did the B&O not have direct access into New York City (for most of the years that it competed in New York, the B&O accessed the city via the Central Railroad of New Jersey where it terminated at the latter’s Jersey City Terminal and used ferry service to reach Manhattan) its route to the Midwest was filled with stiff grades over the Alleghenies, compared to the NYC and PRR’s relatively level main lines. To compensate for these disadvantages the B&O offered personal, courtesy service and exquisite dining, two trademarks that it became legendary for.
For instance, in the 1920s the B&O introduced such services as on-board secretaries, barbers, manicures, and valets, and offered Chesapeake Bay cuisine offered on fine dinnerware with colonial-style furniture. For the first three years of its existence the Capitol Limited was somewhat successful in the New York as the B&O was under contract with the PRR to terminate its trains directly into New York City and Pennsylvania Station. However, this changed in the late summer of 1926 when the PRR ended this contract and the B&O was once again forced back into Jersey City (while it was forced to used ferry service, the B&O offered and promoted friendly and prompt bus service in Manhattan, which for a time was actually somewhat successful).
In 1938 the Capitol Limited got a big boost when the B&O equipped the train with the Electo-Motive Corporation’s brand new, self-contained and streamlined diesel-electric locomotive, the EA. Not only was this locomotive streamlined but the ever-resourceful B&O, not satisfied with the light-weight, aluminum cars it had purchased for its first streamliner, the Royal Blue, turned to its Mount Clare Shops. The forces there used traditional heavyweight equipment and gave the cars streamlining to match the EA/EB set. What resulted, with the help of renowned industrial designer Otto Kuhler was stunning train with one of the all-time classic liveries of royal blue, silver, and gold pin-striping.
While the B&O won over the hearts of many with its splendid services and on board offerings (such as, along with the above mentioned, air-conditioning and strata-dome car service, which gave passengers a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape) it simply could not compete with the PRR and NYC to New York. Because of this, on April 26, 1958 the B&O gave up on New York, cutting all services back to Baltimore.
For the next thirteen years the B&O offered its premier flagship train between Washington, D.C./Baltimore and as rideship declined the railroad began merging other trains into the Cap such as the Ambassador, which operated to Detroit, and the all-coach Columbian to Chicago. However, unlike many other railroads the B&O did not let its passenger service slide away, and die a slow death. Right until the end the railroad offered premier service on the Capitol Limited and the train’s last journey under the B&O banner was fit for kings. During its last years of service the Capitol Limited continued to offer coach service with reclining seats, lounge service, Chessie tavern service, and finally Chessie Starlight Sleeper service (a rarity in the years directly before Amtrak).
On April 29, 1971, two days before Amtrak took over most intercity passenger operations around the country, the Capitol Limited pulled out of Baltimore’s Camden Station replete with coaches, diners, lounges, strata-dome, and all for its final trip to Chicago. The railroad even brought back its famed Deer Park spring water and all onboard vegetables were fresh, not frozen or canned. After Amtrak took over passenger operations it initially canceled all B&O trains, including the Capitol Limited. However, ten years after making its final run under its original creator, Amtrak brought back the Cap in 1981, operating it over its original route between Washington, D.C. and Chicago where it continues to remain in service today.
To learn more about the Capitol Limited please click here. For more reading about the Capitol Limited consider Baltimore & Ohio's Capitol Limited and National Limited from author Joe Welsh details both trains from their inception to final runs under the B&O featuring 160 pages of color and black & white photography. It's an excellent historical look at both trains and any B&O fan or historian would likely very much enjoy it! You might also be interested in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad written by Kirk Reynolds and David Oroszi. While there are several more excellent books, with superb illustrations, out there covering different aspects of the B&O in more detail this publication includes a fine general history of the railroad with wonderful historical photos (many in color). If you're interested in perhaps purchasing either (or both) of these books please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.