The Pennsylvania Railroad's regional Congressional service was in some ways a truncated version of its Senator, which operated all of the way to Boston. The Northeast trains were also known by other names and were perhaps the preeminent way for commuters, business interests, and local travelers to make their way to and from the Northeast's largest cities between Washington, D.C. and New York City as the distance could be covered in just a few hours! Today, of course, Amtrak provides service along the Northeast corridor although it is far different than during the PRR era when passengers were treated as royalty and the trains were rich with on board amenities and offerings. These services, of course, slowly disappeared into the 1960s and under Penn Central management. While the service remained initially under Amtrak the name was gone after just a few years.
The origins of the Pennsy providing regional service along the Northeast Corridor between our nation's capital and New York City date back to the Congressional Limited Express, a train inaugurated in 1885. From an early date the PRR learned the value of offering fast, local service for commuters, which was especially true in such a populated region as the Northeast. During these early years power for the train was provided by steam and typical intermediate stops included Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Perryville, and Baltimore (this changed little over the years). The first real change for the Congressional Limited Express service occurred during the 1920s when the Pennsylvania Railroad announced that it would be upgrading the corridor to full electrified status and adding hourly stops along the route.
Still, while the 1930s saw the PRR complete its electrification project, the fast and reliable GG1 electrics were introduced, and streamliners hit the rails (in 1934) the railroad was reluctant to spend vast amounts of capital on the latter outside of its long distance runs like the Broadway Limited (appropriately dubbed as its "Fleet of Modernism"). Interestingly, even the much smaller Reading Railroad delved into the streamliner fad when in 1937 it introduced the Crusader between Philadelphia and Jersey City (in conjunction with the Jersey Central) serving the exact same market as the Pennsy's trains. It's safe to say that the new equipment and upgraded services this train offered probably stole away a bit of the Pennsylvania's traffic base for a time.
After seeing the successes of the streamliner through the 1940s the PRR finally decided to spend considering money on purchasing new equipment for its regional Northeast trains. In 1951 it placed an order with the Budd Company for 64 new cars, which gave the railroad two trainsets each for each train. In terms of the Congressional this meant that there would be a Morning and Afternoon run offered daily. The new cars were a stunning difference from the old heavyweight equipment used for years and gleamed in their fluted stainless steel, Tuscon red pinstripe, and gold lettering. While today's regional commuter trains offer little more in the way of amenities aside from a snackbar this was not the case with the Pennsy's service.
The interior of the trains offered interior decors that went along with theme of the region in which served, tasteful colors of red, white, and blue. Just as with the Senator typical consists of the Congressionals included a parlor car, bar lounge, coffee shop tavern, diner, and an observation-bar-lounge. It was top-notch service with an incredible offering of dining, as according to Mike Schafer and Joe Welsh's Streamliners: History of a Railroad Icon, menu offerings included charbroiled steak and the Pennsy's legendary raisin pie. This, of course, did not include light snacks and beverages also offered aboard the train. Additionally, the PRR took great effort in tailoring the train to business travelers by offering comfortable seating and even a seven-room conference car for meetings. Overall, no other railroad could match the Pennsylvania for regional service in the Northeast.
The Morning and Afternoon Congressional remained a regular service for the Pennsylvania throughout the 1950s and 1960s despite a loss of ridership as regional airlines and more interstates drove patronage away from the rails. Service continued to decline through the Penn Central era after 1968, particularly as the company eroded away just a few years after the merger. By May 1, 1971 and the creation of Amtrak the trains continued to be provided through the middle of that decade before the name was finally discontinued.
For timetable information about the PRR's Northeastern service please click here. For more reading about the Pennsylvania Railroad and its passenger services you might be interested in Pennsylvania Railroad from Mike Schafer and Brian Solomon. While the book is just a brief history on the railroad it is very well done and will at least give you a general overview and history of the Pennsy (and it is filled with many, excellent, historical and colorful photographs) at which point you can decide if you are interested in further books of study on the railroad (there are hundreds out there!). Even if you are a historian and/or fan of the PRR and have not seen this book I'm sure you will enjoy it! If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the links below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.