In terms of pure royalty, elegance, and opulence no passenger
train ever operated could compare to the Baltimore & Ohio's
Royal Blue. The train had a history that dated back to the late 19th century and it was briefly discontinued during World War I, only to return
directly afterwards with an increased vigor as the B&O looked to
remain very competitive with the larger Pennsylvania Railroad in the
cutthroat market between New York City and Baltimore/Washington, D.C.
While the B&O, which named its route between the two cities as the Royal Blue Line,
tried virtually every marketing attempt available to draw patrons to
its posh train (from the incredible services to a sleek, streamlined
look) the railroad simply could not compete with the PRR's vast
resources, faster schedule, and more direct routes. In the late 1950s the railroad finally ceded the market to its largest rival and canceled the train after more than 60 years of operation.
A pair of B&O E8As run light along Penn Central trackage in Washington, D.C. on April 29, 1969.
The history of the B&O's Royal Blue train actually dated as
far back as the 1880s. In 1886, thanks to the efforts of then B&O
president John Garrett the B&O opened a new route between
Baltimore/Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia thus entering the extremely
competitive market against the Pennsylvania Railroad. However, to reach
New York City the B&O needed help, which it found via the
Philadelphia & Reading Railroad east of Philly (later the Reading
Railroad) and the Central Railroad of New Jersey. This latter railroad
gave the B&O direct access to Jersey City via its Jersey City
Terminal (also known as Communipaw Terminal), directly across the river
from downtown Manhattan.
Unfortunately, the B&O never purchased the smaller Philadelphia,
Wilmington & Baltimore Railroad, which would have given it a direct
connection between Philly and NYC. The PW&B, instead, became the
PRR's main line after 1881 between the two major cities.
In any event, with its two allying railroads the Baltimore &
Ohio now had a direct, if not a somewhat roundabout, connection to the
same markets and dubbed it the Royal Blue Line. However, all three lines worked
hard to make the route as fast as possible so as to maintain a
competitive advantage against the PRR line. Save for the lack of access
into downtown New York City this goal was accomplished for the most
part. Before the B&O actually launched the train it had
been providing limited services between Baltimore/D.C. and New York but
was not very competitive against the PRR for two reasons: first, was
the fact that passengers were required to take two ferries during their
trip (across Baltimore Harbor to reach Camden Station and across the
Hudson River to reach Manhattan); second, as aforementioned, was that the B&O simply did not have its own route along the corridor.
The first train was actually commissioned on July 31, 1890, using a specially designed M-1 Class
4-4-0 American Type steam locomotive that could reach speeds as high as
90 miles per hour thanks to its large 78-inch driving wheels. It was
this first train that set the standard for the railroad's service over
the corridor, and in some ways the industry in general. According to
Herbert H. Harwood Jr.'s Royal Blue Line the B&O, Reading, and CNJ purchased a total of 28 incredibly luxurious passenger cars from the Pullman Palace Car Company that included day coaches, combines, and baggage cars. The Baltimore & Ohio added its own equipment (diners, parlors, and sleepers) to complete what would become ten trainsets.
These were no ordinary cars. The new equipment plus the B&O's overhauled cars
were incredibly ornate. The interiors were decorated in expensive
mahogany woods and there were separate sections for smoking. The
upholstery used in the coach seats featured old-gold plush and all of the cars were steam heated with Pintsch gas lighting. The level of interior craftsmanship in these cars, particularly with the woodwork, is something that we will likely never see again. The exterior of the cars
was just as impressive featuring a deep blue livery with gold trim,
paired windows with etched, frosted glass, and iron scrollwork on the
Since the equipment operated on all three railroads none of the
company names were listed and instead, "New York, Philadelphia,
Baltimore & Washington" was stenciled near the top. However, one
could distinguish the cars by owner depending on which state seal was
featured (Maryland for the B&O, Pennsylvania for the Reading, and
New Jersey for the CNJ). Finally, in another first for passenger trains
the entire train was equipped with enclosed vestibules instead of open
platforms, a feature that would become increasingly common in the future
as it enabled passengers to walk from car to car without being exposed to the elements.
In 1895 the B&O's route gained a major strategic advantage
when it eliminated the ferry crossing at Baltimore Harbor by opening the
Baltimore Belt Railroad, which tied in its New York line with its
western route to Cumberland. The line was only 7.3 miles in length but
was also noted for its accomplishments outside of its strategic value
including the fact that it was the first electrified route for a main
line railroad in the United States and its 1.25-mile long Howard Tunnel.
With the opening of the new line the B&O felt it needed another
grand entrance for passengers into the city and constructed the Mount
Royal Station at the corner of North Howard Street and West Preston
Street. For a more detailed overview of Mount Royal please click here.
An unnamed B&O train, #174, hustles through D.C. along the Penn Central with E8A #1448 up front on April 29, 1969.
With a direct entrance into Baltimore, the B&O wasted no time in redirecting the Royal Blue
over the new line with the first train leaving Mount Royal Station on
June 27, 1895. In terms of equipment not much changed with the train
save for the electric locomotives
taking over while in Baltimore. The time during World War I and
governmental control via the United States Railroad Administration
meant that railroads were struggling to keep up with the stifling
demands to move enormous amounts of people and freight for the war
effort. As a means of reducing the burden of the PRR in hauling New
York-Washington passengers the USRA allowed the B&O to use
Pennsylvania Station in April, 1918 via the Lehigh Valley Railroad
between Manville, New Jersey and the PRR's main line at Hunter.
However, it was during the war that the B&O discontinued the train
for the first time, in 1918, after the European royalty associations
with the train were frowned upon. Interestingly, after USRA control ended
on March 1, 1920 the PRR continued to let the B&O use Penn Station
signing an official contract on July 13, 1921. The contract was meant
to expire on September 25, 1925 but thanks to B&O president Daniel
Willard's efforts he was able to achieve an extension until September 1,
1926. Despite the extension the B&O had to look to the future after
the contract expired. In 1927 the former train that was the train received new motive power in the way of B&O's new Class P-7 President Class
4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotives.
These locomotives featured an olive green livery with gold and red
pinstriping. Despite the loss of the name, President Willard made sure
that the train remained a top-notch, luxurious operation.
It was during the mid-1920s, after the B&O lost access to
Penn Station that the PRR put increasing pressure on its competitor for
dominance in the Washington-New York corridor by announcing that it
would completely electrify the route increasing both speed, efficiency,
and service. To counter this Willard launched a marketing campaign that
the B&O was always remembered by, personalized service to an
incredible degree. Although the railroad could not reach Manhattan
directly by train, they would board B&O-owned buses that crossed the
Hudson River on the ferries as well. From there they would travel to
42nd Street near the New York Central's Grand Central Terminal, which
connected to the station via an elaborate Art Deco concourse and be
given the choice of taking one of four routes through the city reaching
the Vanderbilt Hotel, Wanamaker's, Columbus Circle, or the Rockefeller
The 1930s saw the Royal Blue name brought back with an
even greater vigor by the Baltimore & Ohio and Daniel Willard as the
company attempted to remain very competitive with the Pennsylvania
Railroad. In the 1935 the PRR fully completed its electrification and
that same year saw the B&O purchase two streamlined trainsets from
the American Car & Foundry via a loan from the U.S. Reconstruction
Finance Corporation (the B&O was strapped financially at the time
due to the depression). One train was built using aluminum and used as
the Royal Blue while the other of Cor-Ten steel and sent west for use as the Abraham Lincoln between St. Louis and Chicago. For power the train featured two experimental steam locomotives both
built by the railroad's Mount Clare Shops in Baltimore; a light weight,
high speed 4-4-4 named the Lady Baltimore and a 4-6-4 Hudson Type named the Lord Baltimore.
To match the streamlined trainset both locomotives were also
semi-streamlined and painted in a deep blue with gold trim to match the
train. Additionally, the B&O ordered an 1,800 horspower boxcab-type
diesel locomotive from the Electro-Motive Corporation, #50 that was
sent west to power the Abraham Lincoln. Some of the notable features with the new streamliner included
air-conditioning (a first in the industry) and exquisite Chesapeake Bay
entrees and dining that kept some folks coming back just for the food!
Overall, the train was an eight-car affair; a baggage-mail car, three
coaches with reclining seats to hold 64 passengers each, a diner-lunch
counter car, two parlors, and a round-end parlor-lounge-observation (a
buffet-lounge later replaced one of the coaches). Unfortunately,
Willard and the railroad were not pleased with the aluminum streamliner
and looked to replace it after less than two years of service.
As such an "improved" Royal Blue debuted on April 25,
1937. This train was designed and styled partially by famed industrial
designer Otto Kuhler and was also an all-streamlined eight-car set
(built by the B&O's own shops from heavyweight equipment) featuring a
beautiful dark blue and gray livery with gold pinstriping (a look that
would come to define the B&O for years to come). For power the new
train featured a streamlined bullet-nose P-7 Class 4-6-2 Pacific, #5304,
which was also styled by Kuhler. This locomotive would probably have
stolen the publicity had it not been for a new streamlined diesel
locomotive that also debuted in the train at the same time,
an EA and booster known as an EB. Also built by EMC the set could
produce 3,600 horsepower combined and featured a classic cab carbody
that, while occasionally tweaked, came to define EMC/EMD diesel
locomotives for decades. In total, B&O owned six sets of EAs/EBs
After World War II the B&O completely dieselized the train
supplementing its EA/EB sets with E6s and E7s. However, the railroad
did not purchase any new equipment for hte train. While the new train
worked well in increasing ridership for the Baltimore & Ohio it did
not sustain the railroad's long term viability in the New
York-Washington market. Between the Pennsylvania Railroad's dominance
and decreasing patronage with passenger trains after World War II the
B&O simply could not compete posting increasing deficits annually.
Finally, the railroad made the hard decision of canceling the train with
the final run occurring on April 26, 1958. This last consist was met
with an incredible amount of fanfare as reporters from the New York
Times, New York Post, Life magazine and Saturday Evening Post all
lamented on its passing. For more reading about the train please click here.
With the U.S. Capitol Building as a backdrop two B&O E8As lead the Chesapeake & Ohio's George Washington out of D.C. on April 26, 1971. One wonders if the folks to the right paying no attention to the train realize that in just a few days Amtrak will take over, bringing to a close the romantic era of privately operated passenger trains.
For the next few years the Mount Royal Station remained in use by the
B&O but with its primary function no longer needed the railroad
finally closed the building on June 30, 1961. Today, it is completely
restored, along with its train shed, and used as the Maryland Institute
College of Art (MICA). For more reading I would strongly suggest the book Royal Blue Line: The Classic B&O Train between Washington and New York
by noted railroad historian Herbert H. Harwood Jr. Herb is quite
knowledgeable on the B&O and his book covering is premier New York
train is certainly the best publication currently out there highlighting
its complete history.