The Pennsylvania Railroad's Senator was a regional passenger train that served its heavy commuter market along the Northeast coast between Washington, D.C. and Boston in conjunction with the New Haven Railroad. Interestingly, the train was a late addition to the PRR fleet although it became quite successful for its high speeds, frequent service, and reliable schedule. In some ways the Senator had a sister route in the way of the Congressionals, although these trains did not serve exactly the same cities (but did run on the Northeast Corridor). For a train which covered just over 400 miles it provided an incredible level of service. While the Senator remained on the PRR's schedule through the merger to Penn Central by the takeover of Amtrak in 1971 it was a far less prestigious train. Today, while the name is gone Amtrak continues to serve the Senator's original route along its busiest corridor.
The PRR's Senator officially began service in July, 1929 and from the beginning was an all-Pullman operation despite the fact that this early version of the train featured heavyweight equipment. For most of the trip the train was operated electrically although with the New Haven not electrified north of its namesake city power was provided by steam locomotives. In 1935 the PRR's portion of the Senator was upgraded with the railroad's new Class GG1 electrics. While just a year earlier streamliners had been introduced to the public the Pennsylvania took a quite conservative approach to the fad outside of its long-distance runs (dubbing them their "Fleet of Modernism") like the flagship 20th Century Limited. Interestingly, even through the 1940s the PRR did not streamline virtually any such trains.
This changed, however, in 1951 when the Pennsylvania decided to finally upgrade the Senator and Congressional purchasing several new cars (64 in total) from the Budd Company. Featuring the builder's classic fluted stainless steel design, the shiny new cars with a touch of a Tuscon red pinstripe with gold lettering debuted on the two trains on March 17, 1952. With the Tuscon red and pinstriped GG1s the new trains were quite a handsome display speeding up and down the coast. For the Senator it offered passengers not only standard coach seating but also included parlor service and even a full-service dining car offering exquisite menu options for what essentially was mere a daytime run. Of course, this was in an era far different from today when rail travel was meant to be as enjoyable and relaxing as possible (in the case of the Senator it featured a professional staff to make sure of this).
In many ways, the PRR's two corridor trains (which included two complete trainsets of each) offered the best service of any railroad. Of course, the Pennsylvania essentially controlled the Washington, D.C. to New York market because it had direct service to all of the major cities along the route and worked in conjunction with the New Haven to reach Boston. However, some other lines did try to compete such as the Reading's Crusader and the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Of course, these railroads only provided regional service to a few cities and not the entire corridor. The only true competitor was the Baltimore & Ohio and its fabulous Royal Blue. Unfortunately, with no direct connection into New York the B&O finally dropped its service in the late 1950s.
The Senator could usually complete a run from Boston to Washington, D.C. in about just over 8 hours departing at 11 A.M. and arriving by 7:15 P.M. that evening with stops along the way at New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Newark, Wilmington, and Baltimore (the New Haven also offered connecting service to Springfield, Massachusetts). The eastbound version of the train was listed as #176 while the westbound was #177 (somewhat odd, considering that the two ran essentially north/south). Despite the Senator's 14 to 15 stops along the way it could still maintain an average speed of nearly 55 mph, quite impressive along such a busy corridor. For more information about the Senator's timetable please click here.
As patronage for rail service waned through the 1950s and into the 1960s, coupled with the advent of new interstates and local air service the Congressionals and Senator slowly lost interest among commuters looking to either drive themselves or reach their destination faster in a plane. By the time of the Penn Central merger in 1968 service along the corridor was a far cry from just 15 years earlier and was primarily simply an all-coach affair. However, the Senator name survived under Amtrak through the 1970s before finally being discontinued. Still, it remains in daily use today continuing to serve commuters and passengers with the fast Acela services covering the same area the Senator once tread.
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.