Lake Shore Limited

While anyone who is familiar with today's intercity passenger rail service, Amtrak, likely also knows that the carrier operates a train known as the Lake Shore Limited between Chicago and New York/Boston. However, well before Amtrak revived the name the New York Central ran a train by the same name for more than 60 years dating back to the 1890s. It was one of the NYC's first Chicago to New York runs and offered top notch service, the flagship of the railroad for roughly five years. Eventually, of course, the train was upstaged by the inauguration of the posh 20th Century Limited around 1902 although the Lake Shore remained within the New York Central's fleet (and would eventually receive streamliner status) until the mid-1950s when it was finally discontinued due to declining patronage and ridership. 

Today, the Lake Shore is one of a handful of former NYC trains whose routes remain in use by Amtrak.  Unfortunately, its on-time performance under the national carrier has been less than stellar earning it the dubious nickname of Late Shore Limited.  Today's service is scheduled for 16 hours.

During the early Amtrak era the westbound "Lake Shore Limited" is more than 3 hours late as it nears a station stop in Cleveland, Ohio during December of 1978. Gary Morris photo.

The history of the Lake Shore actually dates back to the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago during 1893. That year the then New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (it would not become the New York Central system until 1914) launched the Exposition Flyer in honor of this event, a train which connected Chicago and New York. On its initial run to Chicago the train covered the 960 miles to Chicago in just 20 hours, a feat the certainly caught the attention of the press. The success of the Flyer saw the railroad inaugurate a much more opulent train four years later. On May 30, 1897 the NYC launched the Lake Shore Limited, its first full-service passenger train between Chicago and New York. A typical consist of this early version of the train included parlor service, a diner, three sleepers, a buffet-library car, and a lounge-observation.

A History Of The New York Central

New York Central's "Great Steel Fleet"

20th Century Limited: (New York - Chicago)

Commodore Vanderbilt: (New York - Chicago)

Detroiter: (New York - Detroit)

Empire State Express: (New York - Buffalo)

James Whitcomb Riley: (Chicago - Cincinnati)

Mercury: (Detroit - Cleveland)

New England States: (Chicago - Cleveland - Boston)

Pacemaker: (New York - Cleveland - Chicago)

As the first flagship run for the New York Central to Chicago the railroad made sure of two things; first, that the train offered guests numerous first class amenities and second, that it be very competitive against the Pennsylvania Railroad's Pennsylvania Limited, which served the same market. Interestingly, the PRR's original flagship was started in 1887 a full ten years before the NYC launched a competing train (surprising, given the fact that the two lines were such fierce competitors). Just like with the Exposition Flyer the Lake Shore originally used cars built by the Wagner Palace Car Company and offered full sleeper services (at the time, the largest car builder next to Pullman, which eventually purchased it).

As mentioned before, the Lake Shore lost its flagship status when the NYC unveiled the 20th Century Limited in 1902 (which interesting predated the PRR's later flagship, the Broadway Limited by 10 years). However, the train remained an important overnight run on the New York Central. When the streamliner era hit the industry in the 1930s the NYC was reluctant to spend many resources on a trend that, at the time, was simply a fad (as it maintained interest, however, the railroad finally spent money to upgrade its fleet). By that time the company did upgrade much of its fleet to heavyweight cars and J Class 4-6-4 Hudson Type steam locomotives for power.

(The below Lake Shore Limited timetable is dated effective July 18, 1948.)

Read Down Time/Leave (Train #19) Location Read Up
Time/Arrive (Train #22)
6:30 PM (Dp)
New York, NY (Grand Central Terminal)
12:15 PM (Ar)
6:53 PM
Yonkers, NY
7:18 PM
Harmon, NY
11:17 AM
8:08 PM
Poughkeepsie, NY
10:19 AM
9:15 PM (Ar)
Albany, NY
9:10 AM (Dp)
9:20 PM (Dp)
Albany, NY
9:05 AM (Ar)
9:48 PM
Schenectady, NY
8:42 AM
11:06 PM
Utica, NY
7:24 AM
11:59 PM
Syracuse, NY
6:33 AM
1:26 AM
Rochester, NY
2:35 AM (Ar)
Buffalo, NY (Central Terminal)
4:05 AM (Dp)
2:45 AM (Dp)
Buffalo, NY (Central Terminal)
4:00 AM (Ar)
4:10 AM
Erie, OH
6:05 AM (Ar)
Cleveland, OH (Union Terminal)
6:20 AM (Dp)
Cleveland, OH (Union Terminal)
6:30 AM
Linndale, OH
6:59 AM
Elyria, OH
7:35 AM
Sandusky, OH
8:30 AM (ET)
Toledo, OH
11:05 PM (ET)
9:45 AM (CT)
Elkhart, IN
8:00 PM (CT)
10:15 AM
South Bend, IN
7:35 PM
11:23 AM
Gary, IN
11:59 AM
Englewood, IL (Union Station)
6:29 PM
12:15 PM (Ar)
Chicago, IL (La Salle Street Station)
6:15 PM (Dp)

After the NYC saw the success of the streamliner with the unveiling of its 1936 Mercury (a train that was rebuilt with old heavyweight equipment) it quickly set to upgrading its entire fleet starting with the 20th Century Limited of the late 1930s. It was also around that time that the railroad began receiving new lightweight, streamlined equipment from Pullman-Standard. By the early 1940s the train was also an entirely streamlined affair. Sadly, on April 19, 1940 a derailment of the train occurred that was never to be forgotten. Approaching Little Falls, New York the westbound Lake Shore Limited entered the sharpest curve along the railroad's main line resulting in more than 130 people ever killed or hurt.

A pair of Amtrak's venerable FL9's have train #48, the southbound "Lake Shore Limited," headed for New York City just south of Hudson, New York on a beautiful September 24, 1995. Wade Massie photo.

By the late 1940s and early 1950s the Lake Shore received its final upgrade of service when the NYC purchased new Electro-Motive Division E7 and E8 model, streamlined cab diesel locomotives. Unfortunately, by the 1950s interest in rail travel was severely declining forcing the New York Central to cut the eastbound Lake Shore back to only Buffalo in July, 1956 and eliminating its all-Pullman status (this run was also shared with the Empire State Express). During that era before the reduction of service the train typically carried primarily all sleepers as well as diner service, a lounge, and coaches. Interestingly, the westbound version of the train was eliminated entirely by late October that same year which also dissolved the remaining eastbound Lake Shore.

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Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

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A popular pastime for many is studying and/or exploring abandoned rights-of-way.  Today, there are tens of thousands of miles scattered throughout the country.  Many were pulled up in the 1970's and 1980's although others were removed long before that.  If you are researching active or abandoned corridors you might want to check out the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) Historical Topographic Map Explorer.  It is an excellent resource with thousands of historic maps on file throughout the country.  Just type in a town or city and click on the timeline of maps at the bottom of the page!

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You will be hard pressed at finding a better online resource regarding diesel locomotives than Craig Rutherford's  The website contains everything from historic (fallen flags) to contemporary (Class I's, regionals, short lines, and even some museums/tourist lines) rosters, locomotive production information, technical data, all notable models cataloged by the five major builders (American Locomotive, Electro-Motive, General Electric, Fairbanks-Morse, and Baldwin), and much more.  A highly recommended database!

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In 1998 a gentleman by the name of Andre Kristopans put together a web page highlighting virtually every unit every out-shopped by General Motors' Electro-Motive Division.  Alas, in 2013 the site closed by thankfully Don Strack rescued the data and transferred it over to his site (another fine resource).  If you are researching anything EMD related please visit this page first.  The information includes original numbers, serials, and order numbers.