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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

New York Central System vs Pennsylvania Railroad Throw Down. Round 3

Greetings All,

This week we'll showcase the New York Central System's 20th Century Limited versus the Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited in round 3 of the NYC vs PRR Throw Down. A disclaimer before we begin. The amount of information available for both trains is staggering. Each has legions of die hard fans and each has been well examined, researched, documented, cataloged, photographed, painted etc. Both were subjects of major motion pictures. You get the picture. So I'll just present some factual tidbits and an overview of each. Links are available for further reading.

20th Century Limited
Inaugurated June 2, 1902
Discontinued December 3, 1967

Train # 25  All Pullman New York (Grand Central Terminal) to Chicago (LaSalle Street Station)
Train # 26  All Pullman Chicago (LaSalle Street) to New York (Grand Central Terminal)

For most rail fans the 1938 streamlining of the NYC 20th Century Limited and adversary Pennsylvania Railroad's Broadway Limited brought these two flagships to the pinnacles of their careers. Little known is that the project was a joint effort of the NYC, PRR, the Pullman Company and Pullman-Standard. The cars for both the 20th Century Ltd and Broadway Ltd were ordered as a group for cost saving reasons. NYC ordered a total of sixty two cars, enough for four Century train sets. The train often operated in multiple sections to accommodate demand. Interior designs of the cars varied greatly as both railroads hired different designers.

The Central once again hired Henry Dreyfuss who rendered this latest edition of the Century, stunning, sophisticated and stylish beyond anything that had been done to date on any railroad. The 1938 century was a train without peer, from it's rakish Dreyfuss streamlined Hudson to its mid train double diners (transformed after dinner into Cafe' Century, an elegant night club with piped in music) to it's city themed observation lounge cars.

A Dreyfuss 4-6-4 Hudson leads the 1938 20th Century Limited

The red carpet treatment at Grand Central Terminal

The 20th Century Limited at LaSalle Street Station with a pair of E7s

New York central Promotional Film from 1935

Press Releases from 1938

Additional Information

Modeling the 20th Century Limited in HO scale

In 1946 the A.T.S.F. and N.Y.C. offered run through coast to coast service so passengers would not have to change trains at Chicago. A.T.S.F. sleepers ran east bound on the 20th Century and N.Y.C. sleepers ran west bound on the Chief.

Pennsylvania Railroad
Broadway Limited

Inaugurated November 14, 1912
Discontinued September 10, 1995

Train #29 All Pullman New York (Pennsylvania Station) to Chicago (Union Station)
Train #28 All Pullman Chicago (Union Station) to New York (Pennsylvania Station)

The Broadway Limited started it's life originally called the Pennsylvania Special on June 2, 1902. It was renamed in November 1914 to avoid confusion with another PRR passenger train, the Pennsylvania Ltd. The name conferred to the broad way of the PRR's four track mains not the street in Manhattan, although it is spelled the same. In the heavyweight era the Broadway was an all sleeper car train with no coach service. It was the only PRR train to get new light weight sleeper cars prior to World War II. In 1949 the Broadway was once again re-equipped with new streamline equipment including a twin unit dining car, a mid train lounge car and squared off observation cars. 

The all Pullman sleeper Broadway Limited was the last of it's kind outlasting the 20th Century Ltd and Panama Ltd until it was merged with the Three Rivers in December 1967. The Broadway would last thru the Penn Central merger as train 48 and 49 and well into the Amtrak takeover. On September 10, 1995 the Broadway was discontinued due to significant funding problems.

PRR's iconic S1 6-4-4-6 locomotive leads the Broadway Limited
An older advertisement for the Broadway Limited

An A-B-A trio of E7s leads the Broadway Limited.

Additional Information

                            20th Century Limited                      Broadway Limited
Schedule Times;                                       16 hours                                     16 hours
Longevity                                                 65 years                                     83 years  
Profitability                                            Often sold out                          Often lightly patronized
                                                         Second sections needed          Faced discontinuance before WWII

The Judges Scoring
Both trains catered to the wealthy and elite. But I think the 20th Century Limited was the train of choice for most of the wealthy and elite as evidenced by the need for advance sections of the train. The 20th Century Limited reached iconic status. The Broadway looks to be seen as a worthy competitor but not really in the same class. Maybe this was due to marketing. Maybe it was the "Water Level Route" but the 20th Century Limited is known as a world class train. Perhaps one of the finest in the world ever. That is tough to beat. So for this round I give the nod to the 20th Century Limited. 


  1. I rode the Broadway Limited in 1977 to go to college in Iowa from NY. I imagine the AMTRAK version was a pale representation of the Pennsy's banner train. I recall being disappointed that the late afternoon/evening departure timed the trip through Pennsylvania in the dark so I missed what I thought might be the more scenic portions of the trip. I was treated to plenty of Indiana flat lands though!

    As time passes the 20th Century seems to be perceived as more iconic and glamorous. I always think of the scenes of the train in the Hitchcock classic "North By Northwest" and wish I'd been able to ride it!

    1. Thanks for sharing the story Ralph. At least you can say you rode the Broadway Ltd!

  2. I rode the 20th Century in 1962. My father took me on it to Chicago as a reward for turning my school grades around. (My first preference was to ride the EL-NKP, but my father couldn't get his company to reimburse expenses for his part of the Chicago trip for that route.) Volume I Part II of the Emery Gulash NYC Odyssey has footage of the train from that year, which I particularly enjoy. Up to then, I was a confirmed PRR-DL&W fan, but the trip on the 20th Century convinced me the NYC was just as interesting!

    1. Thanks for sharing the story John. Great to hear you rode the 20th Century Ltd in 1962. I have the NYC video you mention. I'll be re-watching it!

  3. John,

    Coming from a multi-generational PRR family my first inclination would be to vote for the PRR. But in an effort to be bipartisan and based on your findings, I will have to concur the NYC deserves the bragging rights. BTW - that groaning noise you may be hearing are the groans of my father, grandfather and multiple uncles and grand-uncles rolling over in their respective resting places over my disloyalty.

    1. Hi engineer Ed, I know this was a tough call for you! But I'm glad you saw the bottom line. Profit and iconic status. Down the road we'll take a look at the electric locomotives of both roads plus passenger and freight service. So hopefully those groans will be silenced

  4. Nice to see the replies about both RR's. It's sad to see that Amtrak doesn't carry on a 'tradition' like not only the Broadway Limited or 20th Century, but some of the other iconic trains of years past. Yes, they still keep the 'name' of those trains, but nothing picturesque or iconic about them these days. Only thing they have going for them..ALWAYS RUNNING LATE!