Saturday, March 29, 2008

Taking the 'Broad Way'

My recent trip to New York was followed by a trip from Penn Station to Pittsburgh to visit family members. The train ride took me across one of the most famous railroads in American history; the 'Broad Way' of the Pennsy.

The Pennsylvania Railroad's premier train was the Broadway Limited, traveling between New York and Chicago from 1912 until 1995, outliving even the great PRR. Interestingly enough, while the Broadway served Manhattan Island at Pennsylvania Station, it was named not after New York's most famous street, but rather the 'broad way' which the Pennsy had carved across the country. Much of the railroad had been built four tracks wide, making it exceptional in American railroading.

Even today, much of the Northeast Corridor is four tracks wide; a legacy of good planning. Only in 1981 did Conrail remove the fourth track through the Horseshoe Curve. The curve took the Pennsylvania Railroad's Main Line over the Alleghenies at Kittanning Gap and opened the west to rail travel. The Pennsy believed strongly in constructing a railroad that would last, and that meant using lots of stone construction. Today, trains still travel over a bridge that survived the Johnstown flood of 1889.

While the Broadway survived, the Pennsylvania became a fallen flag after being merged with rival New York Central into Penn Central in 1968. The Broadway outlasted the Twentieth Century Limited as well, showpiece of the New York Central, when it was canceled December 2, 1967. In 1995, Amtrak discontinued the Broadway Limited, and September 9th marked the last day of service under that brand.

Service was briefly resurrected in 2005, as the Three Rivers, but today passengers can take the train only from New York to Pittsburgh aboard the Pennsylvanian. At Pittsburgh, they have to change to the former-B&O's flagship (flagtrain?), the Capitol Limited to continue to Chicago.

My journey across Pennsylvania by train was moving for me. The Broadway was my introduction to rail travel, at least through television. A PBS special, "Great Railway Journeys of the World," did an episode on 'America' (filmed in the early 1980s). The narrator traveled from New York to Los Angeles, and he started by purchasing a ticket for the Broadway. The film showed a train pulled by a former PRR GG1, painted black with 'Amtrak' in all white letters. At Harrisburg, the camera sweeps across a decaying station where grass pokes up through the platforms and light streams through holes in the roof. He takes this time to lament the sorry state of passenger rail travel in the United States.

Now, having made the journey myself, I have to say that Amtrak has made huge strides in improvement. The station at Harrisburg is in much better shape and while the Amfleet equipment isn't the same as the all-Pullman Broadway, it's better than the hand-me-downs that Amtrak started out with in the 1970s.

This trip brought to 21 the number of states I've traveled through on Amtrak. I added New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. My train trips over the last three years have taken me aboard:
  • The Heartland Flyer (OK, TX)
  • The Coast Starlight (WA, OR, CA)
  • The Capitol Corridor (CA)
  • The Capitol Limited (IL, IN, OH, PA, MD, WV)
  • The Crescent (LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA)
  • Regional Service (PA, DE, MD) and
  • The Pennsylvanian (NY, NJ, PA)
At any rate, two of the most scenic trips I have made are those going through the Alleghenies, the Capitol Limited and the Pennsylvanian. I took some photos on my most recent trip:

A farm slides rapidly by near Lancaster

In the distance, the cooling towers
at the Three Mile Island Nuclear
Power Plant release steam (the
towers at left are connected to
Reactor 2, which partially melted down
in 1979, and are no longer functional)

Crossing the Susquehanna,
Harrisburg is on the horizon

NS helper units push a
freight up the Horseshoe
Curve near Altoona as we
pass by on the center track

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