History Of New York’s Empire State Express Train

Empire State Express

Photo: Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “2c Empire State Express single” New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Long before there was Amtrak in New York, there was the Empire State Express train. The legendary New York Empire State Express train was a locomotive that traveled from Buffalo, New York to New York City’s borough of Manhattan and back. The train was one of the United States’ earliest long distance passenger trains that ran at high speeds. The Empire State Express began its first daily run on December 7th 1891. The train got the name the Empire State Express not because it was a non stop train between Buffalo and Manhattan but rather because of the short amount of time it took to travel between the two cities. For a trip that was separated by the distance of four hundred and sixty one miles, the Empire State Express train was able to complete that trip in between seven and eight hours. In present time that may not seem that impressive, but in 1891 it was a spectacular feat to accomplish.

The Empire State Express train was part of what was called The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. In 1914, the name would  be changed to just the New York Central Railroad. At the time, the Empire State Express Train would become the flagship train of the The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.

As stated previously, express did not mean non-stop. An example of the itenary for the Empire State Express  train would have the train leaving Grand Central in Manhattan at 8:00 am. Ten minutes later the train would make a stop at the 125th street station in Manhattan. Once it left the city it would make stops in Harmon, Albany, Schenectady, Utica, Syracuse, Rochester and finally Buffalo by 4.00 pm.

Empire State Express

Photo: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “George H. Daniels.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/

The Empire State Express train was given its name by George Henry Daniels. There weren’t many avenues to advertise the express train in the late 19th century. George Henry Daniels promoted the train by designing pamphlets that also bore his name at the bottom of the promotional materials. At the time, George Henry Daniels held the title General Passenger Agent. It was a position that was offered to him by the New York Railroad  because of the work he had done with Chicago & Pacific Railroad as the Chicago Eastbound Passenger Committee.  George Henry Danies work with the The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad proved invaluable from a marketing standpoint.  George Henry Daniels was responsible not only for all the travel brochures promoting the railroad and the Empire State Express but also for publishing a magazine out of New York’s Grand Central Terminal called the “Four-Track News. ”

One of George Henry Daniels most spectacular achievements regarding the Empire State Express, was the fact that he was able to get the United States Post Office to create a stamp in tribute to the Empire State Express. The United States Post Office issued a 2 cent stamp in tribute to the Empire State Express as part of the Pan American Exposition Series. The Empire State Express U.S.Postal Stamp was issued in 1901.

The Empire State Express train was originally built out of standard wooden cars. The standard wooden cars were purchased from the Wagner Palace Car Company. The train’s locomotive was a  C Class 4-4-0 American Type steam locomotive. It was a very powerful locomotive that utilized four leading wheels and four driving wheels. Two years after the initial launch of Empire State Express, the train broke a speed record. On May 10 1893, Charles Hogan hit a land speed record of 112.5 miles per hour. The speed record is what helped George Henry Daniels convince the United States Postal Office to print the commemorative stamp.

From 1881 to 1941, the Empire Express train made over forty thousand trips between Buffalo and Manhattan. The train was upgraded periodically with more heavy duty cars and faster locomotives like the  J Class 4-6-4 Hudson. Eventually the train was completely re-configured adding stainless steel cars from the Edward G. Budd Manufacturing Company. Air conditioning was also added to the cars as well as parlor cars, diner cars and a tavern based observation car. The new Empire Express Train was set to be inaugurated on Sunday, December 7, 1941. However, the importance of the presentation of the new train quickly disappeared as the Japanese began their raid on Pearl Harbor.

The Empire State Express train continued to run throughout the 20th Century. In 1999, the name was dropped from the train by Amtrak which decided to give just numbers all its trains. While the rail line it once broke the record on still exists (it’s now owned by Amtrak) and the connections are still utilized by passengers, the Empire State Express train will go down in history as one of the most important pioneers in New York State’s public transportation network.

Empire State Express

Photo: A.P. Yates [Public domain]

Sources

Full Photo Credit: Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “2c Empire State Express single” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/5e66b3e8-824d-d471-e040-e00a180654d7

Photo: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “George H. Daniels.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 17, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-71c2-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Eisenstadt, P. E. (2005). The encyclopedia of New York State/ editor in chief, Peter Eisenstadt ; managing editor, Laura-Eve Moss ; foreword by Carole F. Huxley. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p.503

Empire State Express. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.american-rails.com/empire.html

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