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Empire State Express

"Drumhead" logos such as these often adorned the ends of observation cars on the Empire State Express.

The Empire State Express was one of the named passenger trains and onetime flagship of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad (a predecessor of the later New York Central Railroad). On September 14, 1891 it covered the 436 miles (702 kilometers) between New York City and Buffalo in 7 hours and 6 minutes (including stops), averaging 61.4 miles-per-hour (98.8 km/h), with a top speed of 82 mph (132 km/h).[1][2]


  • History 1
    • Amtrak 1.1
  • Empire State Express No. 999 2
  • Equipment used 3
  • In song and film 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The train soon gained worldwide celebrity, and its route would later stretch to 620 miles (998 kilometers), to Cleveland, Ohio. The Empire State was the first passenger train with a schedule speed of over 52 mph and the first to make runs of 142.88 miles (230 km) between stops (between New York City and Albany: the longest scheduled nonstop run until then).

The 1893 Guide shows an 8 hr 40 min schedule for 440 miles New York to Buffalo.

RPO canceled cover from the first streamlined run of the "The Empire State Express".
On December 7, 1941, the New York Central inaugurated a new stainless-steel streamlined (Budd) train, powered by a streamlined J-3a Hudson (4-6-4) steam locomotive. (Later that day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.) Like many long haul passenger trains through the mid-1960s, the "Empire State Express" carried a 60-foot stainless steel East Division (E.D.) Railway Post Office (R.P.O.) car operated by the Railway Mail Service (RMS) of the United States Post Office Department which was staffed by USPOD clerks as a "fast mail" on each of its daily runs.[3] Mail handled by the "Empire State's" RPOs was canceled or backstamped by hand applied circular date stamps (CDS) reading "N.Y. & CHICAGO R.P.O." and the train's number: "TR 50" (eastbound) or "TR 51" (westbound).


When Amtrak took over the nation's passenger service on May 1, 1971 it consolidated trains on the New York—Albany—Buffalo corridor into the "Empire Service". Amtrak revived the name, although not the route to match, on January 6, 1974 when it gave names to Empire Service trains. The Empire State Express returned as a New York—Buffalo train, numbers 71 and 78. On October 31 that year Amtrak extended the train to Detroit via southern Ontario, Canada. On April 25, 1976 Amtrak renamed this train the Niagara Rainbow. Amtrak brought the name back in 1978 as a New York—Buffalo service, which in 1979 was extended to Niagara Falls. A few years later Amtrak dropped train names on the Empire Corridor.[4]:174

Empire State Express No. 999

New York Central and Hudson River Railroad No. 999, the "Queen of Speed," slows to 60 mph (97 km/h) as it leads the Empire State Express through Palatine, New York in 1905.

The key to the Empire State's initial fame was a 37-foot (11 m)-long American-type 4-4-0 steam locomotive built in West Albany, New York especially to haul the train. The handmade unit had 86" diameter driving wheels and was the first of its kind to have brakes on the front truck. The bands, pipes, and trim were polished; the boiler, smokestack, domes, cab, and tender were given a black satin finish, and "Empire State Express" was applied to the sides of the tender in 2 ft 6 in (76 cm) high gold leaf lettering.

After touring the nation and making appearances at numerous expositions including the Chicago Railroad Fair, the unit was retired from service in May, 1952, at which time it was relegated switching service in western New York shuttling express service milk cars. The New York Central donated the locomotive to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in 1962, where it has been preserved and placed on display. It lacks its original 86" drivers, which were removed sometime after the historic speed run and replaced with smaller driving wheels.[1]

Equipment used

An early (circa 1905) heavyweight consist:

The Budd-manufactured cars in a 1944 Saturday Evening Post ad.

Note: The Vice President's private car was often attached to the end of the train for excursions.

In 1941 the New York Central ordered new lightweight stainless steel cars for the ESE trains from Budd. Initially a Hudson with matched streamlined stainless steel panels was used. The NYC planned their first day of operation with the new fluted equipment as December 7, 1941, but drew little fanfare as the US was focused on the attack of Pearl Harbor. A set of the 1941 cars is owned by the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum.

In song and film

On 12 October 1896, The Empire State Express, a short documentary film made in the experimental 68mm American Mutoscope Company process, premiered at Hammerstein's Olympia Music Hall Theater in New York City. The film was described by the critics of the day as "the greatest train view ever taken."[5]

In 1965, blues singer and guitarist Eddie James "Son" House, Jr., at the time a New York Central employee, recorded "Empire State Express" at the New York Folk Festival:

Went down to the station,
Leaned against the door.
Went down to the station,
I...leaned against the door.
I knew it was the Empire State,
Can tell by the way she blows.
No. 999 preserved on static display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, photo from 2003.
Asked the depot agent,
"Please let me ride the blinds."
Asked the depot agent,
"Please let me ride the blinds."
He said, "Son, I like to help know,
But the Empire State ain't mine".
The Empire know she,
Rides on Eastern time.
The Empire State,
She rides on Eastern time,
She's the "rollingest" baby,
On the New York Central line.
excerpt from "Empire State Express" by Son House

No. 999 was the inspiration for the eponymous steam engined-shaped space vehicle in the Galaxy Express 999 series of manga and animated films.

The 2007 Lyle Lovett song "This Traveling Around" includes the verse:

And that 999,
It's so fast you cannot see.
And that 999,
It's so fast you cannot see.

Members of the Chicago band, Empire State Express (ESE), drew inspiration in naming their project from both the Son House song (a staple of ESE's live performances) and the No. 999's static display at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The band's 2009 debut EP was titled "Land Speed Record" in honor of the train's legacy.

See also


  1. ^ a b John Lienhard. "Rain, Steam & Speed: Inventing Powered Motion". Retrieved 2007-01-28. 
  2. ^ "GREAT SPEED Off THE CENTRAL.; Empire State Express Engine Travels at the Rate of 112 1-2 Miles an Hour" (PDF). New York Times. 1893-05-12. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  3. ^ Riding the Fast Mail. Popular Mechanics, February, 1943 p. 56 et seq.
  4. ^ Goldberg, Bruce (1981). Amtrak--the first decade. Silver Spring, MD: Alan Books.  
  5. ^ SilentEra entry


  • No. 999"Empire State Express". Genesee County, New York. Retrieved March 1, 2006. 
  • Hollingsworth, Brian and Arthur F. Cook (1987). The Great Book of Trains. Portland House, New York, NY.  
  • "The Two Fastest Long Distance Runs Without Stop". Scientific American — September 3, 1898. Retrieved March 1, 2006. 
  • Yenne, Bill (1992). The Great Railroads of North America. Brompton Books Corporation, Greenwich, CT.  

External links

  • , Part IEmpire State ExpressNew York Central Sleeping and Parlor Car Equipment and Assignment of Space for the .
  • , Part IIEmpire State ExpressNew York Central Sleeping and Parlor Car Equipment and Assignment of Space for the .
  • Empire State Express at the Internet Movie Database.
  • & Webb C. BallEmpire State ExpressThe contains various vintage images and trivia.
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