Northeast Corridor Project

American railroad passenger services of the past are usually discussed in generalized or fragmentary ways. Emphasis is often given to the number of different routings, or to iconic name trains. I thought it would be interesting to get down to details on some specific part of the railroad system, and see exactly what train service was available. This has to include the ordinary trains that furnished most of the transportation.

I chose the Northeast Corridor because it has the most passenger trains today and has been a busy area since the beginning of through passenger service a hundred fifty years ago. I chose some dates for which I have enough detailed information, primarily from the Official Guide of the Railways, and for each I have provided a service diagram and a summary timetable of southbound services.

My definition of the Corridor is pretty broad. I wanted to include the alternative routings in New England and the two parallel routes south of New York, and to indicate the main routes branching off and the extended Corridor from Portland to Richmond. And this led to showing cross-connections between the places already shown.

Needless to say not all stations can be shown in a reasonably sized timetable. I did go beyond a typical summary table by including a sampling of local stations, within the limits of 128 lines on the longest table (1893). I worked out a consistent set of stations that are shown on all the tables, provided they have any train service at the date given.

And what do we learn from this? The take home message is that although we have fewer routes to choose from today, the routes in the Corridor that have service have in almost all cases much better service than ever before, service that is both more frequent and faster. Even combining the alternative routings in the old tables from New York to Boston, and New York to Washington, there are more through trains now than in any of the old years. There are also more local trains near Boston and Philadelphia, and especially more local trains north and south of New York. There are fewer long-distance trains to points off the Corridor (not a surprise) and less local service in Maryland than at some dates.

The general format of a large summary table was inspired by the Great Britain timetable books. The light dividing lines and the continuation arrows seem to me to improve legibility. The use of 24 hour clock is normal everywhere except in the United States and is my preference for compactness. The multiple stations in some cities are named as ‘Cityname Stationname’ in British format ; the source timetables in many cases do not identify station names at all since they show only one company’s trains.

The idea of using colors to identify railroad companies was inspired by Richard Carpenter’s Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946 (Johns Hopkins, three volumes out so far), including the concept of using the railroads’ own colors as far as possible. The specific colors I use however vary from his.

Placing more than one train per column is usually not done, except in some densely overloaded tables in the Official Guide of the Railways. In these tables however I feel it improves legibility rather than hampering it, because with the inclusion of so many local train services that run only a few stations, there would otherwise be huge expanses of blank grey space. I tried to keep multiple trains in one column separated by a reasonable amount of grey space to avoid confusion. The colors help clarity too.

The service diagrams use the same colors as the tables. The cities are located to scale, but the straight lines between them are of course purely diagrammatic.

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August 2008

April 1969

November 1950

February 1926

January 1910

June 1893