There was no American train more famous, nor one with more cachet than the NYC’s 20th Century Limited. For 65 years it was the pinnacle of rail travel, and numbered Presidents, business tycoons and the Hollywood elite among its regular passengers. The 20th Century defined Red Carpet Service. In the days preceding its last run, The New York Times dubbed it the train that was known for six and a half decades as “The World’s Greatest Train”.
Loading the passengers for another run of the NYC 20th Century Limited. NYCSHS Collection.
The weekend of December 2nd and 3rd, 1967 was to see the last run of the 20th Century Limited and of all of the NYC’s named, inter-city trains. On Saturday, at 6:00 P.M., the half-full train left GCT, track 34 for the last time. Keeping with The Century’s tradition, carnations were given to men and perfume and flowers to women boarding the train. The next day, it arrived at LaSalle Street Station in Chicago with the observation car Hickory Creek carrying the markers. Once the passengers had detrained, The Century would become a notable chapter in railroad history.
That same day, the Central’s crack GCT to Buffalo train, The Empire State Express, lost its named train status and became simply a train number, another chapter in railroad history.
NYCSHS Central Headlight cover.
Fast forward to Dec. 2, 2017, the 50th Anniversary of the last runs of these iconic NYC trains, and we find their memory being celebrated with Amtrak Empire Service Train #223 bringing history alive. NYC #3, the 1928 heavyweight observation car built as a private car for Harold Vanderbilt, the last member of the Vanderbilt family to run the Central, and which later carried the markers for the Empire State Express was coupled next- to-last in the Amfleet consist, with the original 1948 vintage Hickory Creek elegantly carrying the 20th Century Limited markers as she had done so often.
When Amtrak Engineer Steve Leunig drew Train # 233 from the Extra Board he wasn’t aware that his train would be anything other than the normal Penn Station to Rensselaer run. A 50th Anniversary Special never entered his mind. Through a series of Facebook Messenger notes, he shared, “I was unaware that today marked the anniversary of something so historic.
I consider myself a casual railroad enthusiast, and I am very pleased to be a small part of commemorating such a historic event. I am an extra board employee, and just happened to line up for this job assignment today. I look forward to seeing you trackside this afternoon. While I wish I was running a lightning striped E8, the Phase III Empire Service P32 will have to do for today!”
I caught The Anniversary Special as it was leaving Rhinecliff Station and splitting the original New York Central signals at CP89.
The NYC #3 is owned by VarChandra, Inc. and operated by its president Lovett Smith.
The Hickory Creek is owned by the United Railway Historical Society and is operated by Star Trak, Inc and its President, Scott Clauss. Scott is a NYCSHS member.
Photos & Text by Nick Ariemma, NYCSHS except as noted.