Passenger Trains in the Late 19th Century

By the late 19th century, passenger trains had become the dominant mode of intercity travel in the United States, and in many countries in the world. Innovations were already being made in improving speeds and amenities for passengers on these trains. However, at that time, rail travel was potentially dangerous due to increasing speeds, often poor quality track, and lack of train control technologies. As a result, train wrecks, many involving injury or death of passengers and crew members, were very common. (These wrecks often became a subject in many railroad ballads). In 1893, New York Central and Hudson River Railroad locomotive #999 allegedly became the first locomotive to ever break the 100 mile per hour speed record. However, the accuracy of this claim has been disputed by many railroad scholars. This first confirmed case of a train breaking the 100 mile per hour speed record was the British locomotive Flying Scotsman in November 1934.

This was allegedly the first locomotive to ever break the 100 mile per hour speed barrier, though this claim has been disputed.

Improvements in amenities for passengers also were being done. in the mid to late 19th century, most passenger cars were still made mostly of wood. Steel heavyweight cars didn’t come on the scene until the beginning of the 20th century. Also, most passenger rail equipment were coaches or baggage, or in some cases, “combines” of the two. Other types of passenger rail cars, such as dining and sleeping cars, didn’t arrive at the station until 1867, when George Pullman’s Pullman Palace Car Company was founded.

The headquarters of the Pullman Car Company, now a museum dedicated to the history of the Pullman Company.

The Pullman Palace Car Company would later become just the Pullman Car Company. Founded in Pullman, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. The company was the inventor of more than just sleeping and dining cars. They also invented the parlor car, club car, and the observation car, all of which were designed for wealthier passengers. The latter of these passenger car types is designed to be put on the end of a train. We’ll go into more detail on each of these car types in future posts.

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