An Era Of Ease In Travel Ended

Remember When

Railroad: When The B&o Discontinued Passenger Service Between New York And Washington, It Meant The Demise Of The Royal Blue.

April 20, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Baltimore lost part of its heritage on the April morning in 1958 when readers of The Sun and The Evening Sun were jolted by this full-page advertisement from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad:

"EFFECTIVE SUNDAY, APRIL 27 BALTIMORE AND OHIO ROUTE PASSENGER TRAIN SERVICE BETWEEN BALTIMORE AND WASHINGTON-PHILADELPHIA-NEW YORK WILL BE DISCONTINUED.

"The last trips of these trains will be Saturday, April 26, 1958," the ad continued. "We sincerely appreciate the patronage of those who have used these trains in the past and regret the necessity for their discontinuance."

There had been some foreshadowing of the railroad's intentions. On Nov. 15, 1957, it had filed petitions to discontinue the trains with the Maryland Public Service Commission and comparable agencies in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, citing insurmountable annual losses of $5 million a year.

The railroad said that patronage of the trains involved "had dropped about 46 percent since 1946 so that `few passengers are now handled and continued operation of the trains is not warranted,' " reported The Sun.

"The large expenditure made in recent years by State and Federal bodies for the improvement of highway and air travel paralleling the line of the road involved, together with the striking increase in the number of automobiles and number of air and highway services, has increasingly diverted the traveling public from the trains," said a B&O press release published in The Sun.

The B&O also pointed to the opening of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Delaware Memorial Bridge in 1951 and to competition from inter-city buses as factors influencing its decision.

While the B&O operated six daily round-trip trains between Baltimore and New York, its rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, ran 20 trains. Airlines operated 13 flights daily from Friendship Airport (now BWI), with 81 round trips available between Washington and New York.

Howard E. Simpson, B&O president, told The Sun, "Throughout our entire history we on the B&O have been passenger-minded, [but] a continuing decline in patronage, upward spiraling wages and increasingly higher prices for fuel and equipment combine to create an enormous deficit in passenger operations."

"We don't like to see the service stopped. Nobody does. Even the PSC must have had its misgivings. But what could it do?" asked a Sun editorial. "Necessity gives short shrift to sentiment, and tradition cannot withstand the harsh impact of financial rigors. So next week an old and famous and cherished run will be simply a chapter of railroad history. It is now the first big road forced to discontinue passenger service on what has been a major line for the better part of a century."

On Saturday night, April 26, the last northbound Royal Blue called at Mount Royal Station, picking up passengers at 4: 23 p.m.

The Royal Blue's engineer was Michael F. Goodnight, who slowly eased the train into the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Communipaw Terminal in Jersey City, at 7: 49 p.m., where it was met by reporters from CBS, the New York Times, the New York Post, Life and the Saturday Evening Post.

The final passenger train to leave Baltimore was the Shenandoah, which arrived in Jersey City at 9: 15 p.m. with 256 passengers and thus brought to a close the passenger service that had operated on the route since the late 1880s. But all the attention that night seemed to be focused on the sold-out Royal Blue, which had always been the B&O's crown jewel.

The Royal Blue began operating in 1890 as a deluxe, high-speed train painted a royal Saxony blue, from which it derived its name. In its Pullmans, which bore such regal names as Empress, Czarina and Queen, rode the most discriminating of Washington and Baltimore society, surrounded by walnut paneling, velvet chairs, the atmosphere of old money and the B&O's impeccable service.

"Its coaches were finished with seats covered with petit point antimacassars reminiscent of those on English Pullmans, and its observation solarium car carried all the amenities of mobile elegance," wrote the late Lucius Beebe, journalist and railroad historian.

The B&O's final train from Jersey City, the Metropolitan, arrived in Baltimore Sunday morning at 6: 50 a.m. with 265 passengers, 10 coaches, four dining cars, four Pullmans, two combines and one mail car.

Die-hard rail fans stepped down off the train at Mount Royal Station, while others recorded the historic moment with their cameras. An older couple looked at the passenger cars longingly.

"And the couple at Mount Royal Station wept," reported The Sun. "Why? Because 37 years ago they met on a B&O train. This was the absolute end. This was it."

Herbert H. Harwood Jr., writing in his book "Royal Blue Line," said, "Baltimoreans probably grieved the most, since they had always viewed the Royal Blue Line trains as their very own, a far more civilized alternative to the Pennsylvania's `red subway.' They were right; but sadly, civilized tastes did not translate into heavy patronage."

In a farewell editorial, The Sun said, "There were faster ways to get to New York and cheaper ones, but no one who had the time ever found a better way to enter New York, especially for the first time, than by the Royal Blue, with the cross-harbor boat trip and the profile of Manhattan thrown in. Those who remember the heyday of the railroads, of personal service and luxury on wheels, will for long be unable to pass the campanile of Mount Royal Station without a sigh."

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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