In official ceremonies held last week at Newark (N.J.) International Airport, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey officially opened its new 1.9-mile airport monorail link, which connects the airport with Amtrak's Northeast Corridor.
The $769 million monorail project, which began serving passengers in October, is the first rail-to-plane link in the New York metropolitan area, and provides passengers with a direct link to Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains, which share the same railroad line.
Some 60 New Jersey Transit and 20 Amtrak trains stop each day at the station, three miles south of Newark's Penn Station.
Continental Airlines BusinesFirst and Presidents Club passengers can relax while waiting for their trains at Club Acela lounge on the concourse of New York's Pennsylvania Station.
This is not, however, the first time there has been a coordination of trains and planes.
In 1928, Gen. William Wallace Atterbury, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, who realized the potential of air and rail service after Col. Charles Lindbergh's flight from New York to Paris a year earlier, supported such a concept.
In the spring of 1928, the Transcontinental Air Transport Inc. was established. The company's goal was to provide 48-hour, coast-to-coast service for passengers traveling by train at night, and aboard airplanes during the day.
Lindbergh, who was consulting aeronautical engineer to the PRR and chairman of the technical committee at TAT Inc., recommended the use of Ford Trimotors that carried no more than 12 passengers on the transcontinental hop.
The 10 planes built by the Stout Metal Airplane division of the Ford Motor Co., and named for communities along the route, traveled at a top speed of 135 mph.
Westbound, passengers departed New York in the late afternoon aboard the Airway Limited for Port Columbus, Ohio.
Upon arrival there, they left their Pullmans and boarded a plane for Waynoka, Okla., which connected with a Sante Fe Railway passenger train that took them to Clovis, N.M. At Clovis, they climbed aboard another Trimotor for the final flight to Los Angeles.
The PRR spared no adjectives in promoting the new service: "All Aboard! ... From its narrow dock in the Pennsylvania Station -- the newly christened Airway Limited rolls, majestic, into motion. Its gleaming sides are tuscan red -- its long, smooth grace is prophetic of speed, as it gathers momentum."
Railroad publicists reassured the traveling public that veteran pilots would be in the cockpit, guided by a private meteorological system to state-of-the-art airports. No safety measure had been overlooked.
"In short, everything possible has been done to make this new service measure up to the highest standards of safety, speed, and comfort -- such as mark the daily operations of the `largest fleet of trains in America.' "
On July 7, 1929, anxious passengers, dignitaries and PRR officials jammed the concourse of New York's Penn Station, which also had on display the City of New York.
Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, smashed a bottle of champagne across its propeller and led passengers to the waiting train below.
Lindbergh, on the West Coast, pushed a button which sent a signal across the country to Pennsylvania Station, where a light flashed on.
At 6:05 p.m. the Airway Limited began to slowly rumble out of the station, through the Hudson River tubes and then out across the flat New Jersey meadows on its maiden voyage to Port Columbus.
On the westbound run, passengers comfortably rode in Pullmans named for Bret Harte, Admiral Dewey, James Whitcomb Riley and John Eager Howard, the Baltimore Revolutionary War hero.
In Los Angeles, Mary Pickford, silent-screen star, smashed a bottle of champagne on the propeller of the airplane City of Los Angeles, which was flown by Lindbergh to Winslow, Ariz. The next day, he flew another plane back to Los Angeles from Winslow. On the ground waiting was actress Gloria Swanson, who cracked a bottle of champagne on the plane, christening it the City of Washington.
"California here we are: Only two days ago we were christening the Airway Limited in the Pennsylvania Station in New York. On schedule, and with Lindbergh at the stick, the City of Washington landed easily completing the first westward regular passenger service," wrote Sun reporter Betty Brainerd.
Brainerd confessed that she had "traveled this country back and forth many times," but "never realized there was so much scenery. From Clovis to Los Angeles it is impossible to describe, it is all so beautiful."
Impressed with the rail-plane connection, Brainerd gushed, "Today with the completion of this marvelous transcontinental trip not only myself but everyone who was fortunate enough to step aboard the Airway Limited is sold with the new mode of travel, where there is no dirt and the efficiency of it all makes is so astoundingly safe and sure."
Disaster soon struck the new enterprise.
On Sept. 3, 1929, the westbound City of San Francisco was struck by lightning during a violent thunderstorm and crashed in a remote area 100 miles west of Albuquerque. Eight passengers and three crew members, the total aboard the plane, were killed.
By 1932, with the nation sinking into the Great Depression and night-flying practicable, the PRR re-evaluated the need for the service and eliminated the Airway Limited name and combined the service with another train. Two years later, Port Columbus ceased to be a stop, and at the same time airlines were beginning to offer an 18-hour all-day flight from Newark to Los Angeles.
Passengers stepped aboard a plane at 9 a.m. and by midnight, could look out the window of the craft and see the shimmering waters of the Pacific below.
The air service, which no train could ever hope to beat, was named after what it did -- The Sun Racer.