By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; April 5, 2022
The once-great Capitol Limited, first a premier inter-regional passenger train of the fabled Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and then an important and well-patronized Chicago-Washington, D.C. Amtrak link has descended into being a hospitality desert.
Once bragging of notable dining cars, innovative dome cars and equally innovative movies shown onboard to passengers in the 1960s, today’s Capitol Limited consists of a sleeping car, combination diner-lounge serving the highly regrettable “flexible menu” and a couple of coaches, one of which is a coach/baggage car, pulled by a single, lonely locomotive.
All of this is by design, not happenstance, as Amtrak chooses in advance to significantly ignore the needs of high-fare inter-regional passengers in favor of short, partially-regional routes with a minimum of amenities and comfort. Amtrak isn’t interested in growing its passenger business through innovation, convenience and comfort, but only by providing the most basic transportation, hopefully paid for by feeding at state subsidy troughs.
In more passenger-friendly halcyon days, the Capitol Limited was an innovative, comfortable train which passengers chose for service and amenities as much as speed.
Below is an article which originally appeared on this platform on December 17, 2020 providing some background on what was – and could be – an attractive passenger choice.
U.S., Capitol Limited History: Domes, Dining Cars and Bacon
By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 17, 2020
When the name Capitol Limited is mentioned, travelers of a certain age first think of the Capitol (always Capitol with an “O” never Capital with an “A”) in its original undertaking by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. First thoughts that come to mind include the Strata-Dome dome cars, twin-unit dining cars, the famous B&O Salad Bowl and one car complete with a movie projector and screen.
The two dome cars, Moonlight Dome and Starlight Dome were also known for the floodlights mounted forward on the car roofs, providing enhanced night-time viewing for Pullman passengers in the domes. When departing Washington Union Station for Chicago, a chain with a sign was placed at the bottom on the dome stairway announcing the dome was closed until the train had cleared the overhead catenary of the station area.
The B&O route via Pittsburgh, and Gary, Indiana then into Chicago’s Grand Central Station was a relatively short trip, lasting less than 19 hours.
On Amtrak Day on May 1, 1971, after nearly 50 years of service, the Capitol would not operate again for a decade until Amtrak’s version was placed into operation, complete with a dome car. In the 1990s Superliners would supplant the single level equipment, ending the days of the Capitol known as a domeliner.
As with many of the better railroads of the era, all food in the dining cars was prepared fresh; no such thing as “canned food” was used in meal preparation.
From Wikipedia: “The Capitol Limited was inaugurated on May 12, 1923, as an all-Pullman sleeping car train running from Pennsylvania Station in New York City to Chicago, via Washington, D.C. Once west of the Pennsy’s Newark station in New Jersey, the train used the Lehigh Valley and Reading Railroad as far as Philadelphia, where it reached B&O’s own rails to Chicago. It was designed to compete against the luxury trains of the rival Pennsylvania Railroad and New York Central Railroad. Although the B&O’s longer route put it at a competitive disadvantage in New York for time-sensitive travelers, the B&O offered such luxuries in the 1920s as onboard secretaries, barbers, manicures, and valets. The Capitol’s ‘Martha Washington’-series dining cars were particularly noted for their Chesapeake Bay cuisine, served in ornate cars with leaded glass windows, glass chandeliers, and colonial-style furnishings. The Capitol Limited derived much of its passenger traffic from businessmen and government officials traveling between Washington and the midwest.”
The 1964 Capitol Limited Breakfast menu:
Chilled Half Grapefruit, Apple Sauce, Stewed Prunes, Baked Apple, Figs in Syrup
Orange, Grapefruit, Tomato or Prune Juice
(A) Grilled Ham and Eggs; $2.00
(B) Sugar Cured Bacon and Eggs; $1.90
(C) Eggs, Boiled, Fried or Scrambled; $1.60
(D) French Toast with Bacon; $1.90
(E) Fluffy Omelet with Marmalade or Cheese; $1.80
(F) Country Scapple and Eggs; $1.90
(G) Hot Cakes with Three Fresh Sausage Patties; $2.00
Rolls, Corn Muffins, Toast
Jelly, Apple Butter, Marmalade (Select From Tray)
Coffee, Tea, Milk, Sanka, Postum
Large Glass Orange Juice
Rolls, Toast or Corn Muffins
Coffee, Tea, Milk
*With Cereal; $1.30
A la Carte
Baked Apple; 40 cents, Stewed Prunes; 35 cents, Chilled Half Grapefruit; 40 cents
Chilled Orange, Grapefruit, Tomato or Prune Juice; 35 cents, Figs in Syrup; 35 cents
Rolls, Toast or Muffins; 25 cents, Milk Toast; 50 cents, Cream Toast; 60 cents
Griddle Cakes (4) 75 cents, with Bacon or Sausage; $1.50
Hot Cereal with Cream or Individual Package Cereal with Cream; 35 cents
French Toast, Maple Syrup; 75 cents
Eggs (2), Fried, Scrambled or Boiled; 80 cents
Omelet, Plain; 85 cents, Bacon (4) Strips; 80 cents, Broiled Ham; $1.00
Bacon (4) Strips with Two Eggs; $1.40, Poached Eggs on Toast; 90 cents
Broiled Ham with Two Eggs; $1.50
Coffee (Pot); 35 cents, Tea (Pot); 35 cents, Milk, Individual; 25 cents
Sanka, Postum or Cocoa (Pot); 35 cents
The Capitol Limited’s dining car offered A la Carte items which included bacon with a quantity of four strips of bacon. When asked randomly, most Americans will reply that a “normal” serving of bacon is two strips – many a mother in the 20th Century cooking breakfast before school in the morning would offer her children (and husband, most likely) just two strips of bacon as a ‘full” helping.
Many railroads offered a “rasher” of bacon. It seems the definition of a “rasher of bacon” varies by source to source. Merriam-Webster defines a rasher as a thin slice of bacon or ham broiled or fried; also, a portion consisting of several such slices.
Dictionary.com defines a rasher as “usually three or four slices.” Culinarylore.com defines a rasher as two or three slices of fried bacon for breakfast.
All of the different definitions of “rasher” can only lead to the logical conclusion that a rasher of bacon is whatever the chef deems it to be, more than one, less than a dozen. For most bacon lovers, closer to a dozen is always better.