U.S., New York Central History: Wartime Dining Car Service; Standards Maintained, Menu Shortened

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; December 16, 2020

World War II called for an all-out, nationwide effort to preserve the free world and America’s railroads were a huge part of the war effort. Not only were they the principal transportation mode for both passengers and freight over long distances, they worked very hard to avoid the railroad nationalization that had taken place during World War I.

The railroads wanted to be the masters of their own fates as much as possible. Already heavily regulated by the federal government, railroads feared further intrusion into their management practices.

During the height of the war, it is safe to say every piece of suitable or near-suitable passenger rolling stock was pressed into service for trains hauling troops, civilians, and necessary government and industry travelers. The end of the pre-war era was the beginning of the streamliner era; the early streamliner/non-heavyweight consists were just coming online for service. Car manufacturers were discontinuing the manufacture of heavyweight cars and introducing the “modern” lightweight streamliners, along with the early diesel locomotives.

Most railroad employees were considered essential to the war effort, and were exempt from the draft. However, that did not stop many railroad employees from seeking a higher calling and enlisting in the military. They wanted to do their bit, too, for the war effort.

One way the New York Central System contributed to the war effort was by reducing its dining car menus to meet the realities of homeland food rationing and shortages, including a shortage of passenger equipment because of high demand.

Here is the World War II New York Central System Dining Service Luncheon Menu with its introduction to passengers:


More diners … but no more dining cars.

More meals to serve … but less of many important foods to go around.

This is the wartime dining car situation.

With no additional dining cars being built … with some of our present cars busy servicing the armed forces … the number available for our greatly increased passenger traffic will remain limited for the duration.

This is why we are asking you to kindly leave the diner promptly when you have finished your meal in order that others may be served.

This is why it is necessary to suspend the sale of alcoholic beverages when it interferes with service of food to passengers.

At the same time, many of our chefs, stewards and waiters … hard men to replace … have exchanged their New York Central uniforms for those of Uncle Sam.

That is why some peacetime niceties are omitted … why meals are simplified to speed service … and why menus are planned to make the most of rationed foods.

The sale of liquor on our trains is subject to various state laws and we are required to see that they are obeyed. This prohibits selling alcoholic beverages to any one under the influence thereof or to minors.

From now till Victory we will go on serving you to the best of our ability. In the meantime, thanks for your aid and understanding in today’s difficult situation.

All prices listed are our Ceiling Prices or below. By Office of Price Administration regulation, our ceilings are our highest prices from February 1, 1943 to April 10, 1943. Records of these prices are available for your inspection at the New York Central Dining Car Department, 847 Morris Avenue, New York, N.Y.


Choice of:

• Braized Imported Sardines on Toast, Sliced Tomatoes, Garden Vegetable and Potatoes; $1.00

• Cold Ham and Potato Salad; $1.10

• Chicken Legs Creole, Garden Vegetable and Potatoes; $1.10

Bread and Butter

(Plate portion of salad served for 15 cents additional)

Choice of:

Pie, Melon on Ice, Ice Cream Sherbet or Cream Cheese with Saltine Wafers and Jelly

Tea (Pot for One), Coffee (Cup), Individual Milk

(Eggs will be substituted for entree on request)

The 20th Century Salad Bowl, Ry-Krisp or Saltine Wafers (per person); 65 cents

Tea (Pot for one); 25 cents, Coffee (Cup); 15 cents; Individual Milk; 15 cents

CHILDREN – Parents may share their portions with children.

Prices are quoted in United States Currency

Service personnel on furlough, traveling at their own expense, will be afforded a 10 per cent reduction in charges for food, when the total amounts to 50 cents or more. Please consult Steward.

As with all wartime publications, the patriotic standard “For Victory Buy United States War Bonds and Stamps” logo was prominently included.

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