U.S., National Railroad Passenger Corporation: What’s in a passenger train and railroad name? Much more than you think.

Santa Fe Railway constantly celebrated the Native American heritage of its routes in the Southwest. Internet image.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on this platform on February 1, 2021. It has been updated with additional material included and photographs and illustrations added. – Corridorrail.com Editor

Railroad Robber Baron Jay Gould, painted by Eastman Johnson,1896. Wikimedia Commons illustration.

By J. Bruce Richardson, Corridor Rail Development Corporation; October 14, 2022

What’s in a name? A lot, if your were a 19th Century railroad entrepreneur and you were choosing a name for your new railroad. Most likely, in a spate of grandiosity and forward hope, you chose a name you hoped would appeal to investors so you could raise enough private capital to build your dream railroad and you could join the exclusive Railroad Robber Baron Club.

As railroads were being developed there were only four types of travel available: Travel by water (ship, boat; pond, lake, creek, river, ocean), travel by wagon pulled by a horse or ox, travel by riding a horse or walking.

Ships had names. Following that tradition, the very first locomotives had names (John Bull in 1831), and that tradition continued well into the late 19th Century. By the diesel era, some locomotives had exclusive assignments hauling named passenger trains, and the train name was emblazoned on the diesel locomotives in place of any individual locomotive name.

An exact replica of the original John Bull locomotive on display in 1986. Wikimedia Commons photo.

As passenger trains became common and popular, most had names versus just train numbers. Passengers began the habit of remembering and choosing which train to ride by the name of the train. This was in the time when even more branch lines had more than one train a day in each direction. Some remembered which train by “I’m taking the noon train” versus a specific train name.

From a marketing standpoint, the associated glamor and reputation of a train name was worth its weight in gold. Today, we impress family and friends with the name of the automobile or SUV we drive. In the pre-jet airliner era, impressing family and friends was done by announcing which train someone would ride. The glamor of announcing a trip on the Super Chief, 20th Century Limited, Florida Special, Panama Limited, Vista-Dome North Coast Limited, Coast Daylight or a dozen others was a status symbol. Names meant something and creating branding, loyalty and return patronage.

Even urban center/suburban commuter trains had names. While that practice has faded, there were dozens of commuter trains with specific train names.

An early Pennsylvania Railroad Metroliner, purposely built for Pennsylvania’s Northeast Corridor service between New York Pennsylvania Station and Washington Union Station. By the time Amtrak replaced Metroliners with Acela service, Metroliner had become a verb, such as “I am going to Metroliner to New York City.” Wikimedia Commons photo.

Before Amtrak’s Metroliner era, every train on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s-then-Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor had a train name. Many were known as Congressionals. Today, most of Amtrak Northeast Direct and Northeast Regional trains are nameless; only known by the train number. The train number practice began with Metroliners, and by the Acela era and cousin Northeast Direct present era, train names mostly don’t exist.

Pennsylvania Railroad publicity shot of its Congressional service on the Northeast Corridor, led by an iconic GG! locomotive. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Some famous former passenger train names have been recycled for marketing purposes for freight trains. One example is CSX’s Orange Blossom Special fast train service on the east coast. The once-exclusive winter season passenger train of CSX predecessor Seaboard Air Line Railroad has been gone since the mid-1950s, but lives on today in the freight railroad world. Another example is the common usage of the Tropicana Juice Train CSX operates between Florida and east coast points. The Tropicana Juice Train has long strings of painted white with the Tropicana logo refrigerated cars that can’t be confused for any other train.

A criminally, visually vandalized CSX Tropicana Juice Train on CSX lines at Bradenton, Florida. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Beyond the names of locomotives and passenger trains, for a number of reasons, railroads were pioneers in using acronyms and shortened names or nicknames for convenience.

A contemporary version of the simple telegraph key which revolutionized the safety of the railroad industry and the convenience of communication of the general public. Wikimedia Commons photo.

In the early days when with the huge leap forward of technology thanks to the invention and practical use of the telegraph, brevity was essential for transmitting essential messages between terminals, stations, and for train orders. No electric trackside signaling would come for decades.

For those who have never seen or experimented with a basic hand-operated telegraph key, every letter of the alphabet and number were represented by a telegrapher’s code of long and short electronic dots and dashes. This was known as the Morse Code.

The sending telegrapher had to send each letter and number separately, and the receiving telegrapher had to interpret and write down each letter and number separately. Proper interpretation was critical; a mis-read message could cause a derailment or death of crew and passengers.

Internet illustration.

This was one of the reasons until well in the second half of the 20th Century all railroads only used the first two initials of an employee’s or manager’s name along with their last name for identification, which became common throughout the railroad, beyond the telegraphers and messaging. It was common sense.

The same common sense applied to the name of railroads. Everyone, from railroad managers to advertising departments (the term “marketing” would come much later), to the public began to refer to railroads by convenient names instead of full, corporate names. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad Company simply became the RF&P.

National Railroad Passenger Corporation
Washington, D.C.

A perfectly match Auto Train at its Lorton, Virginia terminal in 2010. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The City of New Orleans in the Memphis, Tennessee station in 2005, formerly the Illinois Central Railroad station and division offices. The former office building and station headhouse are now a Hilton brand hotel as part of the station complex. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Amtrak’s current principal named trains (not including many state subsidized routes):
• Sunset Limited
• Southwest Chief
• California Zephyr
• Empire Builder
• Texas Eagle
• Coast Starlight
• City of New Orleans
• Lake Shore Limited
• Capitol Limited
• Cardinal
• Adirondack
• Vermonter
• Ethan Allen Express
• Pennsylvanian
• Crescent
• Silver Meteor
• Silver Star
• Palmetto
• Carolinian
• Auto Train

Here is a brief sample of railroad common names and the actual corporate name you may not be aware of (Other than Amtrak, based on the July 1956 The Official Guide of the Railways) plus a selection of each railroad’s named passenger trains:

The New Haven Railroad
New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
New Haven, Connecticut

The New Haven Railroad ad circa 1940s promoting dining and lounge car service. Internet image.
The New Haven Railroad went to war during World War II just like much of the rest of America. New Haven managers were serious about the needs of its military passengers coming first before all other passengers. Internet image.

The New Haven Railroad’s principal named trains:
• The Montrealer
• The Washingtonian
• The Patriot
• The Federal
(the infamous train which was a runaway and crashed into Washington Union station just before President Eisenhower’s inauguration in January 1953)
• The Colonial
• The Senator
• The Pilgrim
• Bar Harbor
• The Quaker
• The William Penn
• Day Cape Codder
• Night Cape Codder
• The Neptune

Lackawanna Railroad
The Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad Company
New York, New York

Lackawanna’s most famous train, The Phoebe Snow on a service track at the railroad’s Hoboken, New Jersey terminal in 1965 is being prepped for departure. By 1965, the railroad had merged with the Erie Railroad to form the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad which, in turn, would disappear into Conrail in 1976. Wikimedia Commons photo.
The bumper post at Dearborn Station in Chicago in November 1966. The Phoebe Snow is about to make its final departure from Chicago before discontinuance. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Lackawanna Railroad’s principal named trains:
• The Phoebe Snow
• The Twilight
• The Westerner
• The Owl
• Pocono Express
• The New Yorker
• New York Mail

Nickel Plate Road
The New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad Company
Cleveland, Ohio

A Nickel Plate Road passenger train at Englewood Station in Chicago in 1965. Wikimedia Commons photo.
An Alco locomotive leads a circa 1950s Nickel Plate Road passenger train. Internet image.

Nickel Plate Road’s principal named trains:
• City of Cleveland
• City of Chicago
• The Westerner

Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company
Louisville, Kentucky and New York, New York

Post-war postcard depicting L&N’s Humming Bird. Wikimedia Commons image.
The South Wind was a joint operation of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the L&N, the Atlantic Coast Line and the Florida East Coast Railway from Chicago to Miami. This circa 1940s post card promoted the all-coach streamliner. Wikimedia Commons image.

L&N’s principal named trains:
• Piedmont Limited
• The Crescent*
• The Humming Bird
• The South Wind
• The Pan-American
• The Flamingo
• The Southland
• The Gulf Wind
• The Dixieland
• The Georgian
• Dixie Flyer

N.C. & St. L.
The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway
Nashville, Tennessee

N.C. & St.L. passenger trains sported an unique color scheme. Internet photo.
A streamlined N.C. & St.L. steam locomotive being fed. Even the steam locomotives had a matching paint scheme to passenger cars. Internet photo.

N.C. & St. L. principal named trains:
• Dixieland
• Dixie Flyer
• The Georgian
• The Tennessean

The West Point Route
Atlanta and West Point Rail Road Company
Atlanta, Georgia

West Point Route passenger train, heavy with front-end business. Wikimedia Commons photo.
This is not a distant cousin to the Cannon Ball which ran between Hooterville and Pixley, but a West Point Route train in 1967 which was operated to satisfy the Interstate Commerce Commission up until the beginning of Amtrak. Amenities included: None. Wikimedia Commons photo.

The West Point Route principal named trains:
• The Crescent*
• Piedmont Limited

Coast Line
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company
Wilmington, North Carolina

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Orlando, Florida passenger station shown in a 1948 post card. Today, this station in the principal Central Florida station for Amtrak and also serves as a SunRail commuter station. Wikimedia Commons illustration.
A 1954 newspaper advertisement for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. Locked in continuous battle with arch rival Seaboard Air Line Railroad for passenger business between New York and Florida, both railroads promoted every conceivable advantage over the other trying to woo passengers. Internet image.

Coast Line principal named trains:
• East Coast Champion
• West Coast Champion
• Havana Special
• Everglades
• Palmetto*
• City of Miami
• Dixieland
• South Wind
• Flamingo
• Seminole
• Dixie Flyer
• Southland
• Florida Special

Seaboard Air Line Railroad Company**
Norfolk, Virginia

Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s Silver Comet, part of the trio of the railroad’s Silver Fleet never gained the fame of the two sister Florida trains, the Silver Meteor and Silver Star, but still pulled its weight serving Atlanta and Birmingham, Alabama. Internet image.
When this photo was taken in November of 1967, the Seaboard had merged with the Atlantic Coast Line to form Seaboard Coast Line, But, this November night, not much had changed on SCL’s secondary trains which still featured their original livery on heavyweight equipment. This photo was taken in Athens, Georgia of the unnamed mail and express train. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Seaboard principal named trains:
• Silver Meteor*
• Silver Star*
• Silver Comet
• The Palmland
• The Sunland
• The Tidewater
• Gulf Wind

Gulf Mobile and Ohio Railroad
Mobile, Alabama

A matched consist of Gulf, Mobile & Ohio’s Abraham Lincoln service circa 1970. Wikimedia Commons photo.
All of those tracks crossing each other must indicate the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio passenger train was in Joliet, Illinois in 1964. Wikimedia Commons photo.

GM&O principal named trains:
• The Alton Limited
• The Mail
• The Midnight Special
• The Ann Rutledge
• The Abraham Lincoln
• The Prairie State Express
• Gulf Coast Rebel

St. Louis – San Francisco Railway Company
St. Louis, Missouri and New York, New York

A circa 1950s print ad for Frisco’s Meteor, not to be confused with Seaboard’s Silver Meteor. Internet image.
Quiet, powerful and modern diesel locomotives were a big deal to railroad advertising executives as the steam era faded away and passengers were tempted with diesel power in 1948. Wikimedia Commons illustration.

Frisco principal named trains:
• Texas Special
• The Will Rogers
• Streamlined Meteor
• Meteor
• Kansas City-Florida Special
• The Sunnyland
• The Oklahoman
• The Firefly
• The Black Gold
• The Memphian

Missouri – Kansas – Texas Railroad Company
St. Louis, Missouri

A little cosmetically worse for the wear, but this Missouri-Kansas-Texas locomotive dutifully marshaled on hauling M-K-T passenger trains. Internet photo.
The Texas Special has a shiny new round-end observation car in 1948. Internet photo.

M•K•T/Katy principal named trains:
• Texas Special
• Texas Bluebonnet
• Katy Flyer

Rio Grande
The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company
Denver, Colorado

The Denver & Rio Grande Western Vista Dome monument circa 1950-60s. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Rio Grande passenger locomotives had a delightfully recognizable paint scheme. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Rio Grande principal named trains:
• The Royal Gorge
• The Colorado Eagle
• The Prospector
• The Yampa Valley Mail
• The California Zephyr*

Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railroad
Chicago, Illinois

C&EI was the Chicago connection for many trains heading to Florida. Wikimedia Commons image.
Chicago’s Dearborn Station in 1941. The Dixie Flagler, launching out of Chicago on the C&EI will eventually terminate in downtown Miami on the Florida East Coast Railway. Wikimedia Commons photo.

C&EI principal named trains:
• The Georgian
• The New Dixieland
• The Humming Bird
• Dixie Flyer
• The Meadowlark

North Western
Chicago and North Western System
Chicago and North Western Railway Company
Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway Company
Chicago, Illinois

C&NW’s Kate Shelley 400 on a cold day in 1964. Wikimedia Commons photo.
1939 passenger timetable cover. Internet image.

North Western principal named trains:
• Kate Shelley “400″
• The Omahan
• Wisconsin Lakes
• The Flambeau “400″
• “400″
• City of Milwaukee “400″
• Iron and Copper Country Express
• Shoreland “400″
• The Nightingale
• The North American
• Valley “400″
• Peninsula “400″
• Ashland Limited
• Twin Cities “400″
• North Western Limited
• Duluth-Superior Limited
• Rochester Special
• Dakota “400″

The Milwaukee Road
Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad
Chicago, Illinois

The Milwaukee Road produced much intricate post-war advertising art. Internet image.
The Milwaukee Road’s famous trains had a famous restaurateur as the nominal head of its dining car department. The Milwaukee Road was competing for passengers in 1928, and the competition included superb dining car service. Internet image.

The Milwaukee Road principal named trains:
• Olympian Hiawatha
• The Pioneer Limited
• Morning Hiawatha
• Afternoon Hiawatha
• The Fast Mail
• City of San Francisco
• City of Denver
• City of Los Angeles
• Challenger
• City of Portland
• The Tomahawk
• The Chippewa-Hiawatha
• Twin Cities Hiawatha
• The Copper Country Limited
• The Sioux
• The Arrow
• The Varsity
• The Traveler
• The Hiawatha*

Cotton Belt Route
St. Louis Southwestern Railway Lines
St. Louis, Missouri

In 1941 the Cotton Belt Route still had named trains; by 1956 trains only had numbers. Wikimedia Commons image.
A Cotton Belt Route heavyweight consist train. Texas History Program, University of North Texas photo.

Cotton Belt Route principal named trains:
• No named trains in 1956; two numbered trains only

Rock Island
Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company
Chicago, Illinois

Rock Island’s Cornhusker pauses at Joliet, Illinois Union Station in 1966. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A lot of post-war Rock Island streamliners meant of lot of cars proudly produced by Pullman-Standard. Internet image.

Rock Island principal named trains:
• Golden State
• Rocky Mountain Rocket
• Corn Belt Rocket
• Short Line Express
• The Imperial
• Choctaw Rockette
• Zephyr Rocket
• The Cherokee-Imperial
• Jet Rocket
• Des Moines Rocket
• Twin Star Rocket
• Texas Rocket

Santa Fe
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company
Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York

The Super Chief and the Turquoise Room private dining area (with appropriate evening dining attire, please) were part of the Santa Fe Railway lore and Santa Fe made no apologies for the extra fare to ride this all-Pullman sleeping car train. Internet image.
In 1948 Santa Fe managers advertised for every demographic to patronize their passenger trains. Internet image.

Santa Fe principal named trains:
• The Super Chief
• The Chief
• El Capitan
• San Francisco Chief
• The Grand Canyon
• Kansas City Chief
• Texas Chief
• The Kansas Cityan
• The Tulsan
• The Oil Flyer
• The Chicagoan
• The El Pasoan
• California Special

Great Western
Chicago Great Western Railway
Kansas City, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois

Front-end REA Express and baggage car business on this Chicago Great Western passenger train at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Internet photo.
A Chicago Great Western Railway locomotive ready for service in Rochester, Minnesota in 1962. The Mayo Clinic is in the background on the left. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Great Western principal named trains:
• No named trains; six numbered trains only

Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company
Chicago, Illinois

The Burlington relied heavily on billboard advertising, including this “3D” billboard from 1957. Wikimedia Commons photo.
A Burlington consist with a round-end observation car in Dallas, Texas in 1958. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Burlington principal named trains:
• Empire Builder*
• Western Star
• North Coast Limited
• The Mainstreeter
• California Zephyr*
• The Vista Dome Twin Zephyrs
• The Black Hawk
• Denver Zephyr
• AK-SAR-BEN Zephyr
• Nebraska Zephyr
• Coloradan
• Kansas City Zephyr
• American Royal Zephyr
• Silver Streak Zephyr
• Zephyr-Rocket
• Texas Zephyr
• Twin Star Rocket
• Sam Houston Zephyr

Soo Line Railroad
Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railroad Company
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Soo Line heavyweight consist passenger train. Internet image.
Early 20th Century Soo Line promotional postcard featuring trains which were cleaned with a vacuum. Wikimedia Commons image.

Soo Line Railroad principal named trains:
• The Winnipeger
• The Mountaineer
• The Laker

Algoma Central
The Algoma Central and Hudson Bay Railway Company
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Algoma Central passenger train crossing the Montreal River in 1978. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Undated, Algoma Central Bear Train articulated cars. Wikimedia Commons photo.

Algoma Central principal named trains:
• No named trains; four numbered trains only

North Shore Line
Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee Railway
Chicago, Illinois

In this 1941 postcard, North Shore Line’s Electroliners featured dining cars. Wikimedia Commons image.
North Shore Line cars. Wikimedia Commons photo.

North Shore Line principal named trains:
• No named trains; over 30 numbered trains only

South Shore Line
Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad
Chicago, Illinois

South Shore Line Chicago Randolph Street Station, 1968. Wikimedia Commons photo.
South Shore’s orange cars, corner of LaSalle Avenue and Michigan Street, South Bend, Indiana in 1968. Wikimedia Commons photo.

South Shore Line principal named trains:
• No named trains; over 45 numbered trains only

* Trains with an asterisk following the name indicates Amtrak is still using the train name,but not necessarily over the identical route the train used in 1956 when The Official Guide of the Railways edition was published.

** The name “Air Line” was often used by railroads before the advent of airplanes to indicate that railroad had the most direct route between two points on a map.

A note about railroad logos used in this presentation: The logos above are from a combination of online sources including Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and American-Rails.com.

Heard around town: When the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad were considering a new name for their merged railroad, one name that was considered for the new railroad was the Atlantic Seaboard System. The name was quickly discarded when the realization dawned what the reporting mark would be and the railroad’s initials would be on the side of boxcars. Seaboard Coast Line was chosen, instead.

Even the biggest and greatest Hollywood stars were paid promoters of the post-war Pullman Company. Internet image.