National Limited

National Limited
The National Limited's Observation Car with drumhead at Union Station (Washington, D.C.), in 1961

The National Limited was the premier train of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) on its route between New York City and St. Louis, Missouri, with major station stops in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati, Ohio. The all-Pullman version of the National Limited was introduced by the B&O on April 26, 1925, as Trains #1 (westbound) and #2 (eastbound).[1] The B&O had previously operated through cars between New York and western points as the National Limited since December 1916.[2]

B&O's New York terminus was actually in Jersey City, New Jersey, at the Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal.[3] Passengers were then transferred to buses that met the train at the platform. These buses were then ferried across the Hudson River to Manhattan Island, where they proceeded to various "stations" including the Vanderbilt Hotel, Wanamaker's, Columbus Circle, and Rockefeller Center, as well as into Brooklyn.[2]

The National Limited traversed some of the most challenging terrain in eastern railroading, climbing the Appalachian Mountains in western Maryland and West Virginia. Even through the diesel era, extra motive power was added at the head-end to take the train over these ridges, which meant extra stops on both sides of the mountain heights to add and remove assisting locomotives. Unfortunately, because the train traveled the B&O's lightly populated St. Louis main line serving towns in northern West Virginia and southern Ohio it never profited from high ridership. Still, the train lasted until the startup of Amtrak in 1971.


The National Limited was originally an all-Pullman train in the 1920s and 1930s. In addition to compartment and drawing-room sleeping cars, it featured a club car, observation library lounge car, and a full-service dining car. Onboard amenities for the deluxe train's clientele included a secretary, barber, valet, maid, manicure, and shower baths.[1]. On April 20, 1932, it became the first long-distance train to be entirely air conditioned.[1][4] Connections with southwestern railroads, including the Missouri Pacific, Missouri-Kansas-Texas, Cotton Belt, and the Frisco, were made at St. Louis.

In 1939–1940, the National Limited was streamlined and dieselized.[2] In the 1950s, coaches were added to the train's consist, and a Slumbercoach was first used on this train in 1959.

Route of the National Limited (in orange)

Route and schedule

In 1947, westbound National Limited Train # 1 operated on the following schedule (departure times at principal stops shown):

City Departure time
New York (Rockefeller Center) 12 noon
New York (42nd Street Station) 12 noon
Brooklyn, NY 12 noon
New York (42nd Street Station) 12:05 p.m.
Jersey City, NJ 12:55 p.m.
Elizabeth, NJ 1:11 p.m.
Philadelphia, Pa. 2:37 p.m.
Wilmington, Del. 3:05 p.m.
Baltimore, Md. (Mt. Royal Station) 4:16 p.m.
Baltimore, Md. (Camden Station) 4:25 p.m.
Washington, D.C. (Union Station) 5:30 p.m.
Cincinnati (Union Terminal) 6:15 a.m.
Louisville, Ky. 9:55 a.m.
St. Louis (Union Station) 12 noon
source: Baltimore and Ohio System Timetable, July 6, 1947[5]

Decline and end

Amtrak's National Limited at Effingham, Illinois in 1979.

The National Limited, in common with most name trains in the U.S. by the late 1950s, suffered steadily declining patronage as the traveling public abandoned trains in favor of airplanes and the automobile. The B&O gave up on competing with the Pennsylvania Railroad into New York, discontinuing all passenger service north of Baltimore on April 26, 1958. Thereafter, the National Limited operated between Baltimore and St. Louis as a through train until 1966, when Washington, D.C., became its eastern terminus (with a connecting B&O coach-only train between Washington and Baltimore).

In 1967, the United States Post Office dealt a heavy blow to the B&O, cancelling most of its lucrative Post Office contracts. Most of the train's route through West Virginia, southern Ohio, and south-central Indiana and Illinois was, and continues to be, sparsely populated. Few cities or towns existed along the line that could contribute additional revenue or passengers to the train. Between Cincinnati and St. Louis, the B&O St. Louis line was single-tracked, and it avoided most of the Midwest cities along the way. While branch lines ran to Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, Indianapolis, Springfield, and other cities and towns, the National Limited bypassed them all. This ultimately would seal the train's fate. The B&O's National Limited had its final run on April 30, 1971, when B&O discontinued all long-haul passenger trains at the inception of Amtrak.

Amtrak's National Limited

The National Limited name was subsequently used by Amtrak for a train from New York to Kansas City, Missouri, via Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis, and St. Louis. This Amtrak train did not use the B&O route, and was canceled on October 1, 1979. Amtrak's Shenandoah served the National Limited B&O route from Washington to Cincinnati via Cumberland, Maryland, and Parkersburg, West Virginia, from October 31, 1976, to September 30, 1981.


  1. ^ a b c William W. Kratville, Steam, Steel & Limiteds. Omaha, Neb.: Barnhart Press, 1962.
  2. ^ a b c Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., Royal Blue Line. Sykesville, Md.: Greenberg Publishing, 1990. (ISBN 0-89778-155-4)
  3. ^ Jersey City Terminal
  4. ^ Timothy Jacobs, The History of the Baltimore & Ohio. New York: Crescent Books, 1989. (ISBN 0-517-67603-6)
  5. ^ Baltimore and Ohio System Timetable. Baltimore: B&0 Press, July 6, 1947, p. 9.

Further reading

  • Kirk Renolds and Dave Oroszi, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing, 2000 (ISBN 0-7603-0746-6)
  • Joe Welsh, "Baltimore & Ohio's Capitol Limited and National Limited". St. Paul, MN: MBI Publishing, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-7603-2533-9)

External links

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