December 14, 1903
The luxurious Merchants Limited, which became the premier passenger train of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NH), first went into service. This train’s maiden journey was a late-in-the-day run between South Station in Boston and Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
The next day’s edition of the Boston Post reported on this trip. The newspaper noted, “At exactly 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon the ‘Merchant Limited Express,’ a new five-hour special to New York, drawn by a huge locomotive with 6-foot [1.8-meter] drivers, and in [the] charge of Engineer Flynn and Conductor Morse, drew out of the South station, and at 10 o’clock last night arrived at [New York City], having safely completed its first trip.”
The Boston Post also noted that this inaugural 229-mile (368.5-kilometer) run of the Merchants Limited “was well patronized, and many of the officials of the [railroad] enjoyed the initial trip.” This successful debut of the Merchants Limited was due in no small part to Charles Sanger Mellen, who had taken over as NH president earlier that year and made the train one of his highest priorities.
Along with featuring a dining coach and an observation car, the Merchants Limited included four parlor cars (passenger coaches with comparatively opulent furnishings and services). This train ultimately became the last one operating on a regular basis in the United States to consist primarily of parlor cars.
Starting with its inaugural run, the Merchants Limited quickly proved to be a popular travel option in one of the nation’s most densely populated regions. One major reason for this involved the lavish on-board accommodations and amenities, and another was the Merchants Limited’s well-established ability to provide a faster-than-average means of surface transportation between Boston and New York City.
The Merchants Limited remained in operation after NH joined a merger of the New York Central Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad in 1969 to form the Penn Central, which filed for bankruptcy just a year later. After taking over much of the Penn Central’s infrastructure and rolling stock in 1971, the newly formed Amtrak continued to use the Merchants Limited. In 1995, however, the train’s name was dropped altogether from the timetables for Amtrak after the railroad service rebranded most of its trains in the northeastern United States as “NortheastDirect.”
For more information on the Merchants Limited, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchants_Limited