This week the new Hartford Line commuter rail will link Springfield, Massachusetts, to New Haven, Connecticut, and cities in between. For less than $16, commuters can catch more than 12 trains each day and travel speeds up to 110 miles an hour.
In its heyday, the Hartford rail line offered passenger travel at its finest. Each hour, it brought New Yorkers to Springfield and on to Boston—or through Vermont all the way up to Montreal. And through the 1940s they often traveled in a Pullman car.
Howard Pincus, a trustee of the Railroad Museum of New England, showed me inside the steel Pullman car, painted forest green. We walk past a drawing room and sit across from each other on pale green seats. The car features air conditioning and full service dining.
“You rang for a porter. There would be a little call button here and the porter would bring a little mahogany table that would clip in. You could play cards, do any of that sort of thing, look out the window and see America go by.”
Pincus says that didn’t last. After World War II highways and airports expanded. Declining industry no longer wanted to ship cargo on freight trains, so private railroads couldn’t make enough money to keep passenger service going.
“It was an incredible double whammy,” he said.
Pincus pulls out two books of train schedules and measures them spine to spine.
“This is June of 1941 and this one is August of 1964—what that represents, those missing pages, those are gone passenger trains,” Pincus said.