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December 28, 2023

Vintage Photographs of New York’s Empire State Express Trains Passing Through Washington Street, Syracuse

Long before there was Amtrak in New York, there was the Empire State Express train. The legendary New York Empire State Express train was a locomotive that traveled from Buffalo, New York to New York City’s borough of Manhattan and back. The train was one of the United States’ earliest long distance passenger trains that ran at high speeds. The Empire State Express began its first daily run on December 7, 1891. The train got the name the Empire State Express not because it was a non stop train between Buffalo and Manhattan but rather because of the short amount of time it took to travel between the two cities. For a trip that was separated by the distance of four hundred and sixty one miles, the Empire State Express train was able to complete that trip in between seven and eight hours. In present time that may not seem that impressive, but in 1891 it was a spectacular feat to accomplish.

The Empire State Express train was part of what was called The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. In 1914, the name would  be changed to just the New York Central Railroad. At the time, the Empire State Express Train would become the flagship train of the The New York Central and Hudson River Railroad.

For nearly a century, from 1839 to 1936, trains ran along Washington Street in downtown Syracuse, earning the city the nickname “the city with the trains in the streets.” At its peak, around sixty trains ran on this route, but the situation became unmanageable due to noise, dirt, and pollution.

In 1936, the era of trains on city streets ended with the introduction of an elevated railroad and a new station. On September 24, 1936, thousands of people gathered to witness the final train, the Empire State Express, as it ran on the streets of Syracuse. Children placed pennies on the tracks to be flattened by the train as souvenirs, marking the end of an era.


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