Connecting the nation's capital to its largest city, the Washington - New York corridor was a hotly contested route for nearly a century. To compete with the almost limitless resources of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the underdog Baltimore & Ohio relied on Southern hospitality, great cooking and, at the beginning, an aura of European royalty.
Launched in 1890 as the Royal Blue Line with six trains daily in each direction, the B&O's premier service offered American travelers comforts fit for a European monarch. Its elegant, Pullman-built cars featured seats upholstered in old-gold plush, leaded glass windows and mahogany paneling. French-trained chefs prepared elaborate dining car meals with delicacies like terrapin and canvasback duck. (In later years, the Royal Blue would become famous for its Maryland cuisine.) Completing the European theme, the cars' exteriors were finished in "Royal Saxony Blue" with gold leaf trim. And they were fast. The mid-day trains covered the route in 5 hours flat, powered by Baldwin-built Class M-1 4-4-0s that the B&O had purchased expressly for Royal Blue service.
Because its tracks went only as far north as Philadelphia, the B&O partnered with the Reading and the Jersey Central to reach Jersey City, where passengers boarded a ferry to cross the Hudson River into Manhattan. (It would be another two decades before the mighty Pennsy tunneled under the river and offered the first direct rail service to the island borough.) Each railroad owned a share of the Royal Blue's luxurious day coaches, combines and baggage cars, while the B&O provided the diners and Pullman supplied parlor cars and sleepers.