Merry Christmas to all!
I have a reprint copy of the June 1893 Travelers' Official Guide of the Railway and Steam Navigation Lines in the United States and Canada.
Here is the main page for the New York and New England Railroad, showing trains on the main line from Boston to Hartford to Fishkill, and part of a second page featuring the company's two trains with "Elegant" and "Superb" accommodations.
Running southbound, the 1201 train from Boston gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Hartford, and the 1500 train from Boston, the famous White Train or New England Limited, gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Willimantic, using the Air Line route from there to New Haven. The same two services run northbound arriving Boston at 1830 and 2040. The New England Limited also has cars to and from Waterbury on the NY&NE as we can see from the first table.
What catches my eye though is the other express train— the one that runs between Boston and Hopewell Junction, leaving Boston at 1800 and arriving at 0820. It does not have a special table, but it has even fewer stops than the two trains just mentioned. What is this train?
I knew that there was around this time a through train between Boston and New York on the NY&NE and the New York and Northern, later known as the Putnam Division. Here's the NY&N through schedule from the same Official Guide.
While this does show two NY&NE connections, neither is the express train. One is a Brewster-Hartford local and the other is a Fishkill-Boston local.
The other run I know about is the railfan favorite Poughkeepsie Bridge train between Boston and Philadelphia that was run around this time. From Boston, it ran on the Boston and Maine's former Central Massachusetts to Northampton, the New Haven's former New Haven and Northampton to Simsbury, and then the Reading system.
In the early decades of the Official Guide, railroads were remarkably silent about many interline through services. The bridge train is a typical example. Below are tables of the Boston and Maine, New Haven, and Reading system.
Southbound. On the B&M it's the train leaving Boston at 1750, arriving Northampton 2040, with limited stops. On the New Haven, read up, it's the train leaving Northampton at 2045 and arriving Simsbury at 2145. On the Reading system, it originates from Hartford at 2110 and picks up the cars from Boston at Simsbury, leaving there at 2152, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0101 and Philadelphia at 0740.
Northbound. The train leaves Philadelphia on the Reading system at 1900, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0054 and Simsbury at 0400, arriving Hartford at 0435. On the New Haven, the through cars leave Simsbury at 0405— shown only in a note at the bottom of the table! The cars take probably the same one hour to reach Northampton, and at any rate on the B&M they leave there at 0510 and arrive Boston at 0820.
The interesting bit is the Poughkeepsie times. 0101 southbound, 0054 northbound. The NY&NE express train arrives Hopewell Junction at 0030 southbound and departs 0130 northbound. It's interesting because the distance from Hopewell Junction to Poughkeepsie was only 13 miles by rail, on the Dutchess County Railroad. That short line was part of the Reading system, and here is its timetable.
I find it very tempting to think that the NY&NE ran through cars to the Poughkeepsie Bridge train. I need only believe that the cars could pass over the 13 miles of the Dutchess County Railroad in under an hour. The limited-stop NY&NE train between Hopewell Junction and Boston just seems pointless otherwise, and its times at Hopewell are wonderfully coordinated with the bridge trains.
But amazingly the two nonstop trains shown on the Dutchess County timetable take 65 minutes to travel 13 miles. That's a blazing 12 miles per hour. Was the track that bad, or the engines that weak? Does this rule out NY&NE trains running at least ten minutes faster?
I'll make the case against.
First, the Reading timetable does list a NY&NE connection for the southbound train, but it's the 1530 train running local from Norwood Central to Hartford. If you could leave Boston on the NY&NE two and a half hours later, why not show it? And no northbound NY&NE connection is shown.
Second, the NY&NE took care to show the two trains with through cars to New York. Wouldn't they also provide notice of through cars to Philadelphia? (Side note: the NY&NE map does not even show a bridge at Poughkeepsie, five years after it opened!)
Third, why wouldn't the little Dutchess County timetable show the two trains?
So, I don't think so. But it's still quite a coincidence.
I observe that the train spends one hour at Hopewell Junction, for a round trip leaving Boston 1800 and returning 0820. That's 14 hours and 20 minutes including a one-hour rest. It exceeds the federal hours of service law, but the law was not enacted until 1907. Did the NY&NE actually have a single crew work that train?
Now, two words: mail train. Back in those days, when people communicated on paper and when all long distance mail went by train, there was so much volume that railroads operated some trains primarily for mail. Since they ran at passenger train speeds and stopped at major cities, mail trains often carried passenger coaches too. You can usually spot the mail trains in timetables because they tended to run overnight. The mystery train has the hallmarks of a mail train.
And let me make one leap of speculation. Is there any chance the Dutchess County Railroad made a midnight run carrying only mail cars, connecting the Reading at Poughkeepsie and the NY&NE at Hopewell Junction, running at a breakneck speed of as much as 25 miles per hour? It would be amazing to think mail made the journey to and from Boston a few hours faster than passengers, but there could be reasons. One would be to keep the passengers on Reading rails as far as possible, to maximize ticket income to the Reading.