• Why are trains called "... Limited"?

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Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by necuser

My friend keeps asking me this question, which I am not certain of the answer to. Why are so many trains called "... Limited" (e.g. the Lake Shore Limited, the Broadway Limited, the Sunset Limited, etc.)?

I was guessing that it is because they make a limited number of stops (relative to a commuter/local train), but I'm not certain. Does anyone in the forum know?



  by Irish Chieftain
You got it right—it's supposed to mean limited number of stops. In the past, it had a greater meaning to it, but the ICC had a way of slowing things down in 1950.

  by CNJ
In short....Limiteds are express trains................

  by Cowford
"Limited" meaning a limited number of stops is actually a misnomer. It was originally used to refer to the limited seating availability on high end/express trains.

  by Irish Chieftain
Limited seating availability...so in that case, why did many trains with the surname "Limited" have 20 cars or more...?

  by CNJ
Mr. Cowford...I don't believe that it was for a limited number of seats.....unless you are implying that many of these trains were of the parlor car/sleeper variety.....................
  by PennsyFan
That came later...the Pennsylvania Limited and Lake Shore Limited, the first real premium NY-CHI trains (in the 1880s), carried only five or six cars each, as contrasted with the much longer regular trains which carried coaches as well as sleepers. This was at a time when the speed a train was capable of reaching was dependant primarily on its power-to-weight ratio rather than the condition of the track, and a shorter train meant a faster train. By the 1920s and 30s, when 20-car limiteds became the norm, locomotive technology had improved to the point where it was no longer the primary limiting factor. Thus, a train's brevity became a negative for the traveller (fewer accomodations) rather than a positive. I might add that the NYC and PRR did still attempt to keep train lengths reasonable. In 1927 the Twentieth Century Limited famously operated in seven full sections, all of over fifteen cars.

I do believe that a limited was primarily defined by a reduced number of stops, but it is decidedly possible that it did have something to do with the shortness of a train.

  by John_Perkowski
Different railroads had different meanings for words:

Limited can mean "small consist for exclusive travel." It can also mean "minimum number of stops."

Both meanings were used prior to Amtrak; which term mattered depended on the RR in question.

Railroads petitioned State public utility commissions and the ICC for train-offs in reverse order: The most local and slowest trains (often with the greatest expenses to revenue ratio) came off first, and at the end, only the flagships were left (particularly out here west of the Mississippi). There was a huge train-off surge after October 1967, when the Post Office shut down most of the Railway Mail Service RPO cars. In the case of the railroad I study, the UP, that meant the big mail trains went, and only the "City of Everywhere" remained for the last few years.
  by bill haithcoat
I checked in a 1962 dictionary (not always the best source for hobbies like ours, but here goes) and it said:

"Accommodating a restricted number of passengers or making a restricted number of stops, and often charging extra fare, said of a train, bus. etc"

I think we are all sort of on the right track here. With trains like the original Broadway and 20th Century, it could suggest something like "limited to sleeping car passengers."

I did notice that a lot of trains stopped using the term in the late 40's and early 50's. I also notice that trains which were brand new as streamliners in that period generally did not have the term in their names. Oldie goldies like the Braodway and Century, yes, but many others were not called limited.

It certainly started out as a name of disticntion but for the most part in later years the trains bearing that name had ceased to be distictive.
  by John_Perkowski
We have to realize that from the dawn of Creation to the 19th Century, the basic rate of movement for humanity was 3 miles per hour for 8-12 hours a day ... That means 24-36 miles in daily distance. This number considers flat ground and no major obstacles.

The domestication of the horse improved average speeds only if the entire party was mounted. The domestication of MOST beasts of burden did not increase the rate of movement; often the bill-payer for tonnage was speed.

The coming of the Industrial Revolution brought us the railroad and the wide-span bridge (as a common engineering triumph, not a "Seven Wonders of the World" triumph a la the Roman Aqueducts). Even an average speed of 10MPH was a trebling of the basic rate of man. Further, the capability of a train to operate through the 24 hour cycle meant up to a tenfold increase in distance per day (24-36 miles vice 240 miles per day).

As a nation, we advocated railroads as a Governmental policy up to the early 20th Century. Then, the automobile and the airplane vied for and obtained Governmental approval.

As a Nation, we value absolute convenience over conservation of resources. Rail is an efficient means of moving passengers and freight, but if we do not, societally, accept efficiency, we are stuck with the system we have.

The Limiteds once were the basic flagships and 1st tier trains of the railroads fleets. Today, the names are "romantic harkenings" to the past, usable because good buzzwords (The Empire Builder) trump plain English (The Daily from Chicago to Seattle).

At this point, I'll step off the box. Matt's our resident advertiser; he can give us some more about how train names help or hinder the marketing of a service.