- Boston, MA
- Site Type:
- Mass Transportation, Infrastructure and Utilities
- New Deal Agencies:
- Public Works Funding, Public Works Administration (PWA)
- Quality of Information:
- Very Good
- Site Survival:
- No Longer Extant
In 1934, the Public Works Administration (PWA) loaned the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company $7 million for equipment repair, new track installation, and new equipment purchases. Among the new purchases was the $250,000 Comet, a streamlined Diesel-electric train.
The Comet was built in 1935 by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation of Akron, Ohio. “The Aluminum Co. of America furnished the aluminum alloy sheets and castings. The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. made the Diesel engines and electrical equipment” (The Indianapolis Times, 9-7-1935). It began service that same year, running a regular route between Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island.
The blue, gray, and silver Comet had three passenger cars and an engine on each end, so that it could operate in either direction. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Dietz described the riding experience from Boston’s South Station: “The conductor opens the doors and lowers the folding steps. Let’s step in. The walls are finished in three shades of tan. The ceiling is pinkish-white. Aluminum seats finished in rust-colored mohair beckon to us. As we make ourselves comfortable we note the cooling effect of air-conditioning. With an almost imperceptible start, the train begins to glide out of the station. With seeming effortlessness it gathers speed at an unbelievable rate of acceleration… 44 minutes [later]… the train comes to a halt in the railway station in Providence, R.I.” (The Indianapolis Times, 9-7-1935).
As the name would suggest, the Comet was one of the fastest trains around. A company brochure proudly explained the speed and safety of its new Boston-to-Providence workhorse: “Designed for speed—and rapid acceleration—The Comet was planned to be one of the safest trains in existence. Constructed of Duraluminum, one of the strongest and lightest of metals, with the center of gravity nearly 25 inches lower than ordinary trains, it hugs the rails, develops little sway and makes curves imperceptible… it weighs less than half of a conventional type train with equal seating capacity. Powerful headlights flood the tracks and a vertical pencil beam on the roof points skyward, warning motorists long before the long range sirens can be heard. The latest type brakes, doors with folding steps in the center of the car, which must be closed before the train can move, combine with many innovations to give the New Haven the finest and the safest streamlined train the world has seen” (Introducing “The Comet”…, 1935).
When World War II started, increased ridership made the three-car Comet unsuitable for long routes; “it was placed on local commuter services around the Boston area” (Wikipedia).
The Comet was scrapped in 1951. Though it had a relatively short life, it was part of an exciting (and New Deal-financed) era of design and innovation, including streamlined trains, Diesel locomotives, electrified tracks, air-conditioned cars, and numerous safety and comfort improvements.
48th Annual Report of the Interstate Commerce Commission, December 1, 1934, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934, pp. 25-26 and 138-139. (Available for viewing at Google Books.)
“Dawn of the Diesel Age,” The Indianapolis Times, September 7, 1935, p. 7.
“‘Comet’ Sets New England Rail Record: Train Makes New Haven – Boston Run in 2 Hours, 23 Minutes; Top Speed Reached 110 Miles,” Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), April 30, 1935, pp. 1-2.
“Comet,” Wikipedia (accessed February 4, 2023).
New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad Company, Introducing “The Comet”… last word in luxury rail travel, foldout brochure, 1935.
Site originally submitted by Brent McKee on February 4, 2023.
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