From the Prelinger Archive, an endlessly fascinating collection of historical videos, images, and documents in the public domain, we've extracted this true gem of railroad history. It's in two parts -- a bit on the long side at nearly 28 minutes, but totally worth it. What else are you doing on a snowy Friday, anyway?
It's "Big Train," a promotional video made in the 1950s by New York Central Railroad -- which built and ran freight trains on the High Line. At this time, the rise of the commercial airline industry was eating away at rail passenger business, and the new interstate trucking system was taking business away from NYRR's freight lines. The High Line itself was seeing less and less frequent freight traffic from this time until the last train ran on it in 1980.
We can only deduce that this video was made in reaction to the beginning of the end. It highlights the cutting-edge scientific and technological advances (specially-calibrated fuel mixtures! teletype machines!) that the railroad was making to keep up-to-date amid competition from its more modern competitors.
The most fascinating part of the video to us is the impassioned monologue (at about 7:00 into the second video) by the railroad's pipe-smoking president, Alfred E. Perlman. From a speeding passenger car, Perlman urges the government to relax the Vanderbilt-era anti-trust laws that taxed railroads heavily, and reduce the enormous government subsidies that were going to the airline industry and the interstate. He strongly warns that the "lopsided transportation policies on federal and state levels" would lead to the unjust death of an industry.
Well, I guess we know how that turned out.