The New Haven Railroad’s Comet

With its introduction to the United States in the 1830s the railroad train was immediately heralded as the fastest method of transportation, yet even from the beginning the railroad companies were constantly seeking ways to increase the speed of their trains, pushing them to transport passengers and freight to their destinations in the shortest time possible. The New Haven Railroad’s high speed regular service trains began in the 1890s with the Limited Express and the Air Line Limited, and by 1930 the Yankee Clipper traveled from New York City to Boston in four hours and 45 minutes. 

By the 1930s, with the rise of transportation alternatives including busses, trucks and privately owned automobiles, the railroad industry turned to a new type of high-speed technology – the light-weight, streamlined diesel train, inspired by aerodynamic Art Deco design.

The New Haven Railroad’s streamlined train was Comet, which made its debut in April 1935 to serve as a commuter link between Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston, with its “44 miles in 44 minutes” schedule.  Comet was a three car double-ended diesel-electric articulated train that could operate in both directions, with diesel power plants at both ends of the train, using two six-cylinder 400 horsepower diesel engines built by Westinghouse. It could comfortably travel at 100 miles per hour.

This video tells the story of Comet and the New Haven Railroad’s streamlined train of the 1930s.

Primary Resources: 

Secondary Resources: 

  • “The American ‘Comet’”: A Diesel-Electric Express of Remarkable Design. Mike’s Railway History: A Look at Railways in 1935 & Before, 
  • Articles from the Daily Boston Globe: "New Haven Names New Train 'Comet': Streamline Flyer to Make Five Providence Trips," Daily Boston Globe, April 25, 1935; "The New Haven's COMET," Railway Age, April 27, 1935; "Streamlined Train is Due Here Today," Daily Boston Globe, April 29, 1935; "Train Smashes Record, Providence to Boston," Daily Boston Globe, April 30, 1935; "Streamlined Comet Begins Daily Trips," Daily Boston Globe, June 6, 1935
  • Articles from Shoreliner, a publication of the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association: Link, Steve. "Introducing 'The Comet'", Vol. 13, no. 1, 1982; Link, Steve. "Constructing the Comet," Vol. 15, no. 4, 1984
  • Middleton, William D., Mark Reutter, and J.W. Swanberg. “Fast Trains and Faster,” Railroad History, Spring/Summer 2007, no. 196, pp. 22-41
  • Coverdale & Colpitts, Consulting Engineers, New York. Report on Streamline, Light-weight, High-speed Passenger Trains. June 30, 1939
  • "The New Haven's COMET," Railway Age, April 27, 1935 
  • Ruetter, Mark. “The Lost Promise of the American Railroad,” The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1994, Vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 10-32, 34-35 
  • Swanberg, J.W. New Haven Power, 1838-1968: Steam, Diesel, Electric, MU’s, Trolleys, Motor Cars, Buses and Boats. (Medina, Ohio: A.F. Staufer, 1988)

Special thanks to Richard A. Fleischer for providing a myriad of photographs, archival documents, newspaper articles and other research material, as well as his advice and expertise, to this video.

Special thanks to Paul R. Beck, for supplying the audio clip heard at the end of this video.

Special thanks to J.W. Swanberg for his expert advice, suggestions of sources, use of photographs from his private collection, and editing the script for this video.