Before it was eclipsed by the Twentieth Century Limited, the Empire State Express was the New York Central's flagship passenger run. In 1893, it was the Empire State Express, led by a hot-rod 4-4-0 with outlandishly large drivers, that became the first man-made vehicle to exceed 100 mph and made the New York Central famous around the world. Beyond the record-setting run, the Empire State Express gained recognition as a pioneer in high-speed rail service on its New York-Buffalo-Cleveland route. Scientific American noted in 1898 that the Empire State Express "opened the present remarkable era of fast, long distance express trains. [It] will always figure conspicuously in the annals of the world's railroads as being the first to maintain a regular schedule speed of over 52 miles an hour for an unprecedented distance and for runs of unprecedented length between stops."
But by the Roaring Twenties, most high-class rail travel was by Pullman, and coach trains on daytime runs, like the Empire State Express, were often seen as a less desirable way to travel. High-quality coach travel made a comeback during the Depression, however, as railroads sought to attract customers by offering less-expensive fares combined with upgraded amenities. So it was that on December 7, 1941, with much fanfare, the New York Central launched a newly equipped Empire State Express with two Henry-Dreyfus-styled Hudsons and gleaming, streamlined Budd-built train sets. Passengers on the inaugural run were surprised at the scarcity of trackside observers - until they heard about the event halfway around the world that had overshadowed all other news that December Sunday.
The 1941 ESE was a train with one foot in the past and the other in the future. Its reserved-seat, stainless steel Budd coaches and parlor cars presaged the postwar streamliners, America's last hurrah of luxury passenger travel. But its two specially styled Hudsons, Nos. 5426 and 5429, were clearly a bridge - albeit a beautiful one - between a dying technology and cars that belonged behind a diesel. Designer Henry Dreyfus blended the stainless fluting of Budd's streamliners with his design for the 1938 Twentieth Century Hudsons, arguably among the best-looking streamlined steamers ever built. After the war, however, more powerful Niagaras bumped the ESE Hudsons to lesser trains, and by 1949 their streamlining had been removed.
Relive the brief but glorious era of streamlined steam on the Water Level Route with these superbly detailed locomotives. With their fully featured sound systems, Empire State Express passenger station announcements, and ability to start your train so smoothly you won't spill a drop of water in the diner, we believe these are surely the best HO models of these Hudsons ever built.