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In 2023, we raised over $188,417 to fund roughly half of the cost of one New York Central passenger car! In 2024, fundraising is ongoing to finish the work and install over $100,000 of new heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing systems. A tax-deductible gift can buy a part, sponsor a section, or earn car naming rights!

Donate by mail at
Empire State Express
Post Office Box 11017
Fort Wayne, Indiana, 46855

Restoring the Empire State Express

This "dreamland streamliner" train set will be restored for excursion service behind a 1940s steam locomotive, as it was originally intended. Learn about the planned rehabilitation work, the history behind the Empire State Express fleet, and support our work below.


Built in 1941 for the “finest daytime train in the world,” the Empire State Express cars were designed for “streamlined luxury and everyday travel.” The original train set featured parlor cars, dining cars, and reclining coach seats featuring every modern convenience of the time and was routinely pulled by New York Central’s iconic streamlined Hudson-type steam locomotives.

The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society acquired these cars from the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum in 2022. As they are restored, the coaches will become ideal passenger cars for excursions and special events and retain elements of their luxurious heritage.

All seven of these cars will require extensive overhauls. Two cars are ideally suited for conversion into lounge or table cars patterned after the New York Central’s original designs. When each is completed, their combined use will make it possible to host an additional 500 guests aboard our trains!

As of August 2023, work is currently focused on fundraising $160,000 to restore one coach for service in 2024. Conversion of a coach into a first-class car is estimated at $280,000. Full restoration of the fleet is estimated at approximately $1,160,000. Work will be accomplished at our restoration shop in New Haven, Indiana.


Upgrading a vintage passenger car can be a complicated and expensive endeavor, but this work will ready each one for another century of service. Every passenger coach will undergo modernization focused primarily on electrical and mechanical components, including lighting, HVAC, and restrooms. The following costs are approximate.

• HVAC, Blower, Heating, Condensor System – $133,330
• Head End Power Connector – $8,250
• Interior Work – $23,000
• Head End Power Cable Loop – $20,000
• Paint Labor  – $5,000
• Paint Materials – $30,000
• Watercloset – $15,000
• Trucks and Wheelsets – $15,000
• Misc. Mechanical – $30,000
• Professional Services and Contractors – $27,000
• Contingency and Reserve Fund – $20,000

Before 1941, the original Empire State Express had already made history. This crack passenger train had broken the land speed record in 1893, clocking in at 112.5 mph.

Nearly 50 years later, the New York Central set out build a stainless steel fleet of passenger equipment to upgrade train service and modernize its storied passenger trains. One of these trains was the Empire State Express.

Lot 2147 consisted of 16 stainless steel 56-seat coaches built specifically for the new Empire State Express. Most of the equipment was named in honor of past governors of New York State. The re-equipped train was to debut on December 7, 1941 but was upstaged by the events of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, drawing America into World War II.

With the decline in rail travel in the 1950s, the coaches were withdrawn from long-distance service and rebuilt for use on the New York Central’s suburban commuter lines. As a passenger train, the Empire State Express service operated between 1891 and 1967. In 1966, these coach cars were rebuilt to serve suburban New York commuters and became part of the Penn Central fleet in 1968. Without much in the way of rebuilds or preventative maintenance, the coaches soldiered on.

In 1976, part of the fleet was transferred to Conrail, which was operating commuter service on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. With an infusion of public money, the coaches were sent out for rebuild and updating in 1978.

Several members from Rochester Chapter pooled their resources and purchased six coaches in 1987 under the name “Empire State Railcar.” One of two Railway Post Office cars assigned to the Empire State Express (built as Lot 2143), NYC 5021 the Alonzo B. Cornell, was acquired in 1991. In 1993, the cars were sold to the Rochester Chapter NRHS, and were owned by the Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum until 2022.

In the future, the cars will operate over former New York Central territory, including the railroad’s “Old Road” in Hillsdale, Michigan, and become part of Nickel Plate Road steam locomotive no. 765’s traveling entourage. In the not-too-distant future, you’ll be able to ride the cars that helped epitomize passenger rail travel in the 1940s and operated over the New York Central’s famous “Water Level Route.”


raised to acquire and restore the fleet since 2022


of the fleet is restored


volunteer hours committed to the fleet

The Great Steel Fleet

The Great Steel Fleet

The Great Steel Fleet

The Great Steel Fleet

The Great Steel Fleet