The M&E trains were ordinary passenger trains in the timetable. the term “first class” was really without meaning as those trains ran only in double track territory where they were cleared by signal indication. They were just part of the flow of passenger trains and moved at the usual passenger train speeds with no special priority that wasn’t usual for any other passenger train.
The time it took them to get across the railroad was purely a matter of the horsepower per ton of the train. The reason the Century could make better time was that it had less tonnage for the horsepower. A heavy M&E train could not get across the line as fast because it took much longer to accelerate to the speed limit.
There seems to be a mystique about these trains arising from the romance of the fast mail of earlier years. On the NYC they didn’t “go like hell” any more than other passenger trains that ran nonstop between Albany and Syracuse or Buffalo and cleveland, or …etc.
A Rider Car was operated at the rear of a Mail & Express train for the benefit of the train crew. Passenger equipment was perfered or mandated for this purpose because these trains operated at passenger train speeds and a regular caboose would not be suitable for this service account its running gear (springs & journal boxes). Because all cars of a mail train may not have steam head connectors, Rider Cars assigned to this service usually had a stove/furnace in one end for crew comfort in inclement weather.
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