Broadway Limited Imports USRA 40' Steel Boxcar

Published: 2022-12-31 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2022-12-30
visibility: Public - Headline
April 6, 1917 – President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress officially declare war on Germany and enter the ‘Great War’ to “make the world safe for democracy” for it is “a war to end all wars.”

Once the U.S. joined the war, and when the demand arose to transport soldiers and supplies; the American public found out just how inefficient and chaotic the railroad system was organized. Competition and regional rivalry amongst rail lines disrupted the free flow of both men and goods.

In addition to the lack of cooperation between rail companies, the railroads were already faced with a monetary crisis before entry into the war. Many railroads fell into receivership in 1915-1916 with the application of new stringent Federal regulations & tax laws, rising operational & union labor costs and a lack of skilled labor with the growth of other industrial fields luring workers away from the railroad trade.

The railroad industry themselves tried to rectify this predicament a week after the United States entered World War I. Executives from the major rail lines agreed to cooperate with each other and resolved to support the nation’s war effort. This compromise led to the formation of a five-person Railroad War Board to implement the plan. The War Board’s objective was to boost the potential of the nation’s rail system: all available equipment was placed into rail service, load weight restrictions were loosened, hauling of essential materials such as coal and iron were given priority and passenger service was restructured to maximize the movement of military personnel.

As well-meaning as the actions of the Railroad War Board were – they encountered several hurdles. Amongst them was the loss of over 70,000 rail workers due to the Selective Service Act of 1917. By the war’s end – men between the ages of 18 to 45 were required to register for potential military service abroad. There was still a shortage of equipment, capital, and uniformity amongst the rail lines. Furthermore, a continuous lack of cooperation existed between government agencies as each branch demanded prioritization of rail movements.

Convinced that the railroad system was not capable of supporting the war effort under the War Board leadership, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) recommended to President Wilson that the federal government take active control of the nation’s railroad infrastructure. On December 26, 1917, President Wilson agreed and announced the nationalization of the American rail system under the Federal

Possession and Control Act. Two days later on December 28th, Secretary of the Treasury, William McAdoo was appointed Director for the newly created United States Railroad Administration (USRA). The USRA had complete authority over locomotive power (steam and electrical), rolling stock, passenger cars, terminals, stations, warehouses, communication lines (telephone and telegraph) and railroad-controlled docks and waterway systems.

Photograph shows railroad workers in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad shops during World War I in Lorain, Ohio. In March 1918, two important developments transpired...First was the signing of the Railroad Control Act. This Act guaranteed the return of the railroads to private control within 21 months of the war’s end. Furthermore, the railroads would also be compensated for the usage of property and equipment while they were under USRA management.

Secondly, along with supervising the integration of rail services, the USRA introduced new technical innovations and announced a standardization for locomotives and railroad cars. In March, the USRA revealed the plans for five freight car designs and twelve locomotive types. These designs used a combination of steel and wood materials and were engineered to ensure rapid and easy assembly. During the USRA administration, seventeen different manufacturers built 1,930 steam engines and over 100,000 freight cars. Sixty-four railroads acquired USRA freight cars. Rolling stock that was built without a buyer was painted with the reporting mark GET (Government Equipment Trust) until a buyer was found.

The USRA standard freight car designs included
  • 40-ton Double Sheathed Boxcar
  • 50-ton Single Sheathed Boxcar
  • 50-ton Drop-Bottom Composite Gondola
  • 55-ton Steel Hopper
  • 70-ton Steel Mill Gondola
Towards the end of 1918, the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) began to agreeing to a truce with Germany finally conceding with the signing of the ‘Armistice of 11 November 1918’ - bringing the Great War to an end. As promised – the USRA disbanded in March 1920 with the railroad system once again becoming privatized.

During 1922, the New York Central Railroad began to build 40-foot steel boxcars loosely based on the 1918 USRA design. These ‘Specification 486’ boxcars differed from the USRA blueprint with an interior height of 8’-7” and width of 8’-6” with a load capacity of 110,000 pounds. The boxcars were usually painted freight car brown with black underframes. Over 33,000 of these ‘NYC 486’ all-steel boxcars were built – supplied to 12 different customers...making it the second most popular steel boxcar of the era behind the Pennsylvania Railroad’s X29 model. Several New York Central ‘Specification 486’ cars lasted into the doomed Penn Central days.

Who Purchased New York Central ‘Specification’ 486 Steel Boxcars?
  • Boston & Albany
  • Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Louis
  • Central Railroad of New Jersey
  • Cincinnati Northern
  • Hannibal Connecting
  • Michigan Central
  • Northampton & Bath
  • New York Central
  • Peoria & Eastern
  • Pittsburgh & Lake Erie
  • Portland Cement
  • Reading
The current Broadway Limited Imports USRA 40-foot Steel Boxcar release includes 11 fantasy options. Most of the offered fantasy paint scheme rail lines owned 40-foot steel similar to the New York Central ‘486’ railcar. I have found photographs of old Chicago & North Western’s Omaha Road (CMO) USRA double-sheathed boxcars that were rebuilt in the 1950’s and appear very much alike to the BLI model in color and appearance. My review will concentrate on the Chicago & North Western boxcar with the ‘Route of the 400’ slogan. On January 2, 1935, the Chicago & North Western Railway answered the challenges from the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) with a speedy line of their own from Chicago to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul). Initially, C&NW Class E-2 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotives were converted into oil runners to haul heavyweight passenger cars the 409-mile trip at high speeds. Time Magazine reported in its January 14, 1935, issue that these newly refurbished C&NW engines were “the fastest train scheduled on the American Continent” and christened them with the ‘400’ nickname – implying the C&NW could cover the 400-mile journey in 400 minutes (about 6 and a half hours) or less. In fact, the C&NW ‘400’ Route averaged 7-hours the first few years – it was not until 1938 when the stream engines were fitted with a streamline overlay did the C&NW match the speed times of the Milwaukee Road Hiawatha and the Burlington's Twin Cities Zephyr. It was reported that the C&NW streamlined locomotives could reach speeds of 112mph on some stretches of track.

In 1939, the Chicago & North Western upgraded ‘The 400’ Route fleet with two pairs of EMD E3A locomotives and lightweight streamlined passenger cars. These were followed by EMD E6 locomotives in 1941 and EMD E7 models in 1947. The C&NW’s Chicago to Twin Cities route was known for its extremely reliable service and on-time schedule. Such great was the reputation of ‘The 400’ Route that the Chicago & North Western decided to rebrand additional passenger train fleets with the ‘400’ moniker. “The Route of the 400” was born.

Photo Credits:

  • Mcadoo, W. G. Keep 'em going! / Ketterlinus Phila. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, . Posters in this collection were published more than 95 years ago and are therefore in the public domain in the United States.
  • Bain News Service, Publisher. B & O Women Workers, Loraine, O. i.e. Lorain, Ohio. date created or published later by Bain. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, . There are no known copyright restrictions on the photographs in the George Grantham Bain Collection. Publicity rights may apply.

Road Names and Pricing

The second series of USRA New York Central Steel Boxcars is offered in twenty different paint schemes – both prototypical and fantasy. Broadwalk Limited first introduced this model in N scale in 2018. The August 2022 release includes:

  • New York Central Era Correct Paint Schemes (Variety 4-Pack, $104.99)
    • 1930’s: Boston & Albany - Michigan Central - New York Central - Peoria & Eastern (Two-sets of 4 boxcars are available)
    • 1950’s: Delaware, Lackawanna & Western – New York Central – Northampton and Bath – Reading (Two-sets of 4 boxcars are available)
  • Fantasy Paint Schemes (2-Pack, Suggested retail price of $54.99)
    • Boston & Maine
    • Chesapeake & Ohio
    • Chicago & North Western
    • Delaware & Hudson
    • Great Northern
    • New York, New Haven & Hartford
    • Northern Pacific
    • New York Central (Jade Green)
    • New York Central (Pacemaker Red & Grey)
    • Southern Pacific
    • Union Pacific
    • Holiday – Merry Christmas
Two boxcars with unique road numbers are included in each set.

My review is comprised of observations from my hometown and childhood favorite railroad of the green and yellow Chicago & North Western (BLI no. 7276: Two-Pack with car numbers 70224 & 70236).

The Model

The ready-to-run boxcar came packaged in a cheap chipboard box with see-thru plastic window. The model itself is sandwiched between a two-piece plastic cradle with a plastic sleeve wrapped around the boxcar to protect it from scratches and blemishes. The model information is clearly labeled on the end of the box for ease to locate when in storage – but these flimsy chipboard boxes offer no integrity and are not a long-term storage solution (just look at the condition of all those cardboard boxes from the 1970s). I wish Broadway Limited would improve in this area – model train packaging is not a throw-away is saved and used for many years. Other than a silica gel packet – no additional parts were found in the box.

The paint job is crisp and even along the entire injection molded plastic model. The C&NW car is painted in their recognizable yellow and green colors with the ‘Route of the 400’ slogan proudly adorned. Lettering is extremely neat and clear, even when some magnification is needed for the smaller printing. The Broadway Limited Imports USRA boxcar displays sharp rivet lines and the prototype correct 3 ½ side panel arrangement on each side of the door. In contrast, the molded grab irons and ladder rungs are flat looking and rather unimpressive. The 50-ton boxcar has a build date of 3-30 and a service date of 5-47 at the C&NW’s Proviso Rail Yard located in the western Chicago suburb of Melrose Park (currently used by the Union Pacific Railroad).

Both sides of the boxcar have operational sliding doors. The doors glide smoothly along the door rail. Broadway Limited Imports has assembled this series of models with two variations of sliding doors – either a corrugated Youngstown door with a 4-6-4 pattern (shown on the C&NW car) or the more prototypical three panel Creco (Chicago Railway Equipment Corporation) all-metal door. Both versions have a high mounted placard board and low mounted route board. Lastly, once opened the boxcar exposes a pleasant surprise – a faux-wooden floor interior. A black plastic floor panel with vertical lines runs the entire length of the boxcar.

Note on the doors the small yellow letters ‘R’ and ‘L’ on either side of the boxcar. These letters signify the right or left side of the railcar when facing the B-end (brake). Imagine standing in front of the car looking directly at the brake wheel to find the designated left and right side.

The end caps are also modeled in two different variations: Dreadnaught ends with a 4-4 configuration, or a 7-8 corrugated pattern shown on the Chicago & North Western car. Both ends have well-defined rivet lines with molded grab irons, full length ladder, high-mounted placard board, and end-of-car cushioning units. The B-end features a separately applied National vertical handbrake and brake platform. A chain is attached to the brake shaft and the brake lever under the car. When the brakeman turns the wheel, the chain wraps around the shaft and pulls on the lever to slow the railcar. The gold road marker and road number are crisp and found in the proper location of the upper right corner – but to be fair and honest, the brake end does exhibit a little sloppiness with gold ink spatter on a few of the end corrugations.

The top of the boxcar features a rectangular-panel roof with a simulated steel-grid running board and running board laterals. Out of the box - both boxcars had wavy running boards. This could have been caused by poor assembly or changes in weather. It should not be too difficult to perform the repairs needed to the roof detail parts.

The black diecast metal underframe has an elaborate AB braking system complete with air reservoir tank, brake cylinder, brake valve, air pipes, and brake rods. The boxcar is fitted with ARA standard U-section trucks with blackened metal wheels. Lastly, the model is equipped with proper height body mounted operating knuckle couplers.

The Broadway Limited Imports model measures 3 1/8 inches long and weighs 0.80 ounces, which is a little lighter than the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendation (1.00 ounces) - if desired, there is ample room to increase the weight inside the operational sliding doors. It was an excellent runner while testing the car on Kato Unitrack with no issues around curves or through turnouts at slow and medium speeds. The sliding doors did not vibrate open on my trial runs – something that has become a pet peeve of mine for other manufacturers' rolling stock. The suggested minimum operating radius is 9 inches, and the boxcar will work on Code 55, 70 and 80 rails.


These cars are easily one of my favorite releases of 2022. An exquisite looking, highly detailed model: appreciate the meticulous attention given to the stencil work, smooth gliding doors, and fine underframe & interior car floor. I applaud the variations offered in door and end cap configurations and I enjoy the fantasy paint scheme options. In fact, Broadwalk Limited has released the only N scale Chicago & North Western (CNW) ‘Route of the 400’ boxcar variant ever in the green and yellow paint. A prototypical model design that is a great runner. I can forgive the small stuff – inferior packaging, paint splotches, and bumpy roof walks. Live out your fantasy and grab a few of these unique boxcars.

To see a list of all cars in this series, CLICK HERE

About the Author

CNW400 became enamored with trains while watching the ‘Green & Yellow’ double-decker cars clad with shiny green windows (C&NW) rumble by his childhood house in Chicago. His first train set was the Tyco Bicentennial model in 1976. Furthermore, he is also a collector of railroadiana focusing on lanterns, locks & keys and insulators.