The Manhattan Limited was one of the longest-lived train on the Pennsylvania Railroad, having started in 1903 (nine years before the fabled Broadway Limited) as a Chicago-to-New York train paired with the Chicago Limited going in the other direction. In 1913, both trains were named Manhattan Limited.
At its beginning, the Manhattan Limited was an extra-fare, all-Pullman train, but it was hardly the premiere train on the route. At the time, the Pennsy had seven daily trains from New York to Chicago and eight from Chicago to New York (two of which went on a longer route via Columbus rather than via Ft. Wayne). At least two of these trains–the Pennsylvania Special and Pennsylvania Limited–were also all-Pullman trains that–by virtue of making fewer stops–were faster than the Manhattan Limited.
By the early 1920s, PRR had eleven daily trains between New York and Chicago (two of which were still on the Columbus route). The Broadway Limited had replaced the Pennsylvania Special. The Manhattan Limited was still all-Pullman–yet still only the third-best after the Broadway and Pennsylvania Limiteds.
A 1931 timetable shows fifteen westbound and seventeen eastbound PRR trains between Chicago and New York. The one-way base fare from New York to Chicago was $32.70 (about $500 in today’s money). Pennsylvania had at least four trains that would do the route in 20 hours in each direction and charged a $9.60 extra fare (nearly $150 today) for those trains. The Manhattan Limited qualified eastbound, but westbound it was scheduled for 20 hours and 45 minutes, so the extra fare was only $8.40. The train was still all-Pullman, but in addition to the Broadway, the all-Pullman Rainbow was also 20 hours in both directions so was probably considered a superior train. The Pennsylvania Limited and Golden Arrow, which carried coaches as well as sleepers, also took only 20 hours both ways.
By 1947, PRR had a dozen trains between New York and Chicago. The Manhattan Limited had gained coaches in 1932, leaving only the Broadway and a new train called the General (inaugurated in 1937) as all-Pullman trains in this corridor plus the Spirit of St. Louis in Pennsy’s New York-St. Louis corridor.
In 1967, Pennsylvania had only five eastbound and four westbound trains between New York and Chicago. The Broadway was still premiere with a 16-hour timetable (15.5 eastbound), and the General was only a little slower. But the Manhattan and Pennsylvania Limiteds had been reduced to locals, with scheduled times of around 19 hours each way.
The General was dropped within a year, and when the Penn-Central merger took place, only the Broadway, Manhattan, and Pennsylvania Limiteds were left in New York-Chicago service. The Manhattan Limited struggled on, making it to Amtrak but as a ghost of a train with just two coaches and a snack bar.