Skip to content

Michael Portillo: Great American Railroad Journeys S01 – E10 – Wilmington to Havre le Grace


Lousy format, but viewable – especially if you go full screen. Have been unable to find S01 E03, nor some other episodes, but still worth listening to. I fill in with missing episodes when found.

About the series

Great American Railroad Journeys is a BBC travel documentary series presented by Michael Portillo and aired on BBC Two. Using an 1879 copy of Appleton’s Guidebook to the railroads of the United States and Canada, Portillo travels across the United States primarily by train, though at times using other forms of transportation where necessary. On his journeys, he makes stops to learn how places, events and people, and the railroads of the 19th century influenced the country’s growth into a major superpower.

When originally broadcast, each series consisted of 30-minute episodes, shown on consecutive weekday evenings. To date (February 2018), three series of the programme have been broadcast since its debut on 1 February 2016.


About Series 1

In his first series, Portillo took two railroad journeys in the north-east of the United States, spanning a total of 15 episodes. His first journey took him across the US State of New York, travelling around New York City and Long Island before heading to Niagara Falls via New York’s state capital of Albany and Buffalo. His second journey took him across the Mid-Atlantic States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, travelling from Philadelphia to Jamestown, via Washington, D.C..

Episode 1

Portillo’s first railroad journey begins with an exploration of the Manhattan borough of New York City. Places visited (via subway), include Grand Central, the Rockefeller Center, the Financial District, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Broadway. Portillo finds out about the American industrialists of the Gilded Age, learns of the origins of New York’s skyscrapers, uncovers how Grand Central operates, and views the art pieces contributed by the “Robber Barons” of the Gilded Age.

Episode 2

Portillo continues his exploration of Manhattan. Places visited include the Lower East Side, the former High Line, Ellis Island (via ferry), and the new World Trade Center. He discovers how the High Line preserves its railroad history in its new function as a park, looks inside a tenement building used by 18th century immigrants and how their living conditions were eventually improved, learns how many immigrants came through Ellis Island in a day, takes instructions on making his first whiskey cocktail, and witnesses the insides of the future World Trade Center Transportation Hub and the impact 9/11 had on its construction (at time of filming).

Episode 3 – missing

Portillo now moves out onto Long Island. Places visited include New York’s boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, the “Gold Coast” – Oheka Castle, The Hamptons – East Hampton, and Montauk – Montauk Point Light. He listens to the story about the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and the benefits it brought, discovers what the East Side Access project aims to achieve and its progress, learns what made the “Gold Coast” attractive to New York City’s wealthy in the 19th and early 20th centuries, hears how the Lady’s Village Improvement Society preserve East Hampton, and finds out how important Montauk’s lighthouse was to immigrants and how close it had come to being the gateway for new arrivals to America.

This absence is a pity, as The Hamptons are great to visit, especially the adjacent towns

Episode 4 -New York to Garrison

Portillo heads out of the city and into the region surrounding the Hudson River. Places visited include Penn Station, New York, Tarrytown, Garrison, and West Point (via ferry). He hears about Washington Irving, Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Alonzo Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid), and Benedict Arnold, interviews members of the Modern Police of Amtrak, visits Sleepy Hollow, sees a relic of the War of Independence, and hears more about the American Civil War and its impact on students of West Point at the time.

Episode 5 – Poughkeepsie to Albany

Portillo heads north for the state’s capitol in Albany. Places visited include Poughkeepsie – Vassar College, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, the Catskill Mountains, the Hudson River School, and Albany. He learns more about Maria Mitchell and Thomas Cole, meets with New York Senator (at the time of filming) Neil Breslin, discovers more about Vassar College’s origins and history, walks across the former Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge in its new role as the longest footbridge in the world, learns why tourists and artists admire the landscape of the Catskill Mountains by viewing it from the Catskill Mountain Railroad and a zip line, and hears about Albany’s brewing history as well as tasting one of its ales.

Episode 6 – “Schenectady to Rochester”

Portillo turns westwards, through the region that fuelled America’s Industrial growth. Places visited include Schenectady, Utica – Erie Canal, Chittenango, Palmyra, and Rochester. He learns more about Thomas Edison, George Eastman and Joseph Smith, sees how L. Frank Baum is celebrated at his birthplace through the influence of his works, hears of the impact that the Erie Canal had when completed, experiences some of General Electric’s modern railroad technology, investigates the history of the Mormon religion, and visits the oldest photography museum at Eastman’s mansion.

Episode – 7  – Buffalo to Niagara Falls

The final leg of Portillo’s New York railroad journey takes him to one of the country’s most spectacular features. Places visited include Buffalo and the Niagara Falls. He learns how Buffalo’s position in the grain trade was improved by the railroads and the invention of Joseph Dart, lunches on the city’s signature dish created by Teressa Bellissimo, hears how Colonel Ward’s pumping station was built and views some of its pumps, and views one of the world’s natural wonders that attracts more tourists than any of the country’s national parks, seeing the Niagara Falls both up close and from a bird’s-eye-view.

Episode – 8 – Philadelphia to Atlantic City

Portillo’s second railroad journey, through the southern half of the Mid-Atlantic states, begins in Pennsylvania and the city from which America Independence was proclaimed – Philadelphia. Places visited include Philadelphia City Hall, Southern Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, the Eastern State Penitentiary (via subway), and Atlantic City. Portillo learns more about William Penn, experiences American Football, tastes Philadelphia’s signature dish, discovers how Atlantic City became a tourist hot spot, finds out about a prison reform created in 19th century Pennsylvania, and visits Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

Episode – 9 – Lancaster to Gettysburg

Portillo now traverses a rich agricultural region, famous for an important battle in the American Civil War and from where America’s historically most important political speech was made. He visits Lancaster, Strasburg, and Gettysburg (via Harrisburg). He learns about the Amish lifestyle, finds out how large an impact Abraham Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address had upon Americans, rides on the Strasburg Rail Road and learns of its history, and views the site of the famous Battle of Gettysburg, while investigating how different attitudes to slavery triggered the American Civil War.

Episode -10 – “Wilmington to Havre de Grace”

Portillo now travels between the states of Delaware and Maryland, across the Mason–Dixon line. Visits include Wilmington – the Wilmington & Western Railroad, Newark, the University of Delaware, and Havre de Grace (via Aberdeen). He learns more about Éleuthère Irénée du Pont and John Smith, discovers how an early 20th century railroad innovation was demonstrated, investigates the origins and significance of the Mason-Dixon line, hears about the founding and history of the DuPont company including its involvement with gunpowder, and explores the region around the Susquehanna River that was seen by the first English settlers

%d bloggers like this: