A blog from Classic Trains columnist Kevin P. Keefe
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Good times on L&N’s ‘Riviera’

Posted yesterday by Kevin Keefe
Of all the possible expansions of Amtrak service, perhaps the one that appeals to me most is returning passenger trains to the delightful section of former Louisville & Nashville main line that stretches along the Gulf Coast from New Orleans 160 miles east to Mobile, Ala. I’ve never ridden this piece of railroad. I missed my chance when the triweekly Sunset Limited, which had pushed past New Orleans all the way to Orlando, was suspended after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But I&rsqu...
2

In Michigan, Bluewater says it’s bowing out

Posted 8 days ago by Kevin Keefe
I lived in the Detroit area back in the 1970s when it was still a fairly interesting railroad town. When I left for Milwaukee in 1980 I had some fleeting regrets over things I’d miss — the grand old Michigan Central Station, Grand Trunk Western freights, SEMTA’s commuter trains to Pontiac, and the occasional meeting of the venerable Michigan Railroad Club. Then I lost track for a while. That is, until I began working at Trains and found myself covering railroad news ...
2

Time catches up with Proviso’s hump

Posted 11 days ago by Kevin Keefe
You might not think closing another classification hump is newsworthy, given the spate of such decommissions in recent years, especially on CSX. The hegemony of Precision Scheduled Railroading has shaken up the whole practice of loose-car railroading. Humps, the gods have decided, are expendable. Recently came news that another one has closed, its squealing retarders suddenly silent: the hump at Union Pacific’s huge Proviso Yard west of Chicago.  Proviso isn’t just any hump ya...
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The private car I’d buy, if only . . .

Posted 22 days ago by Kevin Keefe
For most of us, the idea of owning a private railroad car is just a fantasy. That’s doubly true in the current historical moment, as Amtrak ruthlessly pushes the private-car community to the fringes.  Fantasy or not, it never hurts to window shop. That’s what I was thinking earlier this week when I scrolled through the astounding lineup of observation cars now being offered for sale by Missouri-based Ozark Mountain Railcar, one of the leading railroad equipment brokers. If you ...
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Baldwin 60000: oddball in the spotlight

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
It’s interesting to me how often we shower attention on the oddball, the square peg, the brilliant failure. Think of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, the gargantuan wood seaplane that in 1947 almost, but didn’t quite, soar into history. Or the Tucker 48, the innovative postwar automobile that, were it not for a 1988 movie, might have remained obscure. I put Baldwin 4-10-2 No. 60000 in the same category. A grand experiment by America’s dominant steam locomotive manufacturer, ...
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Al Staufer: a belated appreciation

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
My railroad library always gets a pretty good workout, especially when it comes to steam locomotives. If a steam assignment comes my way — and my editor, Rob McGonigal, has me working on a doozy right now — then suddenly my little office floor is littered with books. Right now, scattered around my desk, are a bunch of familiar steam titles. I never start anything without having handy Kalmbach’s North American steam guide, originally compiled by George H. Drury. David P. Morgan...
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Amtrak’s latest buzzkill

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
I suppose they have their reasons — safety has become a zero-sum game — but I was disappointed to hear of Amtrak’s decision this week to uphold its ban on rear-platform and open Dutch-door riding for private cars. Petitioned by the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Amtrak reconsidered its earlier ban, then said “no dice.” I don’t think AAPRCO will get much sympathy. A lot of people think of private-car owners as rich people cruising th...
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Big red signal in Glenview

Posted one month ago by Kevin Keefe
Over the past several years, the northwest Chicago suburbs have become Ground Zero for battles between railroads and the local citizenry.  Suburban NIMBYs — the familiar “not in my backyard” crowd — lost a big one several years ago when Canadian National was able to proceed with its acquisition of the EJ&E mainline, giving CN an additional and utterly logical way of moving freight around Chicago, rather than through it. The tony little town of Barrington fought ...
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Notes from the road to Promontory

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Was last week the most extraordinary in the recent history of American railroading? You can’t convince me otherwise, not after seeing thousands gather in Ogden on May 9 to see the ceremonial pairing of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 and 4-8-4 No. 844. Not after joining perhaps 20,000 people on May 10 at Promontory Summit for the formal celebration of the driving of the last spike in 1869. And not after seeing hundreds of photos and videos from the thousands of people who jammed Interstate...
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Happy Birthday, L.A. Union Station

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
In the classic neo-noir movie Chinatown, the two main protagonists, femme fatale Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and private eye J. J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson), confront each other in a scene that sets up the film’s dark reckoning. A desperate Mulwray, eager to get out of town, tells Gittes to meet her at the home of her butler, Khan.  “He lives at 1712 Alameda . . . do you know where that is?” she asks. Gittes’ face freezes as the camera moves in. “Sure, i...
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Philadelphia does right by 30th Street

Posted 2 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Here’s an opinion I’ve shared before: Amtrak’s 30th Street Station in Philadelphia is America’s finest railway terminal. It’s nearly unique in offering a rich combination of history, architecture, commuter service, and long-distance trains, all in a downtown building that remains substantially unchanged from the day it opened its doors.  When I say “nearly unique,” I’m hedging a bit because Los Angeles Union Station might make the same claim ...
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A bright future for Nashville’s “Dixie” 4-8-4

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
There are so many large steam locomotives being restored today, it’s enough to make your head spin. Maybe that’s why I felt a bit light-headed this week as I veered off I-26 in Nashville and took the exit for Hermitage Avenue. I was on my way to see what, for my money, is one of the more promising such projects: the revival of Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4 No. 576. It didn’t take long to find the engine, safely ensconced inside an open-sided shelter on the groun...
2

Financing railroad preservation from within

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
There’s never enough money for railroad museums and excursion locomotives. Running a railroad is expensive enough as it is, and that reality is doubly true for non-profit organizations trying to keep alive the practices and traditions of classic-era railroading. I’m sure the leaders of most of these organizations lose sleep at night wondering how they’ll keep the dollars coming in. I perceive a fortunate trend happening out there, though: the growth of preservation philanthrop...
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Promontory before the crowds

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
On the sunny, breezy last day of March, it was hard to believe the tranquil scene in front of me will be filled soon with cars, SUVs, Harleys, motor coaches, vendors, porta potties, and anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people. But that’s just what the experts predict will occur in just six weeks.  The occasion hardly needs an explanation. For more than a year, the railroad world has been buzzing about the sesquicentennial of the driving of the last spike of the transcontinental railroa...
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Bill Withuhn writes the essential steam book

Posted 3 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Of all the railroad books that have been plopped on my desk over the past couple of years — and there have been a lot of them — none has come close to exciting me as much as the one that arrived last week from Indiana University Press. I pretty much attacked the box it was in, tearing at the cardboard until I got a glimpse of Nickel Plate Berkshires. There it was, William L. Withuhn’s masterpiece: American Steam Locomotives: Design and Development, 1880-1960, published by IUP ...
2

The 611 will look fine on the Strasburg

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Two themes have been running through my mind since last week’s news that Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 No. 611 will be visiting the Strasburg Rail Road for weekend trips in September and October.  The obvious one is the David and Goliath angle, sort of in reverse. What’s a big stud racehorse like the 611 going to look like on that most bucolic of tourist lines, the 4.5-mile Road to Paradise? Actually, the disconnect might be a lot less than you think.  The other theme must ...
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These fantrip buttons tell stories

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The collection stares down at me from a bulletin board in my little home office. I probably glance at it every day, a bunch of metal lapel buttons, stuck into the cork, representing more than 50 years of riding railfan excursions. Most are from steam trips, but not all.  I’m sure there are lots of Classic Trains readers with their own collections of trip buttons, probably much better than mine. For whatever reason, I often missed the chance to get more. I probably forgot am...
1

It’s back to Ohio for NKP 765

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Is this the most promising year yet for restored mainline steam locomotives? You could make a good case. Obviously the revival of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 No. 4014 is 2019’s big deal, a prospect that, given the Big Boy’s long legend, will be impossible to eclipse. But there is also exciting work going on in shops other than Cheyenne: Santa Fe 4-8-4 No. 2926 in Albuquerque; C&O 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 in Ridgeley, W.Va.; NC&StL 4-8-4 No. 576 in Nashville; C&O 2-8-4 No. 2716 in Rave...
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Recalling UP’s idyllic Idaho Northern

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
With winter clinging to the upper Midwest in recent days, I’ve been noticing more than the usual number of trains-in-snow images on my Facebook feed. It seems like half the photographers I know are out in this deep freeze, depicting the time-honored battle between railroads and the brutal weather. All those snow shots sent me to the Classic Trains library, looking for my all-time favorite winter photograph, the one you see here, showing Union Pacific’s train 386, a mixed t...
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Paul Schneider always stirred the pot

Posted 4 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Most groups of friends have a hangout. Maybe it’s a friendly bar, or a comfortable coffee shop, or someone’s front porch.  For our motley little crew, it was the rickety old Milwaukee Road depot in Sturtevant, Wis., a village 23 rail miles south of Milwaukee. It was a fine place to watch trains at night. There was an old bench out on the brick platform, there for Amtrak passengers waiting to ride the Milwaukee–Chicago trains. The signals just north of the depot would tell...
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Searching in Georgia for DPM

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Fans of David P. Morgan know the Louisville & Nashville was his favorite railroad. As a teenager growing up in the Louisville neighborhood of Crescent Hill in the late 1930s, he swore allegiance to the Old Reliable and its passenger trains and steam locomotives. As if to bear witness to that faith, DPM gave Trains readers a regular dose of the L&N throughout his 33 years as editor. Who could forget the magazine’s issue-length tribute to the railroad’s M-1 “Bi...
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A sequel: a new station for Charleston

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
It’s not every day you encounter a brand-new passenger station — especially a substantial one — in America these days. But there I was this week, walking along a spotless concrete covered platform, hard by a busy double-track main line. Inside the main building, passengers were ensconced in a spacious, sparkling interior, enjoying comfortable new seats, soothed by indirect lighting. Outside, the building was surrounded by the raw material for what soon will be handsome (and sem...
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30th Street won’t be the same without Solari

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
In an article in the March 2011 issue of Trains, I made a claim that ruffled some feathers, namely that Philadelphia’s 30th Street is America’s finest railroad station. The story engendered a few howls, mostly from devotees of Grand Central Terminal and Los Angeles Union Station. I thought I was pretty careful in my criteria: the best station has to be busy; it has to be downtown; it has to offer both commuter and intercity service; it has to have classic architecture on a gran...
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Amfleet is headed for the history books

Posted 5 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I can’t recall the train or the location, but I distinctly remember my reaction the first time I boarded an Amfleet car in 1975. I probably said “wow.” That might surprise some who recall being underwhelmed by the new equipment. There was plenty to criticize, I suppose. They were austere in appearance, especially with those inside-bearing Pioneer trucks adapted from commuter service. The traditional Dutch doors in the vestibule were gone, replaced by automatic sliding doors th...
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A boxcar pitted us against DPM

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Among the handful of mementos that stare down at me each morning in my office, one grabs my attention most. It’s an HO-scale boxcar, bright yellow with a bright red Trains magazine logo on its flanks, sitting atop a section of track mounted on a small wooden base. I look at it frequently, occasionally dust it off, and treat it like a fragile and treasured work of art. A work of art? A bit of an exaggeration, you say? Not to me, not given the memories it conjures up — memor...
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Putting the ‘South Bend’ back in CSS&SB

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
They don’t call the South Shore Line “America’s last interurban” for nothing. There’s really nothing else in the U.S. that compares. Where else can you find an electric line occupying much of the exact footprint it did in 1908, wearing the same colors it has for perhaps a century (orange and maroon), running past steel mills and through cornfields, and still operating for a substantial distance in the street? Those are credentials of historic proportion. So when bi...
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Setting the bar for 2019

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. There are too many I should make, so I quickly run away and hide. But now that I have this very public blog, maybe listing a few will get me off the dime. Embarrassment is a great motivator. Of course, they all have to have that classic railroad flavor. Now that we’re already three days into 2019, here are a few I came up with: • Organize my slides. I can hear some friends laughing. “Keefe, you’re not a photograp...
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If the 'Texas' could talk

Posted 6 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The locomotive is mostly black now, but it sparkles as its brass fittings reflect the spotlights shining down from above and the sunlight streaming in from giant windows along West Paces Ferry Road. As you sit there on a bench, contemplating the machine filling the vast room in the Atlanta History Center, it’s possible to feel you’re in the company of royalty. That’s the reaction I had last week during an afternoon spent with Western & Atlantic 4-4-0 No. 12, famo...
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The gifts under the tree were stamped ‘NYC’

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
Anyone reading this blog probably does the same thing I do every year when it comes to the holiday season: associate it with trains. The festivities go hand in red glove with train travel, maybe some new railroad books, and probably most often an O-gauge train under the tree. I watch the movie A Christmas Story every year at least once, and my favorite moment is when we see Ralphie and his little brother falling asleep to the sounds of steam whistles in the wintry night. Writer Jean S...
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Amtrak fire sale is a tribute to Budd

Posted 7 months ago by Kevin Keefe
The car, Amtrak 8502, sits forlornly behind the old erecting halls at the Beech Grove Maintenance Facility outside Indianapolis. It’s a proud old diner, with a royal lineage. Once upon a time, it was part of a mighty fleet that momentarily transformed the fortunes of the American passenger train. The car carries its original name: Silver Cuisine. That word, silver! It conjures images of the original California Zephyr of 1949, the ultimate cruise train, a gleaming visio...

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