25

Amtrak and CHSRA team up for new high speed trains

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Amtrak and the California High Speed Rail Authority are joining forces this coming week to begin the process of ordering up to 62 sets of high-speed trains for use in both the Northeast Corridor and in the Golden State. Thirty-two of the train sets would be earmarked for the NEC, for use at speeds up to 160 mph, and the others for California. As of now, the plan is to announce on Thursday, January 17, a request for information (RFI) to get input from builders of such trains, almost all of them ...
26

Ed Ellis and Pullman Rail Journeys

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
The railroad career of Edwin Earl Ellis has been anything but common and ordinary. He started two short-line conglomerates (and was fired by the first one). He bootstrapped Amtrak’s mail and express business into a $150 million-a-year behemoth that created 46-car Southwest Chiefs and 25-car Lake Shore Limiteds (and as thanks, was fired again). But say what you want about Ed Ellis, he has tenacity. Now begins the most audacious — some would say foolhardy — part of his remarkabl...
26

The education of a train watcher

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
I was west of Topeka today, more than half way from Virginia to the Colorado Rockies, driving a steady 79 on Interstate 70 and admiring the layer of snow the season’s first storm had delivered the day before, when I saw the exit sign: McFarland 1 MILE McFarland! Oh my goodness. The memory of that evening some 50 years ago came rolling down like a Big Sur wave and washed over me. Growing up, there wasn’t an interlocking tower or other 24-hour office in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, or ...
16

We have a winner

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
Thanks to all of you for acting as my travel agents. A week ago I asked for your best ideas for getting me from Sarasota, Fla., on February 19 to Vancouver by 8:30 p.m. on February 22, to ride VIA Rail Canada’s train No. 2, the Canadian, with 55 of my nearest and dearest friends. I thought I had all the best ideas covered. How much I underestimated you. I was offered dinners, cab rides, and even speaking engagements. One of you, I believe, even remembered my love of a dry martini. Your im...
47

A Republican governor who gets it

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
A happy group of people rode what I dub The Celebration Train to Norfolk this week, the day before start of daily Amtrak service between points on the Northeast Corridor and Norfolk, Va. Nobody was happier than I. You see, Virginians love passenger trains and prove it every day. And we have a conservative Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, who understands this and is supportive. Six short-distance trains, all of them extensions of NEC trains to or from Boston or New York, now ply CSX and Norfo...
47

A contest: Get Fred to Vancouver

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
My friend Bill Schafer, retired recently as a Norfolk Southern poobah, is having a party on February 22. You’re invited, by the way. The party starts on VIA Rail Canada’s Canadian leaving Vancouver, B.C., on that evening and ends four nights and three days later in Toronto, unless the 55 travelers signed up so far raise such a ruckus that we’re all expelled to the clutches of the Mounties in some inaccessible spot on the Canadian Shield and get thrown into a Northern Ontario du...
98

The Interstate 95 conundrum

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
I spent much of this week watching trains on the CSX North End Subdivision, between Richmond, Va., and Rocky Mount, N.C. Usually, you can count on spotting on this heavily trafficked, mostly single-track line the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, their names being Hunger, Death, Pestilence, and Unexpected Delays. But they and their black stallions were nowhere to be seen this time. The North End Sub operated like a well cleaned watch, the dispatchers seemingly trained by Peter Josserand (Rights o...
27

Fred Frailey's first Darwin Awards

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
As you know, Englishman Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a naturalist who popularized the idea of survival of the fittest. Those species who could evolve and deal with change survive, he said, while those that cannot perish. These two awards honor his memory. First, to the docks at the Port of Los Angeles. The 800 members of Local 63 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are perhaps the highest paid clerical workers in the world. To shuffle paper, they are paid $165,000 to work eight...
25

The day we import corn . . .

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
The U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of corn. To put this in its most basic perspective, corn is a major foundation of our economy. We export oceans of the stuff. The portion we feed to livestock keeps meat affordable. So I was struck by a press release I read the other day. A ship containing four trainloads of Brazilian corn had docked at Port Manatee, near Tampa, Fla., to sell to American customers, for animal feed. Hello? What kind of bad dream is this? We sell you corn, you being ...
32

The Florida East Coast miracle

Posted 6 years ago by Fred Frailey
We’re learning more about the Miami-Orlando passenger service that Florida East Coast is ramping up, thanks most recently to release of an environmental impact statement covering the 66 miles between downtown Miami and West Palm Beach. Forgive me if I seem to obsess on this subject, but had you told me a year ago that this would happen I would have laughed you down, declaring that no private company would be so foolhardy to attempt this without heavy government subsidy. As a matter of fac...
41

What's bigger than coal in rail's future?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Within eight years, the biggest producer of oil in the world will be … yes, the United States of America. Bigger than Saudi Arabia and any of the other sheikdoms. So says the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based organization that The Wall Street Journal describes as a highly regarded source of information on global energy policies. Moreover, the IEA also predicts that by 2030 natural gas will be an even bigger source of energy in the U.S. than oil. All this flows from the revolutio...
24

Transformation of the Canadian

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
As VIA Rail Canada begins scaled-back winter service on its flagship train, the Toronto-to-Vancouver Canadian, I read a lot of angst online about its future. Starting this month until next April, the train will depart just two days a week rather than the previous three days. Yet I think the future of this train looks pretty secure for at least the next four years. The reason is that the Canadian government has pledged $34 million (all dollar amounts are Canadian) to create an entirely new class ...
19

My favorite railroad commercial, ever

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
How long has it been since you’ve been drawn in and captivated by a railroad’s television commercial, one that makes a strong point and yet is entertaining and, yes, enjoyable? I went so far in one of my first columns for Trains to write that to most people, “railroads are big, impersonal, faceless entities that wake you up at night when you don’t want to be romanced by a whistle and block your way home as 170 cars roll by at 15 mph.” The point I was making is that ...
10

Doug Riddell's new gig

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I got to know Doug Riddell just like many of you did, through his monthly column in the pages of Pacific Rail News and subsequently Rail News. A locomotive engineer most of his adult life (and before that a radio disc jockey), Doug’s true calling is storytelling. Doug can spin more railroad stories than Santa Claus has Christmas presents. I once asked two Washington, D.C., based Amtrak engineers whether they knew Doug Riddell. Both nodded yes. Does he ever stop talking, I inquired? Both sh...
3

Conrail under a lucky star

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
The New York-New Jersey railroad complex is a mess, following Hurricane Sandy. Subways are flooded in lower Manhattan. So are Amtrak’s tunnels under the Hudson River and at least one of the tunnels leading east to Long Island. New Jersey Transit experienced “unprecedented devastation,” says its board chairman. And Consolidated Rail Corp., the switching railroad in the middle of all this in North Jersey? Reports president Ron Batory: “We’re resuming operations tomorr...
17

One more thought about Three Thoughts

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
It is fun to watch you folks have at it (and each other) in (mostly) good-humored fun. But I want to chime in again. Several of you chastised me for my criticism of Amtrak’s complete Northeast Corridor shutdown Sunday night. And upon reflection, I think, those of you critical me on this point were absolutely right. It was the right thing for Amtrak to do. In light of subsequent events, it was also Amtrak’s only sensible option. Amtrak may (I don’t know) end up relatively undam...
41

Three thoughts (while waiting for the lights to go out)

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
One nice thing about living in western Kansas or Nebraska is that you’ll never lose power due to downed trees. Here in northern Virginia we have trees, lots of them. Any storm worthy of the name topples trees onto power lines and there goes electrical power for a few days. Tonight, with Hurricane Sandy nearing, it’s just a matter of time. So here’s what I’ve been thinking . . . In hindsight, the disaster that was Canadian Pacific was as plain and stark as a deer in the h...
37

Birth of a new railroad corridor

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Most of you have never heard of Avard. It’s in northwest Oklahoma, just shy of that state’s panhandle. I’ve been there many times. Worst of all is to arrive by dirt road to discover, as I always seem to do, that your fuel tank is on the far-south side of empty. The town could once boast of a two hotels, a bank, grain elevator, and livestock auction lot. Prosperity ended in the 1930s, thanks to the Dust Bowl and a couple of tornadoes. Its population in 2000: a mere 26. By my est...
12

The Benny, a.k.a. get off your ass

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Cathie and I drove to Roundup River Ranch this past weekend to see a caboose she has christened “The Benny,” in memory of her younger brother Bobby Bennett, a.k.a. Benny to his friends. I’ll tell you about The Benny, then explain why it should matter to you who follow this blog. Four years ago, a friend invited us to a cocktail party in Colorado’s Vail Valley. It was, in fact, a fundraising party for a camp for children with chronic or life-threatening diseases, a camp m...
39

We're not ready for high-speed rail

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
My friend, the historian Carlos Schwantes, has written a slew of rail-related books, including The West The Railroads Made and Just One Restless Traveler: Reflections on Trains & Travel. I’m prepared to accept his word on just about anything and was taken aback by his views on high-speed rail in the United States. He spoke last week at the annual meeting of the Lexington Group, in Peoria, Ill. Schwantes, a professor of history at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, maintains that ou...
14

Amtrak's pioneers speak out

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
A memorable part of this year’s Lexington Group meeting, held in Peoria, Ill., was a panel of former Amtrak officers moderated by Bill Howes, who ran pre-Amtrak passenger services for the Baltimore & Ohio and Chesapeake & Ohio railroads. Bill asked them what they enjoyed about their Amtrak years and what frustrated them. Here is an edited version of their remarks (the event lasted the greater part of two hours), plus my occasional comments. John Baesch. John was a transportation s...
16

The world according to McClellan

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I enjoy Jim McClellan’s speeches. Hell, I enjoy Jim McClellan’s company. First of all, he has a finely developed sense of humor, which he likes to turn on himself. More important, Jim has this talent for distilling huge numbers of facts and ideas into simple truisms. Finally, like Zelig, he had this talent for appearing at so many critical junctures of railroad history the past half century. He was present at the development of what became Santa Fe’s Super C, the fastest freigh...
65

The world's oldest argument

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Actually, the world’s oldest argument goes like this: If a tree falls deep in the forest and nobody knows, is it still the husband’s fault? But here’s one almost as old: Is Amtrak worth it? I’ve been reading the manuscript of a book Indiana University Press will publish, by retired Norfolk Southern corporate strategist Jim McClellan, who during a stint of government service in 1970-71 was present at the creation of Amtrak. He notes that “the debate about rail passen...
8

Rail travel writing worth reading

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I was quick to anger a few weeks ago when I came upon a shoddy piece of work done by a Frommer’s Travel writer, whose descriptions of “five scenic adventures” on Amtrak revealed a lack of preparation (see “Been There, Done That, This Is Crap,” August 22). So I feel a lot better recommending to you a well researched online article that benefits from good input and solid reporting. I’m talking about “All Aboard: Railroad Adventures for Every Budget,&rdquo...
81

Southwest Chief: My parting shot

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Wow, I’m never leaving on vacation again. You folks really kicked up the dust in response to my blog two weeks ago (see “Where Is The Southwest Chief Headed?” Sept. 3). The back and forth dialogue was furious and sometimes ferocious. For the most part, this is what I like most about posting my thoughts on this venue: I have my say, then let you have yours. However, before I get to my point, a word to everyone: Please don’t call each other names. When you say nasty words ...
7

The perfect cruise

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
I’ve been MIA again the past two weeks. Cathie and I spent several days in northern Italy and then a week on a (ahem) luxury cruise ship calling at mostly small towns on the Croatian side of the Adriatic Sea. What’s not to like about this? Nothing at all! Who of us doesn’t like to be licked by the velvet tongue of indulgence? Still, it was not my idea of the perfect cruise. I thought a long time about what was bugging me. The drill was that every morning we’d be in a dif...
136

Where is the Southwest Chief headed?

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
Developments last week deepened Amtrak’s dilemma about how to sustain its Chicago-Los Angeles Southwest Chief. The states of Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico told the passenger train company they won’t ante up the $10 million of so needed by the start of 2016 to maintain tracks over which the train operates between Newton, Kan., and Lamy, N.M., over Raton and Glorieta passes. The problem is this: The present route is little used by host railroad BNSF Railway or (from LaJunta, Colo.,...
13

Fred games the Auto Train

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
The other day I de-boarded Amtrak’s Auto Train in Lorton, Va. But instead of proceeding to the station for the long wait to get my car, I hung back and watched. Soon enough, my hunch was confirmed. Pumped up with self-satisfaction, I sauntered up to another passenger about my age also watching the switching of the auto-carrying cars. “I’ve figured it out,” I told this total stranger. “That’s great,” he replied, not looking up. “Figured out what?&...
12

Train time in Florida never gets old

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
It has been (hmm) maybe a quarter of a century since Amtrak has operated a substantial New York-Florida train worthy of the Seaboard Air Line and Atlantic Coast Line streamliners. I was fortunate to ride those trains during the winters of 1969-71, after SAL-ACL had combined as Seaboard Coast Line. Santa Fe’s Super Chief had nothing on the Silver Meteor, Silver Star and Champion (I never sampled the winter-only Florida Special). Amtrak continued all four trains initially (the Special only ...
34

Been there, done that, this is crap

Posted 7 years ago by Fred Frailey
There is nothing I hate worse than to say a fellow journalist is full of it. But that is the fillup I offer Alexis Flippin of Frommer’s Travel. Lady, do your homework, or leave us alone. On AARP’s web site, Frommer’s offers up “Outside Your Picture Window,” the five best scenic adventures on Amtrak. Okay, opinions do differ. But if you have any sensitivity to the subject, you have to be put off by the Thomas-The-Tank-Engine-type illustration that AARP put up for th...

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy