34

The road ahead for passenger rail

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
The outline of the next couple of years for passenger trains is now pretty clear. What I’m about to say will go down like unwanted medicine for most of you, so I’ll deliver the bad news quickly.   There will be no money. Governments, both state and federal, are close to broke. People are starting to sense that what happened to Greece and Ireland could happen here, too, in a few years. I can almost feel the reaction beneath my feet. Did you know that the personal sa...
16

The drawbridge to practically nowhere

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Railroad drawbridges are rare enough to attract my attention. But what about one that takes an industrial spur over the heavily navigated Illinois River west of Chicago? That’s a lot of maintenance and operating expense. What’s the “back story”?My tale begins a few weeks ago aboard an Iowa Interstate freight train slogging its way from Blue Island to Rock Island, Ill., using trackage rights over CSX. The tracks, until 1980 part of the Rock Island Lines main line from Chic...
13

Amtrak Guest Rewards baits the hook, and Fred bites

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
If anyone from Amtrak marketing is reading this, I have a message for you: Your “Ride 10 Trains, Get 10,000 Guest Reward Points” promotion takes over the minds of otherwise sensible people. I’m the evidence of it. I am ticketing myself aboard Amtrak trains about as fast as slot-machine junkies in Vegas can feed quarters into their monsters.   How did this happen anyway? When Amtrak announced the promotion at the start of October, I could care less. The deal f...
11

Looking inside the master bedroom of hell

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Many of you have ridden in the cab of steam locomotives. Those who have may cease reading this and return to what you were doing. The rest of you may enjoy this brief account of my adventure yesterday riding the Red Rooster, Iowa Interstate’s 24-year-old, made-in-China 2-10-2 steam locomotive.   It begins when a taxi drops me at the railroad’s Newton, Iowa, enginehouse (top photo), where the star of the show, Class QJ 7081, had been brought out of sleep by a crew...
12

The things I miss, and the things I never will

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I miss the F-unit diesel locomotive. It was an industrial icon, from the first FT in 1939 through the last FP9 in 1959, powered all those years by the 567-cubic-inch engine whose reliability made Electro-Motive the master of the locomotive universe. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine through freights being fronted by anything else but EMD’s biggest hit. Stand near one and you could inhale the sweetest perfume on earth, the pungent odor of diesel exhaust mixed with the invisible...
5

The train to Cordoba: What could possibly go wrong?

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
“When I was a girl growing up far south of Buenos Aires,” said the concierge at our hotel in Argentina’s capital, “the trains were so beautiful and fancy. To ride them was an event. Today? Eh! They are nothing.” I had asked her about the passenger train from Buenos Aires to Cordoba, 440 miles to the northwest. “There is no train to Cordoba,” she insisted with utter certainty. An hour later, I returned to our hotel to show her my sleeping ca...
5

Adventures on the Soo Line in North Dakota

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I nominate as the most underappreciated main line in America that of the former Soo Line, from Minneapolis northwest to the Canadian border at Portal, N.D. Now operated as part of Canadian Pacific (Soo Line Corp. survives only as the holding company for the U.S. property), it sees seven to eight freights each way a day, including Chicago-Vancouver, B.C. intermodal runs 198 and 199. What’s so special about the old Soo? Three of the four subdivisions from Minneapolis to Portal are d...
5

How political differences are killing a train

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
You want my opinion? Of course you do. Unless something big happens (and I don’t count on it ), Amtrak’s second state-supported round trip from Washington state to Vancouver, B.C., will be history in just over two weeks. And the reason will be that Canada takes a very different course toward paying for its transportation-related services than do governments in the U.S., and we Yankees don’t understand that new fact of life.I give credit to Christine Gregoire, the governor of Wa...
6

When will they name a locomotive after ME?

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
This just in: David Lustig, one of the most dogged reporters and fluid writers ever to grace the pages of Trains, now has a locomotive in Poland named after him. David, who authors the monthly Locomotives department and also contributes memorable feature stories to the magazine, got the news from Tom Tancula, vice president-mechanical of Rail World, owner of Rail Polska, a freight-service provider in Poland. The Rail Polska locomotive bearing his name, number 17,  was built in Russia...
4

Here comes the bride (again)

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
A few weeks ago I blogged about the wedding party in rural Virginia halted by a CSX freight train (see “We Interrupt This Wedding to Bring You a Freight Train,” Sept. 20). This is getting to be a habit, folks. I’m just back from Canada with another tale of Bride Meets Train. Calgary, Alta., was the location for this year’s meeting of the Lexington Group, an organization devoted to railroad history and operations. We spend a day as guests of Canadian Pacific Railwa...
14

UP lays down guidelines for new passenger services

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Union Pacific explained this week the guidelines under which it will entertain proposals to operate new passenger train services over its far-flung railroad. The takeaway message it leaves to would-be users of its track: Bring lots of money to the table.   Speaking in Calgary, Alta., John Rebensdorf, UP’s vice president of network planning and operations, told the Lexington Group, a rail history organization, that Union Pacific changed its policy in 2008 toward new pa...
5

Bitten by the call of the wild

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Travel is addictive. The more you leave home for pleasurable experiences, the greater the pull becomes. Isn’t that the essence of addiction? Now 21 months removed from my former day job, I learn just how true all of this is. Only two weeks ago I returned from a 9,147-mile circle of North America by rail. Yet here comes that old tug. It comes at unexpected moments. Tonight, by virtue of being married to a successful businesswoman, I accompany her to Track 20 of Washington Union Station, whe...
9

We interrupt this wedding to bring you a freight train

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Unlike many guys, I love weddings. I love the gaiety, the food, the drink, the pretty young women dressed to the nines, the dancing. So when we spot a wedding party leaving our hotel in New Orleans for the ceremony this past weekend, it brings to mind a scene I came upon exactly four years ago in Southside Virginia. I’d like to share the moment with you. I’m chasing trains along the CSX North End Subdivision, between Richmond, Va., and Rocky Mount, N.C., part of the so-called A Line...
3

Archie Robertson's long-ago world

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Before Lucius Beebe wrote Mixed Train Daily, years before David P. Morgan came to Trains magazine, and a generation before Don Phillips became the Potomac Pundit, there was Archie Robertson. Say who? Raised in Louisville, Ky., Robertson was a newspaper reporter, magazine writer, public relations man, and U.S. government employee. And all through his busy life, his travels took him to remote locales aboard obscure little railroads. In 1945, he chronicled all this in an enchanting 188-...
7

The world as viewed from Princeton Junction

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
There is no town of Princeton Junction; don’t bother phoning the mayor. It’s three platforms and acres of parking lots in West Windsor Township, just across U.S. Highway 1 from Princeton, N.J. And it’s where I find myself one recent morning as the rush toward New York City winds down.              This is one of those rare mid mornings, not hot and not cold, with just enough clouds above to make the day ...
24

Is a daily "Sunset Limited" worth $750 million?

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Union Pacific has told Amtrak that changing the Sunset Limited’s frequency from triweekly to daily will cost the government-supported company about $750 million in capital improvements. It’s fair to say the vice presidents at Amtrak headquarters in Washington, D.C., are reeling from sticker shock.   Here’s the back story: Earlier this year, Amtrak’s board of directors approved daily operation of the Sunset, with an eye toward an October inauguration. Th...
18

Take this train — please!

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I sure don’t want it. I nominate as the most overrated Amtrak train the vaunted Adirondack. I am riding it as I write, and if we go over much more jointed rail, I’ll need a kidney transplant.   First, what’s good about this New York-Montreal train? No. 1: it goes through some pretty little towns. No. 2: there is no No. 2. Some have reported that the Adirondack passes alongside picturesque Lake Champlain. I cannot confirm this, because I was directed in Mon...
35

Concerning the Old Woman and the Wobbly

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I am having lunch with John Willis Fuller at a greasy spoon in Alexandria, Va., when the conversation veers into railroad nicknames. He starts with one out of West Virginia that he knows a bit about: the defunct Fairmont, Morgantown & Pittsburgh, known as The Sheepskin Route, and mentions the Tavares & Gulf in his native central Florida, called the Tug & Grunt. That gets a grunt from me, and afterward, I begin exploring the subject. Most nicknames, I conclude, are pointless. Th...
3

West Texas railroading, then and now

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I well remember my first trip through West Texas on the Sunset Limited. It's early July 1972, Amtrak’s second summer, and I am headed east on No. 2. We get to Sanderson, then a crew-change point, and receive a train order reading something like this: FIRST 45 HAS RIGHT OVER NO 2 DEL RIO TO SANDERSONNO 2 MEET SECOND 45 AND THIRD 45 AT MOFETANO 2 TAKE SIDING MOFETA As that old song suggests, an irresistible force (the Sunset) met an immovable object (three sections of Southern Pacifi...
1

Unearthing the old Santa Fe in Illinois

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
More than 35 years have passed since I lived in Chicago, once home to the Santa Fe Railway. A lot has happened to both the city and the railroad; I’ve changed a bit, too. In a day’s time, I want to find, or at least remember, pieces of the Santa Fe that once was. My guides are my memories and the yellowing pages of a 1950 Illinois Division employee timetable.First stop: Dearborn Station, at the intersection of Dearborn and Polk Streets. The impressive façade and clock tower still stand, atop sho...
3

Scenes frozen in time: Penn Central in the Midwest

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
Railroad operating officials are not the book-writing sort. Rarer still is the Class I general manager or vice president of operations who spends his vacations taking photographs that are subsequently published as a tutorial of the property he manages. That’s what makes A Sampling of Penn Central so enlightening.              Jerry Taylor was general manager of New York Central’s Southern Region, headquartered in Indianapolis....
8

Mr. Mumble Mouth gets his comeuppance

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I leave the dentist's office yesterday morning with a new filling. The right lower quadrant of my jaw is sound asleep and paralyzed. Then the cell phone rings in my car. "Tsdaf'asdf pojr Fred" I mumble. "Fred, this is Wick Moorman." "Hi Wvpjasdf!" "Fred, are you having your wife start your car every morning, to be sure it's safe for you? You really should. Let's talk about your column."   Okay, the start-the-car remark is an...
6

All U.S. locomotives to be equipped with inflatable slides

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater certainly wove himself into the affections of many Americans with his mad-as-hell-and-ain’t-takin’-it bit to a planeload of passengers, whereupon he grabbed a beer or two, opened the plane’s hatch on a Kennedy International Airport taxiway, and slid down the inflatable chute to the tarmac and home. He had been involved in an altercation with a rude passenger. Imagine that, a rude airline passenger.   Something of the same sort happens o...
16

All is not well in Acelaland

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I am writing this from the first-class car of a Boston-bound Acela Express, thanks to the generosity of Amtrak Guest Rewards, which periodically mails its members upgrade coupons. My, this is a nice way to travel. Past the rooftops of Baltimore tenements. Past the inlets of Chesapeake Bay. (Thank you, ma’am, my Breakfast Egg Tart was delicious. Could you bring me a virgin mary, please?)  Over the Susquehanna River and through the farmland of Delaware. Past the suburbs of Philadelphia and th...
20

The man they called D.P.M.

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
If you began reading Trains magazine the past 20 years, you may wonder at the frequent mentions on its pages and online, almost always in reverential manner, of David P. Morgan, when in fact nothing he wrote for that magazine has appeared on its pages since 1993. He joined the staff of Trains in 1948, after military service, and was its editor from 1953 until his retirement in May of 1987. Morgan died in 1990. D.P.M., as he called himself in his many little notes and essays in each issue, k...
17

Why railroads will keep merging

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
My colleague Don Phillips, writing in the August issue of Trains magazine, is of the belief that railroad mergers have one or two more rounds to go. Don was taken by the statements from Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, chairman and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, owner of BNSF Railway, that end-to-end mergers still make sense and that the resulting companies would be manageable. Phillips then bounced this off “four of the smartest guys I know in the railroad game,” which cannot possibly b...
24

Lucius Beebe’s finest hour

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
From time to time, I want to reintroduce you to books about railroads I’d gladly take to that proverbial desert island. These are books I love to go back to open at random pages and begin reading. They’re like old friends to me, which means, unfortunately, that they are almost all out of print, some of them for well more than half a century. But a search in AbeBooks.com or Alibris.com should unearth them all. At the least, please be entertained as I ramble down these paths.  &n...
10

The lonely place people once called home

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
If you stray off New Mexico Highway 20 about a dozen miles south of Fort Sumner and stay close to the BNSF Railway tracks, you’ll eventually come upon a crumbling two-story building 100 yards north of the railroad. It was once an eight-room hotel and is all that’s left of the community called Ricardo. Today the name is associated with a set of crossovers two miles to the east on the Clovis Subdivision. I enjoy visiting Ricardo and living in my mind what life was like there a centur...
6

Ahead of the news on the Transcon

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
I learned long ago to pay attention to anomalies, that is, the totally unexpected. On a late Friday afternoon in 1962, I’m in the Santa Fe Railway tower in Holliday, Kan., waiting for the Chief, Kansas Cityan, and Tulsan to whiz by at five-minute intervals. But in front of them all, racing its way out of Kansas City, comes a four-unit set of FT diesels hauling 100 flatcars, each of them adorned with a U.S. Army tank. Most unusual! I ask Don, the second-trick operator, where the tra...
15

Train 21Q runs the Chicago gauntlet

Posted 8 years ago by Fred Frailey
One of the toughest jobs in railroading has to be dispatching the Chicago West desk of Norfolk Southern. It controls the double-track line from Porter, Ind., to the approach to Chicago Union Station, not quite 40 miles on what used to be Conrail’s east-west Chicago Line into the Windy City, and before that, the Water Level Route of New York Central. Within its boundary are three yards that concoct a stew of activity. You’ll see 14 Amtrak trains a day, several score of NS’s own frei...

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