Step in the Right Direction

Posted by George Hamlin
on Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Like many other railfans, I was pleased when the Norfolk Southern announced its “Heritage Unit” program in 2012, particularly based on their decision to use historically-correct paint schemes, adapted as necessary to conform to the shapes of present-day locomotives.  Yes, the original Union Pacific program was a nice step in that direction, although it combined elements from different eras, in some cases; Amtrak’s modest fortieth anniversary repainting of a small number of current locomotives in Amtrak’s own historic liveries was even better.

But the NS program, with twenty different paint schemes, played to a far greater extent on the emotional heartstrings than either UP’s or Amtrak’s more limited efforts.  Old favorites, such as Pennsy pinstripes and Tuscan red; New York Central’s lightning stripes; and Southern’s green and white returned to the rails.  Additionally, it was a very inclusive effort, including entities such as the Savannah and Atlanta (as a way to include the Southern’s “Tuxedo” scheme that replaced the green) and the Illinois Terminal, a livery seen by only a few fans previously.

Subsequent to the positive feedback from this initial effort, the NS has expanded its palette to include colorful schemes for the GoRail unit, and more recently, on selected DC-AC conversion units, a few of which sport blue, red and yellow cabs.  The NS also discovered a winner with its “Honoring Our Veterans”; Amtrak emulated this for both its diesel and electric power, and the NS has subsequently added First Responders, and their training vis-à-vis railroads, as well. 

The CSX, serving the same general area of the U.S. as the NS, elected to apply “Spirit” names reflecting the importance of various locations on its predecessor roads, including places like Grafton, West Virginia; Dante, Virginia; Waycross, Georgia; and the state of West Virginia.  More recently, in a modest nod to the NS Heritage program, the CSX has added stickers honoring a selection of its predecessor railroads to selected locomotives; however, they continue to operate in CSX liveries.  In addition, while modesty is often a virtue, this nice gesture can be missed easily if you’re not in close proximity to the unit; you’ll probably need to take my word that the accompanying photo of CSX 5461, leading Q410 north across the Susquehanna River at Perryville, Maryland, depicts it wearing the “Seaboard System” sticker on the unit’s nose.

However, in a major recent development, CSX has repainted two locomotives in special schemes that are similar in concept to a pair of the non-railroad NS special paint schemes, specifically, CSX 1776, in camouflage for our armed forces, and the 911, for first responders, in a snappy fire-engine red scheme.  While these technically are in the “Spirit of” series, the fact that they have distinct paint schemes effectively puts them in a different, heretofore unoccupied, class at their employer.  Could it be possible that the CSX is “backing” into the railroad heritage livery game?  If this is true, what can we do to encourage this happy development?

Think of the possibilities.  Some would be ‘repeats’, from the NS stable of heritage units, including Conrail, the Erie (and EL), Monongahela, NYC, Pennsy and Penn Central.  But after that, there is a lot of potential excitement, including Atlantic Coast Line purple; Seaboard Air Line “Citrus”; B&O and C&O variants: the Clinchfield.  Others, including the long-gone NC&StL and Western Maryland could be seen plying the rails again.  Fans of Southeastern roads could also look forward to the L&N, Georgia Road, West Point Route, and the RF&P; the Monon and P&LE would be seen again, and didn’t CSX inherent some former New Haven Railroad rights in the Conrail breakup?  For that matter, the miniscule Gainesville Midland currently rates a sticker; how about an entire locomotive?  Also needing to be considered would be the SCL, Family Lines, Seaboard System, and, of course, the return of Chessie the (railroad) cat. 

Let’s hope that the CSX succumbs to the heritage unit lure. Then, it will be time to turn our attention to what would be the sole U.S. “Big Four” railroad holdout at that point, the BNSF.  Chinese Red, anyone?  And maybe Warbonnets, version three?  Stay tuned!

(Photo by George W. Hamlin; CSX Q410 at Perryville, Maryland, September 16, 2016)

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