The autonomous barbarians are at the gate

Posted 12 days ago by Bill Stephens
Update, March 19: Starsky Robotics, one of the companies spotlighted in the "60 Minutes" report, has shut down. Read here to see why the company founder says the technology just isn't ready ... yet.  The CBS News show “60 Minutes” on Sunday night aired a segment on autonomous trucks. The report was startling not because of the topic but because it showed a truck navigating highways with no one in the cab. In this case, a picture (or video) is indeed worth a thousand words. Se...

Did You Get 'the' Shot?

Posted 13 days ago by George Hamlin
I suspect that most rail photographers have heard this question while out in the field, chasing, etc.  It usually occurs regarding a geographic location that you visited were while photographing railroad activities, in particular a specific train, piece of equipment, lighting conditions, etc. The implication is that the person interrogating you already has the scene in their mind’s eye, because they, and probably many other people have taken photos at other times there, and therefo...

Finding the will to make a giant leap

Posted 18 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
What will it take for the U.S. political climate to become favorable to the kind of massive federal outlay that is needed to truly bring our passenger train and rail transit systems into the 21st century, so that we can start to catch up with Western Europe, China and Japan? At this moment, with the stock market tanking, coronavirus fears gripping much of the public’s attention, and an administration and Senate that vary between indifference and hostility to rail investment, it’s har...

CN’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad start to the year

Posted 27 days ago by Bill Stephens
It would be hard to imagine a worse start to the year for Canadian National, whose volume is down 16% due to a string of events that’s mostly odd, unrelated, and unrelenting. CN is taking it on the chin, as no other North American railroad has seen its volume fall by more than 10% this year and rival Canadian Pacific’s traffic is up 10%. First, there was Mother Nature. Winter arrived in January with eight days of deep cold in Western Canada, forcing CN to restrict train length. Then...

How Many More Sunsets?

Posted 28 days ago by George Hamlin
No, I don’t have any better idea than you.  While I suspect that this former Norfolk & Western CPL (color position light) signal at Waynesboro, Virginia is on the proverbial “borrowed time” (and I’ve heard the rumors on the nearby outposts of the railfan grapevine (electronic version) that this year will be the last for the remaining CPLs on the former Shenandoah Line between Front Royal, Virginia, and Roanoke), I’m not aware of any official announcem...

Midway through the 1960s

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) The decade of the 1960s was bracketed, essentially, in U.S. railroading by a pair of “loss” events:  the demise of mainline steam at the outset of the time period, followed by the elimination, for all practical purposes, of the private, railroad-owned and operated passenger train in the first half of 1971.  To be sure, the ‘60s also were a time of political upheaval; a return to U.S. involvement in an overseas war; and significant cultur...

1309’s difficult past – and prosperous future

Posted one month ago by John Hankey
I have been a little shocked, and greatly dismayed. I am deep into my sixth decade of serious work in railroad preservation, and have never seen the kinds of unwarranted criticism, vitriol, and downright nastiness directed towards the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and its project to return former C&O 2-6-6-2 No, 1309 to service. The railroad does not deserve it. WMSR recently announced a campaign to raise the final few hundred thousand dollars needed to get the locomotive into operation....

Financial engineers at the throttle

Posted one month ago by Bill Stephens
Railroads employ locomotive engineers, civil engineers, and financial engineers. The first two make the railroad work. And the third? Well, to varying degrees they’ve got their hands on the throttle at the four U.S. Class I railroads that are embracing Precision Scheduled Railroading. Consider that CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific each spent more buying back shares last year than they spent to maintain and expand their networks. In some cases a...

Details and Detailing

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
In my mid-October 2019 blog, “Red, White and Green”, I featured the photography of my friend Mel Lawrence.  While Mel is probably better-known for his extensive and evocative airliner photography from the 1950s and 60s, he also was a railfan, and photographed trains, equipment, structures and other railroad scenes, as well. Sadly, in October 2019 Mel passed away, a few days subsequent to his 82nd birthday.  Since he was active in the slide trading/selling communities, I ...

Warp and Woof

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
The website dictionary.com defines this idiom as follows:  The essential foundation or base of any structure or organization; from weaving, in which the warp — the threads that run lengthwise — and the woof — the threads that run across — make up the fabric: “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the warp and woof of the American nation.” Using the technique of weaving, it’s possible to construct works th...

CRRC remains a threat to railcar suppliers

Posted 2 months ago by Bill Stephens
CRRC, the Chinese railcar and locomotive manufacturer, remains a threat to the North American rail supply industry despite a new ban on federal spending for railcars built by companies owned or controlled by the Chinese government. CRRC's corporate parent is a state-owned enterprise that has used subsidies from Beijing to help it win nearly $3 billion in federal and state contracts to supply nearly 750 cars for transit projects in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. “They have...

Seeing through the dust

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
We connoisseurs of train travel have certain expectations of the passenger train operators we patronize. Most of us probably have an ideal in our head for the type of train we’re planning to ride and are at least subconsciously measuring our actual experience against this archetype. However, when it comes to train travel in the United States in the early 21st Century, most of us have learned to come with subdued expectations. To compare Amtrak with the Orient Express, for example, is a foo...

Going-Away Shot

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
Disclaimer:  not everyone likes them.  Admittedly, if what you’re most interested in is a view of the front of the leading locomotive, you’re out of luck.  On the other hand, if you want to get a sense of where a train is heading, this pose is for you.  And, as a bonus, with a modest amount of planning, you can get that coming-at-you wedge and take a going away shot.  Case in point, looking at Amtrak’s Texas Chief arriving Joliet, Illinois, nearing...

How will you remember 2019?

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
Years from now, how will we look back at railroading in 2019?  Will it be remembered as the year that Precision Scheduled Railroading took hold on Class I railroads across America? Or the year when railroads finally got their act together on Positive Train Control? Or the year when railroading took its first significant steps toward automation? Looking back at the last 12 months, it could very well be any of those things and, honestly, it might be hard to know for sure right now.  Wh...

European railroads see climate change as an opportunity

Posted 3 months ago by Bill Stephens
Railroads across the pond see a huge opportunity to gain freight and passenger volume as part of a European Green Deal that aims to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Last month the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, their version of our Association of American Railroads, argued that boosting rail’s share of the freight market to 30% by 2030, up from 17% today, would go a long way toward making transportation carbon-free by 2050.  Already, the CE...

Not in the Public Timetable

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
While I made a number of trips to Monroe, Virginia, the Southern Railway’s division-point yard north of Lynchburg, during my college years, the dismal-looking afternoon of January 23, 1969 was the only time that I either saw or photographed this train, number 21.  It and northbound counterpart 22 were the mail-and-express runs on the Washington-Atlanta main line, with 21 departing Washington, DC’s Union station in the early afternoon, while 22 left Monroe early in the mornin...

The Neighbo(u)rhood Has Changed

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
According to its current proprietor, the Toronto Railway Historical Association (TRHA), “A switcher type locomotive, CP Rail 7020 (class DS10-b, serial 72855) looks like she was 'ridden hard and put away wet' ".  (Background/historical information was taken from the group’s excellent webpage, http://www.trha.ca/locomotives.html). Delivered in October 1944, the 7020 was both a “war baby”, and, by birth, a Yank.  Built by Alco in Schenectady, New York, this m...

Being somewhere, even if only for a minute

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
One of my favorite aspects of train travel is that, when looking out a train window — or even better, in a dome, on an open platform or at an open Dutch door — you feel like you’re in a place rather than just passing through. This is especially true when an on-board narrator or written route guide informs you about what you are seeing. I was reminded of this when, in the middle of a two-week business trip to Oklahoma City this month, I rented a car to drive from there to the Oz...

F-units aren't Forever?

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
Since their regular-service advent in the 1940s, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the statement above might not have been true.  Those of us that can be classified as “Boomers” (in the non-railroad sense of this word) grew up with them and their ubiquity; for us, they have always been part of the North American railroad/railway landscape, so it would have been a waste of time to contemplate that this might turn out to be correct at some point in our lifespans. ...

BNSF's art collection captures the American West

Posted 4 months ago by Bill Stephens
When you walk past four stainless steel passenger cars and into the visitor’s entrance to the BNSF Railway headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, it’s immediately clear the company is proud to be a railroad – and is equally proud of its long history. The museum-like reception area is filled with railroad artwork and artifacts, from drumheads and steam locomotive diagrams to track components and a velocipede. The BNSF campus also is home to a magnificent 800-plus piece art col...

White flag of surrender

Posted 4 months ago by Bill Stephens
From a volume standpoint, the third quarter was a doozy. Railroad traffic slumped for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was increased competition from trucks. If there was a theme on the Class I railroad earnings calls last month it was that volume is not going to get better until trucking capacity tightens sometime in the middle of 2020. It’s a point driven home by the ratings agency Moody’s, which now projects rail traffic will fall by as much as 3% next year. But here...

By the Dawn's Early Light, Times Two

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
Those of you that know me, or have seen my photographic work online, including on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgehamlin/), are aware that a location that I frequent in our local area is Neabsco, where CSX’s Washington-Richmond, Virginia main line crosses the creek of the same name on a high trestle, just east of the point where the stream flows into the Potomac River. Broadside shots here favor afternoons (unless you have access to a boat), since the bridge is roughly on ...

115 years later, the New York City subway still amazes

Posted 5 months ago by Justin Franz
On Oct. 27, 1904, at approximately 2:35 p.m., “New York’s dream of rapid transit became a reality.” At that moment, Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. piloted the first run of the New York City subway, known as the Interborough Rapid Transit Company. The mayor was originally only supposed to serve as motorman for a few stops, but according to an account by the New York Times, he had so much fun that he stayed at the controls from City Hall all the way to the 103rd Street Station. T...

What makes Precision Scheduled Railroading different?

Posted 5 months ago by Bill Stephens
Three times in the past month I have heard rail executives utter the same phrase about Precision Scheduled Railroading: “It’s not rocket science.” And when you listen to skeptics of PSR, you get the feeling that the operating model is nothing more than Railroading 101. Case in point: Earlier this year BNSF Railway’s chief executive, Carl Ice, said that most of what PSR railroads do – setting schedules for individual cars, focusing on terminal dwell, running lo...

Red, White and Green

Posted 5 months ago by George Hamlin
Outliers; interlopers.  These, and other terms signifying the unexpected and/or unusual certainly apply to the subject matter of this color photo taken by my friend, and well-known photographer, Mel Lawrence, at Washington, DC’s Ivy City engine terminal, on May 16, 1978.  In a number of ways, neither Amtrak 52 nor Southern 6901 belong here this late in the 1970s. Both, of course, pre-dated the advent of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.  The Southern Railway ...

A route of superlatives through B.C.’s heart

Posted 5 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
[Part 2 of 2 - read Part 1 here] After hitting a local microbrewery and getting a few solid hours of sleep in a quiet cabin just outside of Jasper, we were up early the next morning and back at the historic station by 6:15 AM, ready to board Rocky Mountaineer for my first time. From the moment we checked in with Rocky’s staff, we knew we were going to be in the lap of luxury. We were embarking on a three-day journey that included two hotel nights in cities along the way, and not only were...

Hunger Pangs and Heartaches

Posted 5 months ago by George Hamlin
Yesterday, October 1, 2019, was the end of a long passenger railroading tradition in the U.S., with the arrival of the final ‘staffed’ dining car on Amtrak’s eastern routes.  My friend Ralph Spielman provides more details: http://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/10/02-staffed-dining-cars-make-last-runs-on-eastern-amtrak-routes Earlier in the northbound Crescent’s run I had been able to photograph its Viewliner diner performing this mission, as seen in the pho...

Two days on a four-car streamliner across northern B.C.

Posted 6 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
[Part 1 of 2] I returned a week and a half ago from an excursion to western Canada to travel over two new (to me) and reportedly scenic rail routes and to sample VIA Rail Canada’s Touring Class service and one of the offerings of Rocky Mountaineer, a private luxury rail tour operator that, in part, competes with government-supported VIA for the international tourist market in the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. The trip was timed around my birthday, but also to take advantage of le...

The Great Retreat

Posted 6 months ago by Bill Stephens
Over the past two years, three of the Big Four U.S. rail systems have dropped intermodal service between hundreds of points, curtailed steelwheel interchange in Chicago and other gateways, and de-emphasized or even closed some intermodal terminals. By one analyst’s estimate, these service reductions represent 1 point’s worth of the 4% year-to-date decline in intermodal volume. You could call this the Great Retreat.  This trend, part of the industry’s embrace of Precision ...

Photography of Trains

Posted 6 months ago by George Hamlin
Recently, I’ve given a presentation to several groups that has a one-word title: “Trains”.  The presentation’s subtitle (no, not a reference to foreign language translation) sheds more light on the content, however: “A less locomotive-centric look at railroad photography”. Railfan photographers often concentrate their efforts on the locomotive(s) leading the train; the typical “grade crossing wedge” has the train’s consist trailing off ...

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