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Investing sweat equity and reaping dividends

Posted 17 hours ago by Malcolm Kenton
I was rousted awake at 4:30 AM on Saturday morning. I was aching all over, and my weekend of volunteer manual labor had barely started. I had managed to sleep for three hours sitting (well, slumping) in a lounge chair on the Wisconsin Valley, an ex-Milwaukee Road car belonging to the Friends of the 261 in Minneapolis. The car was sitting in the Rocket Yard, Metra’s former Rock Island coach yard on Chicago’s south side. It had arrived there at 8:30 PM on Friday night as part of the co...

As close to 'real' as it gets

Posted 2 days ago by Hayley Enoch
It should have been a grand celebration.Several decades have elapsed since a steam locomotive visited Joliet, Illinois  and Chicago's LaSalle Street Station. This weekend, though, the 765 is bringing that drought to a close. The exact moment at which that clock was reset comes in the early morning, a few hours in advance of the Joliet Rocket's first departure. The crew has the need to bring the train down to the station to practice lining the train up at the platform and making a f...

Unexpected, but meaningful big steam encounters

Posted 6 days ago by Hayley Enoch
"It looks like it’s heavier than the stuff on the rails today, doesn't it?"   A pair of van drivers have wandered up to the side track where the 765 and its train have halted, in repose but tumescent with enough steam to lift the safety valves at least once. For a time they watch from a distance, arms folded across their chests, rolling their body weight from their ankles to the balls of their feet, watching raindrops evaporate into little cotton-puffs of steam as they fall onto ...

It's All About Money

Posted 8 days ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) It used to look better than it did in the photo above, which was taken in July 2012; here’s a better-looking example from the year 2000:  For that matter, it looked considerably different at points earlier in its career, as well.  For what appears to be a New York Central E8 in the classic “lightning stripe” passenger livery is in fact “none of the above”.  Wh...

Things are Looking Up at the Texas State Railroad

Posted 11 days ago by Hayley Enoch
To say that the Texas State Railroad has had a turbulent spring would be an understatement to the same degree as confusing the 610, the railroad's resident Texas & Pacific 2-10-4, with a diminutive Hunslet switcher.  The future of the East Texas railroad has been uncertain since January, when a press release sent in error to numerous media outlets stated that the railroad was closing indefinitely and all of its employees had been laid off.  The first part was soon stated to be fal...

What happens where the wheel meets the rail (conference)

Posted 16 days ago by Tyler Trahan
This week in Montreal, railroad professionals are meeting to learn from each other about the interaction between flanged wheels and steel rails at the 23rd annual Wheel-Rail Interaction conference. Trains Magazine is the presenting sponsor again this year, the magazine's sixth year.And the conference is just as focused and technical as it sounds.On Tuesday, presenters immersed about 75 attendees in the physics and math behind phenomena such as rolling contact fatigue, wheel creepage, truck hun...

Donate before you shoot

Posted 17 days ago by Justin Franz
Last weekend, Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 was steaming through Minnesota and North Dakota. In two weeks, Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765 will be storming across Chicagoland. And a week after that, Southern Pacific No. 4449 will be rolling through the stunning Columbia River Gorge. Along the way, thousands of railroad enthusiasts will be trackside looking for that perfect shot. I’ll be there too, shooting No. 4449 as it runs from Portland to Bend and back. But before I pack my bags for ...

What's in a Name?

Posted 22 days ago by George Hamlin
Once, many of the passenger cars in the U.S. displayed distinctive names, in addition to  indicating the railroad that owned them.  In some cases, the naming custom effectively replaced the more mundane assignment of a specific number as an identifying device; sometimes both were used, an example being the New York Central, which by the 1960s was routinely including both on the sides of its by-then mostly streamlined fleet. Utilizing a custom that began with the widespread use of ...

Exploring the backyard

Posted 24 days ago by Justin Franz
I was sitting in my living room one night last week, when the sound of two GP38s kicking cars wafted through the window. I looked outside and saw the sky lit up by a setting sun and decided to grab my camera bag and walk outside. Two minutes later, I was on the overpass that crosses BNSF Railway’s Whitefish, Mont. yard shooting photos of the two locomotives switch a ballast train while a grain train came in off the main line. While the light was beautiful, the pesky chainlink fence on the ...

Extreme Nausea

Posted one month ago by David Lester
Apparently, there is a lot of nausea in Washington, D.C. these days.  The former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently told Congress that it made him “mildly nauseous” to think that his actions may have impacted the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  A longtime confidante of Donald Trump said last week that the president bowing to the King of Saudi Arabia made him “want to puke.”   After reading reports about and sectio...

A streamliner in middle Tennessee

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
If you are along the former Tennessee Central line east of Nashville on a Saturday between spring and fall, you might chance to see an apparition from a half-century ago: a long, gleaming stainless steel streamlined passenger train, complete with a dome car, pulled by a 1953-built ex-New York Central E-unit. You can even buy a very affordable ticket and ride on it on a round-trip from Nashville to a picturesque small town along the route, with eating and shopping to be done downtown during a two...

Pizza is nice, but complete information is essential

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
A story about a Wilmington, Del.-area pizza shop delivering pies to passengers on stranded Amtrak Northeast Regional train 161 on Sunday evening has been making the rounds on social media. The story touched a nerve that has been opened in the wake of many other recent stories about travel mishaps, particularly the dragging of a passenger off of a United Airlines flight to make way for deadheading crew members. Particularly in the Northeast, where most are familiar with Amtrak and many have exper...

Non-Traditional View

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
I’m surprised that I took this photo, at Suffern, New York, in June 1965.  Hardly a ‘traditional’ three-quarter shot of railroad equipment, that’s for certain; as well as the horror of the details obscured by the wires between me and the trains.  What possessed me to seek out this overhead view (or how, exactly, we got up there) is now lost to me.  The photo resulted from inducing the driver to stop at Suffern for me to see the rail facilities there whi...

The music of the rails

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
Last weekend, I was at one of my favorite bars in town, the appropriately named Great Northern Bar & Grill in Whitefish, Montana, listening to one of my favorite cover bands, the Cold Hard Cash Show. Having a favorite cover band might sound like an oxymoron, but the Cold Hard Cash’s “tribute to the late, great Johnny Cash” really is a show worth the $5 cover. After all, how many cover bands can say they’ve played The Late Show? During the show, I announced to no on...

Thoughts On Promontory Summit

Posted one month ago by Hayley Enoch
Measured against the other spots where American history took a pivot--Fort Sumter, the Grassy Knoll, Ground Zero--Promontory Summit can seem somewhat underwhelming. The historic sight doesn't offer much more than a guest building,  an engine shed shouldering itself against the wind, and a few plaques and benches placed around the yellow plank that marks the spot where in 1869 Leland Stanford drove the last spike in the Transcontinental Railroad . The right-of-way hugs the ground a...

Mail and Rail

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
Once, these two, mail and rail, were an item.  In many ways, they were inseparable, at least if any significant distance was involved.  Mail needed rail both to get where it was going, at least beyond local office limits, and to arrive at the destination in a timely manner, i.e. faster than the Pony Express. Rail, passenger version, depended on the mail to provide an economic underpinning for many services.  When the death throes of the RPO (Railway Post Office) occurred in 1...

It’s alive and well where it all began

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
My fiancée and I have been talking about where we should go on our honeymoon. England is high on my list of ideal vacation spots but she keeps shooting it down because she believes a honeymoon should include plenty of sunny beach time (as a fair skinned redhead, I disagree). But it’s also because she probably knows I have an ulterior motive: I want to see Britain's steam railways. Now, as a good, red blooded American, I’ll still take a meaty Reading T-1 or a stylish Souther...

A gallop or a crawl: Is there a "right" speed for steam excursions?

Posted one month ago by Hayley Enoch
UP 844 approaches Pocatello, Idaho at a steady clip. I-84 in southern Idaho is typical of American highways. The asphalt fills up a channel first carved out by railroads, and in modern times there are many places where you can still see freight trains right from the highway. On most days, the intermodal trains that appear to make up the majority of the cargo on the sub offer a good illustration of the symbiotic nature of different modes of transportation. Today, though, the 844 and the ...

Big welcomes from small towns

Posted 2 months ago by Hayley Enoch
Crowds greet No. 844 in Gooding, Idaho.Wrack your brains and list off the big cities in Idaho. Not many come to mind: Boise and its suburbs pull in more than 650,000 residents, a respectable sum but modest in comparison to other state capitals.  Geographically inclined individuals might suggest Pocatello as a secondary offering, but barely 83,000 people call this metropolitan area home. The Union Pacific's Boise Turn will take the 844 and the company excursion train to bot...

Railroads connect our economy and one another

Posted 2 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
Buried in a garden of southern California wildflowers, I chatted with friends old and new. I was more than 2,000 miles away from home, but it felt as if I was sharing stories with relatives at an Easter dinner table. Railroads do have a way of bringing people together and that’s what I want to talk about in this post. I recently traveled out west to revisit BNSF Railway’s southern Transcon between Needles, Calif., and Barstow, Calif., check out Tehachapi Pass on Union Pacific’...

Worth the Parking Ticket

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
                                                                                                                                   (Photo by George W. Hamlin) Octobe...

An ode to the Garden State

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
A few weeks back, when Tri-State Railway Historical Society’s Kevin Phalon tipped me off that his group would be saving Morristown & Erie C424 No. 19, I got excited. Probably more excited than your average person living in Montana about the preservation of an Alco some 2,364 miles away, but I have always had a soft spot for railroading in the Garden State. In many ways, the roots of my fascination with railroading are planted in New Jersey, despite the fact that I’ve never liv...

Mexico’s Copper Canyon train: a study in contrasts

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
The passenger train service operated by Ferromex between Chihuahua City and Los Mochis in northwestern Mexico is both a regularly scheduled intercity passenger train (the last of its kind remaining in Mexico) and a tourist excursion. It passes through the Copper Canyon (Barrancas del Cobre, in Spanish) region (also known as the Sierra Tarahumara), an area of spectacular beauty, and serves isolated rural communities (many populated by the indigenous Rarámuri people) with no other reliable ...

An update on the Texas Alco-PA Restoration

Posted 2 months ago by Hayley Enoch
Last week, things fell perfectly into place: The weather was good, my schedule was clear, and I was in possession of an invitation to get hands-on at the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco, Texas. This particular museum’s claim to fame is moving its entire collection, including a number of very large steam and diesel locomotives, from its former patch of land at Fair Park Dallas to a much larger campus in Frisco, Texas a few years ago. The MARR is still in the process of realizing ...

Pre-Winterail Passenger Excursion

Posted 2 months ago by Robert W. Scott
The day before Winterail in Corvallis, Oregon a special train was ran in the Willamette Valley on the Albany and Eastern Railroad. Winterail attendees as well as regional photographers descended upon the small town of Lebanon, Oregon to ride or photograph this unique passenger rail excursion. Leading the train out of Lebanon down the branch to Sweet Home, Oregon was a former Southern Pacific SD9, painted up in historic SP Black Widow paint, complete with Mars light. Under a dreary Oregon gray sk...

Now Leaving the Station?

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
In this case, neither arriving nor departing, as Amtrak’s Silver Star is passing the joint Amtrak/VRE (Virginia Railway Express) station at Woodbridge, Virginia, on its way south on January 6, 2013.  Astute observers will note that there have been a couple of changes since then in the Star’s equipment: the heritage baggage car –a vestige of the pre-Amtrak passenger train – has been replaced with a new Viewliner II version, and now, there is no diner; only the Amfleet...

Surprised by Grupo México's moves on FEC? You shouldn't be.

Posted 2 months ago by Hayley Enoch
                                                           Two Ferromex units lead a train on CSX trackage at Blue Island, Ill., on Dec. 12, 2015. Trains: David Lassen What in the world is a Mexican railroad holding company doing a railroad in Florida? That’s the question on many people’s minds after news broke Tuesday th...

Next Generation: John Crisanti

Posted 2 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
I’m delighted to reintroduce a blog series that focuses on aspiring railroad photographers of the next generation. It’s easier than ever to share your digital photos today and there’s no shortage of talented folks capturing rail landscapes all across the world. As we bring the monthly series back to Observation Tower, I’m thrilled to share the work of John Crisanti, a Longmont, Colo., native who spends his time railfanning the former Denver & Rio Grande Western west o...

Taking stock of passenger-freight relations in light of court ruling

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
A seven-year legal battle that could have been avoided had Congress omitted a mere four words from the 2008 Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act came to an end yesterday, as I reported in Trains News Wire, when a District Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found the entirety of PRIIA’s Section 207 to be unconstitutional. The section provided for the U.S. Department of Transportation and Amtrak to jointly write metrics and standards (M&S) for the perf...

Late trains and keeping the faith

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
After an eventful weekend at Winterail in Oregon, I rolled into Whitefish, Mont., on the Empire Builder Monday afternoon, 6 hours and 41 minutes late. Unlike Assistant Editor Brian Schmidt, I didn’t give up hope on Amtrak’s ability to get me home. Ironically, it had actually been Brian’s idea in to take the train when we first started planning this trip a few months back. A few years ago, when my fiancée was in graduate school in Oregon, I was a regular aboard the Empi...

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