History Lost. History Saved.

Posted 2 days ago by Justin Franz
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the loss of the Sperry Chalet in Glacier National Park. Built in 1913 by the Great Northern Railway, Sperry was not just a reminder of railroads’ efforts to entice passengers aboard their trains to see the scenic wonders of the west, but also a reminder that railroad history is made up of more than just locomotives and cars. But not all is lost in Glacier National Park for fans of railroad history. Fifteen miles away, the National Park Service has recen...

Now out of legal limbo, Fillmore & Western is well worth a trip

Posted 6 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
I reported in Trains News Wire today on a major victory for the Fillmore & Western Railway, a southern California tourist railroad that’s been locked in a seven-year dispute with the county authority that owns the track it uses, but relies on the railroad’s workforce to maintain the 35 miles of track and perform day-to-day tasks. Excursion train crews are all volunteers with the railway's partner nonprofit, the Santa Clara River Valley Railroad Historical Society. One of those vo...


Posted 7 days ago by George Hamlin
No, I’m not talking about the “Previews of Coming Attractions” often seen prior to the feature film in a movie theater.  What’s going on here is an entire bridge full of them, in their highway (and rail intermodal) incarnation.  Yes, “Big Rigs” and “Eighteen Wheelers”; in this case, however, minus their tractors, and drivers.  Replacing the tractors are a pair of Norfolk Southern General Electric “Catfish” locomotives...

A rural Canadian railbus where there's no use booking in advance

Posted 10 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
There are certain things that a prospective passenger should expect a passenger train operator to be able to do, even if they offer a bare-bones service on a very limited schedule and only accept cash payment. If the operator allows reservations to be made by phone, one expects the reservation to be honored and to guarantee a seat, or at least a place to stand, on the train. Well, two travel companions and I have encountered one passenger train in North America that doesn’t even meet that ...

Railroad history is more than just freight cars and locomotives

Posted 15 days ago by Justin Franz
One of the most significant pieces of Great Northern Railway history in Montana burned to the ground last week. The Sperry Chalet was built in 1913, one of a half-dozen wilderness lodges in Glacier National Park that were the brainchild of GN President Louis W. Hill. In the years that followed Glacier National Park’s creation in 1910, the GN constructed a number of chalets and lodges in and around the park to entice eastern visitors to ride the railroad’s passenger trains to Montana...

Memories, in Brick and Mortar

Posted 21 days ago by George Hamlin
In this case, for real, and not the “Misty water-colored memories of the way we were” in Barbara Streisand’s evocative song, although mist was certainly apparent on the morning of August 14, 2016 as I was passing through Delaware, Ohio, returning from attending Summerail in Marion.  While I hadn’t been there in many years, in earlier times I’d passed through this Ohio town many times, both on U.S. route 42, and also on New York Central passenger trains.&nb...

Striving for the poetic

Posted 24 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
Railroading is an industry of poetry as well as prose. The prose is in the engineering, mechanics and technology that makes everything work. But the poetry lies in the lived experience of these machines and systems working — in a sublime train ride or the thrill of watching the action trackside. I dare suggest that, while there is plenty to be intrigued with in the prosaic aspects of railroading, it is its poetic side that truly captivates us, that keeps us in or close to the industry. It...

Good times with fellow wonks

Posted 28 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
Those of us who are connoisseurs of train travel tend to seek out and most look forward to unique trips — either an unusual route (rare mileage or more common mileage that one is traversing for the first time), special equipment or other out-of-the-ordinary experience. But sometimes a trip familiar, more mundane (albeit fairly scenic) route with good company and fun group activities can be just as enjoyable. One such trip that happens annually (and in which I am participating for my secon...

Reporter’s Notebook: A Ride On New York City’s “Zombie” Train

Posted 29 days ago by Justin Franz
Note: Besides writing for Observation Tower twice a month and Trains News Wire, I’m often working on a number of stories for the print edition of Trains Magazine. Occasionally, I’ll share some interesting tidbits I come across in Reporter’s Notebook. Whenever I’m working on a story for Trains Magazine, or any other publication, I frequently find myself going down the “rabbit hole” of newspaper archives. I can spend hours flipping through old newspapers, somet...

How prepared are you?

Posted one month ago by Chase Gunnoe
I’ve always been curious of the amount of effort we all put into our rail related travels. From classic maps to old timetables to today’s digital resources, like sun calculators, and online radio streams and webcams. With our railfan arsenals equipped with a mixed bag of traditional literature and new technology, what do you do when planning for a trip? For me, it’s a little bit of everything. I bought an iPad a few years ago and downloaded a bunch of railroad maps and old ti...

Steam excursions as public relations, and as public service

Posted one month ago by Hayley Enoch
The steam preservation industry operates with a cloud over its head, and not just the one created by hard-working engines. Participants and onlookers are reminded daily that every run could potentially be the last, that every day that a fire is dropped might be the last time that an engine in their care holds heat. Against that background, the idea of bringing two different large engines to the same city within two months of each other would seem like a much too lofty goal to be attainabl...

Do What the Light Lets You, and ...

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
Yes, that’s a Norfolk Southern ‘heritage’ unit pictured, and this is how I intended to photograph it.  Among other things, there was no need to worry about whether the nose of the lead locomotive would be adequately lit.  And no, It wasn’t the case that I arrived at this spot too late to do anything else; it was with intent aforethought. Furthermore, I don’t think that I’m in need of any sort of rehabilitation process to cure me of taking sho...

What’s in your bag?

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
A few weeks ago, I was preparing for a trip to British Columbia when I decided it would be a good opportunity to clean out my camera bag. I frequently reorganize and repack my camera bag because it almost always becomes a disorganized mess over the course of a trip (I purchased a mid-priced camera bag on Amazon a few years ago and, well, I got what I paid for). However, the exercise of unloading and loading my camera bag got me thinking about a conversation I had recently had with Assistant E...

Where's the Camera?

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
In places where there are still active passenger stations (think Amtrak and commuter trains), you’ll often find railfans there, observing their favorite subject matter.  In today’s world, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to obtain information about operations other than passenger trains (agents/operators employed by railroads other than Amtrak are long-gone, with rare exceptions), but between the internet, including social media, and technology, including scan...

European trains? I’d rather have their stations.

Posted one month ago by Hayley Enoch
Travelers pause to take in the decorations at Stockholm City Station. In surmising our inauguratory experience with European railroads, I will spare the well-worn but valid observations about how much better that part of the world does intercity rail service. By now, we in the United States have thrown our weight behind a system that favors road and freight rail traffic. Instead, I’ll take the space of this blog to present a different observation. Traveling through Sweden and N...

Conn. could further capitalize on its gem of a trolley museum

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
There are many streetcar and trolley museums in the US that have unique equipment collections and scenic rights of way. The Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven, Conn. offers a superb combination of both, and has benefitted from public and private grants that have allowed it to build new, more flood-resistant storage barns and maintenance facilities. The only thing lacking is a longer right-of-way, ideally taking historic trolleys down East Haven’s Main Street. The SLTM is one of the o...

Farewell to the great Canadian hopper fleet

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
Most freight cars today are unembellished objects. Many come in simple colors (like boxcar red, which is really just a fancy word for brown) and have reporting marks, numbers, maybe a herald and not much else. That was not always the case. In the past, many railroads put a lot of thought into how they painted their freight cars. My beloved-Bangor & Aroostook had its iconic “State of Maine” red, white and blue boxcars; the Rio Grande painted some of its freight equipment orange...

The struggle for on-time trains continues

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Last week's Eighth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruling invalidating passenger train on-time performance standards enacted by the Surface Transportation Board means that Congress must act in order for there to be a mechanism for fixing ongoing failures of host railroads to keep passenger trains running punctually. The STB wrote its definition of OTP — which considered a train’s punctuality at all stations, not just its final terminus — after the DC Circuit overturned the standard...

Little history books

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
This weekend, a friend and I headed to one of my favorite railfan haunts: British Columbia’s East Kootenay. After chasing a few trains, we decided to finish the day with a beer in Kimberley. Neither one of us had been to Kimberley before and as we circled downtown looking for the local brewery, we saw a sign pointing to the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway. Taking a quick break from our search for suds, we followed the signs and came upon a stretch of tiny narrow gauge tracks. I knew...

From the Cockpit to the Cab

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
An Alco, by the way, and an operating steam locomotive.  Well outside the United States, however; in fact, an ocean away.  And the crossing of that ocean, in this case the Atlantic, provides the title reference for the first portion of this narrative. For, on September 26, 1992, I was fortunate to fly on an aircraft exceeding the speed of sound, by a factor of slightly more than twice.  On my way to Toulouse, France, I left my home in northern Virginia and traveled to JFK air...

I'll never know the man, but I will carry his torch

Posted 2 months ago by Hayley Enoch
Last week, we lost a legend. I am heartfelt in using this phrase, not ironic, because to me Bill Withuhn was one of those figures that seemed to loom larger-than-life above the railroad preservation industry. He was a sage, dolling out parcels of advice in the forward of railroad history books. I stood in away of his record as a tireless advocate who set a  high bar for restoration projects and interpretive museum displays. I heard other people relate their interactions with the man and s...

'Can’t do' attitude does CSX, Gulf Coast economy a disservice

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
CSX Assistant Vice President for Passenger Operations David Dech penned a letter to the editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, published on Monday, essentially saying “no can do” to the mayors, chambers of commerce and other city, county and state government and business leaders along the Gulf Coast who have been working for over a decade to bring passenger train service back to the New Orleans-Florida route that has been without it since Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. The s...

Playing devil’s advocate for signs and other icons

Posted 2 months ago by Hayley Enoch
The white house along the tracks used by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum isn't owned by the organization, but is likely one of the most iconic structures in the entire hobby of railroad photography. In my time as a railroad writer--and I am approaching the respectable point at which I can round upwards towards a decade--I have been consistent in espousing the belief that when it comes to historic equipment goes, train enthusiasts ought to ignore small changes made to locomotives an...

Trains and Trucks

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
Mortal enemies, right? Maybe so, especially in the eyes of some railroad executives, but there have been signs in recent times, particularly in the form of the massive number of domestic containers from trucking companies such as J.B. Hunt; Schneider; and Swift, among others, found on intermodal trains that cooperation can be a very good thing, indeed. In reality, both modes have had to become more cost competitive and more service-oriented in today’s competitive economic world. ...

The new golden age of steam

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
My Dad likes to tell a story of watching Union Pacific No. 844 (then No. 8444) and No. 3985 storm up Peru Hill in 1981. He and his brother were chasing the two locomotives west on their way to the California State Railroad Museum’s Railfair 1981 and had ventured to Wyoming to witness what was commonplace just a quarter century earlier. As the excursion roared west, the two locomotives blanketed the countryside with thick black smoke. My Dad says it’s still one of the best steam show...

Firestorms, Falsehoods and Facebook

Posted 2 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
Digital media is a company’s best friend and its own worst enemy. Keyboards give everyone a voice and while there are limitless perks to having such information readily available, there are just as many times when the technology can create for unnecessary heartaches. At the end of the day, digital tools like Facebook are great for consumer-focused companies and tourist destinations, but there are other times when half-truths, incomplete information, and emotions leave people picking up the...

Texas Eagle revisits ancestor's home turf

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Over the past five weeks, the Texas Eagle has swooped through parts of its namesake state where it was once a common sight, but is now a rare bird. To allow Union Pacific to make repairs to the section of its normal route over the former Texas & Pacific between Big Sandy and Dallas, the southbound Eagle diverged at Big Sandy southbound, using parts of the former Cotton Belt, Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific before rejoining the normal route at Taylor, while the northbound used the ex-Mo...

Small-town stopovers on the national network

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
A number of small and mid-sized American cities are served by Amtrak and regional commuter rail that aren’t thought of as tourist destinations, but offer much for a visitor to enjoy during a layover of several hours between trains. The most forward-thinking of these cities offer the visitor arriving by train a choice of ways to get around without having to rent a car, including bus and rail transit, bikesharing or bike rental, and carsharing by the hour. These cities also offer their resid...

Investing sweat equity and reaping dividends

Posted 3 months 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 3 months 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...

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