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Bob Johnston: Looking out for customers on the 'Lake Shore Limited'

Posted 4 days ago by David Lassen
A guest post from Trains passenger columnist Bob Johnston: CHICAGO — Sometimes it falls to unsupervised front-line employees to make the right service decision. So when the Lake Shore Limited’s Chicago-based first class lead service attendant Kristen Hefner listened to the plight of Rosa Robinson and Annie Walker, who were only entitled to a complimentary beverage as the train departed the Windy City on Tuesday, Sept. 11, she decided to bend the rules. The mother-in-law and daug...
11

Thrill Rides

Posted 5 days ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) Engineers and conductors, now riding together in the cab of the lead locomotive, and no longer at opposite ends of the train that they’re running, see many different things, according to the route that they are traveling.  Since they typically work on a particular section of the rail network, much of this becomes very familiar and routine. On the other hand, some scenes, even though viewed frequently for years, may produce more reactions than others...
3

Summer in Ely: A Q&A with a Nevada Northern intern

Posted 10 days ago by Justin Franz
In my younger years, I held a number of summer jobs. My first job back in high school was working in a restaurant, mostly washing dishes and doing a little cooking. Next up, I spent a summer digging holes and installing fences. All sorts of fences, from residential fences right on up to prison fences (I’d like to take this opportunity to note that I was merely a grunt and cannot be held responsible for any prison breaks in central Maine). My last summer job before landing a writing gig w...
61

What's Amtrak Up To?

Posted 12 days ago by David Lester
The news coming from Amtrak lately has not been good.  Calls for reduced-quality food service on long-distance trains, removal of amenities such as fresh flowers and newspapers for first-class passengers, and the ridiculous proposal of making the Southwest Chief an all-coach train by busing passengers during the overnight portion of the trip are absurd.  These efforts are, supposedly, put forth in the name of cost saving, but the reality is that these changes are not going to save that...
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My most memorable train trips

Posted 17 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
This year marks two decades since my first Amtrak ride and 17 years since I started riding trains with regularity. I think it’s safe to say that I’m no stranger to train travel. I take at least four intercity train trips each month, not to mention my regular use of rail transit at home in Washington, D.C. and while on the road. I have ridden trains in 47 U.S. states and 16 other countries. Nearly every train ride brings a new experience: ever-changing views out the window and meeting...
0

From Little Acorns...

Posted 20 days ago by George Hamlin
Norfolk Southern train 233 west of Rectortown, Virginia, October 14, 1989; photo by George W. Hamlin Shortly after arriving in northern Virginia in the fall of 1989, I had a weekend available for railfanning in mid-October.  Since I’d had only a modest opportunity to learn the local “lay of the land” from a railroad perspective, it seemed logical to start with something close by, in this case, the Norfolk Southern’s former Southern Railway line from Manassas w...
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GB&W crew remembers its last train

Posted 24 days ago by John Gruber
It was 25 years ago (Aug. 28, 1993) when the Green Bay & Western’s last train pulled into Wisconsin Rapids, ending service on Wisconsin’s 255-mile east-west railroad famous for its Alco locomotives. I was the only photographer there at 5 a.m. to record the event. Usually, the freight train went through to East Winona, Wis., but because of the sale to a Wisconsin Central subsidiary, it was terminated at the Rapids. The last train, No. 1 (extra 311 west), left Green Bay at 9 p.m. ...
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Recognizing rail’s public benefits and harnessing its potential

Posted 25 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
The bulk of the nation’s railroad network consists of privately owned and maintained steel thoroughfares whose existence and maintenance benefits the public in a number of ways. We benefit as consumers of goods delivered by rail, as users of highways less congested and burdened by trucks, as breathers of cleaner air, and as patrons of passenger trains, to name a few ways. A handful of tweaks in public policy that recognize the tremendous value that Americans receive from the private sector...
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Capturing The Transcontinental Landscape

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
The sesquicentennial of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad is just nine months away. For those of us born deep into the diesel era, the celebration of the golden spike anniversary will be the biggest railroad-related celebration in our lifetime and, if everything goes to plan, one big 4-8-8-4 steam locomotive will be the star attraction. But when Richard Koenig thinks about the Transcontinental Railroad, something much bigger than a single locomotive comes to mind. Koenig, the Gen...
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Your High-Speed Ride Awaits

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
In general, it’s safe to say that railfans seem to prefer watching and/or photographing passenger trains to riding on them.  In many cases, this is related to the fact that there are few, or no, opportunities to take a short, relatively inexpensive ride just for the experience.  In some areas, (think South Dakota, for example), there simply isn’t any regular service available.  And even in cases where there is, now that Amtrak has adopted airline-style pricing, wh...
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Is ignorance or malice driving Amtrak cutbacks?

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
A host of actions taken by Amtrak since March, which have been detailed in this blog and in Trains News Wire, will —whether intentionally or not — have the combined effect of discouraging patronage and shrinking revenues for the company’s long-distance National Network trains. Based on what I know about how Amtrak is managed and on conversations with others who are knowledgable, I will offer three possible explanations for this dismal trend. On-board service staff is being cut...
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Everything Looks Worse in Black and White?

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) To cut to the chase, I don’t think so.  To the contrary, sometimes it can make memories look better than if they were depicted in color.  While the subjects that we cross paths with almost always exist in color in the real world (encountering a truly monochrome scene would actually be quite unusual, although certain cloudy days seemingly come close – and a Penn Central passenger train with all stainless steel cars might fit this paradigm), m...
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The greatest streetcar museum in America

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
There are numerous museums in America dedicated to the history of urban transit. Many of them feature world-class collections and I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few, including the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton, Pa. and the Seashore Trolley Museum in my native Maine. But for me, the greatest place to enjoy historic transit is in the streets of San Francisco. Every day, up to two dozen vintage streetcars leave Cameron Beach Yard before dawn bound for the F-Market Line, a 6-mi...
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A rare peek at an Amtrak-host railroad contract

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
An examination of the docket (containing all the documents entered into the record) of last week’s two-day National Transportation Safety Board hearing on passenger train safety affords a rare opportunity to read at least parts of one of Amtrak’s commercial and operating agreements with its host railroads, mostly private freight carriers. The NTSB’s inquiry into what happened to lead to Amtrak’s Silver Star being diverted onto a siding south of Columbia to collide with a ...
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Whither Amtrak's Western Long Hauls?

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
(Amtrak's eastbound "Desert Wind" in California's Cajon Pass, 1989.  George W. Hamlin photo) As discussed in a previous post (“Corridors and Long Hauls, Continued”, posted June 1, 2018; http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/06/01/corridors-and-long-hauls-continued.aspx) it is my belief that long-haul passenger services in the U.S. work most effectively when they can be integrated with short/medium-haul corridors. More recently, (July 1, 2018, “The G...
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Is Amtrak missing the big picture on PTC and safety?

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
‘Safety is always the first priority.’ This phrase, or some variant of it, is drilled into the psyche of every railroader, and for good reason. Every other goal, cause and criterion should always take a back seat to safety. But there is such a thing as losing sight of the proverbial forest for focusing too much on individual trees when it comes to safety, and it is possible to overreact to safety lapses. I fear that Amtrak is falling into both of these traps based on its approach to ...
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Another Loss for Atlanta

Posted 2 months ago by David Lester
On June 20, 2018, the last structure that was part of the downtown Atlanta rail passenger terminal complex met the wrecking ball.  After having stood for 113 years, the south interlocking tower for Atlanta Terminal Station required only one day to remove from the landscape. The tower sat directly across from the old Southern/Norfolk Southern Spring Street office building, which NS vacated years ago. The primary reason the tower was torn down is that NS is going to sell the land adjac...
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Dreaming about summer this summer

Posted 2 months ago by Chase Gunnoe
 4 months and 25 days ago today I watched a luminous orange hue gently subdue one of the most pristine night skies I’ve ever seen.  Shades of yellow, orange, and red filtered by a thin haze illuminated three tired GE locomotives that had just completed a full night’s work of hauling dry bulk freight across the countryside. It was 6:33 a.m. at the time I captured a photo in the rural agriculture town of Dubbo. For my friends and family back home in West Virginia, it wa...
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Steam preservation’s tiny miracles

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
In the summer of 2018, it can be easy to get discouraged about the state of mainline steam. As Jim Wrinn perfectly put it, the year in steam went from “grand to grim” when Amtrak announced in March that it was drastically altering its policy regarding excursions.   But a piece on today’s Trains News Wire gives me hope. On Tuesday, the Illinois Railway Museum fired up J. Neils Lumber Co. three-truck Shay No. 5 for the first time in 19 years. No. 5 was built in 1929 and hau...
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The Great Plains and the Great Basin: a Great Problem

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
Draw an imaginary line on a map of the lower 48 U.S. states from the Dallas/Ft. Worth metropolitan area to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  With the exception of a few, relatively isolated instances, including Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City and possibly Boise and El Paso, west of this line there is no significant urban conurbation until you get to the three west coast states, with the exception of Las Vegas, Nevada, which arguably is a satellite of California.  East o...
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Lack of travel resiliency cripples America

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
America’s transportation system is subpar because it offers little redundancy or choice to travelers. Delays, diversions and cancellations are becoming more common regardless of which travel mode one chooses. As populations grow in most of the country’s regions, highway traffic congestion is soaring, making travel times unpredictable. The same traffic impedes the intercity bus network, which has been cut to the bone. As airlines have consolidated into fewer hubs, minor problems that ...
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A National Route System

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
A relevant question:  on Amtrak day one in 1971, how much rail travel was truly ‘national’?  Yes, the brand-new timetable had a route map that extended across the country as far east as Boston (a first in U.S. railroad circles, but nothing out of the ordinary for our Canadian neighbors, who had accomplished this almost ninety years earlier, and with an actual operating railroad, no less), but getting from one coast to the other typically required one or more changes, or...
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Father’s Day

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
We all came to this hobby in different ways. For some it was a childhood spent living near the tracks. For others it was a chance train ride that launched a lifelong fascination. For me it was my dad, Tim Franz. My dad grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s and often went down to the station with my grandmother to get my grandfather off the evening commuter train. A daily dose of Erie Lackawanna RS-3s on commuter trains is sure to make any young kid a railroad enthusiast. Not long after high scho...
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Fire season

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
If you don’t live out west, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to live through a fire season. The dramatic images that dominate the evening news when a fire explodes across the mountains would make outsiders think that everyone is constantly running from a wall of flames, but it is rarely that chaotic. For many in the west, fire season is a natural disaster that unfolds in slow motion. Yes, homes are lost and sometimes, if the winds suddenly change, people do have to leave...
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Richard Anderson's boxed-in thinking

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Greetings from aboard the Sightseer Lounge car on Amtrak’s California Zephyr, gliding across north-central Illinois farm country on the way to Denver, where I am covering the American Public Transportation Association Rail Conference for Trains. Coming from my home in Washington, D.C., I connected in Chicago from a 3-hour-late Capitol Limited, on which I experienced for the first time Amtrak’s cold, boxed replacement for cooked-to-order dining car meals, which the company dubs &ldquo...
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British steam trips, from the sublime to the lavish

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
During my 11-day first visit to the U.K., I got to sample three of the country’s dozens of regularly-scheduled steam-hauled train services. They ranged from the simply pleasant to the absolutely sumptuous. As mentioned previously, the website UKsteam.info is the go-to source for all British mainline steam operations, which run nearly every week throughout the year. The U.K. boasts 52 active main line steam locomotives, more than five times as many as remain in operation stateside. In addit...
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Sampling some of British trains' many flavors

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I’ve heard fellow train travel aficionados sing the praises of Great Britain’s extensive and diverse passenger train services and its large and thriving heritage railway industry. I finally made it across the pond to see for myself on an 11-day jaunt that barely scratched the surface, despite the fact that I probably rode an average of over 250 rail miles each day I was there. The trip was mostly solo, but partially coordinated with my friend Sam, a retired Amtrak conductor who had p...
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Corridors and Long-Hauls, Continued

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
It strikes me that at least a fair amount of the concern being expressed recently that Amtrak’s long-haul routes might be in peril stems from history, and, to some extent, nostalgia for a more glorious time.  Railroads helped knit the country together (for that matter, Canada, also), making possible routine round-trip travel from coast to coast possible.  As recently in our history as the World War II era, the rail mode was the only reasonable alternative for long-distance trav...
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Mayfly Memories

Posted 3 months ago by John Hankey
This is a fine time to reminisce about mayflies at Brunswick, an old B&O division point in the Potomac River Valley. They will have just made their annual appearance, as they have for a very, very long time. I am sure there are lots of stories about railroads and mayflies, as there are tales about railroading and other critters. I recall hearing tales from western railroaders about encounters with rattlesnakes while out flagging or changing broken knuckles. Mayflies are benign, elegant, de...
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Preservation progress around the world

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
One of the best parts of being a correspondent for Trains Magazine — or just a writer in general — is that I’m always getting to meet new and interesting people. Bruno Crivelari Sanches from Brazil is one of those people. Sanches is a volunteer with the Regional Sul de Minas Chapter of the Brazilian Association of Railroad Preservation, and I had the opportunity to exchange emails with him last year when images of an Alco locomotive pulled up to a gas station began to circula...