Continuity and Change*

Posted 8 days ago by George Hamlin
Railroads have had a significant presence in the U.S. since the middle of the nineteenth century, both physically and via their role in the nation’s economy.  As a result, evidence of the past is often present in many cases as we look at the contemporary scene. This holds true for their geographic presence, in terms of right-of-way, in many cases and track gauge, at least once the wholesale move to ‘standard’ gauge, in the 1880s, was accomplished (and yes, there will a...

Trust Me, This Will End Better than it Looks Now

Posted 22 days ago by George Hamlin
  When I took this photo on July 24, 1976, I was glad to get a shot of a locomotive that had been repainted into what we would come to know as Conrail’s “Dress Blue” paint scheme.  While Conrail had been around officially a little over three months, having commenced operations on April 1, 1976, I didn’t live close to main lines where Conrail was operating, and had only a modest amount of “spare” time to head over to places in New Jersey where such...

Railroading’s Other Sesquicentennial

Posted 24 days ago by Justin Franz
In a few short months, the railroad world will be focused on a lonely stretch of desert in Utah to celebrate 150 years of transcontinental railroading. There will be speeches and fireworks and events that those lucky enough to attend are sure to remember for a lifetime. But the 150th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad is not the only sesquicentennial worth celebrating in 2019. This year, marks 150 years of operation for New Hampshire’s “Railway to ...

A Pair of Anachronisms

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
­ Back in the woods at Cherry Run, West Virginia, on May 26, 2000, CSX local D721 is approaching Miller Tower, on the former Baltimore & Ohio mainline between Washington, DC and Cumberland, Maryland.  It’s being led by non-powered Road Slug 2208, built originally as a GP30 in December 1962 for the B&O, so it’s likely that this is familiar territory for this unit. While it retains the overall, and distinctive, contours of the GP30, the lack of radiator fans on t...

Private railcars and Amtrak: a clearer picture

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak’s Office of the Inspector General released a report today recommending ways that the national passenger carrier could improve safety, better manage costs and increase revenue associated with the haulage of privately-owned railcars. A key takeway is that, just as Amtrak’s flawed accounting system (see Bob Johnston’s report in the January 2019 issue of Trains or this August 2018 Rail Passengers Association paper) keeps it from knowing the actual costs or profit/loss of its...

Short-Notice Celebration

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
I wasn’t aware of the event until I saw an announcement of it in a social media post on the internet.  January 16, 2019 was going to be the fiftieth anniversary of the first run of the Metroliners, and Scott Spencer, at AmeriStarRail, based in Wilmington, Delaware had arranged a series of events in Philadelphia and New York City to celebrate the anniversary.  Since I saw the announcement on January 14, and the events were going to be on the 16th, a quick go/no-go decision was req...

A wartime lesson in infrastructure resiliency

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
Sometimes, unfortunately, it takes an emergency to compel those in charge to acknowledge chokepoints and vulnerabilities in America’s infrastructure, particularly when it comes to railroads. One case in point is the Long Bridge, built across the Potomac River in 1904 (though bridges existed at that location since a century before that) to connect Washington, D.C. with Virginia. The two-track formerly electrified span, now owned by CSX, is the easternmost rail crossing of this major river a...

A Continuing Conversation

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
As of October 17, 1971, when this shot of what is now Amtrak’s “Empire Builder” was made at Morton Grove, Illinois, the “Builder” had been moved to the Milwaukee Road east of the Twin Cities by Amtrak, away from its classic/heritage routing on the Burlington, and more recently, the Burlington Northern down the Mississippi (“Where Nature Smiles 300 Miles”). But, at least the “Builder” had been ‘saved’ by Amtrak. Not so, howeve...

Big Bend by train in mid-December

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
As President Trump’s partial federal government shutdown drags on and saddening stories of damage being done to National Parks in the absence of the civil servants who normally protect them and keep them clean blanket the news, I think back on a train-to-park trip I took in mid-December just before the shutdown began. It is not one of the Amtrak-accessible National Parks that is typically marketed with tour packages, such as Glacier or the Grand Canyon, but it is one that a few fellow trai...

An appointment with No. 9

Posted 2 months ago by Justin Franz
Even though my marriage is just six months old, I’ve learned a few things to help keep both parties happy. One of them is not subjecting my wife to too much time trackside. That’s not to say she will protest an unplanned stop when we happen to see a train on a scenic Sunday drive, but I recognize that railroad photography is not everyone’s idea of a good time. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. In fact, one of those instances arose a few weeks back when we were ho...

Requiem for Southern 722?

Posted 2 months ago by David Lester
The past several years have been a boon for steam locomotive restoration, and the future looks promising as well.  This year, we expect to see the restoration of Union Pacific 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy” 4014 completed, and its inaugural run to Ogden, Utah as part of the 150th-anniversary celebration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.  That Union Pacific devoted the time, human resources, and money for this event is nothing short of phenomenal. ...

Nationwide Nomenclature

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
Now that CSX and Norfolk Southern have digested Conrail thoroughly, and there are two large railroads in both the east and west, it’s probably time to consider what many consider to be likely in U.S. railroading’s future:  two transcontinental mega-systems.  The key questions, of course, are who will be paired with whom, and what will the resulting entities be called?  And in addition, now that we are in 2019, celebrating the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the...

Will 2019 bring a rail policy breakthrough?

Posted 2 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
My biggest hope for American railroading in the coming year is something I’ve been holding out for ever since I became a railroad and rail passenger advocate. Perhaps, however, the current moment adds urgency to the need, and the political zeitgeist may open the door ever so slightly for it. What’s needed is a public policy breakthrough. Over the past nearly five decades, Congress has managed to achieve a fairly broad consensus to provide just enough resources to sustain a skel...

Looking back on 2018

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
If you’re a regular reader of Trains News Wire, you’ll note that this week we’ve been listing some of the top 10 stories of 2018. I had a hand in writing one of those stories, one of the many “year in review” pieces I’ve been working on for Trains and for the newspaper I work for here in Montana. These annual look backs are popular for a number of reasons, although the primary one is that the last few weeks of the year are some of the slowest when it comes t...

Amtrak a success? Depends how you look at it

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak Senior Executive Vice President Stephen Gardner wrote a rare online op-ed column that trade publication Railway Age ran yesterday. It responds to dozens of recent op-eds about his company, most of which maintain that Amtrak is headed in the wrong direction, mainly in the areas of reliability and customer experience. In rebuttal, Gardner appears to cherry-pick examples of failure in alternatives to the Amtrak model without bothering to look into other factors that may have hampered their p...

Rails run deep through America’s musical traditions

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Over the course of a train trip, if I’m not reading, working on my laptop or iPad, or socializing with fellow passengers, I almost invariably have my headphones on. I become absorbed in the synchronous sensual experience derived uniquely from the combination of wheels rolling underfoot, ever-changing landscapes out the window and music with a matching beat. I like to describe this zone as my happy place (or at least one of them). The music I groove to on train rides derives largely from th...

Analyzing Amtrak

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
In his article in TRAINS’ January 2019 issue (“Amtrak’s Money Mystery”), Bob Johnston points out, correctly, in my opinion, that “The expense burden has become Amtrak’s justification for systemwide cost cutting.”  This, as he discusses near the end of the article, also creates the problem that if a train is eliminated for cost reasons, system overhead costs will be spread over the remaining runs, thereby increasing the costs of the trains that w...

Ely on the mind

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
It’s early December and I really should be getting a jump on my Christmas shopping (actually, it probably should already be done), but instead I’ve been looking at hotel rooms and pricing rental cars for northern Nevada in February. The frigid desert of Nevada in February probably doesn’t top a lot of people’s list for ideal winter vacations. Unless of course you’re into time travel. Every February, the Nevada Northern Railway turns back the clock with a winter ph...

One of Europe’s last boat trains offers enjoyable journey

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
The concept of rolling a passenger train onto a boat for a stretch of its journey that crosses a sizable body of water is one that has steady fallen out of favor over time. North America once had a handful of them, crossing waterways from the Hudson River to the Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the San Francisco Bay. Most of these met their demise along with the general decline of passenger trains, fueled by an imbalanced public policy regime that subsidized roads and taxed railroads.  ...

Good Things, in a Small Place

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
  Justin Franz’s post on November 26, about the railroad museum in Conrad, Montana (http://cs.trains.com/trn/b/observation-tower/archive/2018/11/26/tiny-donations-make-the-difference.aspx), included this statement:  “There are dozens of little museums like the one in Conrad all across America and each one preserves something special, something worth saving,” I concur, heartily, and offer an example closer to me, specifically the former Norfolk & Western statio...

What GM Tells Us

Posted 3 months ago by John Hankey
The recent moves by General Motors to close U.S. manufacturing plants and eliminate 14,000 craft and salaried jobs comes as no surprise. There will be the inevitable back-and-forth in our current politically-charged environment. It will have a minor effect on railroad traffic patterns. But I think a little historical perspective is in order. GM’s decision (as part of a global reinvention of the company following the 2008 recession) is frank acknowledgement that its future will be based on...

Tiny donations make the difference

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
Last August, I found myself in the small town of Conrad, Montana. I was spending the weekend visiting my in-laws in nearby Great Falls and had escaped for a morning of railfanning along BNSF Railway’s Great Falls Subdivision. When I pulled into Conrad, I beelined it for the old Great Northern Railway depot in the middle of town in hopes of using it as a prop in a photo of the northbound freight I was chasing. Like many former GN structures in Montana, the Conrad depot was built to look l...

Could We Help?

Posted 4 months ago by John Hankey
Please understand this as a fantasy piece. All of it would be possible and none of it seems feasible. In my mind’s ear I hear all of the reasons why something like this couldn’t happen, especially in today’s business environment. I doubt that bankers, Wall Street and hedge fund overlords would stand for it. Could the railroad industry seriously help alleviate the suffering of tens of thousands of people in California following this horrendous spate of wildfires? Does the indu...

Still waiting in Gaspé

Posted 4 months ago by Justin Franz
Earlier this month, fans of Canadian passenger trains got a rare piece of good news: VIA Rail would soon call on Churchill, Manitoba. again. For more than a year, this remote community on the edge of the Arctic has been without a critical connection to the outside world. But Churchill isn’t the only town that’s waiting for its passenger train to return. Dec. 11 will mark seven years since VIA Rail’s Chaleur pulled into Gaspé, Quebec, a city of approximately 15,000 on t...

Aural and Visual Cues, and Food for Thought

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) Not that long ago, they were common, if not ubiquitous, in transportation terminals, both rail and air.  The so-called “Split Flap” displays were, in many ways, emblematic of modernity in their heyday during the 1970s and 80s.  While today almost everything to do with communicating information in public spaces has become electronic, the Solari Boards, as they were known after the name of their manufacturer, were electro-mechanical devices. An...

Southern Railway Finally Comes Home

Posted 4 months ago by David Lester
As most Trains readers know, today’s Norfolk Southern was created in 1982 by the merger of Southern Railway and the Norfolk & Western.  Since Southern Railway's founding in 1894, right up to the Norfolk Southern merger in 1982, Southern maintained its executive headquarters in Washington, D.C.  Many years ago, someone asked one Southern executive why the railroad kept the base in D.C. rather than in Atlanta since Atlanta was already the operational headquarters.  This ex...

For well-run trains and stunning scenery, go north

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
After spending five days riding nearly all of its main lines, I feel confident in saying that Norway should advance to a higher spot on any train travel aficionado’s bucket list. Not only did I find the scenery on each line more spectacular than the previous one, but I was pleased by how well-run the Norwegian State Railways (NSB) seemed to be overall. Nearly every line is mostly single-track and handles a significant volume of freight traffic, but passenger trains are scheduled and dispat...

Two flavors of German main-line steam

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
While in Germany for two weeks in late September surrounding InnoTrans, the biennial global rail industry trade fair in Berlin, a friend and I had a chance to experience two quite distinct kinds of main-line steam excursion and get a sense of the productive and mutually beneficial relationship that a number of German rail preservation nonprofits have with Deutsche Bahn, the national railway. The sheer number of opportunities that Europeans — Germans especially — have to experience ma...

42 miles of interurban bliss

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Hugging the North Sea coastline of the Belgian province of West Flanders lies the world’s longest tram (light rail in North American parlance) line, the Coast Tram (Kusttram in Dutch). It is in fact one of the world’s last remaining interurban railways — one of a rare breed of rail line that acts as a streetcar within a city or town (running in mixed traffic down a busy commercial street) then stretches its legs on an exclusive right of way between towns before becoming a stree...

Classic, or Hybrid?

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
(Photo by George W. Hamlin) There is a tendency in the railfan community to think of the early years of Amtrak as a sort of 'restoration' of the fondly-remembered postwar streamliners.  Certainly Amtrak's initial marketing mantra, "Making the Trains Worth Traveling Again" did little to disabuse fans, and for that matter, potential patrons.  With few exceptions (Santa Fe and Seaboard Coast LIne in particular), the remaining intercity passenger trains in the U.S. by April 1971 were ...