25

Your High-Speed Ride Awaits

Posted 5 days 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...
116

Is ignorance or malice driving Amtrak cutbacks?

Posted 13 days 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...
14

Everything Looks Worse in Black and White?

Posted 20 days 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...
5

The greatest streetcar museum in America

Posted 20 days 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...
31

A rare peek at an Amtrak-host railroad contract

Posted one month 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 ...
36

Whither Amtrak's Western Long Hauls?

Posted one month 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...
26

Is Amtrak missing the big picture on PTC and safety?

Posted one month 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 ...
9

Another Loss for Atlanta

Posted one month 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...
3

Dreaming about summer this summer

Posted one month 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...
6

Steam preservation’s tiny miracles

Posted one month 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...
27

The Great Plains and the Great Basin: a Great Problem

Posted one month 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...
11

Lack of travel resiliency cripples America

Posted one month 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 ...
40

A National Route System

Posted 2 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...
8

Father’s Day

Posted 2 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...
4

Fire season

Posted 2 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...
51

Richard Anderson's boxed-in thinking

Posted 2 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...
9

British steam trips, from the sublime to the lavish

Posted 2 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...
9

Sampling some of British trains' many flavors

Posted 2 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...
50

Corridors and Long-Hauls, Continued

Posted 2 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...
8

Mayfly Memories

Posted 2 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...
1

Preservation progress around the world

Posted 2 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...
18

Riding trains in Israel

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
I recently joined my aunt, who has spoiled me with many wonderful travel experiences, on a two-week guided tour of Israel. Our side of the family (my father’s side) is Jewish with Eastern European ancestry, while my mother’s side is Scots-Irish Presbyterian. But our trip was not a religious one. Rather, we went to get a first-hand sense of the many layers of history, culture and identity in a fascinating and eternally conflict-ridden part of the world. And although seeing and riding ...
14

Micro to Macro

Posted 3 months ago by John Hankey
            Thanks so much for your comments. They have been fascinating. Allow me to mix a little Micro with a little more Macro—and a few cautions.             Amtrak’s existence is not now, and never has been, truly safe, stable, and assured. It is a unique and fragile national institution premised on financial and political fictions. At this point it may be like American...
23

Fred Goes Macro, I Go Micro

Posted 3 months ago by John Hankey
Fred Frailey’s recent post as to Amtrak’s recent changes and possible alternatives is—as usual—well-informed, insightful, and spot on. This is the kind of analysis that Fred is so uniquely positioned to do, and that seems to be lacking at 60 Massachusetts Avenue. His is classic “Macro” thinking. So I am going to go classically “Micro.” My intention is not to gripe, but to sincerely wonder out loud: What in the Hell is Amtrak thinking? I have been...
4

Are We Turning the Corner on PTC?

Posted 3 months ago by David Lester
The debate around PTC has dominated rail technology discussions for several years.  The controversy came to a head when the original December 31, 2015 deadline approached, and carriers could not have PTC up and running by then.  The drama intensified when carriers drafted documents for shippers and governments saying they would no longer provide service on lines that required PTC.  These lines, of course, included the nation's major rail freight arteries.  The industry forced...
31

Tale of Two Trains, and Some Thoughts about Amtrak's Future

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
(Amtrak 176) (Amtrak 20) Photos by George W. Hamlin, Sweetbriar, Virginia, May 11, 2018 Last week I had the opportunity to photograph two Amtrak trains in close proximity.  One was a long-haul train with a historic name; the other was a nameless Northeast Regional schedule.  They were Amtrak 176 on its way to Boston from Roanoke, and Amtrak 20, the northbound Crescent.  The location is Sweetbriar, Virginia, north of Lynchburg. Let’s make it clear that this is not a...
14

CP’s magnificent multimark turns 50

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
If the last decade or so has proved anything in the world of railroad paint schemes, it’s this: What’s old is new again. Nearly every Class 1 railroad in North America has adopted a corporate image that includes some sort of nod to its past. BNSF Railway’s orange and black is a clear nod to predecessor Great Northern; CSX’s contemporary blue and yellow is clearly inspired by the Baltimore & Ohio and Chesapeake & Ohio; Kansas City Southern adopted its famous &ldquo...
11

Farewell, Locust Point

Posted 3 months ago by John Hankey
  The recent Newswire piece reporting on CSX’s decision to close the former B&O yard at Locust Point in Baltimore was of no surprise. Industry had been deserting the area for decades, and CSX has three other substantial yards in its Baltimore Terminal. Still, it is painful to see the yard shut down and likely redeveloped as residential/industrial land. There are a few rail customers in the area. But the demise of Locust Point as a railroad facility is merely part of a 50-year tr...
21

Leaves Me Cold

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
A year ago, I splurged, and booked a roomette on Amtrak’s “Lake Shore Limited” from New York to Chicago.  Included in the fare were two meals, dinner and breakfast, in the diner.  No, I wasn’t expecting meals that I would be urging my friends to take the train just for the food, but the menus posted on Amtrak’s website sounded like good, hearty fare, and in the event, that proved to be the case.  I also was aware that the equipment being used on th...
6

Lessons from Jim Shaughnessy

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
I briefly met Jim Shaughnessy on a gorgeous winter day about 10 years ago at Greenwich Jct., New York on the Batten Kill Railroad. I don’t even think I had the courage to say anything to the legendary northeastern rail photographer beyond a cordial greeting, but I do remember the brief conversation a friend of mine had with Shaughnessy. It went something like this: “Sir, you’ve shot it all, probably with better motive power and better light too, so why do you keep coming out h...