What makes Precision Scheduled Railroading different?

Posted yesterday by Bill Stephens
Three times in the past month I have heard rail executives utter the same phrase about Precision Scheduled Railroading: “It’s not rocket science.” And when you listen to skeptics of PSR, you get the feeling that the operating model is nothing more than Railroading 101. Case in point: Earlier this year BNSF Railway’s chief executive, Carl Ice, said that most of what PSR railroads do – setting schedules for individual cars, focusing on terminal dwell, running lo...

Red, White and Green

Posted 4 days ago by George Hamlin
Outliers; interlopers.  These, and other terms signifying the unexpected and/or unusual certainly apply to the subject matter of this color photo taken by my friend, and well-known photographer, Mel Lawrence, at Washington, DC’s Ivy City engine terminal, on May 16, 1978.  In a number of ways, neither Amtrak 52 nor Southern 6901 belong here this late in the 1970s. Both, of course, pre-dated the advent of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.  The Southern Railway ...

A route of superlatives through B.C.’s heart

Posted 10 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
[Part 2 of 2 - read Part 1 here] After hitting a local microbrewery and getting a few solid hours of sleep in a quiet cabin just outside of Jasper, we were up early the next morning and back at the historic station by 6:15 AM, ready to board Rocky Mountaineer for my first time. From the moment we checked in with Rocky’s staff, we knew we were going to be in the lap of luxury. We were embarking on a three-day journey that included two hotel nights in cities along the way, and not only were...

Hunger Pangs and Heartaches

Posted 17 days ago by George Hamlin
Yesterday, October 1, 2019, was the end of a long passenger railroading tradition in the U.S., with the arrival of the final ‘staffed’ dining car on Amtrak’s eastern routes.  My friend Ralph Spielman provides more details: http://trn.trains.com/news/news-wire/2019/10/02-staffed-dining-cars-make-last-runs-on-eastern-amtrak-routes Earlier in the northbound Crescent’s run I had been able to photograph its Viewliner diner performing this mission, as seen in the pho...

Two days on a four-car streamliner across northern B.C.

Posted 18 days ago by Malcolm Kenton
[Part 1 of 2] I returned a week and a half ago from an excursion to western Canada to travel over two new (to me) and reportedly scenic rail routes and to sample VIA Rail Canada’s Touring Class service and one of the offerings of Rocky Mountaineer, a private luxury rail tour operator that, in part, competes with government-supported VIA for the international tourist market in the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia. The trip was timed around my birthday, but also to take advantage of le...

The Great Retreat

Posted 23 days ago by Bill Stephens
Over the past two years, three of the Big Four U.S. rail systems have dropped intermodal service between hundreds of points, curtailed steelwheel interchange in Chicago and other gateways, and de-emphasized or even closed some intermodal terminals. By one analyst’s estimate, these service reductions represent 1 point’s worth of the 4% year-to-date decline in intermodal volume. You could call this the Great Retreat.  This trend, part of the industry’s embrace of Precision ...

Photography of Trains

Posted 26 days ago by George Hamlin
Recently, I’ve given a presentation to several groups that has a one-word title: “Trains”.  The presentation’s subtitle (no, not a reference to foreign language translation) sheds more light on the content, however: “A less locomotive-centric look at railroad photography”. Railfan photographers often concentrate their efforts on the locomotive(s) leading the train; the typical “grade crossing wedge” has the train’s consist trailing off ...

Timeless Tehachapi

Posted one month ago by Bill Stephens
If you love art, you visit the Louvre. If you love beer, you head to Munich. And if you love watching trains, well, you have to go to Tehachapi. I’ve longed to see this rugged mountain railroad in Southern California since I was a teenager, when the pages of Trains Magazine introduced me to Tehachapi Loop. Over the years circumstances always prevented me from visiting. I was in Long Beach, Calif., this week to cover the Intermodal Association of North America’s annual Intermodal Exp...

How to accentuate train travel’s singularity

Posted one month ago by Malcolm Kenton
Amtrak announced the retirement of its lone surviving dome car, the former Great Northern Railway Great Dome dubbed Ocean View, from its fleet last month. To mollify disappointed passengers who were looking forward to the dome’s annual thrice-weekly autumnal appearance north of Albany on the New York-Montreal Adirondack, one of the most scenic routes in the east, the passenger carrier’s press release promised that the Adirondack would soon be reequipped with new coaches offering larg...

The Queen of Ely

Posted one month ago by Justin Franz
Ask me what my favorite steam locomotive is and I honestly don’t think I’d be able to give you a straight answer. Sure, I might be able to give you a list of potential contenders, but putting that list into some sort of actual order would almost certainly be impossible.  Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 No. 2317 and Canadian National 2-8-2 No. 3254, the two main line locomotives at Steamtown National Historic Site in the 1990s, were the first large steam locomotives I ever saw and both w...

Wall of Light

Posted one month ago by George Hamlin
I’d submit that the more photography of all kinds that you attempt will improve your railroad photography.  Part of this is simply an extension of “practice makes perfect” (or, in the realistic world, at least moves you in that direction).  In addition, however, if you can capture a competent, or better yet, interesting, photo of something where the subject matter isn’t your primary objective, it will be helpful when you’re trying to add an evocative r...

Canadian National’s latest smart move: Trucking

Posted one month ago by Bill Stephens
Over the years some Class I railroads have viewed the acquisition of trucking companies as the road to intermodal riches. Instead, all they did was prove that the best way to make a small fortune is to start with a big one. Consider the experience of Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific. In 1984, NS acquired North American Van Lines for $315 million. Fourteen years later, NS sold North American to an investment firm for $200 million. UP shelled out $1.2 billion for Overnite Corp. in 1986. The rai...

Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
This eastbound Southern Pacific manifest is at Salinas, California on February 5, 1987.  It’s being led by a “Flare”, i.e. one of the SP’s massive fleet of EMD SD45s, followed by a Union Pacific SD40-2, and a pair of Espee “Tunnel Motors”.  According to Wikipedia, the SP was the most prolific original operator of EMD’s 3600 horsepower C-C, with 317 units, to which should be added the 39 rostered by the St. Louis Southwestern, the “Co...

Almost, but Not Quite

Posted 2 months ago by George Hamlin
I suspect that many of you are familiar with the famed “Triple Crossing” in Richmond, Virginia, where three different railroads intersect in the same place, on three different levels.  Using their heritage identifications, from top to bottom, the players were Chesapeake and Ohio; Seaboard Air Line; and the Southern Railway.  Essentially adjacent to the James River, the crossing is virtually surrounded by highways today. Needless to say, it’s been an objective for p...

Sometimes good things do come in small packages

Posted 2 months ago by Bill Stephens
When you explore, you just never know what you might find. Case in point: The tiny former Grand Trunk Railway depot in Gilead, Maine, a speck of a town on the New Hampshire border. After a Fourth of July bike ride I was wolfing down a sandwich in the shade in front of the depot when a car pulled up. The driver asked if we were interested in seeing inside the station. Of course, I told the gentleman, noting that we’d passed by many times and I’d always been curious about the depot, ...

The cheapening of American train travel continues

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Though my interest in trains goes back much farther (and I had ridden a few tourist trains, New York City and Washington, D.C.-area commuter trains and subways, and a couple of short Amtrak trips before then), my first experience with an overnight Amtrak ride came in 2002, at the age of 16. By that time, my father and I had made our way from Greensboro, N.C. to the New York City area every summer to see my aunt in the city and my grandma in Madison, Conn. for about a decade, but we had always fl...

On the Property

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
  Back in the “good old days” of mythological memory (of whatever prior era suits you), it was often possible for non-employees to enter onto railroad property in pursuit of their interests and hobbies, and in many cases, to return to the “outside world” sans being accosted, ejected and/or threatened with arrest.  Of course, there were instances where these untoward events occurred, but by and large, they weren’t in the majority. In the process of do...

Why VIA Rail Canada’s high frequency rail plan is a dud

Posted 3 months ago by Bill Stephens
Normally a proposed passenger-only rail route is cause for celebration in North America. Pop the champagne cork for the high-speed route Virgin Trains USA is building to Orlando, Fla., for example, or the Texas Central Railroad’s ambitious plan to link Dallas and Houston. But don’t break out the bubbly for VIA Rail Canada’s dream of cobbling together a dedicated passenger route from abandoned, lightly used, and new rail lines in its crucial Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City ...

Step in the Right Direction

Posted 3 months ago by George Hamlin
Like many other railfans, I was pleased when the Norfolk Southern announced its “Heritage Unit” program in 2012, particularly based on their decision to use historically-correct paint schemes, adapted as necessary to conform to the shapes of present-day locomotives.  Yes, the original Union Pacific program was a nice step in that direction, although it combined elements from different eras, in some cases; Amtrak’s modest fortieth anniversary repainting of a small numbe...

Ontario’s passengers have much to celebrate & anticipate

Posted 3 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Last week I attended the American Public Transportation Association’s annual Rail Conference, which is held in a different North American city each year. The setting of this year’s conference in Toronto was appropriate, as Ontario is a hotbed of propitious activity in passenger train and rail transit development.  First, rail transit continues to grow and thrive in greater Toronto. North America’s largest legacy streetcar system continues to be well-loved and well-used by...

Why reinvent the wheel?

Posted 3 months ago by Tyler Trahan
On my blog post last week about the Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference, a commenter asked “Why reinvent the wheel?” and noted that the same basic wheel shape has been used since at least the 1870s.  I don’t mean to single out this commenter. It’s a good question.  My answer, and I welcome others in the comments, is in two parts: Because everything above and below the wheel has also been reinvented Because the process isn’t intended to change the...

The park and the train

Posted 3 months ago by Justin Franz
This past weekend, Glacier National Park opened its iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road for the summer. The 50-mile highway passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Northwest, through tunnels and over cascading waterfalls.  Unsurprisingly, it was also jammed with traffic within hours of opening. On Sunday afternoon, park officials reported “bumper to bumper traffic” along an 8-mile stretch of the road and people looking for a parking spot at the Continential Divide e...

You’ve got to spend money to save money

Posted 4 months ago by Tyler Trahan
At the Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference this week, the goal of everyone present is to make railroads safer and more efficient by reducing unwanted forces which cause wear and damage to both rails and wheels. Efficiency, of course, equals money saved. One of the poster children for saving money by optimizing the wheel-rail interface is the Red Line of the Los Angeles Metro. When the line opened in 1993, the wheels of its subway cars needed to be trued every 5,000 miles and replaced after 19,000...

Back for more Wheel-Rail Interaction

Posted 4 months ago by Tyler Trahan
Every year, some of the brightest people in the railroad and transit worlds gather to discuss the dime-sized contact patch between wheels and rails. The four-day Wheel-Rail Interaction Conference brings together engineers — the kind who run calculations, not locomotives — from major railroads, transit agencies, suppliers, consulting firms, and research organizations to learn from each other and present their research and experiences in order to make railroading safer and more effici...

Short-Haul Sleepers

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
While perusing Amtrak’s Five Year Equipment Asset Line Plan (FY2019+) recently, I was surprised to learn, on page 27, that arrival of the new Viewliner Sleepers will be used to “Reinstate sleeper service on Northeast Regional Trains 65, 66 and 67”. These trains (and their predecessors) once provided overnight first-class service on what had become the “Twilight Shoreliner”, operating between Boston, New York City, Washington and on to Newport News, Virginia. ...

Striking a balance for weather-resilient railroads

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
After reading the comments on my previous column about the shortcomings of Positive Train Control and weatherproofing signal systems, doing further reading and consulting with knowledgable sources, I’ll admit that my conclusions drew on a limited understanding of how signal systems work and of the true complexity of what it takes to make them less susceptible to failure in heavy rain and other weather events.  I did not intend for my words to be interpreted as in any way denigrating ...

The reason railroads idle humps is probably not what you think

Posted 4 months ago by Bill Stephens
E. Hunter Harrison famously closed hump yards while bringing his Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model to Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, and CSX Transportation. The conventional wisdom says this signature move of PSR is simply part of cutting costs to the bone. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. The idling of humps is a byproduct of operational changes that render them superfluous. It’s easy to see why the cost-cutting misperception persists. After all, Hunter himself ...

Does it Ever Get Old?

Posted 4 months ago by George Hamlin
Watching trains while waiting at a grade crossing, that is.  Sure, on occasion when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, and probably worst of all, when it’s preventing you from proceeding in the chase … of another train.  Otherwise, it’s one of life’s small pleasures, particularly for railfans, and the young at heart. For many of us, this probably began in our earliest years, possibly even before we really knew what railroads and trains were, in a fu...

Railroads’ nervous systems need better insulation

Posted 4 months ago by Malcolm Kenton
Railroading is making many technological advancements geared towards safety, efficiency and speed. But what about reliability and resiliency? The causes of delay to my most recent long-distance Amtrak trip suggest a lack of attention to ensuring that passenger and freight trains run reliably in challenging terrain and adverse weather — the latter of which is becoming a more formidable adversary with the increased effects of climate change. I traveled from Washington, D.C. to Albuquerque, ...

The Circus that Wasn't and the Memories that Were

Posted 4 months ago by Dave Crosby
“You’re nuts!” “You couldn’t pay me to go out there!” “It was nice knowing you.” These are a few of the warnings I received prior to heading west for the triumphant return of Union Pacific “Big Boy” 4014.  I knew I would be just one among thousands of other people making the same pilgrimage.  Even with dire forecasts of mass chaos and hysteria, this was 2019 and an engine no one ever thought would run again was due to lead a ...